"The secret of getting ahead is getting started." -- Mark Twain
July is the month when NFL football teams open their preseason training camps. Hundreds of young men compete for coveted roster spots, and it's safe to say most started playing football back in grade school. The value of this early exposure is also true for elite athletes in any sport. Think Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena Williams, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant. Acquiring skills at a young age with the help of experienced teachers can make all the difference.
A while back on 60 Minutes, a segment featured the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, a special program founded by Steve Mariotti, and the crucial role of entrepreneurship in our economy and the advantage of getting an early start, especially for those who come from low-income communities. One conclusion was that preparation for a business career should begin in high school. In my case, I started at the age of 13 during the Depression. I worked as a florist delivery boy in New York City, and the experience provided an excellent foundation for future success. At a young age, I helped support my family while learning to deal with challenging people and unpredictable situations.
At the age of 19, I enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and my education took a huge leap. I served as a navigator and radar bombardier on 27 dangerous missions. In 1944, radar was a new technology, and I learned to embrace this leading edge in order to survive. Another lesson was how important it was to fly in accordance with a pre-designed flight plan. Each crew member had a specific role to play, and if anyone did not do his job correctly, we could all perish. Despite coming from vastly differing backgrounds, we developed infinite respect for each other and realized that relationships form the basis for success.
After the war I was ready and eager to immerse myself in commerce. Trans Pacific Traders was the first in a series of my profitable ventures, and each one was built on the knowledge gained from its predecessor. Later in my career, I came to understand that, in most cases, success is an evolutionary process. Today, my business journey spans 70 years, but even now it is still evolving. At this point, my major ambition is to help others become successful entrepreneurs. Our very democracy depends on a middle-class producing better goods and services and creating wealth.
In many ways, an entrepreneur's career is like a football game. Both combine a swift pace with a highly competitive atmosphere. The "game" is divided into four quarters. In the first quarter you assess the other team's strengths and weaknesses based on your scouting report. You size up the opposition and create a specific strategy to cross the goal line. During the second and third quarters you execute your game plan to the fullest. Getting there should be as much fun as scoring. In the fourth quarter you consolidate your gains and seek to safeguard a positive outcome.
These days, I'm not only in the fourth-quarter, I'm in the two-minute drill. There isn't much time left. I know exactly what thought processes brought me through so many situations, and now I have to get my message across succinctly. In essence, "targeted thinking" is at the heart of my advice. It is the ability to zero in on an objective and totally concentrate on efforts to make it happen. This is the most powerful ingredient in the recipe for entrepreneurial success. Along the way distractions will arise, and it is vital that we learn at an early age to harness the power of zeroing in on our business goals.
Change is always occurring, and the only thing that remains constant is that your future belongs to you--you are the one who makes the choices. This is the risk that everyone faces, but it is also the excitement. Overall, I am an opportunist pure and simple. We've all heard the classic debate about whether the glass is half empty or half full. Pessimists reflect on what is missing, while optimists see a brighter future. However, sometimes during their discussion, opportunists will walk in and drink the water. The advantage of starting early is that we allow ourselves time to grow into entrepreneurship. When the right opportunities come along, we will see them and act with confidence.
In light of my desire to support the next generation of entrepreneurs and pass on what I've learned from a successful career, and especially with those whom I can personally relate to and who may need it most, I've pledged to gift up to 100,000 high school students in the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship program with a digital copy of my award-winning book, "The Evolution of an Entrepreneur," featuring 50 of my best tips for surviving and thriving in business.
Both the NFTE organization and I agree that students can learn to become entrepreneurs and that entrepreneurship can be a gateway for those who might not otherwise have opportunities for financial prosperity.
At 90, I firmly believe that early entrepreneurial training can make all the difference for achieving success, and NFTE is proving this theory with their program statistics. Entrepreneurship became my ticket to get ahead in life, and I know it still does and will for others, too, I just hope more embrace entrepreneurship and take their future into their own hands sooner rather than later, for their own sake and for the sake of our economy.