March 10, 2022

#50: The Jedburgh Podcast One Year Anniversary Special with Cleo Stiller & Fran Racioppi

Hosted by Fran Racioppi

In this one-year anniversary special, Fran Racioppi takes the hot seat as guest host Cleo Stiller, author of Modern Manhood, takes over the mic. Cleo turns the table, pushing Fran to finally tell his story from his days growing up in New England and Florida, to Boston University and the Army. They cover what drove him to study journalism, why rowing was so impactful and what he actually did in the Special Forces. 

They also talk about his difficult post-Army career. The highs of business school and the lows of hard lessons learned in corporate America; plus his path to finding maturity to become the person he always wanted to be.

Thank you to all of our listeners, our guests, our sponsors and The Jedburgh Podcast Team for joining us on this journey. We are one year old with this episode. Let’s celebrate then get back to work on the next 50!

Listen to the podcast here:

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About Cleo Stiller

TJP 50 | One Year Anniversary SpecialEmmy Award and Peabody Award–nominated reporter Cleo Stiller chronicles the hopes, fears and confessions of men across the country as they come to terms with what it means it be a “good man” today. MODERN MANHOOD, Stiller’s first book with Simon and Schuster, launched on November 12, 2019.

MODERN MANHOOD is a #1 New Release on Amazon and has received coverage in Fortune Magazine, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, ABC News, The Independent, PBS, LinkedIn’s Weekend Essay and over fifty podcasts, including beloved actor, Alan Alda’s podcast, Clear + Vivid.


The Jedburgh Podcast One Year Anniversary Special with Cleo Stiller & Fran Racioppi

The show turns one. Welcome to episode 50, where we travel to snowy Denver and sit down once again with author and journalist Cleo Stiller. Cleo joined us on episode seven where we talked about her book, Modern Manhood: Conversations About the Complicated World of Being a Good Man Today. Cleo’s work has impacted both men and women. It showed us the importance of our relationships and our attitudes towards each other in both our personal and professional lives.

To celebrate our birthday, I thought we’d bring back the guest of our top-performing episode to reminisce about our Jedburgh journey, highlight some important moments in 2021, and preview what’s coming in 2022. For this conversation, we couldn’t let a good opportunity pass us by. Cleo turns the table and puts me in the hot seat. She took control of the show and pushed me to tell my story from my days growing up in New England and Florida to Boston University and the army.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year Special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

We cover what drove me to study journalism, why rowing was impactful in my life, why I joined the army, and what I did in the Special Forces. We also talk about my post-army career, the highs of business school, running around New York City, the lows of some difficult lessons learned in Corporate America, my path to finding myself personally, and controlling my emotions. Also, getting back to the person I always wanted to be as a father and a husband.

The show has changed my life. It’s allowed me to pursue my dream and passion to tell impactful stories that I can only hope, in some small way, bring us closer to the best versions of ourselves. Thank you to all our readers, guests, sponsors, and especially The Jedburgh Podcast team for joining me on this journey. We’re one year old with this episode. Let’s celebrate and get back to work on the next 50. How you prepare today determines success tomorrow.

Cleo, thanks for coming again on the show.

I am happy to be here.

This is a special episode because it is our one-year anniversary episode. It’s number 50. We have been relatively nonstop since we kicked this thing off. We recorded early on your episode, episode seven, and we recorded it on March 12th, 2021. We started recording in January or February then the first episode went out. It was the 14th or 16th of March. We have been going nonstop since.

I always told myself that when we did the one-year episode, I was going to take the guest from our top-performing episode and bring them back on. I figured we were going to do this whole thing. We’re going to talk about the different episodes and recap, but then I realized that you have been the top episode since the day you released.

Thank you to everyone. I appreciate it.

That was episode seven. What that means is that we’ve added all of these other episodes. We released episode 48. We’ve had 41 episodes have released after yours and yours continues to rise. As these others come in, we gained new audiences and yours continues to go up. Some have tried, but none have yet to surpass it. Congratulations on that.

Keep coming for me.

Modern Manhood was an awesome book and we talked so much about it. It was a great opportunity to hear your story. What we’ve talked about in that episode helped me to many things that I’ve gone through in my past. When I thought about that episode and I thought about bringing you back on, I said, “She is also an author, a journalist, and a good interviewer. This is the perfect 50th episode, first anniversary, and we’re going to flip the tables on this thing.” Instead of us and me talking to you about all of the episodes we’ve done, I’m giving you control. You have to sit here and interview me to talk about many different things that you’ve prepared. I have a lot of people on the show and they all, at some point, looked at me nervously. Now, I’m nervous.

I am back in the chair where I feel most comfortable. I’m thrilled to be here. For longtime audiences, they’ve learned about you, Fran, the host, in bits and pieces. You always reveal a little bit of your history or a little bit of your perspective on another guest’s experience, but we’ve never got in the whole picture. Who is the host and creator of The Jedburgh Podcast? I’m curious. I’m sure everyone else is as well. We’ll do that. I want to start from the beginning.

I always stop myself when I start going into some things about myself because I get so much feedback. You’ve written a book, you’re on TV, and people give you all sorts of solicited and unsolicited feedback. Your episode was funny because I had people contact me after your episode and they said things like, “You talk too much. I wanted to hear more from her. It was too short.” It was 1 hour and 30 minutes.

A little while later, I got some more feedback. It was like, “You didn’t talk enough. We wanted to hear more about you. Your episode was too long. She talked too much.” I was like, “I don’t know what you people want.” The cool thing about podcasting is that you get to exert your influence, but in many ways, you get to see where these conversations go.

