Season 2
48 Minutes

E66 | Jim Zupancic | When A Corporate Executive Takes a Radical Turn

Jim Zupancic had an exceptional career as an Operational Excellence executive with renowned manufacturing companies. By the time he was 34, Jim was the VP of Operational Excellence for a billion-dollar global enterprise. And then, Jim walked away from this life.

Jim taught math in a public school in North Carolina. He married his husband Christopher. They adopted their son Xavier. And at the height of the pandemic, without the promise of work, Jim and Christopher sold their house and belongings and moved their family to Thailand.

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Jim Zupancic  00:00

About a year and a half in, I started realizing, Oh, my boss wants to meet him out. He was ready to be thinking about what’s next for me in that organization and at that point, it meant another geographic move. And I wasn’t at that point ready to to make yet another move for a corporation. I’ve made a lot of moves. I traveled a lot I’ve given up a lot personally through my 20s and early 30s. In order to keep climbing the ladder, you know, I I was never able to join a Thursday bowling league because chances are I was out of town.

Achim Nowak  00:38

Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your FOURTH ACT? I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected FOURTH ACTS, listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you are listening on. Let’s get started. I am very very happy to welcome Jim two punches to the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. Jim has had an exceptional career as an operational excellence executive with renowned manufacturing companies such as Parker Hannifin, Dover Corporation, and Stan Beck’s. He was the VP of operational excellence by the time he was 34. And then, Jim walked away from this life. He taught school, married his husband, Christopher, they adopted their son Xavier, and moved to Thailand in the middle of the pandemic. Jim Christopher Anderson just returned to the United States to embark on yet another chapter in their lives. And first of all, welcome, Jim. Thanks, again. Nice to talk with you again. Yeah, I just want to say you are, I tend to invite older guests to the my fourth act podcasts because they lived many acts, and you’re the youngest guest I’ve ever had. But you’ve made, you’ve made incredibly bold choices in years made some unexpected trends in your life. And it’s still evolving and changing. And I’m so inspired by the choices you made. And I’d like to talk about those. So I’m always curious, when you were a young boy or teenager, you had this career in corporate manufacturing companies? Is that what you wanted to do when you were a kid?

Jim Zupancic  02:47

It’s a fun question. I never thought I would be in manufacturing, I really didn’t. I entered through the finance channel. So I wasn’t I wasn’t right on the factory floor at first. Yeah. But growing up, and there was a board game that I played when I was a kid called hotels. And it was it was very capitalistic, if you will, it was, you know, become a hotel mogul and build properties. And, and I remember it was my first, as I reflected, it was my first thought of WoW, corporations can do really cool things, and build neat things, and later learn about all the capital that required to do those things. Somewhere between my early teenage years and going into college, I just had this I remember thinking, I can make more of a difference in business than I can in government or nonprofit work. I just, I remember thinking that and maybe that was I was jaded by people around me or just the the time back in the 80s and 90s. But I just remember thinking that business, you really can make a lot of change, influence a lot of people. And I just had this fascination with corporate life. I you know, I just I thought, Wow, you can climb that corporate ladder, and you can do anything you want. But I was I kind of had a narrow lens tied to business, you know, good or bad? I don’t know. But

Achim Nowak  04:12

yeah, and I think there’s some truth to you can climb the ladder, and you can have increasingly larger portfolios and you can make a difference. And there often is also a dark side to that. But I think there’s a truth to that story right? Now, I want to just use myself as a reference point for us. Like, if anybody had ever would have ever told me that I would be a coach in manufacturing companies. I was said You’re out of your friggin mind. I know nothing about manufacturing. Now, in my journey, I have learned to I just love manufacturing companies like I get a high walking on a manufacturing floor and seeing people work on tangible stuff. And it’s been a complete delight for me and especially it’s the humanize it for me, I see the machines, but I also see the people doing the work. Since you you’ve done a lot of your initial career has been in manufacturing. Let’s first talk about what what you’ve come to appreciate about manufacturing. Sure.

