City’s Past Filled with Blueprint of Success

Monday, August 6, 2012, Vol. 127, No. 152

Go to any public meeting where plans for an area are being made, buzz words are flying, big sheets of paper are being written on and “stakeholders” are sitting in various clusters, and you will hear numerous people suggest that all the area needs are spaces for shops.

At that very early stage of planning, more shops are the panacea. By the time the plan is turning into reality, there aren’t as many shops.

That’s because behind the clean windows, lace curtains and cute shop setting that we see ourselves enjoying are someone’s business – someone’s dream and someone’s struggle.

Not everyone has what it takes to run a business. It is not for the faint of heart. Things happen even to businesses built on a sound business plan in the right economic conditions – bad things.

As John Simmons of the Turnaround Management Association said in this week’s cover story and many others have said over the years, “Hope is not a strategy.”

A year ago we talked to Carolyn Hardy about her journey to the $30 million deal with City Brewing Co. for her bottling plant in Hickory Hill. The journey includes doubts, a business plan continually rejected that she took as an indication she needed to keep working on it and a tornado that likely would have put a less dedicated soul out of business.

“Your success will be driven by how you handle those bad days,” she told us.

Part of our city’s history and part of its DNA are one of a kind entrepreneurs who changed American culture and the world with their bold visions – Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx Corp.; Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inns; and Clarence Saunders, the originator of the supermarket concept.

The smugness of history is that it includes the certainty of knowing what happened. And that can cause us to lose sight of the struggles each had on the way to a successful certainty that was neither guaranteed much less promised.

This is the knowledge that needs to be shared more as more of us make a leap to an uncertain outcome but one in which we seek to have more control over our destiny.

Local and state government can help some but they are limited by choice as well as by circumstance in that role. They can’t guarantee the survival of a business with a flawed plan no matter what they give in incentives.

It is those who have seen the dark side of entrepreneurship and lived to fight another day who have the know-how and the financial muscle to inspire.

What we need in a community where the ability to build and hold wealth across generational lines is too scarce is a realistic idea of both how difficult and how rewarding that can be.