Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hope Isn’t A Strategy

Aaron and Paul were best friends, and often spent hours coming up with creative ideas together.  When Paul was in college, he was so broke that he couldn't even afford to do his laundry.  Then he hatched an idea. He contacted a big laundry company with a proposal.  He guaranteed that he’d bring them laundry from hundreds of college students if the company would give him a good price to pick it up and deliver it back to Paul cleaned, folded, and in individual bags.  They agreed on a price, and Paul spread the word by offering free beer to any student who used his laundry service.  Not only did Paul get his laundry done for free, he also made the equivalent of $500 a week.

Aaron had a difficult childhood.  His family was so poor that they were always late paying their rent, and eviction was just a letter away.  When he was twelve, Aaron’s mother became ill and entered the hospital for care.  His father was a traveling salesman and went on the road, leaving Aaron to care for himself.  One evening, he was so hungry that he cut photos of food out of a magazine, laid them on a plate, and pretended it was real food.  He cut up the paper photos with a knife and fork and savored every bite.

One Christmas, Paul asked Aaron to help him make some holiday gifts for his family and friends.  Paul loved to cook, and worked up a blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, and other ingredients.  Aaron stirred the dressing mixture and poured it into bottles to give away as gifts.  When they finished, there was enough left that Paul suggested they start a business to sell it.  Aaron said, "There are a lot of rules to running a business.  Fortunately, we don't know any of them."  Paul laughed and suggested the next step was to visit a company to seek some advice.

They found a company who tried the dressing, agreed it was good, and said that they would love to get involved.  They would conduct market research on the product as well as help launch the business, in return for a fee of $400,000.

Paul and Aaron said, "No thanks.”  Instead, they invited twenty friends to a blind tasting of their product against nineteen popular dressing brands, which they spent $40 to purchase.  Nineteen of their friends picked their recipe as the best, and those results were good enough for Aaron and Paul.  They had saved $399,960 doing the research themselves.

Aaron and Paul knew they had a great product, but the decision to donate all their profits to charity really launched their potential into the stratosphere.  As difficult as it is to launch a new salad dressing against established brands like Kraft and Best Foods, they were inspired to beat the odds.  Today, more than three decades later, Newman's Own Dressing has donated more than $300 million to charity.  Paul Newman was best known as an Academy Award winning actor, and his friend Aaron “A.E.” Hotchner was Earnest Hemmingway's biographer, but their generosity left its own mark as well.

Their story reminds me of Crenshaw High School in South Central Los Angeles, where I once taught a business seminar.  Years earlier, the L.A. Riots had devastated the area, and the students were looking to infuse some hope back in their community.  They cleared out a vacant lot behind the football field, getting rid of the trash and “recycling” the area as a garden to grow fruits and vegetables.  Soon after, a local business person visited and offered to help them create a salad dressing out of what they grew in the garden.  They named their company Food from the 'Hood and donated a quarter of their harvest to local shelters, turning the rest into dressing that they sold in local supermarkets.  Half the profits were reinvested into the business, while the other half went to a college scholarship fund for Crenshaw students.  Over the last twenty years, more than $250,000 has been earned toward student scholarships... an amazing accomplishment!

Heading into 2015, remember to tend to your own garden.  Too many people let their dreams die on the vine.  What dreams and positive visions of the future are inside you? This year, let's recycle hope.  They say that hope isn’t a strategy, but I believe it’s where the recipe begins.  Renew your hope.  Plant your dreams.  Imagine a garden full of possibilities, then fertilize with the most important nutrient:  Action!

Here's wishing you a happy, hopeful new year!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

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