Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Spring 2004Kellogg School of Management
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Alumni Profile: John Strelecky '97

Existential Inc.
This philosophic alum ponders the meaning of life, and is making it his business to help others do the same

Kellogg School alum John Strelecky '97 has set an audacious philosophical goal for himself: He's trying to discover the meaning of life while also helping others find their "purpose for existing."

Call it bridging the gap between B2B and "2B or not 2B." Whatever label fits, it's clear Strelecky is staking out territory beyond that of the typical MBA.

The kernel of his thought is symbolized by his story of the sea turtle.

While snorkeling off the coast of Hawaii, a swimmer suddenly notices a large green sea turtle. He watches the turtle swim effortlessly underwater, away from the coast. The swimmer tries to keep up, but soon the physically slower --- but nevertheless faster --- turtle ditches him.

The turtle's speed is not an illusion, but based on a brilliant adaptation. "The turtle never fought the tide," says the swimmer, "but instead used it. The reason I had not been able to keep up with him is because I was paddling all the time, no matter which way the water was going."

That story comes from a small nonfiction book, The Why Are You Here Caf�, that Strelecky self-published last year after he and his wife, Cindy Zhao '00, a real-estate investor, backpacked for nine months in Asia and Africa. For Strelecky, the sea turtle serves as a metaphor for life.

Between email SPAM, the array of mass media hype and annoying telemarketers, a lot of life can get eaten up, he says. "The people I've encountered who are most happy with life are the ones who have clearly identified what they want out of life and are pursuing it."

Strelecky calls this approach PFE, or Purpose for Existing. Today, Strelecky of Orlando, Fla., runs a writing, speaking and consulting business aimed at helping people and companies get the most out of life.

Strelecky grew up in suburban Chicago and attended Emory Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. Unfortunately, shortly after he graduated, a previously undiagnosed heart condition put an end to his aviation career.

Outgoing by nature, Strelecky is competitive and a top volleyball player. Off the court, Strelecky believes in purpose-driven excellence. He urges companies not to recruit the best talent, but to attract the best talent through clearly defined statements of their corporate Purpose for Existing. People with personal PFEs that are similar to an organization's PFE will be drawn to that organization, he says, thus attracting the best talent by providing a close fit between the firm's goals and that of prospective employees.

Strelecky notes that his business philosophy practice derives from experiences he and his peers had while engaged in more traditional management consulting. "We found that leaders at all levels often acted with diligence, but not always with purpose," he explains. "They worked very hard to achieve things, but often did not have a clearly articulated reason why those 'things' were the 'right things.'"

In a recent issue of Executive Excellence, Strelecky provides an example of a company PFE that is "clear, impactful and to the point." Pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co. Inc. states: "Our business is preserving and improving human life. All of our actions must be measured by our success in achieving this goal."

For Strelecky, his world trip accentuated life's preciousness. "After a day of climbing a remote section of the Great Wall of China, or watching a herd of zebra on the African plains, you are much more hesitant about giving up even a single day to do something that you don't find fulfilling," he says.

Returning to Florida, Strelecky was inspired to write his first book and is now working on another about his travels. He also cofounded the business philosophy practice at Morningstar Consulting Group, based in Rochester Hills, Mich.

His goal is to inspire others to figure out, and then do, exactly what they want with their lives.

"Life isn't infinite," he says. "If you aren't careful, days can turn into weeks, and before you know it, all you have is a list of things you would like to do and no more time to do them."

--- Daniel Cattau

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University