Jim Zupancic  05:18

I mean, you’ve talked about the tangibility of walking into a factory seeing people make things as, as the world, especially in more industrialized Western countries, as its shifted from needing lots of labor to a lot of service industries. You know, I think some people take for granted that things just show up at their doors from Amazon. But there’s a lot, there’s a lot of sweat that goes into getting things from A to B to C to D. But like you, there’s nothing better from a professional perspective than walking in a factory and seeing someone take a raw piece of metal and turning it into something that you know, is going into a heart stent procedure at a medical device, saving someone’s life. And then I think when you can start to draw or bridge that connection there, from Yeah, it’s kind of gritty in some of the factories. But those those people doing that tangible work, or, or making life easier for everyone else in the world who might not be exposed to that type of work every day in the growing services world.

Achim Nowak  06:21

Now, my sense of you is that in your journey, as you spend more time manufacturing, I’m going to put a label on you. And this is an affectional I think of you as an operational excellence geek, like you really love operational excellence. You’re passionate about it. If you don’t agree with this, you’re welcome to refute me. But what what is it that you love about operational excellence? Or what do you think is if you have to explain to somebody understanding what’s cool and sexy, but operational excellence,

Jim Zupancic  06:51

I’ll take that label, I’ll probably wear it up X geek. First I have to I have to jump back to Parker. And if and, and I joke, and I say I had lean done to me. And so they call it lean or operational excellence, continuous improvement. But

Achim Nowak  07:07

I wanted to interrupt you for a moment because you and I live in a world where everybody knows what Lean is. But there may be some listeners who actually don’t know what Lean is, if you can you give us a brief description of what what that is when we talk.

Jim Zupancic  07:19

It was most famously popularized by Toyota, as they came into the states in the 60s and 70s. And really tried to take on the large automotives that were Chrysler, Ford and GM, they did things completely differently. They did it you know, similar to you hear stories, people building businesses in their garage, scrappy, and get it done. They did it with better quality, better cost. And I frankly, have humility in their workplace. But But Lean is this idea of institutionalizing structured continuous improvement in every aspect of an organization. So I think innately, all of us humans, we like to think we get bettered day after day. But I’ve just come to learn that lean or operational excellence is putting in place systems of transparent continuous improvement, where everybody is conscious of it and talks about it, it’s easy to say we all just get better. And we all are humans, so we want to, but when you work in complex organizations, I firmly believe you need structured processes of continuous improvement to keep the organization honest. Yeah.

Achim Nowak  08:33

I I appreciate the very noble definition you gave, I’ve had the pleasure of working into companies that are fully lean, live, read, lean, and those experiences are literally emotionally inspiring, you know, that I remember, there’s an investment by people who work there into a process that they’re fully own. And it becomes a whole culture that’s lived, it’s not an idea. But if also take you to the other side, the stereotype of the dark side could be as lean means just we’re going to make people work harder with less resources is always trimming, trimming, training more and more and more and more and more. And that’s really what these lean operational excellence people do. When you say to somebody who might have that perspective,

Jim Zupancic  09:25

I’ve seen it time and time again, I’ve seen it in in certain leaders who were raised, I say raised but professionally raised maybe differently, or weren’t exposed to it as a cultural empowering agent for everyone. But I’ve seen it used so often the easiest way to think about it would be as a cost cutting tool, right? And I just, there are times where you need to have cost cutting but I have I have very consciously throughout my career, especially as I’ve, as I’ve evolved, tried to segment are completely I think of those as mutually exclusive. Cost cutting is something companies need to do at times. But building a culture of continuous improvement is not about cutting cost. It’s about empowering people to grow the business or to sustain the business. But I’ve seen it used miserably. Time and time again. That’s, that’s a whole podcast in itself.

Achim Nowak  10:25

We were joking earlier about climbing the corporate ladder. But you did that really? Well, you were 34, you became the VP of operational excellence at a billion plus dollar revenue company. So this was not a small playground. And I assume you had a mandate to establish a stronger operational excellence culture, you were given resources to do it. And then at some point on being so dramatic, you chose to walk away from that, in a way if I said, you had you had the perfect playground, you got there at a young age. And then you said, I want to do different things, I want to do something else. Can you just walk us through from being at this company? And what shifted inside of you to the point where you said, I think I want to do some other things in my life.