It’s true. The more you listen, the more you’ll hear all kinds of perspectives. For this episode, the exercise and point is to learn about our host. You’ve done 50 interviews with some of the world’s leading innovators, leading leaders from all different industries. What an opportunity for you. You must have learned so much. We’re going to dive into the most important takeaways from our guests. If you ever listened to one episode of The Jedburgh Podcast, this is it.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year Special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

One Year Anniversary Special: “Every time I leave one of these conversations, I feel like I am better because of it. I’m so grateful for every one of the guests we’ve had.”

I learn more from every one of these episodes, every single episode that we have. People ask me all the time and I don’t know if you will, but I will say that I don’t have a favorite episode because they’re different and diverse. We’ve talked to many different leaders, whether they’re journalists, social activists, athletes, Olympians, professional athletes, military leaders, entrepreneurs, founders, and heads of major corporations and businesses. Every time I leave one of these conversations, I feel like I am better because of that conversation and I take so much away. I’m grateful for every one of the guests that we’ve had.

I’m grateful to the guests too. I also want to invite the readers as you’re reading this. If you have a strong feeling about one of the episodes that were your favorite, make sure you write to us on social. We’re on all the handles. We want to hear from you all. Let’s dive in. Who is France? Where did you get your start?

I was born in Rhode Island. I grew up between Rhode Island and Florida. We moved there a couple of times as a kid. I lived in Miami for a while and I can’t wait to go back. Harris Glaser from episode 38 and Midnight Express, I’m coming one day. I then moved to Boston in middle school and high school. I grew up in Boston right outside of the city in a town called Weston and then went to Boston University.

At Boston University, I wanted to be a journalist. That was my passion in life. I saw people like Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw. It was before journalism started to go a little bit more subjective. We could have a whole episode on subjectivity versus objectivity in journalism. You didn’t have people pontificating thoughts that much. This was from 1999 to 2003.

During that time, we saw a massive shift in journalism. We saw it go from the Nightly News where you have these staples who I idolized and the war started in Afghanistan. Subsequently, in 2003, in my senior year, we went to Iraq. As a student of journalism at that time, what you saw was what was called embedded journalism. If you go back to 1991, in the Gulf War, they called it the first CNN War because it was televised not in real-time but by satellite.

In 2001 and 2003, the journalists were on the frontlines. We always had journalists on the frontlines, even back to World War I. Civil War had journalists on the frontlines. It wasn’t broadcast in real-time. With the advancement of technology, you had it broadcast in real-time. Now, I saw this and I said, “There are these guys with beards and long hair. They’re riding horses through the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.” In my mind, they’re saving the world. I’ve said on a bunch of episodes that after 9/11, it didn’t matter who you were, but someone had to get their ass kicked and that was America’s goal. I jumped on to that.

At first, I said, “I’m going to be a war correspondent because then I’ll be with these guys.” I watched it for a couple of years and I said, “Hell no. I don’t want to be a war correspondent. I want to be one of those people. I can make an impact there now. Later on, if I want to be a journalist, I can be a journalist.”

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year Special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Fran Racioppi: ”I want to be one of those people. I can make an impact there now and later on if I want to be a journalist I can be a journalist.”

The defining moment for me was Geraldo Rivera. One day I hope I can interview Geraldo Rivera. I have to find him. I’m sure I have a path to him. It was either in Iraq or Afghanistan, Geraldo Rivera was with an infantry squad from the Marines or the Army. I don’t remember. They got into a firefight. They’re getting shot at.

Geraldo pulled out a pistol, started running down, fell down, lost the pistol, and all these guys are yelling at him, “You idiot. Why do you have a gun? You’re a reporter.” I looked at that and I said, “That’s it. I’m done.” The next day, I got in the car, drove down to Quinsey, south of Boston, went into the recruiter station, and I was like, “I want to join the army and be a Green Beret and Special Forces.

That’s the story. Journalism got you there and then you saw Geraldo do what no journalist should ever try to do and that was it. You enlisted. Tell us a little bit about your experience as a Green Beret.

I went into the army right after I graduated. I graduated in May 2003 from BU. I was on the men’s rowing team for four years. I didn’t do ROTC. I applied for Officer Candidate School. I got in Officer Candidate School and then I became an infantry officer. As an officer, you have to do time in the regular army before you can go to selection for Special Forces. I did about three years in the 4th Infantry Division.

You have kindly invited us to your condo in downtown Denver. This was home for me for a long time. For 12.5 years, we lived down in Castle Rock. Eventually, I lived in Colorado Springs for a short time. This is like coming home to be able to do this. I was in the 4th Infantry Division. I went to Iraq for a year as an infantry platoon leader in 2005 and 2006. When I got back, my window opened for selection to be a Green Beret. I went to selection and was thankfully selected and then went to the Special Forces Qualification Course shortly after that.

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Tell me about that experience.

I was on a podcast and we were talking about it and I said that it’s one of the most challenging things mentally and physically that you can ever do. I was prepared for that because of my time at BU rowing. I give a lot of credit.

I did not expect you to say that. Tell me, what about rowing at BU prepared you for that experience?

There were some terrible days in the selection where you’re cold, tired, hungry, and haven’t slept. You’re constantly going through physical and mental evaluations. The pressure to make it is severe and significant, the pressure you put on yourself, the pressure that you feel whether it’s there or not from others and peers, and when you look around. Even in the darkest moments when I was like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this.” I would say to myself, “At least I’m not on the ERG rowing right now,” which was crazy.

TJP 50 | One Year Anniversary Special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Fran Racioppi: ”There were some terrible days in selection…even in the most darkest moments when I was like I don’t know if I am going to be able to do this I would say to myself ‘at least I am not on the erg rowing.”

