I could use this topic to relate my trials and tribulations surrounding the last trip to Providenciales, but instead I would like to profile two different men that I met while there. Their stories show a common approach to business and life, how to persevere over the economic and personal travesties that so often accompany life. Let’s call them “T” and “D”.
Let’s start with “T”. “T” is a real estate developer. His first job was working for a seller of used farm equipment parts. Hell, we knew the same parts people. Anyway, he worked the parts counter and on weekends drove the company 18 wheeler to pick up equipment. One day he finally got tired of his boss and working his ass off for someone else, and he took an option on 70 acres of land near his town. He believed that he could subdivide this property and establish it as a residential and business use property.
The day before his option expired, he locked himself in his office, got out his rolodex and called certain people and asked them each to loan him what they could with a promise to repay with interest when his project came online. By the end of the year he had repaid all of them with interest, and he had enough left over to purchase another piece of property to develop. He was riding the wave, one that crashed in 2008. That year, as many know, the real estate market died, and he was left with many acres of land with sewer, utility, and paved roads to empty lots; and a world of debt. Unlike many developers who walked away from their property and let the banks sort out the debt vs. asset equation, he went and sat down with his local banker and told him that he was going to work through this downturn in the economy and would pay back the loan. He spent the next 6 years juggling his debt and selling off his personal estate in order to survive. He was rewarded for his effort in 2014 when the economy in his area turned around and he was able to pay down a substantial portion of his debt. His perseverance paid off. He had been taught by his father that debt was an instrument to be honored, and he had stayed true to his word.
“D” is a Canadian. I won’t hold that against him since he was very tolerant of me and my southern accent. We sat down one night over a bottle of Port and two cigars, and I listened to one of the most remarkable true life stories that I had ever heard. First off, he had almost died from running a motorcycle into a barbed wire fence as a boy. His accident ripped off both his kneecaps and split the side of his mouth wide open. He almost bled out before reaching the hospital, yet had enough in him to walk into the emergency room on his own. He asked his wife if it would be alright with her if he didn’t have plastic surgery on his cheek because of all the other painful operations he had previously. She said ok and married him and they have 3 daughters. “D” spent his early years of marriage driving a 18 wheeler over 5000 miles/week to oil camps in the arctic circle Monday through Friday so that he could be with his family on the weekends. He put his 16 hour days of driving to good use by devising a way to provide a camp system for workers who were out in the boondocks. He started small, working with camps of less than 25 people, supplying them with prefab rooms that offered sleeping, mess, bathrooms, and lounge area. Also, he would drill a well, purify the water for use and devised a system to handle the waste water so that it could be reused by the camp personnel. His camps grew with the last one housing over 3000 people. He said that he would order propane for that last camp in 100,000 gallon increments. Everything he did had to be accounted for prior to his bid on the job, and he spent his days on the phone fighting his suppliers over every cost overrun. He sold out this year, just ahead of the oil market collapse. His early struggle to survive and then provide for his family ended with his success, and just like with “T” his perseverance paid huge dividends.
What did these two successful entrepreneurs have in common?
They both came from farm families where hard work and adherence to one’s word was taught by their parents’ example!
I will cherish those talks.