Jim Zupancic  11:21

You know, it was I saw, I was there just about three years at that last corporate role. And probably halfway through, I started seeing the signs that the ladder climbing, as I knew it was not going to end. And in fact, any bosses or peers that I had, who had been in the industry a long time, or the corporate world, for that matter. That was just what they were wired to do was, you know, I was younger, so they’re going to, okay, what’s your next step? And it’s, it’s a nice, it’s nice to talk about succession planning, and what do people want to do next. So I was pretty young to be having the exposure to boards of directors and doing acquisition work and doing divestiture work and reporting into a CEO. It was, it was a really neat experience. But about a year and a half in, I started realizing, Oh, my boss wants me to now he was ready to be thinking about what’s next for me in that organization. And at that point, it meant another geographic move. And I wasn’t, at that point, ready to make yet another move. For a corporation, I had made a lot of moves. I traveled a lot, I’ve given up a lot personally, through my 20s and early 30s. In order to keep climbing the ladder, you know, I I was never able to join a Thursday bowling league, because chances are I was out of town. And I’m not a good bowler, but just another. And so I just started thinking, gosh, you know, I’m, maybe I’m coming up to a point where I will make a change. And then when finally, my boss did want me to go and run a different business, I didn’t want to move again. And I was fortunate to be in a position to take a break, I thought it was going to be a six to 12 month break. Here we are three years and three months later. But it was almost a no brainer. I remember I was going to Belize with my with my husband at the time, we’d been married only for maybe a couple of years at that point year and a half. And and we just talked about two weeks. I guess we’re waiting to adopt a son. And I thought, well, I can be a stay at home dad for a little bit. Well, you know, and I ended up staying at home for nine months with our son. And had you ever asked me that in my career prior to kind of that moment. I just would have never thought that jinzhou Pennsic would walk away from a corporate job and stay at home with a newborn. And this probably sounds funny to so many parents who have done this. But being in a position to be able to do that was was the best thing I could have ever asked for i i was able to be home I was able to do nonprofit work with a church with a school for the blind in North Carolina. I then started teaching public school in North Carolina middle school math holy cow that I learned a lot. Lots of change and and that’s ultimately this, this being as openness to change and being secure and myself with my small family unit. That was what ultimately then led us to biggest change of our life which was moving to Asia without the support of a corporate umbrella.

Achim Nowak  14:45

Well, you just you just alluded to all these different doors that open in your life that you chose to walk through and and dimension of the bowling league or the kinds of events that you miss when you’re a core bred Road Warrior and corporate animal. I met you earlier in your career. And, you know, everybody now just loves them celebrates the fact that you have just made all these bold choices. The one thing people said in the beginning that Oh, I, I didn’t really know that Jim was gay, you know, or that. And then these are all people that celebrate you for being gay. So there is no judgment in that comment. But people just go, Well, I had no idea, you know, almost like people didn’t think about your personal life or didn’t think about, does he have a personal life? And I hear that part of your evolution was realizing that I want to have a partner, and I want to have time to really honor and celebrate this relationship.

Jim Zupancic  15:50

Can you talk to that a little more, it was very hard for me early in my career, manufacturing, while it is awesome to walk down the factory floor, there are some stereotypes that go with the industry that it is what it is, I guess, at this point in time, but it was a bit of a good old boys club, whether you were in the management team or on the factory. I remember walking through a factory and a pink polo shirt in the south in the US. I’m kind of smiling, but it was kind of a sad moment, honestly. And I reflected on it for a while. And somebody high up in management at this subsidiary made a comment that it’s so vulgar, I won’t repeat it on your esteemed podcast, but it was Oh, you must get so many ladies. Okay, something along those lines, because I was wearing a pink polo. So boy, I must be bold. And I just remember leaving that trip thinking, How is this? Okay, how is this still happening? And why am I not speaking up and doing anything? Because I was in a position to make some change. And I had the ears of a lot of the upper executives. But I definitely lived closeted for a while for a long time. When I took the job at STANDEX that was slowly coming out of my closet in the corporate world, I was out to all my family and friends. But when I went to stand next, I said I’m not living like that. Everyone else talks about their girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, whatever partners. And I said, Why can’t I and so when I went to stand that I went with a different attitude, and I lived it. And I’m so thankful I did because not living your authentic self at work. And I think a lot of us are seeing this in the pandemic, it’s it’s opened up people who are working remotely, you have no choice because there are two children in the background on camera sometimes. But for me that move to stand next and and finally finding the right partner, who we share the same vision and zest for life. It helped but it was it was tough in the early years, kind of holding that in. But to your point. I always wondered why doesn’t anyone ask me these questions in my robot? Maybe I was I don’t know.