A lot of successful people come out of college athletics. Rowing produces an interesting number and correlation between success in the business world and in rowing because of the discipline that’s required. You’re up at 5:30 AM. You’re rowing within 30 minutes of waking up. It’s cold in Boston. We make fun of the guys out in California who are rowing. They’re like, “It’s cold.” We’re like, “No. It’s 65 over here. Try going out at 30.” It’s dark out because it’s November.

It instills in you a sense of discipline. There’s also a sense of teamwork. There’s an individual piece that is required of you and then there’s a sense of the team. Nothing is accomplished individually, even if you’re a single scholar. We interviewed Gevvie Stone, a silver medalist in the Olympics in women’s rowing. She’s the all-time winningest in the women’s champs single at the Head Of The Charles. It’s a phenomenal story. I was impressed by her. This is a woman who, for decades, has led everybody in this sport. People don’t realize the toll that it takes mentally and physically on your body to perform at that level. Nothing else can take your body from resting heart rate to lactic acid shut down that quickly.

I didn’t know that either. Hat tip for folks who want to succeed in the business world. It’s from rowing to infantry.

It’s a couple of years in the infantry and I went to the selection. After that, I was fortunate enough to come back to Colorado and be in the 10th Special Forces Group. The Legion is what we call it. The originals, the first unit of US Special Forces. The lineage back to the Jedburgh and 10th Special Forces Group, I was in the second battalion and then I was at the group headquarters. I had an amazing opportunity. I spent three years as a Special Forces detachment commander in charge of twelve Special Forces operators. We went back to Iraq two more times. We did several exchanges with some Middle Eastern and European partners.

After that, I spent some time at the staff level. I went to Africa for six months. I spent the better part of two years working in and around Africa. First, I was in Djibouti, Africa. It’s nestled between Somalia and Ethiopia. I had a cool job. A special shout out to my battalion commander and my operations officer, who is still in, so I’m not going to mention their names. My battalion commander is out now, but the other guys are still in.

They empowered me to go out and their guidance to me was to have an effect on the environment. I’m like, “I don’t know what that means.” They’re like, “We need you to go to the African nations in East Africa. We need you to figure out different subsets of their military that can be trained as Special Operations capable.” Meaning that the US government and US Special Operations are going to go to these countries, find a group that they can train, give them money, give them equipment, give them training, and then deploy them to go combat Al-Shabaab in Somalia. It’s the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa.

Subsequently, I was able to do that same job in West Africa against Boko Haram and Al Qaeda. It’s an amazing opportunity as a young officer to go throughout Africa and meet with ambassadors and high-level dignitaries on the US and foreign nations sides. Also, to build capability in Africa to combat global terrorism. I think about it all the time and people are like, “Would you go back?” I’m like, “I’ll be back to Africa in two seconds.”

Would you?

I would.

What you’re describing is an experience that not many people have. I want to freeze-frame for that time period. When you zoom out a little bit, now you look back, what is the most important lesson that you learned during that time? Were you aware of it as it was happening? Has it taken life experience afterward to glean up?

I was aware of it.

First, you have to say what the lesson was. There’s so much you can learn from all of that.

You learn perspective. You take away perspective. You take away the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t look and operate like the US. We’re fortunate here in America to be able to say and do all the things that we get to do. Other countries don’t operate like that, other countries that we even are close with. Europe doesn’t operate the same way that we do. Look at what’s happening with Russia and Ukraine.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year Special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Fran Racioppi: -”We are really fortunate here in America to say and do all the things we get to say and do. Other countries don’t operate like that.”

It’s easy as an American and even living here in the US to take for granted what the opportunities are that sit in front of us. When you go to foreign nations, especially in places like Africa where there is such a difference, it’s not like going to London or Berlin. These places are different that you look back and you say, “What we have isn’t all that bad.”

Does it change you as a man?

It does. In some ways, you see how men act in other nations and how they treat women. The real big difference between men and women in other countries and other cultures is that you come to appreciate the equality that we have here. That’s from Modern Manhood.

After you served, how did you decide you weren’t going to stay in service, first of all?

You and I talked about this a little bit, but I was not the best man. My wife and I fell apart. I was gone a tremendous amount of time during my time in. Eventually, we split and went our separate ways for a good period of time, about seven years. We spent apart from each other. She went to New York and I had a decision to make. We had a four-year-old daughter at the time. I had to say, “Do I want to get out and be with them and try to be a father? Do I want to continue my career? What are my choices here if I stay in and what does that look like?” Ultimately, it was a matter of having to get out and go try to resolve that and try to be a dad more than anything else at that point in time.

Is this the first time you’ve said that on this show?


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Having authored Modern Manhood, when I listened to a lot of the interviews that you do, this show is about so many professional-facing experiences. Doing the work that I do and having spoken to men as I do, I always wonder about what’s happening on the other side, the personal side. As a culture, we tend to divorce the two. It’s so much more comfortable talking about what’s happening professionally.

You can even say, “I was in Africa, sandwiched between Somalia and another nation.” We can all infer how terrifying and exhilarating what went into that experience was. It’s probably more uncomfortable to talk about what was happening to you on a personal level. Thank you for opening up about that. You decided to put your relationship first with your daughter.

I went to New York and I applied for a lot of jobs when I was getting out. I had a lot of rejections.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year Special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Fran Racioppi: ”I applied to a lot of jobs and had a lot of rejection.”

Which you were not used to.

It’s interesting because you spend this time in this organization. In special operations, you can do anything. Even if you don’t know how to do it, the attitude is always, “Tell me what you want me to do. I’ll figure it out. Whatever it takes, we’re going to make it happen.” All of a sudden, you transition into the corporate world or the private sector.

