Last night I attended a fancy wedding. The bride’s parents have inherited a real estate fortune. The groom’s father built a thriving video rental business from scratch when video stores were new. As I prepared to leave, he said he is preparing to close his business, for good, within the next year. “The video rental business is over,” he said. He doesn’t know what he will do next. His newly-wed son is starting his career in a specialized health profession.
When you analyze the roots of wealth and business success, you can draw assumptions, assert beliefs, and sometimes pontificate about basics of success. I’m a journalist at heart, but started my business at the same time my relative started his new video business — in the 1980s. I captured then-new desktop publishing technologies to start a low-capitalization print media enterprise serving real estate and (ultimately) construction communities with specialized publications. My business has evolved, with ups and downs, and continues to be viable. But only an ostrich would ignore the warning signs around me.
Another relative at the party, a real estate broker, observed that virtually all of his sales leads now originate from the Internet. He still advertises with print media but only because the advertisements reassure his clients that he is doing something to market their properties. I asked him if the Internet is affecting his business and commission rates. He said “no” — in part because he visibly provides as much service and attention as possible, and clients see that. Still, in Toronto, a fair number of condos and vacation rentals are sold, sight unseen, simply based on on-line listings.
Is this a story of right or wrong, success, or failure? Sometimes, of course, you can marry into wealth (though anyone who achieves this result honorably generally has to have enough personal character and integrity that the spouse and spouse’s family know that love, not gold-digging, is behind the story.) Sometimes you can build a really good business based on new technologies and ideas, from scratch, only to discover it is an empty shell within one generation, also because of technological change. And sometimes you can build a great business that lasts for generations, based in part on your choices at the outset and later on how you raise your children.
Really successful people are never smug about success. They know that it can be fleeting, and luck plays a big part in the story. Yet, when we make our choices wisely, with respect for our values and those around us, we can enjoy happy endings even when the pathways and destinations are incomplete and sometimes imperfect.