It’s not the chocolate, it’s the chocolate.
That’s the message Shawn Askinosie lives by. It means his company, Askinosie Chocolate, isn’t just about making chocolate, or making money. Instead, Askinosie said, the company is about the people — the employees, the cocoa bean farmers and the customers. And since those people help and are helped by the business, it is about the chocolate.
Askinosie visited the University of Missouri for the Mid-America Trade Summit on Thursday, delivering the keynote speech.
He is a criminal defense lawyer turned chocolate company owner based in Springfield.
O, The Oprah Magazine named him one of “15 Guys Who Are Saving the World.” That focus on helping others is evident in how he runs Askinosie Chocolate.
On Thursday, Askinosie recalled a magazine interviewer inquiring about the one question he asks entrepreneurs. His response: “Where is your heart broken?”
For Askinosie, it was taking care of his father, who suffered from lung cancer. Askinosie was only 14 when his father died.
Askinosie said he later returned to caretaking when he volunteered in the palliative care unit of a hospital. It was there that he realized that, although he might have helped the patients, the patients helped him more. That was one of the first times Askinosie thought of someone else besides himself, he said.
It brought clarity to his life, Askinosie said. He decided chocolate was his vocation and service to others would be the center of his business.
Finding the vocation of your business can come in a variety of ways, he said.
To find it, you must determine “what’s the intersection of your talent, what the world needs and what your skill set is,” Askinosie said.
Askinosie Chocolate’s vocation is all about the connection to humanity, he said.
This includes the programs Askinosie Chocolate provides for elementary, high school and college students. One of the programs, Chocolate University, takes students to cocoa bean farms in Tanzania.
The company also has a profit-sharing arrangement with cocoa farmers, providing them a far better living than they would make dealing with other companies, Askinosie said.
One of the most recent projects the company has embarked on is feeding children in Tanzania. Askinosie Chocolate sells rice from a region affected by malnutrition, and all the proceeds go back to the area to feed students.
This is the essence of Shawn Askinosie that has made its way to the center of Askinosie Chocolate.
“This business is a motor to help people, but that’s not what it really is,” Askinosie said. “The secret is, I’m the one that’s helped. The business is a connection to humanity.”