All of a sudden, people are like, “Have you done this before?” You’re like, “No.” They’re like, “You need to know how to do it.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? I’ll figure it out. Give me some time. Give me a chance. Hire a veteran. We’ll figure it out.” Veterans can figure out a lot of stuff when given the opportunity. We talk about all the time, hire for character, train for skill. Don’t overweight someone’s experience on 1 or 2 certain things. If you can train them and do technical skills, you’ll hire the right person because they bring these soft skills to the table.

At the end of the day, there are a lot of jobs out there that you have to have some baseline model. I was applying to Google, Facebook, and all these big-time consulting firms, the big four. I was like, “Put me in an advisory role.” They say, “How are you going to go consult the client if you don’t know anything about finance or balance sheets?” I’m like, “What’s a balance sheet?” They’re like, “You need to go to business school.”

The military does a good job of every time you get promoted. Every time you go to a different role, they send you to school. They give you a baseline set of academic training. The regular world is like that too. I approached it with that mindset. If I’m going to take this next step in my life and in my career, in order to close the gap with my peers who now have, in the private sector, 12, 13 years lead on me, I’ve got to do something that’s going to give me some baseline knowledge of the business.

I applied to NYU, to Stern. Fortunately, I got in. A story there is I missed their application deadline. The semester started in August 2015. It was a couple of months before, maybe June or something and I was looking it up and I said, “I want to go this fall.” I called the office and I said, “I’m sorry, I missed your application deadline. My name is Fran Racioppi. I’m a Green Beret.” I didn’t give her a chance to talk. I went on for about two minutes. I ended it with, “I’d appreciate the opportunity if I could submit my application.”

There was silence on the other end for about 5 or 10 seconds and she said, “Go ahead and fill up the online application.” I already did. She gave me the list of questions and the short essays I had to answer. In about two weeks, I was in. The normal class size for the program that I was in was 60. We had 61 in my class. I was the one. I’m appreciative of NYU for that opportunity. I had some great experiences there for the couple of years that I was there.

It’s interesting to me, especially as a journalist. I remember where we started and you were thinking about doing journalism. You saw Geraldo trip and that no longer looked good to you. You went to war for our nation. Thank you. You came back and you didn’t circle back to being a journalist. You were like, “I’m done with that. I’m going to business school.”

That was the plan. I had a great opportunity from a close friend now. He was my business partner. He hired me and had me working for him. It always was great to call us partners. I’m like, “No. I worked for you.” The guy’s name is Rick Nelson. Rick Nelson runs a financial advisory team at Merrill Lynch. He ascribed by that. Before I even got into the official performance and leadership development, he exudes that hire for character, train for skill.

He reached out to me on LinkedIn when I was down to the wire on what I was going to do for a job and about to start school. He said, “I want you to come on and join my team. We’ll train you in everything that we have that you need. I want people of high character who have a demonstrated pattern of success and their careers. We’ll teach you how to be a financial advisor.” I said, “Let’s do it.” This was while I was in business school.

The executive track at night?

I was in the executive MBA Program. The cool thing about NYU was that it was every other weekend for two days. Based on the number of credits and time, the degrees are the same as the full-time. If anyone is looking to get an executive MBA, I always tell them, “Make sure your degree is the same degree as the full time. You have to make sure you get all the right classes and instruction.”

There’s a lot of debate about MBAs also for journalists for J-school as well. Merrill Lynch, this reminds me of an episode where you talked to Peter of Jersey Mike’s Subs.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year Special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Meet Fran Racioppi: Host of The Jedburgh Podcast, Green Beret, Chief People Officer, Performance Coach

I have to thank Peter and Jersey Mike’s Subs. They are our title sponsor for all of 2022 and, hopefully, for beyond. Peter was episode number two. It was our first official episode outside of the show and the Talent War Group. I couldn’t be more thankful to have spent time with Peter and become close to him over the years. Get out to Jersey Mike’s and tell them that The Jedburgh Podcast is saying it.

A little behind-the-scenes information. When Fran asked me to co-host this, I said, “I need to listen to some of the most popular episodes besides my own.” The Jersey Mike’s Subs episode is in the top five. For everyone, I’m a culture reporter. I wrote Modern Manhood and I hosted a show about health for Univision prior to that.

I cut my teeth at Bloomberg covering financial markets. I had done a lot of small business stories as a baby reporter. I thought, “How interesting is this story going to be of Jersey Mike’s Subs? Is a sandwich tale interesting?” You’re interviewing Peter of Jersey Mike’s Subs and it’s revealed that this was a company that had existed prior to him and he had worked there as a sandwich boy since he was fourteen.

It’s the only job he’s ever held is what he said.

At seventeen, he finds out that the owner is going to sell the store he’s been working at. Also, he undersold himself. This seventeen-year-old was the president of his class. Don’t discount him. He gets the people in his community to loan him money. He buys the sandwich shop and eventually becomes the sandwich mogul.

It’s a $2 billion company. This 2022, they want to push to $3 billion.

Where does that come into play with Merrill Lynch? You met him. You were at Merrill and he says to you, “We’re at $1 billion now, but we haven’t had our growth yet. In the next five years, we’re going to be a $2 billion company.” You said something that made me laugh out loud. You were like, “I’m an MBA student, so I know everything about the business. He’s never going to hit that mark.”

You do have a lot of hutzpah, in general. I love that you are thinking in your first year as an executive MBA student, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” He did. I had to interject that. That’s one of my laughing spots. You’re at Merrill and you meet him. Who else did you meet at Merrill? What did you learn while you were there?

