Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Path of Khan

When Shad first got off the plane in Chicago, he had never seen snow.  He’d been traveling for days from his home in Pakistan to attend college in Illinois, and arrived in the middle of one of the worst storms in Midwest history.  He was sixteen years old, had five hundred dollars in his pocket, and as he walked through the city that night looking for a place to stay, his shoes were literally melting off his feet from the snow seeping through them.  It was his first time in America.

As a child in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, Shad received a solid upbringing of humility and frugality from his father. The local cricket stadium was Shad's childhood equivalent of Yankee Stadium, but his family couldn’t afford to buy tickets.  However, Shad’s father knew it was free to attend if you entered halfway through a match, so that’s what they did, and he proudly never paid for a single ticket.

Young Shad tinkered with and built radios, which he then sold. He was very entrepreneurial, even charging his friends to borrow his comic books.  Shad wanted to attend college in the United States, enticed by dreams of success there.  All the familiar sayings about the American dream leading to fame and fortune were very real influences to him, so when he was accepted at the University of Illinois to study mechanical engineering, there was no hesitation.  He went.

That first night in Chicago, Shad rented a cheap room at the YMCA.  It was two dollars per night, a cost he found exorbitant by the standards of what he would pay back home.  His concern over how long his savings would last motivated him to immediately go looking for a job the next day.  He was elated to quickly find one, though, working as a dishwasher.  And although it may be viewed as one of the least glamorous jobs by many standards today, the wage he was paid was more money than 99% of the people in Pakistan were earning.  Shad realized that he could make back what he was spending to live and eat every day, and felt confident that he was going to not only make it in America, but had control of his own destiny.

As he began college, Shad was already earning more as a dishwasher than he had dreamed possible, and wondered if school was even necessary.  But as he joined a fraternity and learned about life in America, he set his goals higher.  He worked hard in school, even getting a second job to save up money for future opportunities. 

While still attending college, Shad went business to business with his resumé in search of a job that fit his education.  A small truck parts company hired him and, when he graduated, he became their engineering director.  But it wasn’t long before he was dreaming bigger.

Just a few years later, Shad left to start his own company, financed with a small business loan and all of his own savings.  That company introduced Shad’s design of the world’s first single-piece bumper for pickup trucks, an engineering breakthrough because it was lightweight and had no seams that could rust.  It had an immediate impact on the automobile industry. By the end of its first decade in business, Shad’s company, Flex-N-Gate, was the sole supplier for the entire Toyota line in the United States, and provided bumpers for all the major American carmakers as well.

Shad’s company would eventually be responsible for one third of all bumpers on US cars, but he’s very specific to point to the opportunity that dishwashing job presented as the beginning of his success.  He believes that even if a glass is only one percent full, you have to focus on that, and not on the ninety-nine percent that’s empty. 

Today, Shahid “Shad” Khan is one of the 400 richest individuals in the United States, and the energetic and charismatic owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.  He is the first person of ethnic minority to own an NFL football team, and the details for his purchase of the team were drawn up on a restaurant napkin that he keeps framed in his office. 

No matter where you are in life’s journey, the path to fulfilling your dreams begins with setting higher expectations, appreciating what you have and taking action towards what you want.  That’s where the rubber meets the road to success.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

And the Beat Goes On

Michael was born in the small farming town of Mercer, Pennsylvania.  It wasn’t a bad place to grow up, just isolated, with almost nothing there but cornfields.  As a result, much of Michael’s young experience came from watching movies and TV.  He was constantly bombarded with images of life that seemed fun and exciting in ways his wasn’t. On TV, people seemed to have interesting careers and opportunities.  None of that seemed possible where he was growing up.

At the age of five, Michael began studying classical piano, and his teacher found him to be quite gifted.  The following year, his parents divorced.  Michael went to live with his mother’s parents, and music propelled him through the change in his family circumstances.  Thanks to the love and support of his grandparents, he grew up without bitterness. He regularly enjoyed skateboarding, fishing, and building model planes.  However, in their town, playing sports and being athletic was the norm, and playing music just wasn’t regarded as cool.

