At JAM Views we periodically study the Wall Street Journal Obituaries to learn about business leaders who believed in opportunity, took risks, and decided to take paths less traveled. These tributes are excellent case studies which hopefully shake us from our weekly routines and help us remember why we started these journeys in the first place. With the terrible events unfolding in Europe, I thought it was time to review a few inspiring stories.
Barbara Gardner Proctor, an African American woman born to an unwed mother in North Carolina, once stated, "I have never had the luxury, or the hindrance, of having anyone take care of me." When applying to the Small Business Administration for a loan to start an advertising firm in 1970, she was asked what collateral she was pledging. She replied, "Me!" and that turned out be solid backing as she grew her Chicago firm to great success representing Kraft Foods and Sears. Barbara moved onto the next adventure recently at age 86 after an amazing life.
After a promising start to a Wall Street career, Jason Spindler was at his Tower 7 office during 9/11. Instead of fleeing the devastation, he joined the first responders to help the injured. This experience prompted him to join the U.S. Peace Corps, bringing finance and investment opportunities to the developing world. He became Founder and CEO of i-Dev International with offices in San Francisco, Lima and Nairobi. His firm funded Twiga Foods connecting fruit and vegetable growers across Kenya to markets, as well as coffee ventures in Madagascar and an East African fast-food chain. Tragically, just shy of his 41st birthday he was killed by Islamist extremists who stormed a hotel complex in Nairobi where he was on a late lunch. What an amazing journey he experienced here, and I am sure the universe simply needed him for another great expedition.
Caroline Rose Hunt was the daughter of H.L. Hunt who used his poker winnings to acquire oil fields in Texas. Fortunately, she did not invest her slice of the inheritance with her two brothers, Nelson and William Hunt, who famously went bankrupt attempting to corner the silver market. "Moozie," as she like her grandchildren to call her, instead built a chain of luxury hotels to include the Bel-Air in Los Angeles and the Carlyle in New York, and spurred development in blighted areas around Dallas. She wrote a novel and two cookbooks, created Lady Primrose bath oils, soaps and lotions, and led weekly Bible study sessions at her Presbyterian church. She recently passed at age 95, leaving 19 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren with an incredible example and role model for their own journeys.
Robert Smith was a bored Boston attorney when a client asked him to collect a debt in Turkey. He flew there and had to create a convoluted transaction but was then hooked on buying foreign abandoned debt and then selling it at much higher prices. Decked out in his toupee and $99 seersucker suit, Mr. Smith traveled the world in search of adventure and profits. He stayed in hotels with "dead cats floating in the pool," and wanted "to prove to his wife that he wasn't a loser." In this murky world, he bought Guatemalan bonds from one arm of a British bank and sold them, at a hefty markup, to another unit of the same bank. He profited on Nigerian Government promissory notes and recounted his adventures in his 2009 memoir, "Riches Among the Ruins." He recently passed at age 78, and his wife said a few days after his funeral, "He wanted something different, and he certainly got it."
Susan Ellis, with degrees in English and folklore, landed a job at the Philadelphia Family Court managing volunteers helping youths in trouble. She had "absolutely no qualifications," but discovered neither did most everyone else. So, she started Energize Inc. in 1977 to teach nonprofits and other organizations how to use volunteers more effectively. She changed their mindsets from "little old ladies in flowery hats" to computer coders and legal aides. She preached, "The best volunteering is when the giver and the recipient see each other as equivalent and equal - when they both benefit, and it's a form of exchange." She wrote and co-wrote 14 books and gave speeches in 26 countries. Diagnosed with cancer, Susan kept friends updated by email on her "Medical Magical Mystery Tour," with her last update stating, "One day at a time. Smile as often as possible. Love to you all!!! XOXO Susan." She moved on at age 70, likely now organizing all her new angel volunteers, and left her estate to the new Susan J. Ellis Foundation to continue her amazing work.
WOW! This week let's pray for Ukrainians and let's not complain about our boss, whine that our back hurts, or lose patience with our children's stumbles. Life is an adventure, and the clock is ticking. We live in the greatest country, and during the most prosperous time, in the history of this strange blue rock. No excuses! Let's make it happen this week. Good luck!
""Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in the pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, 'Wow! What a ride!'" -- Hunter S. Thompson