Two distinct life lessons point to the conclusion being presented in this short essay. Over the past years, a number of articles as well as books have featured the life story of Sam Walton who certainly had a vision, and he moved on it in a very timely fashion. We would call Mr. Walton a visionary today, but all the vision in the world doesn’t mean a thing unless it is acted upon. Sam Walton took a basic concept in retail business and literally changed the way we shop. He built a kernel of an idea into the largest retail empire in the world. It has been stated that you are never more than fifteen minutes from a WalMart or Sam’s Club. Imagine the thought process you would have to go through to create such an operation? He had a background in retail, but nothing to compare with the dream that became a reality.
Sam Walton was a maverick in his approach to business. He did not build his dream in a normal fashion – he never utilized the tried and tested means of approaching his retail operations, but invented his own methods of analyzing marketing potential. He went looking for areas in rural America where there were few stores and sometimes even fewer customers. He knew if he built the kind of store filled with products people liked and wanted, and priced them reasonably, he could bring them to his new idea called a “big box” store. Both Mr. Walton and the folks behind Target Stores came up with similar concepts within a short time span of each other some sixty years ago. Both of these companies were highly successful in their endeavors. To quote a famous line from FIELD OF DREAMS, “If you build it, they will come.”
Mr. Walton could certainly take his place along with the Rockerfellers, Carnegies and others like them. He was inventive, thrifty, determined and skillful in his drive to success. Yet, until he died, he avoided all the trappings of success and wealth. He drove the same red truck to work; enjoyed a day of fishing or hunting, and would meet and greet all the town folks and have a cup of coffee at the local diner in Bentonville, Arkansas. Until the business grew to be overwhelmingly large, he knew by name most of the people who worked for him. If you wanted to do business with Sam, you had to come to Arkansas. In fact, you had better set up an office in Bentonville, or miss out on multiple opportunities. He wanted to know the top people of the companies in which he was going to conduct business. And, they did come at his insistence.
Now, for the second part of the opportunities – this time not realized. I know of an example where a young entrepreneur came to a city in the Midwest over fifty years ago seeking investment monies for a new idea. He called on investment banks and real estate companies seeking funding. He was turned away at first because he didn’t have the “look of success”. Through persistence and keeping his eye on the goal, finally those who did see the potential and grasped the vision with him were rewarded. Too bad for the people who didn’t take advantage of the ideas this fellow was proposing because he built his concept into one of the largest retail shopping experiences here and abroad. Today, his idea is worth billions.
Another gentleman, at the same time, also in a small Midwestern town, was seeking a banking relationship with a hometown or regional outlet. He was trying to create a manufacturing concern in electronics, and wanted to move into the programming side of the business. He was turned down repeatedly, and ended up taking his business to Chicago much to the regret of those financial advisors who didn’t have the vision he had for the future of his idea. I often saw him flying in second class back and forth to Chicago in those days carrying a briefcase full of ideas for investment, and the “Windy City” was listening and acting.
To be successful, it is important to realize that opportunities are all around us on a daily basis. We have to recognize when those ideas meet the desires and fulfill the dreams for all concerned, and act upon them.