As I continue my daily journal in anticipation of my surrender to the Hazelton federal prison camp on November 30, 2023, I find myself reminiscing about the leaders who have profoundly influenced my journey and shaped my outlook on success. Among these leaders, there is one individual whose impact on my life cannot be overstated: Mike Ilitch, affectionately known as Mr. I, the founder of Little Caesars Pizza.
My first encounter with Mr. I occurred during my high school years when I worked at the eighth Little Caesars Pizza location he owned. I was just a young, ambitious employee with dreams of making a difference. However, I made a rather questionable choice during my time there—I baked pizzas in the morning and then took them to school to sell to my classmates.
One day, I received a stern reprimand from Mr. I himself for my entrepreneurial endeavors. He was not pleased with my actions, and he made it clear that such activities were not in line with his vision for his business. While I may not have fully appreciated it at the time, that moment left a lasting impression on me.
Decades later, fate would have it that I would share a table with Mr. I at a political fundraiser. When I introduced myself as John Dalaly, he immediately recalled our earlier encounter and asked if I was related to Dawood Dalaly, who had recently purchased a shopping center from him. I proudly confirmed that Dawood was my father, but I also took the opportunity to remind Mr. I of the pizza incident from my high school days.
We both shared a hearty laugh, and he then inquired why I considered him an inspiration. I explained that it was not just the pizza incident but also his remarkable journey from being a self-starter to building a business empire that resonated with me. Mike Ilitch, a man who did not attend college, had transformed Little Caesars Pizza into a global brand that employed thousands of people. His success story served as a beacon of hope for someone like me who never quite found their place in the traditional classroom setting.
From leaders like Mr. I, I gleaned the invaluable lesson that success is not solely determined by formal education or conventional paths. Instead, it is the drive, determination, and unwavering belief in one’s abilities that can pave the way for a fulfilling and meaningful life. My own journey in the business world has been a testament to this belief, as I, too, became an industrialist and created opportunities for thousands of individuals.
Moreover, Mr. I taught me the importance of giving back to the community and using one’s success to make a positive impact. He was not just a successful businessman; he was a philanthropist who supported various charitable causes and initiatives in the Detroit area. His commitment to improving the lives of others left an indelible mark on me, and it is a principle I have always strived to emulate in my own leadership roles.
As I prepare to serve my 28-month sentence, I am determined to carry forward the legacy of leaders like Mr. I. I intend to use stories from my life, including my relationship with him, to inspire and instill confidence in others who may not have followed traditional paths to success. Whether it’s through mentoring, sharing experiences, or offering guidance, I want to empower those I encounter during my time behind bars to believe in themselves and their potential.
In closing, the lessons I’ve learned from leaders like Mike Ilitch remind me that success knows no boundaries. It is a product of determination, resilience, and the willingness to embrace unconventional paths. As I embark on this new chapter, I hope to pay forward the inspiration and wisdom I’ve received from remarkable individuals like Mr. I, helping others find their unique paths to success and fulfillment.