Tag Archives: mentor

TAKE YOUR FOOT OFF THE BAG

John Jonelis

I’ve asked it before, “The way you conduct business—is it meaningful to those left behind?”  Is it? 

I’m here at the Levy Entrepreneurship Group, talking with some of the most brilliant business minds in Chicago.  This group’s been meeting for over 60 years.  It’s the genius of Joe Levy, the prolific entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist—the son of a south Michigan Ave car dealer.  Joe was an endless entrepreneur—constantly learning, constantly experimenting—the quintessential gentleman who gave everybody an at-bat—who spoke quietly but directly and told the truth as he saw it.  He pushed people off the bag“You’re lousy at this.  What are you good at?  Contribute.  Help somebody.”  People found inspiration and hope.  Never a disparaging word about Joe.  “If you don’t have a satisfied customer, you’re compromising your future.”  He was the original automobile mega dealer, angel investor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.  “God put me on this earth to produce, not to consume.”  Joe Levy is dead at 92.

 

Joe Levy by Anne Elisabeth Hogh

Now I’m sitting with his group—face to face with his family.  We hope to make them understand why we all loved our Saturday morning meetings—why Joe loved them.  The moderator opens the meeting:  “Welcome to the special clubhouse we’re in.  This is a magical place.”  Then we each take turns telling stories to the family:

The Levy Group by Joel Berman

Entrepreneurship Stories

  • Joe told me, “Take your foot off the bag.” It was a constant voice in my head.  Every time I thought, “Should I start this business that I really don’t know much about?” I’d hear that phrase, “Take your foot off the bag.” Sometimes I might take it off a little bit too much.  But I would never be able to start what I’ve done multiple times without that voice in my head and without the support I’ve had from the group.

Take your foot off the bag

  • Joe and I were at the Bryn Mawr Country Club having lunch. Outside the window was this pond with two swans and during the meal, he made a point of the swans, saying, “Aren’t those swans beautiful?”  I said yeah.  Then he did it a second time.  And a third time.  After the meal, we took a walk right up to that pond.  And he said it a fourth time, “Aren’t those swans beautiful?”  I’m like, “Yeah Joe, they are, but what’s your point?”  He said, “Those swans are rental swans.  They’re a business.  I know this guy.  He rents them to all these country clubs.  It’s a beautiful business.”  So the guy puts them out in the spring and he picks them up in the fall and he takes them somewhere to feed them all winter and breed, and then he brings them back again.  It’s got no competition.  Who even would know it exists?  But his point was not only that it was a great business—it’s that it was a simple business in a niche.
  • When Joe found out that I was running my business from my home, he said, “No, you can’t do that.” He said the building next door was empty. He had bought it to store the Levy Center furniture, so we moved in.  That was a big help for us.  A year later, he sat me down.  He said, “Now buy the building.”  The timing was right, so we did.
  • This is the honorary Joe Levy tie. They named a street after him in Evanston where the dealership was.  Following the street dedication, we got ties, and no better day to wear it than today.

The Joe Levy Way Tie – Photo by Rachel Kaberon

  • I recall when they named the street after him. As usual, everybody gave elevator pitches at the start of the meeting.  When it was time for Joe’s introduction, he said, “I’m Joe Levy and now I’m a street.”
  • Twenty years ago Joe wrote a play about internet funerals called Cyber Mourning. It was at the Northlight playhouse in Skokie.
  • When I first met Joe, he asked me what I wanted from him. I knew he had so much to offer a guy like me—a poor immigrant from Greece.  Knowing that people always ask Joe for investment, I thought about his question for a second or so and responded, “Your friendship.”  What I received in return was much more than I could have imagined or hoped for.  He became a friend and a mentor—a man who could address any business issue, and some personal ones as well.  The other thing that we talked about was Joe’s faith—both of our faiths.
  • Not only did Joe teach us the art of being a gentleman—which is very, very hard to do—but he also taught us that entrepreneurship is endless. We took Joe’s words of wisdom, and put them in a placard.”

