Life and business can make for a crazy ride, but you can find inspiration in them too. Here are three real life stories that prove it.
THE OIL BUSINESS
John D. Rockefeller was the man that started it all...the oil business anyway. Here's a guy that was born in 1839 and grew up during a time when people were cooking on wood stoves and reading by candle light. He found an opportunity to change peoples' lives for the better by refining crude oil into the kerosene that, quite literally, provided more light to the world.
Have you ever used a kerosene lantern? It does provide more light than a candle, but it still isn't very good. That said, if you were running a big - no, that's not right - a HUGE kerosene company, would you be worried that someone would eventually come out with a better alternative? Of course you would! And someone did. Thomas Alva Edison brought us the light bulb in 1879.
Given that historical fact, how is that Rockefeller didn't end up broke? It's because opportunity can come out of no-where. In this case, while Mr. Edison launched a product that put a big hurt on Rockefeller's kerosene business, Edison also launched the career of one of America's most famous business heroes. Henry Ford. Believe it or not, Henry Ford was the Chief Engineer for Edison and of course, he went on to create the Ford Motor Company. And his cars ran on gasoline....a waste by-product created when refining crude oil to make kerosene.
If that's not an example of "when God closes a door, he opens a window", I don't know what is.
Rockefeller was a big philanthropist toward the end of his life...giving away more than $540 million dollars. That's over $8 billion in today's dollars. One item of interest on the subject of philanthropy is that Rockefeller's wife was Laura SPELMAN Rockefeller. If you're familiar with Spelman College, it was named after Laura's family who were big abolitionists. The Rockefeller's helped to support the institution and put it on more solid financial ground.
ROAD TRIP FROM HELL
July 19, 1919 is an infamous date in history. On that day, a motorized military convoy left from Washington, DC on its way to San Francisco with the goal of finding out how long it would take to move men and machine from one of America's coasts to the other. As the crow flies, that is a distance of over 2,400 miles. Of course, this was a convoy made of of US Army troops, so they were traveling by road...in 1919. They covered 3,251 miles in 62 days. Just process that for a minute....because that means that their average speed was less than 5 miles/hour (assuming 12 hours/day). And remember, this was at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The fellow that led that expedition was a 28 year old lieutenant and he never forgot what a miserable experience it was. Almost four decades later, he was able to do something about it. You see, that lieutenant's last name was Eisenhower. As a general in WWII, he saw the German autobahns and knew of their importance to Germany's military power. When he became president, he made a point of championing the interstate highway system.
It's hard to even imagine what the United States would look like today without it.
THE FRUIT COMPANY
His mother fell in love with a man in college. She got pregnant and, like a bad country song, her father refused to allow her to marry. Shortly thereafter, the man she loved left. What would she do? I don't know if she thought about abortion, but we do know that she opted to give the baby up for adoption. That decision allowed for an amazingly brilliant, creative, and flawed human being to be brought into the world. His name was Steve Jobs.
We know that he went on to found Apple, but what happened before Apple? Like a lot of people, he went to college...Reed College specifically. And he hated it. In his words, he dropped out of college so that he could drop back in. Rather than taking the courses he was supposed to take, he started taking the courses he wanted to take...and one of his favorites was calligraphy. Through it, he learned about fonts like Serif and San Serif, word and line spacing, and other details that make the written word a beautiful thing. Who could have foreseen that what Steve learned from his calligraphy experience would have been so import years later when he created Apple? After all, it was the company that first offered multiple fonts and line spacing options. Not Microsoft.
In a speech that Steve Jobs gave to the graduating class of Stanford in 2005, he said that "...You can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward."
I love that simple and beautiful observation. It is certainly true in my life and, I suspect, in yours.
Ohh...and the picture above may NOT be real....but the stories are!
Entrepreneur, financial guy, husband and father of two great kids.