Achim Nowak  18:04

So So you’ve spoken about your husband, Christopher. And I have this sense that the moment you’re closer from it, and that relationship became important. It forced you to make some decisions. How soon did you know? Like, I want to marry this guy. This guy is going to be my husband.

Jim Zupancic  18:25

It was fast. I don’t think you’ll get mad at me telling this story. But I’m gonna, I’m gonna tell it anyway. And you know, ask for forgiveness later. But when we met, I always say you can’t control timing, especially when it comes to relationships. You just can’t control timing. I learned maybe two weeks or a month into dating, that he had been saying someone else when we started dating. But I was in you know, I was also traveling to I had a trip with friends to Eastern Europe and I was going to India for work afterwards. So I was also not readily available at that instant we met. But I remember coming back and sadly it was the day I landed after a 15 hour flight. It was the morning of the Pulse shooting in Orlando as I walked off the plane at Newark Airport. Never will I forget that day. I went back to the Raleigh area and we we had not seen each other in a couple of weeks. We were new. And I remember just holding each other we were so new or crying, thinking that gas that could be us, you know. But as that started to happen, I remember then maybe a day or two later he said Jim, by the way, I’ve also been see I was seeing someone else when we met and they weren’t serious. It was just early dating, but I remember just his honesty to tell me and be upfront about it and not, you know, not beat around the bush and not lead people on and you know, that was kind of the start and I I was so relaxed about it because I was like, gosh, this is refreshing. Someone’s being so honest, because you can’t control time. Somewhere between then and Our first travel travel excursion together, where we just you know, we rigged venturous with food adventures with travel, loved learning about new cultures. It didn’t take long, three to six months to just be oh my gosh, how can I live life without this human?

Achim Nowak  20:20

Word from your sponsor. That’s me. I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast Fourth, you will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation. I love that phrase. You can’t control timing. But this is where my mind went because you adopted a son Xavier. And you could control the timing in the sense that you made the decision that you wanted a child, then I think in the adoption process, there are things that are also beyond your control. But I’m always curious when two gay men choose to adopt if you’re applying tonight, how did you find Xavier, that story of two gay men finding the son that they want to raise? How did that come about?

Jim Zupancic  21:31

Apparent apparently we stood under the lucky star, I don’t know. But we used an agency. And we weren’t connected. Eventually, after maybe a year and a half. We had a couple of fall through we had a birth mother. Sadly, she was in a tough position. But she had tried to scam us. Luckily, there was an agency in place. And they did a wonderful job of figuring that out and finding red flags. But a couple fell through. And ultimately we were matched with this incredible birth mother, amazingly strong woman who my husband and I had had an easier go, you know, at childhood. And she did. But we were connected with her. She was kind she was caring. She was caring about her body and making sure she was healthy through the pregnancy. But she needed a little bit of support through that. But we connected with her got along well. And she delivered and never wavered on her commitment to bring him into the world safely. We never wavered on being there with her literally holding her hand in the birth room. And to this day, now, more than two and a half years later, after his birth, we still text and share updates. And going into the process you mentioned to gay men. I just thought adoption was a closed door, you don’t ever talk about it again. And we were educated thankfully, that it’s Hey, at the time when it was 20 2018 2019. They said it’s a modern world. You know, your kid in 810 years is going to be on Google and probably can figure things out. And I said so it’s a lot more open these days. But so we had a nice open relationship just couldn’t be happier and more thankful that the stars align the way they do. He is incredible, albeit energetic.

Achim Nowak  23:27

We’ll leave it at that. So because I’m really celebrating you know, the the incredible choices you made in your life. You married a man you love to you adopted a child you left a job as a as a VP of operational excellence on a big playground. And as you already alluded to, so you taught public school for a while. What did you learn about being a teacher? And what did you learn about yourself? While you were teaching?