Nevertheless, Michael knew what felt right to him.  He picked up the saxophone and tuba in junior high, and began playing in the school marching band.  Discovering theatrical rock figures like Kiss and David Bowie intensified his musical devotion, even as his interest in traditional school subjects took a back seat.  At one point, he was encouraged to drop out of school and do nothing but practice ten hours a day for a concert career, but Michael’s taste for dramatic arena-rock had already determined his course.  Leading roles in his high school’s productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Music Man only made this direction more certain.

After graduation, Michael enrolled at a small college in a town not much bigger than Mercer.  There, he spent a year studying computer engineering, but still felt like he was not following his passion.  The prospect of an exciting existence beyond the cornfield nagged constantly, reminding him that he was stuck in a rural America where many of his friends and family were happy to live out their lives.  But Michael wanted out.

He moved to the city of Cleveland, planning to make his living as a professional musician.  Hanging around some bigger colleges there, Michael was exposed to a lot of music he’d never heard.  It was a musical awakening, as he recognized how many bands were employing synthesizers and keyboards and edging out classic guitar rock on the airwaves.  Synthesizers were becoming more affordable and Michael found his way to a harder-edged style of electronically produced music that fit perfectly with what was in his head.  The music he wanted to play suddenly started to make sense.

Michael and a friend shared a shabby apartment in a bad Cleveland neighborhood, frequently living on ramen noodles.  He did whatever he could to immerse himself in the world of music. He played keyboards and sang in a series of mediocre bands even though none captured the sound he was looking for. He even got a job at a local recording studio as a janitor for $100 a month, so he could also train to become an assistant engineer.  While at the studio, he often played on other musicians’ demos, doing anything to stay engaged in what he loved.

He was extremely focused, taking his work seriously even when it meant cleaning toilets and waxing the studio floors.  Finally, Michael seized the opportunity to ask for permission to record his own songs during unused studio time, and his boss agreed.  Unable to find musicians who would work for free between the hours of three and eight in the morning, Michael was undeterred, resolving to play everything himself and toiling away at his demos each night.

All Michael’s work paid off. He wrote, performed and produced a one-man debut album called Pretty Hate Machine under the band name, Nine Inch Nails.  Michael “Trent” Reznor became one of the first musicians on an independent label to sell a million copies.  Reznor went on to become regarded as one of the most vital artists in all of music and was named to Time Magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people.

Michael became a leading figure in viral marketing and the digital distribution of music.  In 2007, one Nine Inch Nails marketing campaign involved the hiding of flash drive key chains containing unreleased songs in the restrooms of their concert venues.  Reznor continues to make music his way, often alone, sometimes collaborating, but always remaining true to his unique and uncompromising vision.

Following your passion and aligning your work with what you love is music to live by.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

For Love or Money

John grew up in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, New York, a community that was home to many future hip-hop icons, including Run D.M.C, Salt ‘n Pepa, and L.L. Cool J.  John was an only child, growing up in a single parent household with his mother after his parents divorced.  This gave John the feeling of being the man of the house at a young age, and instilled in him the understanding that no one was responsible for his destiny but himself.  His mother reinforced this belief, telling her son, “It takes the same energy to think small as it does to think big. So dream big and think bigger.”  To fully impress this notion on her son, she kept a can opener more than two feet long over their refrigerator with the words “Think Big” printed on it.

John began earning money in the first grade by selling pencils to his classmates.  As a teenager, he’d shovel snow, mow lawns, and work at flea markets, and he participated in a high school program that allowed him to alternate weeks attending school and working a full-time job.  However, he was still young, and young people sometimes make mistakes.

Growing up, John had a friend who was constantly looking for ways to get ahead, legal or otherwise.  During high school, John’s friend began dealing drugs and stealing cars, and it wasn’t long before John was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the crimes.  It was the lowest moment of his life, and he was determined never to let anything like it happen again.

Immediately after high school, he started a commuter van service.  He drove the van sixteen hours a day and came home most nights with more than three hundred dollars.  However, when he finally did the math on what running the van was costing him, he found that he was actually working himself to the bone for about fifty dollars a day.  After this realization, he decided to focus on his passion for clothing while waiting tables.  Surprisingly, he didn’t mind being a waiter at all.  He earned a hundred dollars a shift, but knew exactly what he was making for his time, and it left his mind free to pursue his dreams. 