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I learned a lot about finance. I learned a lot about financial markets. We talked about grit in a lot of the episodes. People who read every episode are probably tired of me talking about grit. That is a job that takes daily grit to bounce back from rejection. It’s a tough business in the financial advisory. It was tough for me.

At that point, I was in my late 30s. I’m in business school. I spent all this time in the military. Now you’re sitting in front of someone trying to convince them that you have the experience and know-how to manage their retirement and manage their money. Coming back to what I was saying when I was getting out of the army, there are certain things that you can’t fake.

Bernie Madoff would argue otherwise, but you are not that. Was this prior to the crash?

This was 2015, 2016, 2017.

It’s way after.

It’s tough because you’re trying to develop a business, you’re trying to bring people in, and you’re trying to grow your own portfolio of clients. At the same time, it’s difficult to fake that. You know exactly what you’re talking about. Although Merrill Lynch is a company, it’s one of, if not the world’s leading investment firm and they’ve continued to prove that. I couldn’t have been more thankful to go to a company like that and learn from some of the best in the industry. Also, I learned that it wasn’t for me.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year special with Fran Racioppi and Cleo Stiller - Fran Racioppi & Rick Nelson

Fran and Rick Nelson on his last day at Merrill Lynch.

Yet you’re not still there.

That was a tough conversation with Rick because we had become good friends. He had been supportive of me and done absolutely everything. The day I had to go in and tell him that I was going to be leaving was a difficult day. He’s the utmost professional and a friend. Craig Whelden, a 2-star General in the army, said in one of our previous episodes, “People’s character is tested when they’re pressured.” Here I was telling Rick that his growth plan for his business was me and I couldn’t do it.

The reason is that I didn’t enjoy it. The opportunity wasn’t there. It wasn’t that I didn’t necessarily see a path. I didn’t wake up every day with the conviction that I felt I needed to continue. That was difficult. You talked about true friends and men of character who say, “I get it. I’m going to support you in whatever you need, even if it’s not with me.” That’s what he’s done to this day. He’s been instrumental in a lot of the things that I’ve done, including continuing the relationship with Jersey Mike’s. That came from Rick. Thanks, Rick.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiuller

Fran Racioppi in Africa while serving as a Green Beret in the US Army Special Forces.

Jersey Mike’s had no idea they were going to get such a plug in this episode. You didn’t wake up enjoying what you did every day. For someone who fought in a war, that’s an interesting benchmark to have in your civilian life. Is that something that you feel like you sacrificed so much prior? Now, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing on a day-to-day, you’re out?

When you’re in the service, you probably do enjoy it. If you don’t, you get out. You have times to get out. As an officer, after the first 2 or 3 years, you can get out subsequently after that almost at any time. On the enlisted side, you have different contracts that take you through the first 10 or 12 years of your career and then you become indefinite where you can leave. You wouldn’t stay if you didn’t enjoy what you were doing.

There are a lot of things in the military that is hard. There are a lot of things that are difficult. You wake up in the day and you’re like, “This is stupid. Why do I have to do it?” At the end of the day, you enjoy what you’re doing. My job was to go around the world, develop foreign armies, work with some of the greatest, most competent people on the face of the earth who sat next to me every day. We jumped out of airplanes. We rappelled out of helicopters. I got paid to become a ski instructor and an avalanche expert and climb the mountains. You have to enjoy that.

When you get out, you lose a big piece of yourself. It’s something we talk about a lot in our veteran episodes. We talked about it with General McChrystal. We talked about it with General Hutmacher. We spoke about it with General Whelden. Chris Frueh is another one we spoke about it with. Also, we had on Special Operations Association of America Daniel Elkins. You lose this sense of team and the sense of camaraderie.

When I walked out of the base for the last time, I cried when I was in the car. I looked in the rearview mirror and realized everything I knew in life was behind me and I was leaving it. I don’t have any friends. The friends I had were when I was in college. Your reference point is when you graduate college, for me at least. I don’t talk to them as much as I used to. My friends were the guys that I served with and that was everything I knew. Your identity, in so many ways, is lost.

Athletes deal with this too. We’re going to have on an athlete, Morgan Arritola. Morgan Arritola was on the US cross country ski team and competed in the Olympics a couple of times. Our episode is going to talk about her journey and how we speak so often about the military losing their sense of purpose when they leave the military. Athletes go through the same thing. Also, the struggles that she had, the mental health challenges, and what’s driven her to be a counselor and study to be a professional counselor. That loss of identity can come from anything that you do and you’ve invested your entire self in that. That’s a big piece of what you lose.

Do you wake up and then flip a switch and say, “Now I’m not going to do the things that I don’t want to do.” I don’t think so. You still do that, especially if you come from the military, because it’s harder to flip that switch and say, “I don’t have to do this thing that I’m doing right now.” You seize opportunities. You take them. You look for the good in them, which is something I did in the other jobs I’ve held since.

That can often take you further than you should have gone and go after opportunities that may otherwise have a series of red flags. You say, “I can still see the good in them and I’m going to go.” It’s probably been only in 2021 since I started this show where I started to understand truly what Kristen Holmes from WHOOP calls self-efficacy. You have a choice. You have a choice to perform. You have a choice in your life.

Shelley Paxton was on. She’s the former CMO of Harley Davidson. She wrote Soulbbatical. I read Soulbbatical and I was like, “She’s out of her mind. You can do that.” I then talked to her because I read it in preparation and then I was completely shifted the other way after I talked to her. I’m like, “She’s right. At some point, maybe can hop out and leave everything behind and travel the world for a couple of years and not have to have a job.”