Jim Zupancic  24:02

I learned that teachers in public schools in I believe in the majority of places have a tough job at a fraction of the earnings that many corporate people make. I learned that the way the government works is slow. And it doesn’t always benefit the majority of the students. You know, behavioral issues when we hear about mental health. I’m so happy that we as a as a world and at least a lot of people are talking more about mental health and that it’s equally as important as physical health. I believe that but I don’t think that holds true in what happens in day to day in school buildings and classrooms, whether that’s politics between teachers and administrators. Parents, of course rile that up we see it on the news from either end of the political spectrum here in America. I learned that kids are still kids and they’re awesome. I was teaching in America seventh grade algebra and geometry. I absolutely loved it. I loved how schools are incorporating technology. I think the pandemic gave that a nice kickstart. Yeah, but I absolutely loved how smart kids were. And even if they weren’t masters of my algebra content, there were other ways they could shine, and unlearn some of the concepts. But I, I truly loved that work. It was humbling. And I feel like I look at everything a lot differently. Based on that year teaching public school in North Carolina.

Achim Nowak  25:41

I spend a lot of time before my corporate environment, also doing work in schools. And I’ve always loved to junior high, the seventh grade, eighth grade, much prefer to high school, it’s not always fair to compare. But then if I had to pick that age group is so cool. Did you ever have moments when you were teaching where you went? Why did I give up this fantastic job where I made so much more money? I had control over resources. And I’m in this place where I have to beg for everything. And I’m just a little cog in the wheel. And it’s, I’m being simplistic, but you know what I’m asking, right?

Jim Zupancic  26:22

I don’t think I did during that maybe. I had a principal who was awesome. And I remember her mantra was just teach, because there’s a lot of noise that can happen. She was she was wonderful. She was in business. And she loved business to education. So she, she had a really compassionate approach with teachers. And when it came down to it, it was just teach all that other noise flushes out, when you close the door, and you’re with your students, be engaged, be ready, you know, see, turn their light, turn their light bulbs on, get them to ask questions. I can’t say that I regretted it. Because I was pinching myself, every day that I was able to do it. I had, I was lucky to have a mentor, who was incredible. She was a county math coach, working on probably her third or fourth graduate degree, I think she just finished her doctorate. But it was really cool for me to see that there were resources available. If you find the right people and invest the time, I had a wonderful mentor that the scariest part, we had a shoot active shooter and active shooter threat. And it was right after students were returning from COVID break where all the students were back in the building after, you know, months and months and months. And I remember huddling in the corner. And it was a legitimate threat, there ended up not being a weapon, but there was a very legitimate threat. And it was so scary to be there with all these 12 and 13 year olds literally huddled in the corner, you know, as quiet as we could be. That still to this day puts the hairs on the back of my neck. But that wasn’t uh, oh, my gosh, why did I leave the corporate world? But it was? How is this still happening in our schools? Why are children dealing with hiding under desks and huddling in corners and doing active shooter drills. So that was a, it just gave me a lot more empathy for what teachers deal with and what students deal with. And it’s, it again, goes back to some of the mental health issues in so many ways.

Achim Nowak  28:26

I so appreciate your making that vivid for us and to you know, because we forget how many students go through the drills and and have to learn how to protect themselves. And that’s such a sad thing that we have to do that as we’re growing up, which ideally would be a celebration of life and possibility. Right? I so not only did you and teach in the public schools, just remember listeners three years ago, Jim was VP operational excellence, big company, and then you Christopher and your son, decide to in the middle of the pandemic. Move to Thailand for a whole other adventure. Two questions, one, how did that emerge as something that you wanted to do? And then secondarily, I know you have a family who loves and celebrates and supports you. But there had to have been a moment where they go is he friggin insane. So walk us through that decision and also then the process with your family and your friends and letting them know that yeah, I’m really doing this.

