Our Best Defense—MEET CEO PHIL SPRIO
Part Perry Mason, part Olivia Pope, Phil Sprio has made a career out of creatively solving problems. Whether he’s running for mayor of Albany at 27, managing crises for Fortune 500 companies, or helping Peter Thiel set the course for the early days of PayPal, this Renaissance man has seen and done it all. And he sinks himself fully into everything he does.
“Whatever you’re doing, do it at your best,” he says. “Whatever is right in front of you, do it as good as you can.”
He is also humble (credits his wife and daughter’s experimentation for his chic fashion style), loyal (cheers on his NY teams, or anyone playing against the Cowboys) and an aspiring master chef (Italian is his specialty).
Sprio took over as President and CEO of Man Lift Mfg. Co. in 2011 and more recently led the acquisition efforts of Ultra Armoring & Defense and Metal Works Mfg. Co. He brought with him a unique leadership style that comes from his incredible history through a variety of industries and disciplines. His interest in business was first kick started by an unexpected foray into politics.
Running for Mayor
At 27, recently out of law school and eager to make a name for himself, Sprio ran as the republican candidate for Mayor in the city of Albany. The capital of New York and oldest democratic machine in the country, Albany hadn’t elected a republican mayor since 1922. But the recent election of the first republican County Executive in 40+ years left Sprio feeling compelled to at least give it a shot after another mayoral candidate had dropped out.
The election was a well-fought battle for Sprio, who received the endorsement of the local newspaper and garnered more votes than any other republican mayoral candidate since 1981. But he was eventually topped by democrat Gerald Jennings by a 15% to 73% margin. Jennings actually remained mayor of Albany until 2009.
Though he didn’t pull out the win, the experience introduced Sprio to many influential people (Jennings and Sprio remain close to this day) and marked the true beginning of his business development career. Maybe Sprio’s most impressive mover and shaker story, though, comes from his days working as a New York lawyer.
Helping Define PayPal
In its early days, long before it was the financial standard that it is today, PayPal found itself having to overcome a major hurdle. The company was faced with the dilemma of proving to the New York State Banking Department that it was not a bank and therefore did not require a charter or brick and mortar offices. PayPal hired Sprio to represent them and be part of the team tasked with proving that PayPal wasn’t a bank, facing the very real possibility of becoming extinct without a solution to this problem.
The team, including Sprio and PayPal executives Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Reid Hoffman, began strategizing. In the end, they prevailed by rejecting the question on the table and forming a third alternative (a strategy Sprio excels at to this day), the answer to which was more in line with PayPal’s overall goals. And by convincing the NY State Banking Department that Paypal wasn’t a banking establishment, PayPal was able to do business in all 50 states without having to take years obtaining a charter in each state or a national charter, which would have required brick and mortar offices. PayPal would not be where it is today without achieving this landmark resolution.
As of 2015, PayPal operates in 203 markets worldwide and has 159 million active, registered accounts. PayPal allows customers to send, receive, and hold funds in a staggering 26 currencies.
But it was a simpler story from his childhood that instilled one of Sprio’s greatest attributes.
Sticking With It
When asked about a specific time when Sprio almost gave up, how he felt about it and what he ended up doing, he harkened back to a time during his childhood. Sprio absolutely hated the first couple days of Pop Warner football practice in 5th or 6th grade. It was August and the same thought ran through his head that did every year about that time, “Why did you sign up for this?”
The consistent message he received from his parents? “You signed up for it, you’re gonna finish it.” It was a simple lesson, one that Sprio says he has since passed on to his kids. Though he knows you sometimes have to change direction if the situation warrants, Sprio lives this lesson and refuses to quit anything just because it’s difficult or unpleasant.
In fact, when asked what he would change if he were “king for a day” he spotlights a program that would assist in teaching young people this important lesson. Sprio mentions that these days everybody thinks they have to go to college and build up a bunch of debt. His idea would be to require every high school graduate to participate in a 2-year national service program.
It could be a military path or a work program, but this would prepare students a bit more for what’s ahead in life. It would be a paid position, so they would treat it like a job. This would get roads built and bridges fixed, assistance for children with Autism and teachers, and give America’s young people great experience serving our country. Then once those two years are completed, let the young people decide what’s going to work for them, whether it be college or the workforce. They’ve had a little time to grow up, gained much needed work experience, and hopefully our society is a little better off.
Ideas like this are what truly inspire the people that work around Sprio. He’s a motivator, goal setter and someone that you want to work hard for. A man of many talents and passions who has found a home at Metal Works Mfg. Co.