Philanthropist and founder of a multi-national security conglomerate, USPA Nationwide Security, discusses his childhood in Shirley, NY and his rise to the top of the security industry and the secret to his success; giving his wealth away.
The USPA Nationwide Security Founder, Michael Evans, has one of the most fascinating success stories; a troubled teen changes his life, starts a company in a Riverhead bedroom, and enhances the lives of thousands of people. As with any compelling story, it also had its dark moments. Before anyone had ever heard of the US Protection Agency, which was the original name of USPA, Michael Evans was dealing with his own issues – transitioning from a teenager who had six misdemeanor arrests in high school to a college student playing lacrosse. During our interview with Michael, we learned about his journey from a dark place to become one of America’s most influential CEOs.
Could you tell us about where you grew up and why you feel you were in a dark place as a teenager?
My hometown is Shirley, New York, where I was born and raised. This town is located on the south shore of Long Island, approximately 60 miles east of Manhattan. I will not blame my upbringing for my difficulties in high school. I had a lack of interest in memorizing information for tests and often challenged my teachers on topics I knew would not be relevant in my adult life. Having accomplished so any things in my life, I can honestly tell any high school student that memorizing polynomials and logarithms and studying battle dates from one-sided history books at the age of 15 will not serve you as an adult. In high school, I was a disturbing element in my classes. As a result of being labeled a bad student and feeling like an outsider, I ended up becoming a petty criminal for a brief period of time. It was a dark cycle that fed the narrative that I would never achieve success in life.
How did you change your life and when did you do so?
My book, The Real Matrix, described this in detail a few years ago. When I was 19 years old, I had a near-death experience. The short version of the story is that I was driving and heard a voice telling me to slow down. When I did so, a car running a red light narrowly missed hitting me because I listened to that voice and slowed down one second before impact. It was at that moment that I decided to live my life as if I were given a second chance. On YouTube, you can read about it or listen to it for free. Please search for “The Real Matrix by Michael Evans.” (Look for the unabridged version where I describe my near-death experience).
Before opening USPA, you worked in law enforcement for several years. Why did you leave a job with a guaranteed paycheck?
There was this blinking yellow traffic light. In 2004, it was Christmas Eve at 3 a.m. At the time, I was working dispatch at a local police department on Long Island by myself. As I stared at that light, I counted its blinks. Somehow, that light reminded me of moments in my life that I could never get back. I wanted so much more out of life. The emptiness I felt that night, pushed me to follow my heart and start a business. I founded USPA with my brother, Jamie, and my friend, Greg Mazza, in May of 2005. When I told my peers that I would be entering the business world, many of them laughed. In December 2006, while working alone in the same precinct, I looked out at the blinking yellow traffic light outside. I decided it was time to take a leap of faith. It was obvious to me that if I wanted to make it work, I would have to retire early. After resigning from my civil service job on January 31, 2007, at 11:45 p.m., I never looked back. I put my effort into my business and my children.
Was it a difficult decision for you to leave the comfort of a secure career with full benefits? Was there any support for you?
There was no support at all, and I believe that is why I was successful. Les Brown once said, “When you put yourself in a situation where you have to make it happen, you will make it happen.” I had not read any books by Les Brown at the time, but his words resonated with me when I heard him say it several years later. Apparently, I have performed best when under pressure – not when I am comfortable.
How long did it take you to reach your first million-dollar milestone?
I had never considered the possibility of a million dollars until one of my former colleagues from the VA Police, Billy Kosteas, mentioned it to me. He said, “Call me when you earn your first million dollars.” I shrugged it off and rolled my eyes at the only person who saw it for me when no one else did. He was right when he said that. From operating out of an apartment bedroom in 2005, USPA Nationwide Security reached its first million-dollar revenue in 2008, just one year after I resigned from my civil service job. Had I taken the advice of my friends and colleagues, I’d still be sitting next to them in a polyester uniform, hopefully earning $100k per year. In the words of Gilbert K. Chesterton, “I owe my success to listening respectfully to the very best advice, then going away and doing the exact opposite.”
You have been a mentor to so many new business owners. What is the name of your mentor?
There have been so many along the way. I learned a great deal about life from a police detective many years ago. He was conducting my pre-employment background investigation for a law enforcement position. He told me something that changed my life forever. “Michael, you are not a bad person. I do not want you to worry about the background investigation any longer; you have been approved.” His name is Ralph Zanchelli. He also taught me in my field training, when he was teaching me how to deal with drivers during a traffic stop, months later, that you don’t need to tell anyone that you’re in charge – if you are indeed in charge. I still employ that tactic to this day. I’ve had other mentors as well. I have noticed in recent years that most of my mentors are deceased authors of literature. I listen to lectures, audiobooks, and debates by my favorite authors and inevitably, at some point, the next recommended video will be a memorial to that author. Mary Ann Evans, also known as George Eliot, would be my choice for most influential. In Middlemarch, her words resonate with me and I recite them whenever I feel immobilized in life. They may resonate with your audience as well. “If things are so ill with you and me as they might have been, this is half-owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
What is USPA Nationwide Security up to these days? Are you still giving away profits?
I officially retired from USPA nearly a year ago. The new CEO, Dan Manning, is continuing our philanthropic mission, which is to give it all away. I will admit, that it wasn’t easy to find someone who would work his tail off, only to give it away. Manning understands that the last thing you want to be is the richest man in the cemetery and that what we do while we’re here on this short journey in life, that’s where our wealth is to be measured. This company is the pulse that I’ve always needed, powered by the lives we touch – not the flotsam so many leave on their way to a very temporary financial status. Manning has gone a step further and brought on a Vice President, Brian Fitzgibbons, who I am honored to call a friend and colleague. Fitzgibbons is a Marine Veteran and one heck of a businessman who also shares our charitable values. Just last week, they made a pledge of $1M per year to locate missing children. Before the ink dried on the Yahoo Finance article announcing such a donation, USPA was out rescuing women and children in the wake of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers. I’m proud to pass the torch to these guys.
It was a pleasure to hear your story, Michael.