Talent Market’s Placement Profiles feature interviews with individuals we have helped place in the free-market movement. Our Placement Profiles provide insight about how our successful candidates found their way to the free-market nonprofit world, what their jobs are like, and how they got interested in liberty in the first place.
Our April placement profile features John Tsarpalas, who Talent Market placed in 2016 as Nevada Policy Research Institute’s President. Prior to joining NPRI, John ran several small businesses, including a Greek restaurant, a general contractor, and public speaking and verbal coaching business but he found his true calling when he joined the free market world. If you want to read about leading a free-market nonprofit, loving fundraising, and finding your dream career late in life, you will enjoy this interview!
Talent Market: First thing’s first: what got you interested in liberty?
John: I owned a restaurant when I was in college, and one customer would come in mid-afternoon when the lunch rush was over, and we would talk politics. He was a Libertarian. We would talk about all of the regulation and government paperwork that I was required to do as a small business owner, and it was him that planted the ideas of liberty that I explored further. And it was Milton Freidman’s Free to Choose that really opened my eyes.
Talent Market: Give us the nutshell version of your career trajectory and tell us why you decided to work in the free-market nonprofit world?
John: My father’s father and his five brothers all came to America, started, and remained self-employed, each in different fields. My father embodied that same desire; he never wanted to work for someone else. And I had the same desire for self-employment.
I started a Greek restaurant when I was 20 years old. At age 21, I was outraged that I could not get a liquor license because there were a fixed number of licenses, and you had to be a city insider to get one. It was also unnecessarily time-consuming that I, as the employer, had to screen for illegal immigrants and spend hours on payroll and taxation forms.
I went on to become a self-employed construction contractor in the 1980s, and every year costs and the number of permits grew, as did my frustrations. The final straw was going through a committee simply to approve exterior colors of every building in a town. I decided to get involved politically to stop this increased bureaucracy and oversight.
Talent Market: What is your job like day-to-day?
John: Since COVID, I primarily work from home, though my day-to-day is largely the same. The mornings are spent on anything that requires focus or creativity – like writing. In the afternoons, I shift to phone calls and meetings. My number one focus is fundraising, because if you can raise the money, it can be done. Being the fundraiser comes with pressure because so many depend on you, but being the fundraiser also allows you to be in charge. If you wish to control your future, decide that you need to be the one who brings in the money. Evenings are spent catching up on email.
Talent Market: What is the most challenging part of your job?
John: Fundraising is the biggest challenge. It wasn’t until late in life that I realized that to be successful I had to embrace fundraising. Now I love it! I enjoy meeting and talking to people. There is nervous energy giving a fundraising pitch or presentation, and that adrenaline is exciting. With fundraising there is always quick feedback, a simple measure of success. You either raise the money or you don’t. I am always proud of myself when I make the “big ask” – to face the fear of rejection and push through any hesitation. Winning that internal struggle is important to me and rewarding.
Talent Market: What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
John: I wake up every morning knowing my efforts can change Nevada and possibly save my country. Today I can meet a big donor who can fund our solutions. Today’s phone call can form a coalition that moves the needle. Heading an organization multiplies the possibility of making an impact, and I plan to leverage my time left in life with a great team to make things happen.
Talent Market: What has surprised you the most about your job and about working in the free-market nonprofit world?
John: It is amazing that everyone in the movement is so committed to our cause. It is an honor to work with such motivated and brilliant people. It is easy to surround myself with people smarter than myself, and I rarely have a boring conversation.
Talent Market: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in doing what you do?
John: Life has a way of getting you to the right place, but you have to help it along. So many of my life’s experiences didn’t make sense in my earlier careers, but in my leadership role at Nevada Policy they have all come together. Keep learning, growing, trying different areas of growth. It also helps to come to understand yourself. Use your strengths. Hire others to fill your weaknesses. Politics and policy are a team sport. Except, it has gone way beyond sport. Our policies save lives. They change futures.
Talent Market: If you weren’t working to advance liberty, what would you be doing?
John: It would be fun to do pop up businesses. Sell Christmas trees in December. Pumpkins at Halloween. Have a food truck at state fairs in the summer. Paint and sell used furniture. Anything with variety and changes in settings. But the government paperwork to do each one of those businesses ruins the fun!
Talent Market: Tell us something interesting about you that your friends in the free-market nonprofit sector don’t know.
John: From a young age I always thought that I would not find my place in the world until my later years. Now in my 60s, it is amazing to have finally found the job that I was destined to do. It just feels so right.
Talent Market: What is your favorite liberty-oriented quote?
John: “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thought and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants.” – Frederick Douglass