You can still wake up and say, “I’m not happy where I am. I don’t have to do this.” I’ve had several episodes where we’ve spoken about that. We’ve spoken with people who are truly pursuing their dreams and passions. I learned more from these than I could ever imagine. You see that in these people week after week and you look and say, “Why can’t I pursue my passion?”

It’s contagious.

That’s all you want to do.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Fran Racioppi invites back Cleo Stiller, the top downloaded episode of the first year.

That’s a good point to pick back up again. You leave Merrill. You had a series of roles. I do want to link us back to journalism and the podcast. Give us the highlight reel.

Hard lessons learned. We talk about something in Special Operations called Understanding Your Operational Environment. It’s the number one rule. What’s going on around you? We tend to see the good coming out of Special Forces. We tend to see opportunity. We tend to look at everything as a challenge and say, “How can I approach it?” Sometimes we try too hard and we try to do too much.

A mentor of mine told me, “You can’t jam everything down someone’s throat. You have to take time. You have to be willing to accept loss sometimes.” That’s something that I wasn’t good at in some of my roles. I came at odds with some. Unfortunately, that’s what happens. You live and learn and you find new opportunities.

You can’t jam everything down someone’s throat. You have to take time and be willing to accept loss sometimes. You live and learn, and you find new opportunities. Share on X

Thank you for sharing. I have to link this back now because I’m curious about what was happening personally for you during this time. You left the service to be a father and improve your relationship with your daughter. It would be dishonest of me as a journalist since this is what I asked about.

You’re putting me in the hot seat.

We did not talk about this when I did the rundown. What was happening on a personal level?

When you go into the military, especially for me where I did after college, in some ways, your life has two phases. When I got out, I was searching for opportunities. I went to New York with what I felt was the right goal of being near my daughter and trying to be a dad. We had separate apartments, both in Manhattan. In retrospect, it’s quite expensive and probably a waste of money. I pursued experiences. I pursued what it is like to live your life on your own terms because I had never had that. Going to business school and being in New York by myself afforded me that opportunity.

I had relationships. I didn’t live the life that I always aspired to. It took some hard losses and some hard lessons that I talked about. My time at Snap proved that to me. Also, a lot of selfishness. That hurt a lot of people. Going through those experiences, one of the things is being able to look back on it now and say, “Did I learn a lot from them? In ways, am I thankful that I went through those opportunities?” Yeah, because you’re going to grow up. Sometimes you need to learn the hard way. No one can tell you what it’s like to live in New York for the first time by yourself and do all these things you saw on TV.

You then look back and you’re like, “Did I have to hurt everybody and people that I cared about?” That’s hard to reconcile. What I’ve done along my path is say, “What’s important to me now?” I can’t make up for mistakes of the past. Modern Manhood helped me truly to come to grips with a lot of that stuff. I forgot what the quote was in the book, but it’s, “It’s okay that I was shitty.” Was I right? No. At the time, did I think I was? Yes. Am I sorry? In a lot of ways, I am. It’s okay to sit here and say that there was a period of my life when I was a shitty person. Can I learn from that and change? I do believe that I can. I do believe that, in a lot of ways, I have.

It’s important to talk about this in the context of your podcast. Many of your conversations are professional-facing. It’s out of alignment when you act one way professionally. In the military, for example. Even on teams, in general, in professional settings, you think of yourself often as extended family.

You perform in one way and you show up as a person in one way in that realm, but then in another way in your life, it does not mirror that. It’s not integrity in honor of the Jedburghs. When I’ve been speaking with men, it’s viewing discipline, integrity, resilience as a holistic experience in your life. What comes to mind is this book by Todd Herman called The Alter Ego Effect. Have you read that?

I haven’t.

It’s a similar format to your show, except it’s a book. I remember that Dr. Dre picked it up and talked about all of that on media. I was like, “It’s a big deal now.” Todd Herman spends a lot of time with professional athletes like Tim Ferriss and Elon Musk. I looked at what made these people successful. What highly successful people tend to do is develop an alter ego.

Jedburgh Podcast l 1-year special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Fran Racioppi: “What highly success people tend to do is develop an alter-ego.”

He was talking to one football player who was saying, “When I’m on the field, I’m another person. You do not want to get in my way. I will tear you apart. That’s my alter ego.” I know from reporting Modern Manhood that the longer you have an alter ego, the more difficult it becomes to keep these two separate. It starts to infiltrate the rest of your life. I’m always interested when I’m listening to your episodes, where does integrity show up holistically in your life? Thank you for sharing this.

I agree with that. Another term you can use for that is compartmentalization. You can take compartmentalization too far. It’s always what I used in my mind to justify behavior. I would say, “I’ve put it in this box and it lives in this box. It doesn’t exist if it doesn’t come out of that box.” That’s not reality. At some point, it all comes to an end.

This is what you learn if you are a journalist. It never stays hidden. I’ve worked with some of the biggest people that we’ve heard have fallen due to comeuppance and in the wake of Me Too. A big lesson is it never stays hidden. Circling back to journalism, the podcast, you did time at SNAP. You’re on this proven business track. You’re successful. You’ve managed to make this transition from top servicemen to now a highly desired consultant. Why The Jedburgh Podcast?

I care about impact. I didn’t start the show because of COVID. I started during COVID. I had an opportunity to work with the organization. One of our sponsors, one of our partners at the start of this thing, is The Talent War Group. It was started by Mike Sarraille and George Randle. They wrote the book called The Talent War. The Talent War took these nine characteristics of soft performance. Mike was a Navy Seal and George was in the army. They started to apply them to anybody. How do you build elite organizations using this framework that Special Operations uses?