John’s first venture in clothing came about purely by chance.  He saw a wool hat he wanted to buy, but was surprised that it cost $20.  Instead of buying it, he thought he could make it, and asked his mother to teach him to use the sewing machine.  He and a friend began making the wool hats, sewing them in the mornings and selling them in their neighborhood for only $10 each.  On one occasion, they made $800 in a single day and knew they were on to something.

Believing in his idea’s potential, John and his mother mortgaged their house to generate starting capital, and even turned the home into an office and factory.  They began sewing the distinctive brand logo they’d created onto jerseys, sweatshirts, and t-shirts, and recruited more neighborhood friends to help with production and sales of the clothing.  One of those friends was LL Cool J., who agreed to wear one of John’s t-shirts in a promotional ad.

Now their brand was gaining some recognition.  John and his team attended a trade show in Las Vegas but couldn’t afford the cost of their own booth.  However, because of the brand’s unique style and its identification with the growing hip-hop scene, they accumulated more than $300,000 worth of orders by inviting retail buyers to their hotel room to see their samples. 

Soon, they expanded their line, even securing a contract with Macys.  Despite this, John was refused financing at 27 banks.  In search of capital, he finally put an ad in the newspaper, which resulted in 23 phone calls, one from Samsung’s textile division.  Suddenly, John and his team were able to manufacture and distribute their designs on a massive scale, and they never looked back.

Daymond John started his For Us, By Us clothing brand, better known as FUBU, in 1989.  He ran out of money three times along the way and nearly closed it down before the company eventually took off.  Since then, FUBU has generated $6 billion in global retail sales.  Talking about the decision to wait tables while pursuing his larger plans, John says, “The day I made that decision is the last day I ever worked in my life.”  Instead of working for money, he was working to pursue what he loved... and that’s what living your dreams is really about.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Heal Your Life

Young Louise was born into a poor family in Los Angeles. Before she was two years old, her parents divorced, and after trying unsuccessfully to have young Louise taken in by others, her mother took her back and was forced to manage as a single parent. Soon, Louise's mother married again, to a rough and violent German immigrant. Her young life was difficult, and it didn’t help that the country was in the midst of backbreaking economic times.

At the age of five years old, Louise was sexually attacked by a neighbor. Even worse, her parents said it was her own fault. The man was tried in court and convicted, but even so, Louise grew up believing she was responsible. On top of this, her stepfather was both physically aggressive and sexually abusive. Unable to stop him or protect herself, she finally ran away from home at age fifteen.

Louise worked a series of menial jobs in Chicago, during which time she helped get her mother away from her violent stepfather. Finally, in need of new perspective, she left for New York.  Arriving there, she was fortunate in being able to get work as a fashion model.  Being accustomed to mistreatment and abuse, she had little belief in her own beauty or worth, but she preferred the modeling work to waiting tables.  She also met and married a wealthy, educated Englishman, with whom she traveled the world, met royalty, and even dined at the White House.  However, after fourteen years, he left her for another woman.

At this time, the principles behind what we now think of as self-help and self-improvement were very new, and still unknown to most people. Louise had spent nearly her whole life living with feelings of worthlessness and reinforcing them with negative expectations, so it was a huge leap when she was introduced to the transformative power of thoughts.  She had never heard of such notions as, “If you’re willing to change your thinking, you can change your life,” and when she did, her jaw dropped. She had never been much of a reader, but she now became a dedicated student of these ideas.

Louise learned how positive thinking could change people’s material circumstances, and even heal the body.  She also studied meditation, and soon became a popular workshop leader, guiding people in the use of spoken “affirmations” meant to cure their illnesses and transform their lives.  Within a few years, she had assembled her own guide to self-healing using the power of thought, which included a chart of different ailments and their probable causes.

The following year, Louise was diagnosed with cervical cancer. At first, she panicked. But because she truly believed that mental healing worked, she recognized that she was being given a chance to prove it to herself. She was also certain that her own refusal to face and let go of all the anger and resentment from her childhood was a major factor in causing her illness.

Refusing surgery or medical treatment of any kind, Louise got to work. She read everything she could on cancer.  She found a nutritionist to help her cleanse and detoxify her body from all the junk foods she’d eaten over the years. She also met with a therapist to express and release all of her bottled-up anger.  At first, she found it difficult to do something as simple as stand in front of a mirror and say, “Louise, I love you.” But as she persisted, she was able to stop blaming her parents and others for the horrific experiences of her early life.  And of course, she practiced the “affirmations” she taught others, expressing nothing but positivity and hope toward her recovery.