Jim Zupancic  29:50

The How was definitely an evolution and I had always wanted to live abroad. I had traveled and worked in many In 37 countries around the world, my husband had, he had lived in study abroad in South Africa, Australia, he lived in Alaska doing brown bear population study. So he has this kind of this bone in his body that says, let’s get out there. And we had our son, we spent a lot of time at home with COVID, working at that point, teaching and working remotely in some in the school. And we we said, our parents, were very fortunate that we have four parents that are alive, his parents and my parents, they’re together, first of all, and alive, which is these days, statistically not normal. And we said, Gosh, if we don’t do it now, will we ever. And you know, as people age in the family, it gets harder and harder to be that far away. You can’t just jump on a plane, let alone with COVID With all the quarantine regulations, but we thought about Europe. And we we both came to the conclusion that you know what if we really want cultural change and immersion, that’s too easy, we need something a little bit more difficult. So we said, what about Thailand, and in Asia, in particular, we want we thought that would be neat to explore, because we we really wanted true immersion into something different, it needed to be safe. And when you start looking at Asia, it came down to for us two locations. It was Taiwan, or Thailand, because we are a gay family, LGBTQ plus family. And Taiwan, given some of the rhetoric that comes out of governments with mainland China, that didn’t seem like a good fit for us at the time. They were also with COVID, it would have been a little bit more difficult. And we had been to Thailand, I’ve worked there, traveled there for our honeymoon, some distant friends, family kind of folks that live there. And we boiled it down to this is probably the safest, most welcoming place for us. And we started to put everything in motion. So liquidated cars home. It was an incredible experience, I still can’t believe we did it. We can talk more about how we got over there without jobs and found jobs and manage the immigration system, which was just mind boggling. To do it without any support. But when you asked about family, how did they feel? Oh, boy, I think I’m still in trouble from my mother about about our hiatus from America. But I think there was probably a 334 month Oh, they’re not really going to do it. Kind of thing. And we were we were committed to trying this, you know, we knew it wasn’t forever. We said one to two years maximum, we made it just about a year. But our family, it was hard for them. It was difficult to do. Video calls when you’re 11 to 12 hours time change, depending on time of year, that was really difficult. But we we made it work. And we made sure there was lots of FaceTime or whatever other video platform we use, so that Xavier could, you know, see his family members and I have to give all of our extended family huge props, because they made an effort, you know, they made an effort to reach out and to do those early morning or late night calls so that we could stay in touch. But they eventually came around and were supportive. And I think just I think overall, if you had to ask them, I think they were happy for us that we did this because a lot of people wouldn’t be willing to just, quote, give it all away and leave the country with no plan of

Achim Nowak  33:45

return. I was struck as you’re telling this story, when you said well, we liquidated the house and the cars there’s something very final about that, like you, you can’t even pretend that they’re just going on an extended vacation, right? Get that sort of a job. That’s the big decision right.

Jim Zupancic  34:05

Now, there was no pretending as we put the house on the market. But it was it was so freeing, I mean just from to take that break over the past year and not not have a joke, the amount of personal emails tied to insurance policies for cars and this and that and home and it was absolutely freeing to kind of clear things out. We set up a virtual mailbox where you know, all of our traditional banking stuff could go and it was scanned to us. So we’d be opening that remotely but it really cleared out a lot of nonsense of things that we thought we needed day to day life. And it just allowed us to simplify. I think people it’s easy to get caught up and we need this big of a house and let’s fill every room and and then then it weighs on people. I think you have fixed costs and until Our district though sometimes so it was, it was absolutely liberating.

Achim Nowak  35:05

I believe that you ended up teaching again in Thailand, right? Can you give us a snapshot of what that was, like?

Jim Zupancic  35:13

Humbling, again, humbling, but in a very different way, there was there’s a respect level in Thai culture that I’d say is different. You know, American culture is great in so many ways. And but there’s also a it’s almost innate, I think, to a lot of Americans to challenge authority and to challenge the status quo, which is, which is good and bad. You don’t have as much of that. In Thailand, so you had students who were very sweet and kind, they didn’t, they still didn’t always do their work. Okay, I was at a private Christian Academy for all girls in the center of Bangkok. I mean, couldn’t be more central. The students were so sweet and so kind. But as I look back, and I, you know, you as a teacher, you try to put things on a bell curve, and you say, Where were the students fall, it was actually quite similar academically, even in a private school, compared to a rural public school in North Carolina. But the biggest thing for me was the culture and the respect level out of Thai families, you know, their, their parents were very, very concerned that their students were being well behaved. And that was their first question. As I did parent teacher calls and video conferences, and they all work, they were wonderful. I got, it was also neat, similar to the corporate world, where I had a chance to work with people from all over the world, teaching into an International Academy or Academy. And in Bangkok, you have teachers who are from all over the world. I was probably the oldest. So in that case, it was very different from my corporate life where I was always the youngest, but it was one of the coolest experiences to get up and either walk or jump on the back of a moped every day and go to work. That was that was pretty neat.

