2020 Disability:IN award example created by Cristaux.Cristaux International designs and manufactures custom crystal and metal awards for outstanding organizations around the world. Ranging from recognition awards to event awards, they do it all! The best part? They are a certified DOBE, and they are designing our DEI and Inclusion Awards for 2020. Below is an interview with the Chief Creative Officer, Andre Janus.

Disability:IN: Tell us your story! How/Why did you begin your journey as an entrepreneur?

Andre: When I was a little guy, I always tried to find creative ways of making money without having to ask my parents or having to get a “real job.” I come from a blue-collar, lower to middle-class family with immigrant parents from Europe. I would see them wake up at 4:00 AM to get ready for work every day. Often, I was in bed for hours before they closed their eyes for the evening as well. I think when you grow up in a setting like this it really shapes you in a lot of ways. I always wanted to help my parents, and the thought of asking them for a dollar made me incredibly sad. To this day, I have absolutely no idea how they were able to send three kids to private schools, but I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

When I graduated college, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with an economics degree. My first job was in sales with a large corporation. To my surprise, I was incredibly successful in this position and after six months of employment, I was selected as the newest member to join the company “President’s Club” trip. I had no idea what this trip was but when I found out that they were sending everyone to the Bahamas, they won my undivided attention!

During the award show, I was called up on stage to receive an award in front of several hundreds of people. I was beyond excited. Unfortunately, to my surprise, the award felt vacant. It was a plain-looking four-inch glass award. There was no company branding, and nothing that stuck out to show me I was being honored. The worst part is, it left me feeling that after all my hard work, I was still just another employee hitting a sales goal.

When we returned from the trip, I ended up quitting that job. I decided to break out that economics degree and find a job in that direction. Afterall, my parents were growing quite frustrated with me for not following a career path with my degree from a Big Ten university. Within the next month or so, I made a transition into investment banking. I loved it. It was high-energy, and I started applying some of the things I learned back in school.

One day I walked into my boss’s office and noticed his entire windowsill was filled with awards. I quickly came to learn these awards were called, “financial tombstones and deal toys.” When I asked my boss what these were, he told me they commemorated all the transactions he was a part of since starting the firm. I thought the concept was cool, but to be honest, I had to bite my tongue because these “deal toys” were made from cheap acrylic and they were sitting in the sun just yellowing. They were incredibly flimsy and cheaply made, and all I could think about was the memory I had from the poor experience of receiving my president’s club award.

To my shock, I found out this was a common exchange of recognition. Maybe people in finance celebrate massive deals with something that insignificantly commemorates the moment.

After about a year of working there I eventually left the firm, not because of these “deal toys,” but because there was no culture. I did not feel appreciated or valued. So, I walked out of work one day and never turned back.

After a couple months of sitting at home contemplating my next move, I found my “president’s club” award looking at me. Out of curiosity, I picked up the phone and started calling companies and organizations, asking them about their awards and recognition needs. To my complete surprise, I learned that almost everyone was doing something. Unfortunately, most of the products they would use to commemorate accomplishment were basic or dated, and many of them were looking for something better! That day, the idea behind Cristaux was born.

The more phone calls I made, the more I would hear about how these companies wanted something different to commemorate their achievements and accomplishments. The idea of custom creations was developed, and twelve years later, Cristaux has its own dedicated production facility located in Chicago. With the most incredible team, we have shipped custom products to over 150 countries worldwide and have been fortunate enough to work with some outstanding companies, causes and organizations across the globe.

Disability:IN: What led you to become Disability:IN certified?

Andre: Disability:IN became a possibility when a current customer of ours inquired about our certifications. They specifically liked working with Disability:IN certified companies and hoped that we would look into it.

I have personally struggled with ADHD my entire life, and candidly speaking, I was embarrassed to tell anyone about it. I never wanted anyone to feel bad for me or treat me any different than anyone else.

For over a decade, I have worked relentlessly to build Cristaux around my disability, and when I found out that organizations like Disability:IN existed I was blown away. This may sound naïve, but I never even knew organizations like this existed. I always felt that regardless of the situation, I had to work around some of my limitations despite the incredible challenges of working with my disability.

When I came across Disability:IN I felt so fortunate. The more I explored it, the more I immediately wanted to get involved and meet the community!

Disability:IN: How does your certification help you market your business?

Andre: Being part of Disability:IN has put us in contact with some incredible people and organizations. Until joining, we never knew that many companies focused on supplier diversity, and when we learned this, we have done our best to educate others of our DOBE certification. It has created some wonderful opportunities for us, but we are still new to all of this and learning to navigate.

Disability:IN: Have you attended any of the Disability:IN Annual Conferences?

Andre: Yes, last year was our first year as a DOBE and our first year attending the annual conference. Ironically, the conference also happened to be hosted in our home base, Chicago. When we learned this, we were elated to attend!

The event was incredible, and I’m not saying that because of this article. I was honestly blown away with the size of the attendance, the thoughtfulness behind all the breakout sessions, and the overall participation and involvement from all these organizations! Since starting the business back in 2007, I’m pretty sure I have been fortunate enough to attend at least a couple hundred different conventions, conferences, and events for some of the amazing clients we work with.

Disability:IN: Would you recommend other DOBE’s attend?

Andre: 100%, no questions asked!

Disability:IN: Tell us about your conference experience! What did you find most valuable?

Andre: Well, as I mentioned earlier, my personal experience was incredible. The openness from all the people was something I somewhat was not used to. Other conferences I have attended seemed to lack this sense of “openness.” Attending Disability:IN conference was the opposite of that. I had such a great time participating in the events and activities and met some wonderful people.

I was most taken back by the awards show. Yes, I know that I work in this space but also think this is why it hit me so hard. There were so many people and the participation from attendees and companies was really overwhelming to see. I remember walking into that room saying, “Oh my God, where in the world am I supposed to sit?!” Thankfully, my new friend and DOBE mentor, Heather Cox from Certify My Company helped me find a table and introduced me to some of her dear friends.

The entire evening was so much fun, and I remember telling myself that Cristaux absolutely needs to get more involved here through whatever means possible. We are so honored to be the supporting sponsor of the Inclusion Awards and DEI Awards, and I hope that every single person this year looks at the awards and says “Wow, now this is a real award!”

Disability:IN: What makes an organization certified as a DOBE, V-DOBE, or SDV-DOBE a great procurement partner?

Andre: I do not feel like we have been involved in the community long enough to give a weighted answer, but I can say that I have learned that there is a clear distinction is the types of companies that are DOBE certified and the ones that are not.

The answer for me rests with compassion, ethos, care and culture. The DOBE companies that I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with are groups of people who truly care about the causes they believe in. A random company off the street may only care about maximizing their profit in their working relationships, but with DOBE companies, I feel there is so much more to them.

These are companies that care and pour their hearts into what they do, and they embrace likeminded individuals. The procurement partners that I have also personally worked with have shown a vastly different side of compassion and care for their vendors. We are very used to the traditional vendor sign-up portals where we spend half a day filling out everything about your company, and 99% of the time no one ever touches base with you. The procurement and supplier managers that I have met through Disability:IN are the antithesis to that statement.

Disability:IN: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Andre: Yes. I have to say that seeing Kodi Lee perform at last year’s event was hands down one of the most moving performances I have ever seen. I still talk about this today! It’s one thing seeing him on America’s Got Talent but to see him perform live was beyond words. I’m pretty sure I fell into the category with everyone else in that room; not a dry eye anywhere to be seen.

I was so moved, and I feel honored that throughout the past twelve years, I am fortunate enough to wake up doing something similar: do work that I love to do, with people that I love and care deeply about.