I was introduced to Mike shortly before they released the book and he invited me to be part of the founding members of Talent War Group, which would then be able to go out and speak from experience about building elite teams and elite organizations under the framework of these characteristics. We launched that in November 2020. We did a series of LinkedIn live sessions around the launch. They said, “Who wants to be a part of it?” I was like, “I want to go on LinkedIn live. That sounds cool. I can talk about leadership and all these things I care about.”

I’ve been doing public speaking, keynote addresses, and leadership development work with different organizations since I had gotten out on the side. We started doing these LinkedIn live sessions. I said, “This reminds me of when I was at BU.” I like talking to people. I’ve always wanted to be able to try to figure out how to do that for my career and I got away from it.

I went to Mike and I said, “What happens if we start a podcast? I want to call it The Jedburgh Podcast. We’re going to talk to visionaries, drivers of change, leaders in a variety of different industries who have a soul dedication to winning and what I call no matter the cost.” Mike said, “We’re in. Let’s do it together.” We then launched this thing.

2021 has been a blessing. We’ve been able to speak with many different people. It comes back to creating an impact for anyone. We’ve taken the long game approach on this podcast. There’s one school of thought that says that we can pick one theme, one thing, one topic. We talked about sports. It could be the military. The only thing we’re going to talk about is that. We’re going to gain a decent-sized audience, but that audience is going to have a certain size or we can take a broader theme like performance, leadership, human performance. We can talk to people in a variety of different industries.

It doesn’t become about episodes 5, 10, 20, 50. It becomes about episodes 100, 200, 300 when we have a vast body of work where we’ve taken a core central theme and we have told stories of the impact through the lens of our guests. A reader can come into the show and say, “I don’t like all 200 episodes.” Look at Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan. These guys have 600, 700 episodes. We’re at 50. We’re at the front end of this thing.

Nobody likes every episode. You can go to Tim Ferriss and you can say, “I like 50 of these episodes.” The amount of people who like 50 episodes is huge. There’s a massive following behind that because the message is consistent in everyone. The theories that he uses are consistent, but he speaks to so many different people from so many different walks of life. It’s super appealing to a lot of different folks. That’s the approach we’ve taken on it.

That begs the question. I’m going to ask you, what’s coming next? What can we look forward to? I want to also say that the readers will listen to you and care. What are some of the episodes that have resonated with you? What do you all want to read from the show in 2022? In the meantime, what can we expect?

We’re doing a couple of events, which is pretty cool and I’m excited about it. We’re going to start talking about it soon, but I’ll announce it here. We are partnering with an organization called GORUCK. GORUCK is founded by another former 10th Special Forces veteran, Jason McCarthy. They are hosting a fitness festival in Jacksonville. We have created a media partnership with them. They have some influential high-level people in the fitness space who are going to be at this event. We’re going to do a series of episodes where we’re going to interview a few of the people who will be at that event. Also, we’re going to go to the event. We’re going to have an activation there.

Are we going to work out together?

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Fran Racioppi: “How you prepare today determines success tomorrow.”

We’re going to work out. They have an obstacle course. They’re going to have daily ruck marches. They’re going to have live fitness events. Savage Race is one of the partners. Rogue Fitness is one of the partners. There are a lot of people involved in this thing. We’re going there with a couple of our partners. 18A Alpha Fitness is one of our sponsors. Kevin Edgerton was on episode 40 as well. Kevin and I have known each other for a long time and he’ll be coming down.

Habits are something common in all high performers. Share on X

We’re also going to be partnered with a company called The Readiness Collective and Jesse Levin. The Readiness Collective is an organization that focuses on resiliency and training people for resiliency. They’re coming down. Land Rover of Fairfield, Connecticut, has given us a World War II Land Rover ambulance. A podcast studio has been created in the back of it by Factory Underground, where we recorded episodes with Andy Towers, 2021’s Premier Lacrosse League champion.

They configured a podcast studio in the back of this thing for four mics. We’re going to have an activation there with an onsite podcast studio. We’re going to do it for three days. We’re going to interview everybody. We’re going to talk to people who are attending the event. We’ll cut a longer episode at the back end that sums it all up. We got four episodes on the lead-up with some super influential people in fitness and we’ll do one on the back end as a roll-up.

Should we invite our readers to join us in Jacksonville? If anyone’s around, come on out. That would be great.

It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve been invited to Podfest. Podfest is the world’s largest podcast conference. I’ve been invited to speak at Podfest and that is Memorial Day weekend down in Orlando. We’re making a Disney trip out of it with the kids.

It’s a good way to swing that with the fam.

I’m fortunate that Podfest had reached out and invited me to come there and speak. We’re working on the topics and we’re working on what we’re going to be presenting there. It’s a great opportunity to get some more visibility on what we’re doing. We’ve got more amazing guests. We’ve got some more athletes coming up. We’ve got some more business leaders. We’ve got some organizations that are focused on mental health, which has been a big component. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot. We’re excited. We are booked out.

It’s such an honor for Podfest to ask you to speak. Within a year of launching, it’s a testament to what you all are building here. As we close out the episode, regular readers know that The Jedburghs had to do three things every day to be successful, shoot, move, and communicate. I’m sure no one has asked you this question yet. What are your three things?

This has become a staple of each one of our episodes. Habits are something that is common in all high performers. It could be simple things like waking up early. Travis Hollman, from a couple of episodes ago, is the CEO of Hollman Lockers. They build the locker rooms for the NFL, NBA, and Equinox. He says that every successful person he knows wakes up early. Everybody who achieves a lot has a set of daily habits. The Jedburgh’s mission in World War II is to jump behind enemy lines starting on D-Day and the subsequent nights after. Three-man teams into occupied France, link up with French resistance, arm them, train them, and then conduct sabotage and subversion against the Germans.

