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AJ Interviews Johnny (Episode 698)

AJ Interviews Johnny (Episode 698)

Johnny Dzubak (@dzubak) grew up in Greensburg, PA, honed his musical chops in Chapel Hill, NC, and now runs The Art of Charm in Los Angeles, CA with AJ. But how did he get from there to here? Listen while Johnny shares his story.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Who is Johnny Dzubak?
  • What is The Rust Belt Scowl?
  • What did musical aspirations teach Johnny about social dynamics?
  • How did Johnny and AJ meet and really become friends?
  • Does Johnny consider himself an introvert or an extrovert?
  • And so much more…


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Who is Johnny Dzubak? What’s his origin story?

In this episode, AJ puts Johnny on the stand to dig into his history; next week, the tables will be turned while Johnny grills AJ. What we’ll discover is that in spite of the differing paths that windingly brought them to the same destination, the similarities in their shared Rust Belt beginnings laid the groundwork for what looks — from an outsider’s perspective — to be an unlikely friendship.

Please Scroll down for Full Show Notes and Featured Resources!

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More About This Show

When AJ and Johnny take meetings with new clients and pitch make pitches for potential partnerships, they almost always get what they call The Question.

“The pitch goes well,” says AJ. “Everyone’s about to get up, and they turn and look and us and…without fail, they go, ‘Great story, guys! I love what I’m hearing. The Art of Charm sounds fantastic. But one thing I just can’t figure out. You two? How are you guys friends?'”

While the two seem like an odd pairing at first glance, they share more than a few common points of reference from growing up in Midwestern Rust Belt during its decline as America’s industrial heartland. There, the hard-working blue collar mindset that had served generations before them was woven into their fabric.

The Rust Belt Scowl

“I was born about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh,” says Johnny, “in a place called Greensburg. Growing up at that time in the late ’70s, early ’80s is when the industry of that area started to leave…it was very centered on this lunch pail mentality that we talked about in Mental Models and Frameworks (Episode 696).”

Johnny’s dad would work hard every day from the early morning into the evening at a factory that might not have been any kid’s dream job, but it was a livelihood that paid the bills and provided for the family. It was the kind of financially secure — if not mentally fulfilling — life generations had lived in the area until Johnny came of age.

“My dad was always pissed off about something!” says Johnny.

“Yeah! The Rust Belt Scowl,” says AJ, “where you didn’t want to get on his bad side, especially before he ate his dinner.”

“When I look back upon it, I see him as a little bit cold in the fact that he just wanted to push forward and go to work and get through another day,” says Johnny. “For myself growing up there, it wasn’t a very expressive household in the way that I would be able to say what I was feeling or thinking. If I was to complain about something or express myself in a certain way, a lot of times my dad would say things like, ‘Well, if you want to talk like that, talk like that around your mother. I just spent 10 hours in a glass factory bending glass for automobiles. I don’t want to hear it.'”

Johnny’s mom was a hairdresser, so he and his sister would be her test subjects every time a new hairdo was in vogue. Whenever the family would go into town, they’d be surrounded by the boarded-up remains of once-thriving businesses that had shuttered alongside the crumbling local economy. There was a prevailing sense that the best the world had to offer was dead and buried in a past Johnny’s generation would never experience. The present was bleak and the uncertain future didn’t promise any improvements.

“Growing up in that, you see decay all around you,” says Johnny. “You see things collapsing and you see that change — at a young age, it’s hard to tell if the change that is coming is good or not. All you know is, conversations are now centered around who is getting laid off, who’s losing hours at work, what is this person going to do, and this store closed down…and it’s overcast and grey for most of the year.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn more about the difference of perspective Johnny and his sisters have of their dad growing up, what music offered Johnny during his formative years, what dress-down day at Johnny’s Catholic school was like, band life lessons that led to an interest in social dynamics, how Johnny and AJ met and became real friends over time, how Johnny faked it ’til he made it in the craft cocktail scene, where Johnny stands on the line between introversion and extroversion, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with Johnny Dzubak, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank Johnny Dzubak at Twitter!

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