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A Force of Nature: Picking up the pieces after overcoming alcoholism.

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June 27, 2017by John Ingoglia

I grew up in an Italian family, one of five boys. My father is one of four children, all of whom worked for my grandfather, Tony Ingoglia, Sr. I have many cousins, all of whom were very close growing up, held together by the force of nature, our grandfather. He was an immigrant from Sicily. He was a self-made man, who didn’t go past the 7th grade. Having come from a very poor childhood, he believed the measure of man’s success was having money to provide for his family. The two things that were ingrained in all of us in the family were: that family came first and the importance of money.

He started a salami distribution company in 1934, and the company grew with each generation. Today, it is one of the largest food distributors in the United States. When I visited him, as a young boy, I would be given the opportunity to take puffs off his cigar, while he imparted his wisdom to me. As early as I could remember, maybe 6 or 7 years old, he would tell me, “Spend a little, save a little.” Alternatively, if someone didn’t have money on them, he would lean into me and whisper, “Always carry money. Cash. Keep your cash in one pocket and your wallet in the other. Don’t be like him.” Later he would say, “And never borrow. Always buy CASH,” he would say with an East Coast accent. He immigrated to Boston, and so had a Boston accent even though he lived in California most of his adult life.

He was an incredible salesman. The best! He knew how to talk. He was the first salami salesman to walk Northern California. He was a pioneer. He inspired me. He would be watching the ticker, watching the stocks on the television when I visited, and he would tell me how he loved the stock market. As a result, I wanted to become a stockbroker, and I got jobs as soon as I could. I wanted to be like my grandfather. I too wanted to be a force of nature.

As I grew up, I pushed myself doing odd jobs and worked while going to grade school and high school. I didn’t need to. We were well off. My father was a prominent attorney and eventually ran the family business. My mother was a successful political figure in California politics. I choose to work and have laboring jobs in spite of this comfort. I wanted to imitate my grandfather.

I had paper routes when I was nine years old. I mowed lawns and washed cars. I was a janitor at a tennis club at age 13, and a soda jerk/stock boy at a pharmacy at age 14. I worked nights at the plant loading trucks throughout high school. I always wanted to go to Boston where my grandfather grew up, and so I jumped at the opportunity to attend Boston College in 1994. Upon graduating in 1998, I wanted to be a stock broker, and so I went to New York in 1999. After selling yellow page advertising for a time, I became a Financial Advisor for Prudential Securities.

All the while, I became a drinker.  When you grow up, like this, driven, in a family like this, you might find yourself taking on many things, early on. It also helped to be big for your age. I looked older than I was. I was able to buy cigarettes at the age of 12. This is how it was for me. Going to college in Boston, at a Catholic college, drinking was a sport. After 9/11, I really drank. New York, in finance, drinking was part of life in a bad way for many in the city.

By 2003, I was spent. The market was bad. I could not afford New York City. I felt I had to come back to California. I had a potential job opportunity in San Francisco. However, the company had a hiring freeze, this was during the war build up for Iraq, part 2. However, I had already moved to San Francisco. I decided to become a cab driver. That’s what out-of-work stock brokers did in the seventies. In 2003, I was probably the only Boston College graduate in San Francisco driving cab. Broke, living in the Tenderloin, taking the bus to work every day, I was making it my own way. My pops at Easter asked me to swallow my pride and come home. After driving for about a year, I came home.

I moved back with my folks to Sacramento in 2004. I gained 60 lbs. on mom’s cooking. I started a job working for a local commercial real estate firm doing leasing and investments. I did well and saved up a lot of money. I also spent a lot of time with my grandfather, taking him to church, playing cards, and going on drives. I eventually bought his house in 2005 when he moved into an assisted living spot with his girlfriend.

I was good at what I did, but after four years I experienced the next market crash. I seem to pick industries that crash, I thought to myself. This time, however, a friend of mine presented an opportunity to me. Hard Money. He got me drunk, which wasn’t hard, and convinced me to quit my job and start this company right before I got married. She wasn’t very happy about it.    I joined Adham Sbeih in November of 2008. We renamed his company from Sbeih Financial to Socotra Capital.

It was not easy. Our office was in one of our first salami distribution warehouses in West Sacramento. An iconic hard money start-up story. With my marriage on the rocks, I slept on the couch most nights. If 2001 was the worse stock market crash since the Great Depression, 2008 was the worse real estate market crash since the Great Depression. As miserable as it was, it was thrilling. I felt I had given everything up for this single opportunity, and it was exhilarating. We closed our first deal May of 2009. We were hit or miss for the first year and a half. In 2010, I got divorced, and then my grandfather died. He was 98. We had a cigar together the night he died.  I drank. When you are an alcoholic, you cannot stop. I met my second wife, Shirley, at the end of 2010. She moved in within a few months and was pregnant shortly after, nine months from when we first met. Hard money lenders move fast in everything, I guess. After my son, Tony was born, April 23rd, 2012, I tried to slow down the drinking. It wasn’t working. I got a DUI. I actually tried slowing down. I had a real bad night when I crashed through Tony’s bouncy chair. He wasn’t in it, but my wife left me worried the next time we might not be so lucky. After talking to my father, he asked, “What are you going to do? Not good enough. What are you going to do? Not good enough. What are you going to do?” He would repeat those two sentences after I gave him one bullshit answer after the next. So, I went to my first AA meeting, five days later. I promised him, and I promised my wife I would go to meetings and stop drinking for good. She came back but worried. She had heard it before.

I had my last drink on December 16, 2012. Thirty-eight days later, my father, brother, and nephew, along with two others died in a head-on car accident, on January 23rd, 2013. This was on the highway in Kona, Hawaii, on the way to visit the volcano. My mother was playing bridge that day; otherwise, she would have also been in that car.

Some people deal with severe loss in different ways. I stayed sober but more out of spite and anger than anything else. I made a promise to my father not to drink. So I worked. I worked that week of the memorial. I never took any time off. I worked that entire year like I did that first year we started in 2008. I also stopped eating. I lost 60 lbs. I looked bad. After about six months, I started eating and joined an MMA gym, an outlet to channel my anger. I became more centered. Balanced. If it wasn’t for that promise to my father and his proceeding death, I am not sure if I would be sober today. That weighs on me almost every day.

I was a high functioning alcoholic for a very long time. Being in sales. Being in finance. Being in real estate. Raising money and originating loans. Wining and dining. Drinking was a major factor in this sport I play. Through life, I became an alcoholic. Something I did not plan. I was born into the club, but it took time for it to take over my life. I was such a destructive force of nature. If I had not quit, I would have lost everything.

Today, I go to AA meetings every week. I have pictures of my family all throughout my office: of my grandfather, my father, my brother, and nephew. Of my uncle, Tony. Of my stepdaughter and son. Of my wife. The pictures remind me why I choose this path: to be a force of nature for good. I do not want to destroy small villages. I want to move mountains.

I wanted to share a little bit of my life to hopefully connect with some of you that might be going through something similar. Maybe alcohol, maybe something else. Become who you really are. Make the choice no matter how difficult. Make the choice to be a force of nature for good. It is never too late.

So, what are you going to do? Not good enough.

What are you going to do? Not good enough.

What are you going to do? Let’s move some mountains,

John Ingoglia, a force of nature.