In some ways, 13-year-old Leo Giaudrone’s journey to becoming CEO began in 2016 when he visited his Dad’s workplace in Kingsport.
After getting their coffee (hot chocolate for Leo, who was 10 at the time), a co-worker challenged Leo to start a business of his own one day.
Leo seized the moment.
“I got this idea of starting The Happiness Company,” he said.
The mission statement came quickly.
“To change the world one smile at a time,” Leo proudly proclaimed, like a pitchman working for an ad agency.
Leo’s idea – to recruit “employees” who would promise to be nice to others. To offer a hug. To show kindness.
“He went around during his short time there recruiting his Happiness Helpers,” Leo’s dad Charles Giaudrone recalls. “That’s how it got started.”
GALLERY: The Happiness Company
It was just passing interest, his parents thought.
“We really had no idea that the time,” he said. “It was just a great idea. We thought – he’s happy. He’s enjoying his time.”
But Leo’s parents soon found out, he meant business.
“He was like, ‘How is everyone doing in making the world a better place?'” Charles said. “He took it very seriously. He wanted to know, ‘Do I need to go back and check on everyone?'”
Fast forward three years and Leo’s The Happiness Company is booming.
With more than 2,100 employees who’ve signed on as a Happiness Helpers by liking and sharing his social media pages, Leo is plowing forward with his goal of hiring…..
(wait for it)
“We settled on 7 million people. Basically the whole world,” he said.
Leo said his recruits aren’t just in the Tri-Cities.
“Like, let’s say, Europe, New Jersey, China… we’ve got recruits everywhere,” he reports with a tone fit for a corporate boardroom presentation.
He’s even offered a job to his hero, wrestler and actor John Cena, who hasn’t accepted the job. No yet anyway. “Because he’s a busy man making movies and wrestling,” Leo said knowingly. “I understand if he needs a little more time.”
WEB EXTRA: The Happiness Company (produced and donated by Cumberland Marketing)
But while Leo’s company was born during a trip to work with Dad, the real spirit behind it all can be traced back to the day he was born.
“Let me take you back to 2006,” Leo said. “After I was born I had some really bad surgeries.”
Thirty-four surgeries altogether. When he was born more than two months early, his kidneys were failing. After surviving a transplant, doctors diagnosed cancer in his liver. And then came a devastating stroke.
“I’m glad God helped me get through all this,” he quips, a simple statement of fact it seems.
But while Leo was born with physical challenges, his parents say early on they noticed a remarkable gift.
“There’s a part of him that’s always looking for the sunshine,” according to Leo’s mom Annette Giaudrone. “He’s always looking for the sunshine.”
“Normal” has taken on a meaning the Giaudrone’s never expected, she said.
“At first, I was thinking – something’s gone wrong,” she said. “We have this medical problem. Oh no! But then I learned – no, this is ‘the perfect.’ This is what it was always meant to be.”
Along the way, Leo’s parents say he’s been a teacher to them.
“He’s really helped to define it for me,” said Charles. “Happiness is a state of mind. It’s a state of being and contribution in our society. I’ve learned more from him than I could ever teach him.”
Now, Leo seems to be less concerned with his story of pain and more concerned with the pain felt by others.
“In my heart, I can just feel it,” Leo said. “I can feel people being sad because I can’t see all over the world.”
“People are angry, frustrated, hard, sad…all that besides happy.”
And that’s the reason for The Happiness Company.
“I just want to say to all you adults out there, stop stressing maybe for once in your life and try to make people happy,” Leo said.
And to the people he hires – he has a message.
“Congratulations! You are now part of a team that could help others feel better in the world.”