It’s certainly not a simple task. There are foundational habits that they had to exhibit every day to focus on the big picture. What missions are we going to do? How are we going to strategically affect the German ability to reinforce Normandy? They couldn’t do it if they couldn’t shoot, move, communicate. The same holds true in Special Operations now as the lineage has carried forward.

I ask my guests, “What are the three things that you do?” We have so many cool answers from different folks. Richard Hanbury talked about how he journals extensively. Steven Nyman, a three-time World Cup Champion and multiple-time Olympian, talked about setting deliberate goals, stepping away, and honestly critiquing and assessing himself. Also, asking himself every day, “Do I want to be here? Is this what I want to do?” I talked about Travis Hollman and he said, “Show up. Never walk alone. Focus on the good, learn and from the bad.”

Julia Samersova, through a fourth in, which is the first time. I let her do it. She said to wake up every day at the same time with gratitude, never procrastinate, have a sense of urgency, schedule time to rest and recover. Her fourth was to fight for what you want. She said, “I ain’t too proud to beg.” I said, “Let me rephrase that to fight for what you want.” All of these people have these core foundational things. You said journal, have a coffee, and exercise. You can do those things every day. They’re super simple.

You can be like me.

They’re important. For me, it’s making a prioritized list. Every night, before I end my day, which has been quite late or early in the morning, I make a prioritized list for the next day. I put things down and then I number them. When I wake up at 4:00 or 4:30 the next morning, my head’s going to be spinning and I have to know exactly what I have to knock out and what order. I made a prioritized list.

The second one is communicating effectively. We talk about communication in a lot of different episodes. Alan Echtekcamp, in episode ten, is an organizational psychologist and he said that there are three parts to every communication, the sender, the receiver, and the message itself. That is an important concept that effective leaders have to keep in the back of their minds. How do I communicate with people in a way that they’re going to receive the message that I’m trying to send? You have to communicate effectively.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l Fran Racioppi's 3 Foundations for Success

Fran Racioppi’s 3 Foundations for Success: Make an action oriented list, communicate effectively, act deliberately.

The third one is to take deliberate action. In Julia Samersova’s episode, we talked about being busy. We joked about people using busy now as a badge of honor. I said that I’ve started to have a visceral reaction when I say, “How are you doing?” People say, “I’m busy.” How many times are you busy but you’ve achieved nothing? She asked the question, “Are you happy? Do you have satisfaction? Are you achieving something by being busy?”

For me, it’s about deliberate action. Am I doing something right now that, in some ways, moving the ball forward? That can be personally or professionally. Do things with a purpose and do things that are going to achieve an effect. If you think about those actions, that ties back into your ability to communicate effectively. For lack of a better term, we’re not talking nonsense. We’re talking about meaningful things. We’re executing on a list. Those three things are how I try to approach each one of my days.

Have you read Essentialism?


You should. I’m sure folks who follow this show have probably heard of it. If not, this is right in your Zeitgeist. Essentialism was a popular book in 2021 and it talked about, “I’m busy. Time poverty. I don’t have enough time to do the things I need to do in a day.” Also, the hustle culture. We’re coming to a little bit of a crossroads with all of that now and people are getting smart about it. Busy for busy’s sake is not so successful. I love what you’re saying. Regulars of the show know that in every episode, our host and creator, Fran, takes nine characteristics of elite performance as defined by Special Operation Forces. You usually assign one to your guest. I have the honor of assigning one to you. First, I have to ask you, is there one that you want me to say? I’m not going to defer to you.

I don’t.

You don’t have a favorite?

I remember yours, though. Curiosity and integrity.

That’s two.

I gave you two. You were the first time I ever did that. I said that in the episode. I said, “I’ve never done this.” Even though it’s episode seven inside, there were a lot of I’ve-never-done. Rarely do I have to. I was honest and I said that I couldn’t decide, so I gave you both.

Are you doing something right now that, in some way, is moving the ball forward? Do things with a purpose and do things that are going to achieve an effect. Share on X

I wish that you had a favorite. Don’t you have a favorite?

I don’t have a favorite. You need them all to be effective in different degrees.

I want to hear from the readers on this. Wire us. We want to hear from you on social or by email. Someone has a favorite out there. I certainly do. For you, I choose drive. The description of that is a growth mindset, being better than yesterday, continuous self-improvement. I want to say that you exhibit it to the nth degree and you’re an inspiration to so many of us. Thank you.

Thank you. That means a lot. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to many people. Drive is up there. I don’t have a favorite and I wasn’t going to give you a favorite. It is an honor to have drive because it sets the conditions for everything else. If you don’t want to wake up and achieve something, in a lot of ways, the other ones don’t matter. If you’re happy with where you are, you don’t want to push it and you don’t have to. That’s what sets great organizations and great people apart. Thank you.

I chose well. I knew it. Thank you so much for having me.

Jedburgh Podcast 50 l 1-year Special with Fran Racioppi & Cleo Stiller

Thank you to all our guests, listeners, sponsors and The Jedburgh Podcast Team.

Thank you so much. Thanks for inviting us and me into your home. I sincerely appreciate you being a part of this show and your support from the beginning. We spoke even before I recorded the first episode and since our first conversation, the friendship that we’ve created has been meaningful to me. We couldn’t continue to do this without support from you, our other guests, and our sponsors. Our readers are impactful and that’s why we do it. Thank you. I look forward to 2023.

Maybe I’ll see everyone in Florida.

Jacksonville, we’ll be there.


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