Plaque presented to the family – Photo by Rachel Kaberon

 The Levy Group

  • The group to me was a way to get working on Saturday without working on Saturday—to get my mind working as an entrepreneur.
  • I remember just 20 years ago coming to the Levy Group and feeling like it was a continuing business education. I call each Saturday a class.  In those classes we talked about business but I also learned about life, loving, giving, and family, and sometimes even death.
  • The ultimate benefit of this group was becoming a ‘Friend of Joe.’ That meant you were part of a group that spanned many a decade and you became aware of the wisdom that came from the experiences shared through the years.
  • I’m having lunch with Joe one day and make a comment to him. And he looks back at me and says, “Do you have a twin brother?”  So I say, “No Joe. Why do you think I have a twin brother?”  He looks at me and says, “Because no one person could be that f’n stupid.”  I use that line all the time today.

Joe in his Flintmobile – Joe Levy Collection

Joe’s Automobiles

  • One Saturday, he brought me into the garage to see his Flintmobile. A full size Flintmobile!
  • He was first at multi-dealerships. Back when Joe was in car dealership, he had eighteen.  People have one, maybe two.  He was the first one to have many.  At one time, he owned 18 dealerships.
  • Car dealerships wouldn’t give a woman the time of day, even if she was with her husband. If she wasn’t with her husband, they took total advantage of her.  Not Joe.  Joe was courteous at all times, and he built an incredible business.  He became the largest Buick dealer in the world.
  • Joe hired a clown for the dealership to entertain the kids. The clown also spied on the spouse.  What she wanted was crucial to the deal.
  • When Buick sold a model called the Wildcat, Joe made sure the Northwestern coaches all drove them.

Joe Levy – Photo by Nathan Mandell

Life

  • One day Joe heard on the radio that they were going to auction off a rare stamp in New York. He gets on a plane, goes to New York, buys the stamp, and before he gets on the plane to come back home, he called Carol and said, “Hey, I’m gonna be late for dinner.”
  • The first thing that will come to my mind when I’m at the racetrack or around horses is Joe Levy. He used to take us there as kids.  He gave us each an envelope with Win, Place, and Show for every single horse.  That was one of Joe’s ways of making sure everybody was a winner.
  • At my daughter’s wedding, my father-in-law took a scissors and snipped away Joe’s tie. Joe thought a moment, then went over and he cut my father-in-law’s tie off.  It was like a Laurel and Hardy thing.  So there they were, the whole evening, with these ties that looked sort of like bow ties without the bows.
  • We had a horse race in the parking lot that included questions about Joe that only the regular group could answer. We had them on silks—sewn numbers on the horses.
  • He gave me an appreciation that family was not just flesh and blood, and giving was not all about money. Time and caring in helping others were way more important in your life, in your learning.
  • Most of the people in cognitive behavior haven’t caught on yet. And all these theorists—they just haven’t caught on to how important kindness and helping and giving are to being able to be an entrepreneur.
  • And if I look back at Joe, what I think about is what he left behind, and that is teaching people how to be good human beings.
  • My dad loved this group. This group was his favorite thing, I think.  All week he looked forward to it—and just so proud of where everybody had come from and gone to.  So, I just—I don’t know what to say—this is just so moving.  So thanks, everybody.

So I ask you, “The way Joe conducted business—is it meaningful to those left behind?” 

 

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money..Copyright © 2019 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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DON’T ASK WHY—ASK WHY NOT

Question Markby Howard Tullman

How the First Apprentice Winner Became an Entrepreneur

(No, The Donald Didn’t Help):

Bill Rancic readily admits he wasn’t the smartest guy on the show. But in his subsequent career, he has become very smart about getting the most out of the people around him.

Bill Rancic by Greg Rothstein

At 1871, we had the opportunity to host Bill Rancic for a keynote speech about what he’s learned from several important mentors. Bill was the first winner on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice television program, but didn’t mention The Donald, which isn’t really that much of a surprise. He talked about how he started and built several entrepreneurial ventures, and about a very important lesson that he took away from his triumph on the TV show in 2004.