Achim Nowak  37:08

That just sounded like a scene from a movie The way you just said.

Jim Zupancic  37:14

It felt like a movie for me as I’m riding on a moped it was it was crazy, but so much fun.

Achim Nowak  37:21

How did your son Xavier groove with Bangkok and life in Thailand? What was that like for him?

Jim Zupancic  37:28

The toughest part was COVID. We had we really thought we would be putting him into some type of school over there. But with COVID restrictions, no schools were allowing, for a long time while we were there. No schools were allowing students on campus. And we were not going to put pay tuition for a two year old to be remote learning. That just didn’t make sense. So we were fortunate to have a nanny. She had done au pair work in America before she was a Thai citizen. We couldn’t have been luckier to find her. But his our son’s day to day was amazing for you know, he gets to go to the park every day. He sees trains, buses, motorcycles, trucks, tuk tuks over there, every single day. So for him, I almost think it was really good for his development, to be seeing so much different color faces. We were generally you know, we were the odd people out as the white people, you know, it was mostly ties in our neighborhood and where we were living. And I feel I can’t you know, it’s hard to quantify that. But I can’t help but think that that was good for him to be immersed in that as well. But boy, does he love watching trains. See a lot of those in Bangkok, but, but he did very well, thanks for asking about him.

Achim Nowak  38:51

Yeah. And the son that were German Foreign Service guy. So I grew up being the boy in foreign countries, and the boy looks different from everybody. So we rotated every three or four years to a different place. And so I’m curious, because after a year, living this life, you could have stayed, but you chose to come back to the United States. And I’m sure there is no easy answer. But I’m wondering, what was your process around saying, Okay, we’re when we come back to the States.

Jim Zupancic  39:26

You know, I think if, if it was if we didn’t have to think about the realities of school, and that as my husband’s a teacher, he is, he’s a certified teacher, unlike, unlike myself, so he really knows what he’s doing. But we had thought we would come back in December, so a year and a half, which was right between our one and two year mark. But the school year begins in August and the best teaching jobs back here in America really aligned with that traditional school calendar. And so for us, it was well we could come back in December. That’s not going to give him the best opportunities. For us, it was more of a timing. Rather than get to the 18 months, we just said, Hey, let’s let’s stop at a year so that so that he can find his ideal role. And you know, he landed his he had five job offers, I don’t know if that’s what that tells you about the school. But he’s, his experience is incredible. He landed his top choice now in North Carolina in a different school district. I’m so happy for him. It’s an amazing school. So it was just it was more about timing. We it was we couldn’t have been happier with our experience. And I don’t think we’ve really changed much at all.

Achim Nowak  40:36

But if I want to play devil’s advocate for a moment, because you know that I left, when I was in my mid 30s, I moved to Trinidad and Tobago for a while. And that stayed exactly as long as you guys did, I stayed free, or I could have stayed longer. I could have lived there for years. In my case, it would have been you know, marrying somebody from Trinidad I had, I had the perfect wife picked out it was all set up. But after a year, I really missed things American that I had taken for granted. And I love Trinidad and Tobago, I loved my life and Tobago. So because I have a hunch you too could have said, well, we can stay in Thailand for three or four years, we can continue to teach we will find a decent school for him in Thailand, you know, there’s a good international schools and he’ll be well tutored. But you chose to not do that. I mean this in the nicest way, because I went through this myself, was it like? We’re done with the experience we had, we’re grateful for it. We learned what we need to learn. But we’re ready to go home or, or what else was it?

Jim Zupancic  41:46

I think there was a bit of, I mean, we did everything we had come to do. We showed up without jobs, we’ve got really, really high standards, good jobs. But I think, you know, missing family and friends. And as our son is now starting to talk and is so much more cognizant of things, you know, I’d be lying if that wasn’t certainly a big variable in our thinking. We wanted to get him back to family and friends. So might we live abroad again one day, you know, maybe probably not back in Thailand, it was a tough change. But we had kind of done what we wanted to do saw we wanted to see and, and there was certainly this Hey, but let’s get back. So it’s easier to see family, you know, we we don’t take for granted that. That life can be short. And you never know. Yeah.

