by Robert Luddy
Issue 207 – July 11, 2012
In recent weeks, I’ve read news stories about how traditional colleges have adopted programs to teach liberal arts majors the skills that will make them more employable and competitive in the 21st century workplace.
This is a much needed step in the right direction. Too many bright minds are coming out of college with little foundation in the practical business skills that will help them achieve their dreams, and with unrealistic expectations. You can’t build the next great technology company or design firm if you don’t know the basics of how to start and run a business.
It’s not necessarily critical that someone knows how to read a spreadsheet or file for incorporation as it is they understand the fundamentals of what success requires in the free market.
I was fortunate growing up to learn these fundamentals early on. When I was 11, I announced to my mother that I had just gotten a job working on a bread delivery truck every Saturday.
Her response was, “Bobby, you are too young.” I informed her that I had already made a commitment and that I really wanted the job.
My mother was our family disciplinarian, moral compass, and first teacher. In light of my determination, she supported my plan. She was like that—protective, but she encouraged us to push ourselves and to use our judgment well.
For my work I received $2 a day and was able to bring home a surplus of sweet rolls and loaves of bread for the family. Our mother’s trust in our judgment allowed my siblings and me to mature quickly. In effect, she taught us some of the early tools of entrepreneurship.
She instilled in her children common sense ideas, and the importance of working hard and being resourceful. We all started working early. Beginning in elementary school I babysat, shoveled show, and had a paper route.
In junior high I sold greeting cards, and worked on the bread delivery truck. My sisters baked cookies, made clothes, and babysat. We were encouraged to be active, and were praised for our accomplishments. I chose to save my money and invest it.
When I was hired to deliver prescriptions and stock shelves at the local drug store at the age of 15, I valued my job and the opportunity to be involved in real business. The owner, Dr. Bayer, taught me the basics of running a small company, including cash management, inventorying, ordering, and customer relations. I was learning and getting paid. Bliss!
The money and savings were important to me, but more important was learning how the world worked and how to deal with people and handle money. Some of my friends told me I would never enjoy life if I spent my time working so much, but what they did not realize was that I loved these jobs.
I learned the ins and outs of business at a very young age. The basic lessons I learned early on are lessons every success is built on. I learned to show up on time, be courteous, do a thorough job, and make sure the customer was happy.
No matter how much business evolves and technology innovates, what will never change is that others will place value on doing things well and doing them right. Maybe not everything you need to know about creating a business can be learned as a kid with a job. But few achieve real success without those fundamentals.
Robert Luddy is president and founder of CaptiveAire Systems, Inc and is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union Foundation. This first appeared in U.S. News and World Report.