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Hard work has paid off for Secchia

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By Austin Metz
Editor In Chief

Relaxed and at ease in his fifth floor downtown office, Peter Secchia sits down in his sports coat and jeans and sips on a cup of coffee.

“How you doing today kiddo?” he asks as his secretary Monica brings in another cup of coffee.

“Monica even got dressed up for you,” he says. “This is big stuff. She even wore heels!”

Becky Spaulding / Collegiate

Not one to be overly serious, the 74-year-old Secchia came from humble beginnings and has seen and done a lot through the years.

“I came from a family where my grandfather was a bartender and my father delivered newspapers,” he explained. “I wanted to get away from my home and Michigan State seemed to be a place I could go that was far enough away and yet was reasonably priced in 1955.”

Today, Secchia is an accomplished businessman but, back in 1955, this was not the case.

“I went to Michigan State and I had to work and I ran out of money after two quarters. I left MSU and joined the Marine Corps”

It was in the Marine Corps where Secchia’s mindset began to change.

“The Marine Corps taught me to get up early, always be on time, to work harder than I ever thought I could,” he said. “Paris Island taught me to do 50 more push-ups than I ever thought I could do, taught me how to run five miles further than I ever thought I could, and it showed me that I could push myself and operate on less sleep and do more work.”

“I needed that because I had been a questionable student at MSU and just loved the campus and the beautiful girls there,” he explained.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Secchia again applied for the business school at MSU and was accepted.

“I got back into the business school at MSU which wasn’t easy because I had left there with bad grades,” he said. “I had run out of money in the middle of the quarter and of course I didn’t attend anymore classes.”

He graduated in December of 1962 and instead of waiting six months to join a management program that began in June, Secchia took a job in the lumber business.

“I guess I was driven by a fear of failure,” said Secchia. “I didn’t ever want to fail. I had failed at the university, my folks were only able to send 30 dollars a month some months, but I failed them too.”

“I was driven to get up early and driven to work hard and driven to try to do the best I could at everything.”

He worked hard to ensure that he never failed again and soon married a girl he met at MSU and started a family.

“We have raised four children and they have given us seven grandchildren,” said Secchia when asked what he was most proud of.

“They are all beautiful and they are all fun. That’s my biggest accomplishment.”
Having gone to great lengths to be successful through the years – one story goes that he actually dressed up as a hotdog vender to close a sale; Secchia gladly shared what has helped him be successful.

“Find a job you like,” he explained. “It’s hard to know until you start to work but you have to work with people you enjoy and respect. You have to understand that there’s always a boss and you’re not the boss.”

“You can achieve a boss status or title but you have to earn it,” he said. “You can never say ‘I deserve this.’ You have to work and earn it.”

One thing that Secchia continuously shared is the drive he has to continue to push himself.

“You always need to create an attitude that says, ‘I can do it, I will do it, and I must do it’,” he explained.

“No matter if you get home at four in the morning because your plane is late or you’re in a snow storm, I’ve had it happen to me.”

“Or you stay out too late and have too many drinks and get home at two in the morning. The next morning, that’s the morning to get up even earlier,” he said.

“If you don’t punish yourself for the foolish things and you don’t try to recover from God-given mistakes, might be a late airplane or traffic problem, you can’t stay ahead.”

Staying ahead is something that Secchia has mastered through the years.
“I know in my line it’s appropriate to be here, either the first or as one of the earliest,” he said. “That’s a very common trait among successful CEO’s. They are there and they get ready for business before the business begins.”

Devin Brown / Collegiate

“Prior planning, it’s the thing I used to tell my guys. If you don’t think you’re as smart or as fast as the other guy, get there first,” he explained. “Always go into a battle assuming you’re not the fastest and not the biggest and not the quickest mind or most intelligent because you are the underdog.”

Secchia has followed that mindset throughout his career but he believes there is more to running a successful business than just working the hardest.

“You have to learn to respect other people,” he said. “The most important person is your customer on your business side. The most important person in your life is your family.”

“If you have a leaky roof at home, you fix it but you fix it after work,” he explained.

“If you have a sick child, you take care of your sick child then you deal with the customer. There is always a balance of what you have to do.”

Secchia has become a household name around Grand Rapids because of the many buildings named in his honor.

“It’s because of something Rich DeVos taught me,” Secchia explained.
“He said, ‘If you believe in a project, put your name on it. Then other people will

know that you believe in it and they might help and contribute or support what you are doing.’ That’s his logic and I believe in it.”

Having been involved in many restaurant endeavors throughout the years, Secchia felt it was time for Grand Rapids to have a top-level culinary program.

“There was a need in West Michigan for a culinary school,” he said. “They started to build it and started winning contests for pastry’s and ice carving.”

“Then they started putting the kids out on the street to help and work and labor and they wore those little white coats with that Secchia Culinary School emblem on it. That’s a proud moment for me when I see those kids.”

“They always look good and they are well trained so it’s a good program,” he said. “It has gotten me interested in community colleges so I have helped on some other stuff.”

Even though he has accomplished so much, Secchia isn’t satisfied.

“I’m not totally fulfilled with my performance. It isn’t that I could have made more money, it’s that I could have done better because you can always do better,” he said.

“If you always want to be the best in anything then you have to always realize that when you get to a point that you can be better because there is always something you’re reaching for.”

“It’s not the greedy side of the profit equation but the caring side of the living equation to make somebody else’s life better,” he explained.

“Then, from there you have your pride and when you’re gone the hope is that your tombstone says ‘He tried’.”

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