“I was just finishing up college and I’d been working part time delivering potato chips to stores and delis in New York. I was thinking about what job I would get, when the guy who owned the route offered to sell it to me,” said Lou, a fellow Dad in town.
“Offered to sell you the route?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
Lou explained the route business to me, which I hadn’t really heard much about before. Apparently, there are routes for just about every product you can think of. Let’s take Tropicana for example. “Tropicana” may make and package the orange juice but they, like many, wanted a way to get out of the distribution game. So they allowed a third party to act as an intermediary distribution center between the core company and the route guys. The routes are really zones of turf where, if you’re the owner, you have sole rights to sell and deliver that product in that area. For example, even if you own a store and wish to buy Wise potato chips from your sister who owns a route across town, you can’t do it if I own the route in which your store lays. You must buy from me.
As usual when learning something new, I was fascinated.
Lou, you see, is what I will call a man of obvious (though not flaunting) wealth. He drives a very nice car and lives in a very nice house. But the best part of what Lou has going on is he never seems tied to a commute and 8 to 6 job in the city. I wanted to know how Lou got to where he is, so when we had the opportunity to chat last week, I dove in.
And I learned that while Lou is making his money work for him today, he had to earn it the hard way, the tried and true way. When Lou had the chance to not just deliver potato chips but buy the route he had been delivering, he took his $20,000, borrowed $80,000 from the guy who was selling him the route, and became an owner. Apparently he did well enough over the ensuing years to make more investments, ultimately purchasing the distribution center warehouse where he’d been loading up his truck with chips.
“I was scared to death when I bought the warehouse, but the opportunity came up and I made the move,” he said.
That pattern was repeated a few times in Lou’s life, and that pattern has been repeated in the lives of just about every interesting and great person I’ve known or read about. The point is not to illustrate how wealth is accumulated, but rather to show that the attainment of anything significant is accomplished through seizing one’s opportunities and accepting the often high level of risk that attends them.
I am fairly certain that we all — simply by the law of averages or random distribution whatever — will get our chances to have something great, to be something great. The difference between ones who make it and ones who lament their fate is not, I repeat, not the consistent application of hard work, but rather grasping at those few moments with all ones might.
I remember reading Andrew Carnegie’s autobiography and looking for the place where he started down the road that would lead him to greatness. Well, when he was still young and working at the railroad telegraph office, he had the opportunity to buy some stock on inside information (not illegal in those days) and, rather than saying it was out of his league or he didn’t have the money, he realized this was his main chance. He convinced his mother to mortgage their very modest house so he could buy all the stock available. He could have lost everything and left his family homeless, but that’s not the way it turned out. Instead, he made quite a profit and began the pattern of successful investing that would define his life.
The key here is not to worry about the outcome, per se, but simply to hone your ability to know when one of the afore-described moments is in front of you. If you can recognize it, the rest is easy — simply throw yourself bag and baggage into taking advantage of it. Beg, borrow (but refrain from stealing) to get on board the train which is only moments away from leaving you behind forever. Remember, in your old age, being to say “I gave it a shot,” is a lot more fulfilling than those saddest of phrases: “I should have.”