I thought that his explanation for how he won the Apprentice competition was highly enlightening.

  • He didn’t say he worked the hardest.
  • He didn’t say he wanted it the most.
  • And he certainly didn’t say he was the smartest guy in the room.

Be the Conductor

Bill’s winning edge was something that we talk about every day at 1871: Nobody does anything important and worthwhile all alone. If you have a dream, you need a team—that is, if you want to make the dream come true.

Bill said he tried to be “the conductor” just like the main man at the symphony. He brought everyone together so they could make beautiful music. He knew—just like in an orchestra—that he didn’t personally have the special skills or the same abilities that each of the other members of his team possessed. But he got them all moving in the right direction.  He brought out the best efforts that each team member had to contribute.

The most amazing things get done when no one cares who gets the credit. Harmony trumps hubris. And Bill never spent his time blaming others when things went wrong. That would have been a waste of breath and energy.  When facing confrontations and tough sledding, he kept in mind what Robert Schuller said: “Tough times never last, but tough people do!”

Learn from Others

Bill was fortunate to have some great people to learn from, whose examples he follows to this day. And he knew not to do things on his own until he really knew what he was doing. He needed to play a role for a while before he tried to roll his own—even though one of his first ventures was in the mail order cigar business. Today, he’s also a restaurateur. (See Entrepreneurship: Will You Sink or Swim?).

Bill had a very clear idea of where he wanted to end up and even how he thought he’d get there. But he knew these things were going to take time. The smartest thing he could do was to concentrate on learning something from someone every day on the journey.  It’s important to have a mental roadmap, but patience is also essential.  (See Why You Need a Reverse Roadmap).

Make a Start

One of his father’s rules was “practical execution.” All talk is simply that—results and actions are the things that make a difference. His Dad used to say, “Show me, don’t tell me” or as I like to say, “You can’t win a race with your mouth.”

There’s no simple playbook or set of rules for how you invent the future – you’ve got to get the ball rolling, keep your eyes on the goal, and be agile and flexible all the time. But it won’t ever happen if you don’t get started.

Embrace Risk

Bill said, “When we’re born, we’re only afraid of two things – falling and loud noises. From then forward we learn to be afraid of other things and too often allow those fears to keep us from stepping out and taking the kinds of risks that are essential to succeed.” He quoted Emerson as saying you needed to do what you are afraid of—and if you do—success will find you.  The key is not to avoid every possible risk, but to recognize and manage reasonable risks so you can convert them into opportunities and rewards. The ship that stays in port is the safest, but it doesn’t get anywhere.

Don’t Ask Why

Finally, there is the business with the bumblebees. For years scientists figured bees were never supposed to be able to fly. The ratio of their wing size to body weight was all wrong. The laws of physics decreed that the bees couldn’t generate enough power to lift themselves into the air.  Like so many entrepreneurs who do every day what others think is impossible, no one ever told the bees they couldn’t fly. But off they went.

Today, no one says that the bees are defying physics or nature. They are defying convention. We’ve finally figured out that just because the bees don’t fly the same way that fixed-wing airplanes do doesn’t mean gravity doesn’t apply to them. The fact is that bees—just like entrepreneurs—have figured out a different way to solve the problem. They fly by rapidly rotating their flexible wings; that’s how they get lift.

Every day entrepreneurs are doing the same thing. We look at the same problems that millions of others have observed from new and different perspectives and come up with novel solutions that are often obvious in retrospect. This is because we don’t ask why; we ask, why not?

Tullman2_Full-bkt_16396_16396_16396Howard Tullman is a the father of 1871. For more from Howard, go to

http://tullman.blogspot.com

www.1871.com/

Read his bio: http://tullman.com/resume.asp

Images: Greg Rothstein, Cloudspotter/1871,

Howard Tullman, MS Office

This article is adapted from Inc Magazine

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2015 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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