Contemporary business gurus often stem from humble beginnings where they are forced to rely on ambition and the desire for something better to make their way in the world. Yet, all-too-often we only see the results of this motivation. We bear witness to the fruits of their labor but fail to acknowledge the sacrifice of their journey. We are not exposed to the struggle and the moments of doubt that undoubtedly characterized their career and professional life. Yet, it is without question that these glorified entrepreneurs certainly experienced hardships, that they faced moments of uncertainty and questions of ambiguity in their respective careers. I recently discussed such a moment in regards to Kevin Plank’s tale, but did not mention any of the other countless entrepreneurs who exhibited similar resiliency, inspiration, and ambition. The following are three more stories that have inspired me:
Now one of the most respected businessmen in the world, Mr. Buffett initially began his storied career as a chewing gum salesman. As a small child, he would go from door-to-door in his hometown and pitch prospective customers on chewing gum in addition to Coca-Cola products. Just as well, he labored away nights at his grandfather’s grocery store and even detailed cars in his spare time to supplement his income. Once entering high-school, he began delivering newspapers for some extra money. Shrewd even back then, he deducted 35$ from taxes for the bicycle and watch he used on his paper route.
This industrial tycoon took the world by storm with an extraordinary affinity for business and an unparalleled insight into booming industries. Yet, before garnering the global reputation he did, Mr. Carnegie was the product of a very modest weaver’s family in Scotland. When he and his family moved to America in search of a better life, Andrew Carnegie began working as a “bobbin boy” at only 14 years old. Working 12 hours a day (this was before unions), he changed thread spools for a mere $1.20 week. Eventually, he had the good fortune to be offered a position as a telegraph messenger boy, which gave Carnegie access to the professional network he would eventually use to build his fabled career in the railroad industry.
Born to an unwed teenage mother, Oprah navigated treacherous waters of unprecedented poverty and despicable sexual abuse in her early years. As a teenager in Tennessee, she was working in a small grocery store before she began delivering news on the local radio station. Exhibiting a keen inclination for social empathy on her show, she commenced her legendary ascension to media superstardom. Now, Oprah boasts a remarkable fortune of 3 billion dollars and an untarnished legacy of superb altruism.
Society may admire these fiscal gurus to a point of near divinity, but fails to articulate the effort it took to achieve such renowned status. It is only right that we understand the sacrifice and struggle it took for these tremendous individuals to overcome their modest circumstances.