What does experiential immersion really teach you about entrepreneurship? Well, welcome to the story of my mom and dad and the lessons I learned from watching my father and mother resuscitate a failing business, turn it into a wild success and then knowingly try and out run their foreign competition and go bankrupt again.
When I was growing up, I watched my father invest in a variety of small businesses. He was making so much money as a criminal attorney and needed somewhere to invest it. He was also very unhappy with his work and was trying to find an exit strategy.
As a result, my father frequently talked about the businesses he was investing in and what their challenges were at the family dining room table. Our dinner table was the place my family talked about business and politics when I was growing up. It became a tradition to learn over dinner. We rarely talked about our day, or routine subjects that might occupy a child’s mind like playing with friends, or some fun I had. Instead my father turned our meals together, especially those when my mother was passed out drunk at the dinner table, but also those where she was not, into an entrepreneurial-living-family-lesson-plan night after night.
But one subject matter that was strictly off limits was my fathers career as a criminal attorney. He would simply never discuss it. I am sure he represented mobsters, murders and vicious criminals and successfully got them off the hook for their crimes. My dad simply, eventually, couldn’t take their “blood money” any longer and was seeking refuge by investing in other businesses in hopes one of them would draw him in. This much I knew from his few sparce comments and the jokes he made about his profession. My parents always told me, albeit in a joking manner, that one of the reason my dad had to get out of criminal law was because we didn’t have any more room in our house for any more artwork; our house was filled to the gills with artwork that was sometimes offered, in part, as repayment for my fathers legal services.
My father was in search of something he truly loved to do where he could help people and feel good about it. The investments he made into machines shops, and a fastener business (nuts, bolts, screws) helped him learn that the opportunity at the foundry he named Alpha- Cast was the one where he could really make a difference. Isn’t that what we are all seeking as artists and entrepreneurs- to make a difference? It took my Harvard trained father several investments in different businesses to figure out where he best belonged.
What drove my father was his belief in the power of helping people. Through law he thought he could help others to help themselves but he was wrong. All he did was postpone their wake-up call and allow them to continue to hurt others. His experiences dabbling in entrepreneurial investments taught him where he truly belonged. His work building Alpha-Cast and supporting over 200 families doing it was the best work I ever got to see him do.
And yet while building Alpha-Cast was my parents biggest joy, and the source of my mothers money spicket for clothes and the spoils of riches, it also just about financially destroyed my family when it later went under. ( But more on that for another post in the experiential-immersion- lesson lane.)
Just a couple footnotes about this article. First, my parents were living in a deluxe high rise over looking Lincoln Park in Chicago when they were also ” living in a motel” to jump start Alpha-Cast. Seems, as journalists often do, some of the facts are not quite right. And lastly, my parents did eventually build a chapel in the foundry and a big party room. Babies were baptized and couples were married there. It was the coolest thing to see my fathers dreams for Alpha-Cast come true. And as my father’s daughter, I guess it should be no surprise, that the lessons I learned from my parents have inspired me to want to help others make their dreams come true too.