Achim Nowak  42:41

Xavier in the background. I think we keep hearing him he’s part of the conversation. So final question. You talked about Christopher, your husband having a new job, and and you’re have a new job you’re moving into and you’re moving back into something that’s more similar to your corporate life. Or not? Would you would you describe to us what you’re moving into? Yeah,

Jim Zupancic  43:06

you know, I, I can’t even believe I already have employment again, starting in a few weeks. It’s it’s feels funny after, you know, well over three years away. But I’m also super excited about what this role looks like. It’s back in kind of a financial role, very much a business partner of a multi site organization. I have worked for this president of this company, and to other organizations, I have, I know a couple of the other executive team members, and it’s out of its out of the function where I’ve been for the last decade plus in my corporate life, it’s back into finance where I started and I’m, I’m really excited about that for a couple of reasons. One, I will be working mostly remote. And you know, had you I don’t think would have been a possibility pre pandemic. I think it’s really neat to see the articles that we read on LinkedIn and in the Wall Street Journal, it’s really happening this shift in the workplace, and it’s really cool to see. But I’m, I’m excited to be working remotely. I’m excited to work for people that I have built relationships in the past. That just to me, I couldn’t be more fortunate to be coming back to this role. It feels like it was designed for me. We’ll see how you know what, where this takes me next. But I’m excited. It’s gonna bring stability, maybe heck, I’ll join that Thursday night bowling league, I don’t know. But I feel really fortunate to be working with some people that I built relationships with in past life and I will come at it with a very fresh perspective from pretty eager

Achim Nowak  44:54

if you had to, and I feel like I’m asking an impossible question. Well, I would say if your views Think back of your life in the corporate world operational excellence, school teacher, husband, father, teaching school Thailand coming back, starting again a new role. What are one or two things that you’ve learned about yourself along the way that maybe you didn’t know, 10 years ago?

Jim Zupancic  45:28

Gosh, one that happiness does not come with more income. I think I was so fixated on title and income. And it’s not a bad thing. And I think motivation, ambition is not a bad thing. It’s great. But I think when you can look at it in a balanced sense with other social factors for one’s life, I think that’s important. So for me living authentically, I wish I would have been, I can’t say I have regrets. But I would say for that next younger Jim, or Janie, or whoever they M they heard whatever, I would hope to, that people will live more authentically. I love watching young people today in their, in their teens, be themselves whatever that might mean, earlier in life, I grew up thinking, you know, I grew up as a Catholic. So there were a lot of shoulds, you shouldn’t do this. But I think living authentically is probably my number one advice to people who are coming up through that out of college into the corporate world these days. The other one would just be the humility aspect. It’s easy as you start climbing that ladder, to think there’s two sets of rules, one for the people on the factory floor and one for others. And that I think that that Toyota culture that I had embedded in me trying consciously to, to walk with humility, in Thailand also taught me that but yeah, so that’s the city of humility.

Achim Nowak  47:03

Beautiful. If our listeners want to learn anything else about you, because they’re curious about you, I know you have a LinkedIn profile at any of the places where you would like to send people who want to learn more about yours that the best place that LinkedIn

Jim Zupancic  47:17

is great. I’d say that’s probably the best place it’s James hyphen, R hyphen, Zupancic. That’s my LinkedIn handle there. That’s probably the best. I’m happy to get back with messages. Usually within a week. I’m not I’m not the fastest on LinkedIn. I’ve turned off notifications as a sanity check. But LinkedIn is a great place and I’d love to hear from anyone. If anyone had any thoughts or ideas or advice for me, I’d be all yours.

Achim Nowak  47:45

Thank you for the gift of this conversation and statistic. Best wishes for your next act, which is starting in a couple of weeks. Bravo.

Jim Zupancic  47:55

Thanks, I came for everything. I always enjoyed talking with you.

Achim Nowak  47:59

Bye for now. Like what you heard, please go to my fourth And subscribe to receive my updates on upcoming episodes. Please also subscribe to us on the platform of your choice. Rate us give us a review and let us all create some magical fourth acts together. Ciao


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