BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Risk Advantage’: Sports and Auto Racing Examples Can Help Entrepreneurs Succeed


“If your game plan doesn’t seem to be working, then go back to the fundamentals.” — Mauro Panaggio, veteran basketball player and coach

* * *

In his new book “The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur’s Unexpected Edge” (River Grove Books, Austin TX, 218 pages, $14.95 trade paperback, available from and other online booksellers) Tom Panaggio draws upon knowledge he learned from his dad, Mauro, quoted above; from other sports figures like Joe Namath and Vince Lombardi, and from his experience as an amateur sports car racer at Daytona Beach and Sebring.

The Risk AdvantageOne thing the book lacks is an index, and in this case, it might be intentional. Tom Panaggio wants entrepreneurs and others to read the book in its entirety, not cherry-pick topics from an index. When I finished the book, I realized that Panaggio had laid out a complete plan for entrepreneurial success; leaving out the index, whether intentional or not, turned out to be a good idea.
I have to admit that I was at first reluctant to read and review this book; there are many books that offer the easy way to success, but this isn’t one of them.

Panaggio stresses that there is no silver bullet to success. Well, maybe there is one: “Fail fast.” You’re going to have failures; even the best baseball players have several times more strikeouts than hits or homers, he says, so you must get used to failure. Only do it fast and get on to the next idea.

Panaggio says that the unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk, then having the courage to take it.

Right from the start, Panaggio tells us that it’s only human to be risk-averse, to be cautious. To succeed as an entrepreneur, he says, we must get beyond “only human”, to be super human.

It’s easy to see where Panaggio got his wisdom from sports examples: His dad was for more than fifty years a basketball player and legendary coach. The race car driver examples that Panaggio prints as sidebars throughout the book came after he moved from his home in upstate New York to Daytona Beach, FL to start Direct Mail Express.

Daytona and adjacent Ormond Beach have been auto racing venues for more than a century (Ormond Beach was where race car drivers drove on the sand, including the Stanley brothers of Stanley Steamer fame), so it wasn’t surprising that Panaggio caught the auto racing bug there. His accounts of his successes — and failures — in the racing game are hilarious; but they’re also instructive to entrepreneurs and aspiring ones.

Panaggio tells how he and his business partners built two thriving companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). In “The Risk Advantage” he provides real-life examples to help entrepreneurs face the many situations, predicaments, and crises they’ll encounter during their life, and to help formulate their leadership style and business strategy.

When the right opportunities presented themselves, writes Panaggio, he and his business partners were willing to embrace the risk because they knew that it was the only way to get themselves in a position to win. And once in the lead they focused not on what was behind them, but what lay ahead.

“The Risk Advantage” is a story about an entrepreneurial journey that explores the relationship between opportunity and risk, two important forces that are necessary for success. If you have the courage to embark on your own entrepreneurial journey, you will need a unique advantage to succeed in such a competitive and unforgiving environment. You must have an edge.

The unexpected edge for entrepreneurial success starts with identifying a worthy risk, and then having the courage to take it. In his book, Panaggio identifies those risks based on the experiences of his own journey.

Opportunities are always there for you to grab. If you want to realize a dream, accomplish a daunting goal, or simply start your own business, you must be willing to embrace risk. Learning the lessons of “The Risk Advantage” is an important first step on that journey.

I don’t know how active Panaggio was in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) — which issued his racing license — but my experiences with the small Indiana Northwest Region (INR) of SCCA in the mid 1960s turned out to be vital in my later career as a journalist.

INR is one of the smallest regions (chapters) in the SCCA, encompassing several counties in northwest Indiana, adjacent to the gigantic and influential Chicago SCCA region that controlled Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. At INR, I was program chairman and later edited the newsletter. Back in those days, Studebaker dealers sold Mercedes-Benz cars, so I was familiar with the Studebaker media office in South Bend, where I borrowed films of M-B racing cars in action for showing at our meetings. (No DVDs or video tapes in those days, we had 16 mm movie projectors!) Enough about me, other than to demonstrate that you never know what experiences you have and how they affect your career. Embrace the experiences and embrace, not shun or avoid, risk.

About the Author

Tom Panaggio has enjoyed a thirty-year entrepreneurial career as co-founder of two successful direct marketing companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). As a result, he can give a true perspective on starting and running a small business. His practical approach to business concepts and leadership is grounded in the belief that success is the result of a commitment to embracing risk as a way to ensure opportunity.

Today Tom lives in Tampa, FL with his wife, Shemi. When he’s not speaking or advising entrepreneurs and small businesses, he’s spending time with his family — his three daughters, Ashley, Christine, and Elizabeth, are all pursuing their college degrees — or he’s out on a racetrack.

For more about the racing history of Ormond Beach:


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