Music, Shopping Malls and Razors

A hobby of mine is to see what lessons can be learnt from the lives of others. These can be found everywhere if we have the desire to find them and make the effort to look. For this post, I’ve picked a few stories that have provided a few lessons that I hold quite closely.

Shopping Malls

The first is the story of how Frank Lowy came to be in a partnership with John Saunders. John immigrated, worked hard, taught himself English and bought a delicatessen. The following quotes are from his daughter:

“Dad was someone who lived by his watch; he was always there 2 minutes before he had to be there. He hated people who weren’t on time. Frank Lowy was one of his delivery boys and he was always on time. He was the only person he knew who was on time.”

“Out of the blue, Dad asked him if he wanted to go into business with him. Neither of them had any money, but they found a way to start a coffee shop in Blacktown”.

This partnership became Westfield, now the world’s biggest shopping centre operator – 119 centres and worth more than $63b.

Lesson: Be ready for opportunity before it is ready for you.

Razors

The second story is one of Gillette during the 1980’s. A fellow named Colman Alejandro M. Mockler Coello was the CEO at the time (and a clear finalist in the award for greatest name in history). During the 80’s his company was subject to multiple takeover attempts, all of which would have made his shareholders a lot of money. There were issues with maintaining control of the board and ultimately giving in, despite any one of the takeovers netting him significant wealth through his own holdings.

He fights them all, believing in his vision for the company to be able to become “great”, and they survive. At the end of the 1980’s they release a new line of razors – the “sensor”. New product makes $1b in sales in first year, and in a short time the company worth many times what it was a few years earlier.

Lesson: Back your vision, fight for it. Don’t take the easy way out.

Music

The final story I have is that of Billy Joel. He grew up learning the piano, but it wasn’t until he saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show that he decided he wants to be a music star. He works hard, writes songs, and successfully secures a recording contract. However, the contract terms were poor, quality of production of album was terrible and they also had the rights to the next 10 albums he would produce. Given his predicament, no one else will give him a new contract while he is stuck with those terms.

He can’t make any money recording songs so he sings songs at a bar. During this time he writes Piano Man, which happens to be a dramatization about where he has found himself (ie. They sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say “man what are you doing here?”). While doing this, someone hears him play who likes him a whole lot and subsequently offers him a new contract and then buys the rights to his future albums from the other company. In short, Billy Joel almost stayed as an unknown, not because of his music, but a costly error with contract terms.

Lesson: Not knowing what you don’t know is the most dangerous type of ignorance.

I’ve kept these stories very brief and have left out a few specifics, but I encourage you to look them up as the details can be fascinating. The next time you go to a shopping centre, use a razor or hear a Billy Joel song, perhaps consider that inspiration is everywhere and the most important lessons to be learnt are those you find yourself. Where have you found lessons in other peoples stories?