Kristopher Zinchiak Wins on His Terms

Former basketball coach Kristopher Zinchiak applies his playbook for success as Chiquita’s legal counsel

Kristopher Zinchiak, Legal Counsel, Chiquita Brands Photo by Carly Hoffman

Almost as soon as he arrived at Chiquita, Kristopher Zinchiak was put to the test.

The legal department was going through a transformation, with its two employees transitioning into different roles within the company. “It created the perfect opportunity for me to show, from day one, that I have what it takes to run the department by myself,” Zinchiak says. “They say that success is when preparation meets opportunity, and my role at Chiquita has proven to be the perfect intersection of those two things.”

Zinchiak, who is legal counsel at Chiquita Brands and its shipping company, Great White Fleet, is charged with running the US legal department and spearheading its growth. “It’s a tremendous responsibility and certainly a challenge that I wholeheartedly embrace,” he says.

In Zinchiak’s experience, Chiquita “demands your personal best and understands firsthand that hard work and devotion to your craft are necessary ingredients for achieving success in any walk of life.” It’s an approach to work that Zinchiak shares and has been refining from an early age.

Kristopher Zinchiak, Legal Counsel, Chiquita Brands

Zinchiak grew up in western Pennsylvania, where his grandfather worked in the steel mills and his father started a manufacturing business straight out of high school. “My family showed me firsthand what a strong work ethic really means, and I attribute so much of my success to having those examples in my life,” he says. “I knew that if I was the hardest-working person in the room—if I was really willing to make those sacrifices that other people weren’t—that I would reach my goals and I would outperform the competition.”

He saw this philosophy play out in his first job, where he found himself winning cases against attorneys who had practiced law for decades. “It certainly wasn’t because I had more experience than them or that I was smarter than them,” he says. “I attribute it to my willingness to outwork them, my resilience, and my hunger to learn, all of which I draw back to those western Pennsylvania roots.”

Zinchiak also credits his wife and children for their integral role in his success. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the sacrifices and support of my wife, in addition to the incredibly strong source of motivation that both of my children provide to me on a daily basis,” he says.

Competition and success came into play for Zinchiak on the basketball court too. He played throughout his school years and also coached younger grades while he was in high school and college. Through coaching, he discovered a love for leading and motivating others, and he began to develop his five-stage process for success, which he’s continued to use and share throughout his career.

For Zinchiak, success starts with your mind-set. “You have to truly believe in yourself and your ability to succeed before anything else. This involves making a commitment to yourself that no matter what challenges come your way, you are going to persevere,” he says.

The second stage is about preparing for success. “It involves learning from your mistakes, fearlessly trying new things until you find out what works for you, being resilient, and having a keen awareness of yourself and what you need to do to find your personal path to success,” Zinchiak explains.

In the third stage, you experience some wins and see the fruits of your labor. Zinchiak says a lot of people and organizations get comfortable and stop here, but they could use these wins to continue to propel them to the fourth stage, which is when you begin to succeed so much that you expect it.

“They say that success is when preparation meets opportunity, and my role at Chiquita has proven to be the perfect intersection of those two things.”

“If you’ve reached this stage, you’ve established a culture of success, and really anything less is unacceptable to you. You carry that expectation with you everywhere you go. And others begin to expect that from you as well,” he says. At the same time, external factors become more difficult to navigate, inevitable losses occur, and you may regress to stage three—or persevere to the fifth stage, where you succeed consistently and at a very high level.

“It’s at this stage that you have made winning a habit and you have reached the mountaintop,” Zinchiak says. “Stage five is reserved for only a select few, but for me personally, I love the relentless pursuit of striving for it every day and pushing yourself and those around you to reach your personal best.”

The stages of success describe a process, but they’re not necessarily prescriptive. Success is a personal journey that for Zinchiak requires discipline and character—staying true to his value system and doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

“One of the ways I’ve chosen to define success in my career is leaving each place better than I found it,” Zinchiak says. “I found that success really is a byproduct, not a goal.”

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Conrad O’Brien PC:

“Kristopher develops great working relationships. He is hands-on but not controlling, invites creative thinking and enjoys discussions, provides timely support, and welcomes efficiency while recognizing that high-quality legal work can be time-consuming.”

–Robert Feltoon, Partner