Six months after her diagnosis, the doctors confirmed what Louise was already certain of:  she no longer had even a trace of cancer.

Louise Hay is the New York Times bestselling author of How To Heal Your Life, the book developed from her original pamphlet on self-healing through positive thinking, which has sold over thirty four million copies and been translated into thirty languages. Louise is a world-renowned teacher, motivational speaker, and the founder of the Hay Foundation, a non-profit organization that encourages and financially supports diverse organizations. Louise is in her eighties, but says she feels more vibrant and energetic than she did forty years earlier – just one of the many benefits of a life filled with positive thinking.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

100% Accountable

I’m in Fargo, North Dakota this week, teaching the 7 Mindsets to the employees of the local YMCA.  Soon, the good people of the Y will be leading the Mindset Revolution in their community!  This week’s story highlights an amazing entrepreneur from North Dakota with a winning mindset we can all learn from.

Douglas grew up surrounded by high expectations.  For over eighty years, his family operated a grain elevator in the small town of Arthur, North Dakota, and when Doug's father passed away, his mother joined the board of directors.  There was a mentality of accountability to everything they did, because in the grain elevator business, not living up to your commitments could mean losing a client for generations.

This upbringing first helped Doug express his entrepreneurial spirit in grade school, after he realized his hometown had no local newspaper.  Curious, creative, and a natural problem-solver, Doug started one himself, the Arthur Home News.  Then, in college, Doug successfully started a chimney sweeping business, but in order to set himself apart, he dressed for work in a top hat and tuxedo.  He was undoubtedly the best-dressed chimney sweep in town, but he still did the dirty job with pride.

After earning his bachelor's degree in his home state, Doug left to pursue an MBA at Stanford in California.  There, he made numerous friends who went on to careers in nearby Silicon Valley, but Doug chose to head to Chicago once he finished school.

Taking a consulting position, Doug gained national experience, accumulating contacts in both business and technology.  But even more significant was his first experience with the capabilities of personal computing software.

Having just finished a week of late-night number-crunching sessions, a sleep-deprived Doug was invited to try out one of the company’s latest investments:  an Apple II computer.  Doug had never used one, as personal computers weren’t found in offices and households like they often are today.  So when his co-worker used a spreadsheet program to calculate numbers, Doug was stunned to watch the machine complete in minutes what had previously taken him hours.   It was a revelation. 

The experience was still on his mind when Doug received a call from a pair of entrepreneurs operating a retail computer business in Fargo.  Theirs was the first Apple dealer in North Dakota, and they were also developing their own software. Doug decided to return home and visit their office. What he found was an operation located in an old clothing store, with programmers working in a back room still filled with shoe shelves.  But he also saw orders flying out the door.  Doug was confident that personal computing was the future, and he wanted to help build the business.  Working out a deal to join them, he mortgaged farmland he’d inherited from his father to invest $250,000. 

However, the reason he saw so many orders shipping that day was because there was a severe backlog going back months, and they were trying to catch up.  He had also underestimated the number of similar competitors in the field, originally believing there were less than ten, when in fact there were more than fifty.

Within a year, the company was worth less than when Doug first got involved, due to heavy competition with better-funded enterprises.  With the future uncertain, the founders wanted a way out, but Doug remained committed.  Gathering additional investment money from a group of relatives, he bought out his partners, determined to make the company successful.

His first major decision was to make service their focus.  The idea of technical support experts being easy to reach and responsive to questions simply didn’t exist yet. Doug established a model in which customers paid for guaranteed attention.  During one streak, the company went 402 days and successfully resolved more than 160,000 support calls in a row.  The philosophy matched perfectly with Doug’s own sense of personal accountability and the values that went back to his roots.

Consumers responded, and the service-driven approach was a success.  Within six years, Great Plains Software, led by CEO Douglas Burgum, had over 300 employees and was earning $22 million in annual sales.  The company was named to Fortune Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work for in America," and in 2001, Great Plains was purchased by Microsoft for $1.1 billion. 

Doug lives the 100% Accountable mindset, and you can too.  Begin with a dream, set high expectations, seek to add value to others, and be prepared to adjust as often as it takes to ultimately succeed.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams