Frank Sinclair knows what it’s like to dream — and to wake to the realization that dreams and nightmares can be separated by the finest of lines. The oldest of 14 siblings, Sinclair was born in Red Springs, a small town of about 1,400 people in North Carolina. He joined the Air Force at the age of 18 and his first duty station was Peterson Air Force Base where Sinclair worked as a fuels accountant. He quickly rose through the ranks to become the second-youngest technical sergeant in the Air Force. But on his third tour of duty, while stationed in Okinawa, Japan, everything fell apart.
Sinclair spoke with the Business Journal this week about hitting rock bottom, turning his life around and helping others through his new company, Dream Again LLC.
Had you thought about being an accountant as a kid?
No. That was not in my wheelhouse and thanks to the Air Force, I worked in the fuels career field and I had some great mentors early in life who saw opportunity in me. I picked things up fairly quickly. That’s how I ended up in the accounting office and I spent the majority of my eight years in the Air Force there.
All in Colorado?
No. The first three years were in Colorado. Then I spent two years at Fokker Air Force Base in North Carolina. My last three years in the Air Force were in Okinawa, Japan.
Did you move from Okinawa to Colorado Springs?
I had kind of turned into an alcoholic in the latter years of my Air Force career. I’d done well. I was the second-youngest E6 in the Air Force at my seven-year mark.
But I woke up one morning in the Air Force — this is the honest to God’s truth — and this voice said, ‘You’re a fraud. They’re going to find you out. There’s no way you deserve to be in this place.’
That mental thing comes from my background — feeling less than, being very insecure. I didn’t even know a white person personally until I was 18 years old.
One half of my town was African-American; the other half was white. We didn’t integrate until I was in eighth grade, but there was still an obvious line between one and the other.
These messages of feeling less than kind of [came together] during my seventh year of the Air Force. … So I began drinking excessively, I wasn’t going to work. I sabotaged my Air Force career. My initial thoughts were I’d stay in at least 20 years. My goal was to be the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, the top enlisted guy in the Air Force.
I had a girlfriend, all my clothes, my car — all on Okinawa. I wanted to stay but you have to come back to U.S. soil to separate. The Air Force sent me back. I said goodbye to my family in North Carolina and for some reason, and I can’t tell you today why, I said, ‘I’m going back to Colorado one last time before I go settle in Okinawa.’
I came back here and did what any respectable drunk would do: I got a hotel room on South Nevada and drank. Three weeks later I woke up and had spent all my money to go back to Okinawa. … The motel owner, being a sympathetic gentleman, threw me out. So in March of 1983 I began my life as a homeless guy on the streets of Colorado Springs.
Talk about being homeless.
I integrated into the homeless community. Some people don’t understand there’s a culture there like there’s culture in the broader community.
But I fit. Remember, I was the guy who felt he didn’t belong, he wasn’t good enough, he was less than anyway. They felt the same way. I kind of became a leader in the local homeless community.
One day a gentleman came by as I was sleeping beneath a bush … and struck up a conversation with me. We talked about the intimacies of my life and how I ended up in this space. He took me home with him. I still know him today. … My life changed. Two weeks later I was working at Adelphia, which is now Comcast. Exactly one year after I was a homeless man in Acacia Park I was chief of fuels management at the Air Force Academy working for Raytheon.
What happened between your time at the Academy and now?
I spent six years with Raytheon and my contract was up. I was kind of fed up anyway. I went and pastored a church on the Westside of Colorado Springs. I’d gone to Nazarene Bible College while I was at Raytheon and was a full-time pastor at the same time. … I was a pastor for two years. … after that I went to work for Deluxe, the check-printing company. I spent six years doing leadership development, interpersonal communication and corporate training.
How did you get into that field?
I was an account manager for Deluxe and that’s when diversity became a hot subject for businesses — around the late ’90s. Deluxe sent out feelers for anyone interested in their new diversity advisory council, so I applied, was accepted.
I rose to be the chairman of the national diversity council for the company. We had a top-five diversity program in the nation.
And now you’ve started a consulting company?
I started consulting June 1. I’ve been working with my son, Randy, and his roofing company. I still work there as a contract employee as director of business development for the southern region of the company — from Castle Rock to Pueblo.
I still do that part time, but the consulting business, I believe, is a convergence of all my experiences coming together. It takes some real intuition to really dig down to the biggest what I call ‘discouragement bumps’ that keep new businesses from moving forward.
So we have to remove those obstacles from them to help them see — and this may be high-level idealism for some people — but I believe every person was put on earth for a specific reason. We’re all different and we want to uncover that through the use of story. I think if you follow the progression of someone’s story you get to the point of why they are on earth and the reason for their being.
As someone who knows discouragement well and knows bumps well, I can give a genuine and purposeful outline on how to navigate those.
How did your personal experience develop how you consult now?
Well, I’m the happy father of three business executives. As I took a real hard look at my own life, it seems as though I’ve been coaching executives and entrepreneurs for a very long time given that all of my sons have grown to do that. They’ve all become very successful. I believe leadership is influenced, so that’s another piece of that puzzle. I’m not responsible for all their success — or all their failures — but there is a theme that’s developed in our family. We’re all business people with business degrees and look at life from a point of serving — not what we get.
As I’ve looked at all these aspects of my life, it makes perfect sense that I was put on earth to help others uncover those things.
What challenges do you face as a new business owner?
Like any new business owner, the challenge is setting up capacity around my business. I’m hiring an assistant now. She starts next week and she’ll manage my schedule. I’m really good at the big picture but not detail-oriented.
Are there niches you’re interested in consulting?
I’m totally intrigued by the Millennial generation. My kids are Millennials. I think they bring a lot of new things to the table that older generations like mine overlooked. I think it’s really a pushback of what we’ve done and I think it’s right.
How has culture in business changed during your career?
We see less top-down management styles, which I think is good. We see more engagement and collaboration than we ever have before because, quite frankly, employees and industries won’t stand for anything less. We’ve seen much more social engagement — social impact or social consciousness — than we’ve ever seen before. There’s much less concern for money and more concern for legacy — what you leave behind and who you leave behind. I think what I first learned about business to where we are now has been a total flip — and I think for the good.
Is there anything you would change about your life?
I’m 61 now. If you’d asked me that a number of years ago, I’d say yes. I’m still a pretty insecure guy. I’ve faced deep challenges in my life like every human, but looking back, I’m very happy where I’ve ended up.