(A true story)
I was first starting my professional career, many years ago. I was in my late 20’s, and was recently out of college with a Masters in Psych. I had always been told I was pretty smart, a myth which I tended to really want to buy into, but somehow believed down deep, that perhaps I was only beginning to wake up.
I had become pretty successful in the social services arena in Dallas/Ft Worth. At that time, I was the Director of a Drug Abuse Education, Information and Referral organization.
But I was also starting a family and decided I could better support my family if I got into business. Great idea, but unfortunately… I had no background in doing business, no training, and my Mom and Dad were school teachers. Nothing about business in my genes.
At that time, we lived in “Cow Town”, Ft Worth, TX. One night I decided to go to a nightlife area in Fort Worth called the Stockyards, on the North Side of town. Not sure why I did decide to go there, as I rarely went much further than the taverns in our neighborhood. I had $40 in my pocket, all the disposal cash I had to my name.
Early in the evening, I found myself sitting at a classic Fort Worth bar a few seats down from a cowboy, probably in his mid- or late 50’s. He was wearing a $5 Big Mac work shirt from JC Penny’s, very dirty Levis, cowboy boots covered in cow poop, and a sweaty red bandana around his neck.
We got to talking and I offered to buy him a drink. His name was Joe Bob, and he seemed to know a bit about life. I guessed he was a classic “good ol’ boy”, hard working, tuff cow hand out to relax for the evening with a few drinks at his favorite “waterin’ hole”. So I asked him a few questions, and I found interesting what he said.
As the conversation progressed, I began to believe he had real, if not refreshing wisdom about life. I figured he had had a tough life, not because of what he said, exactly. In fact he was very positive and upbeat, but in a very practical, matter-of-fact way. Very likeable guy. .
After a while, and a few more drinks, I asked flat out. “Joe Bob, how can I be successful in business… do you know anything about business you can tell me?”
- “Son. You and me struck up a friendly conversation at this here bar. We never met before, but you kindly offered to buy me a drink. That’s bein’ neighborly.
- “Then we talked for 2 hours, you bought me 8 more drinks, and I have not paid for a single drink since we started. I think you paid for the drinks because you were interested in what I had to say. That’s doin’ business.
- “You are young, probably don’t have much money, yet you still spent all your money on me. I own the 3rd largest ranch in North Central Texas. I could have bought you a few drinks as well. In actual fact, I could buy this bar and 20 more just like it. In truth, I have enough cash in my pocket right now, to buy a fully loaded Cadillac outright. But I let you buy all the drinks, because you wanted to. That’s business leadership.”
He then raised his glass to mine, toasted me, threw down his last shot, and walked out of the bar.
I turned to the bartender, and asked, “Was he pullin’ my leg? Is he really that rich?”
The bartender just gave me one of those knowing smiles, the kind that comes from a casual observer who just watched a young well-meaning, but really naïve kid get schooled. “Son, did Joe Bob mention the oil wells all over his ranch?”
Some guys are educated in business at Harvard, Haas, Wharton, Kellogg. I learned in 2 hours and $40, a single, priceless lesson about business success. Joe Bob Business. I never saw him again, nor do I even know his last name. But it’s been 30 years, and I have never forgotten him, nor the difference between doin’ business and business leadership.
It took me another 5-10 years to begin to understand what Joe Bob was saying. I’m still working on it. But this lesson rarely has let me down.