Two Beautiful Entrepreneurs
Sunny and Ralph prepare to introduce top executives and spouses from several East coast manufacturers to a typical Texas Style Barbecue and Dance. The party favors were cowboy hats and bandanas (shown in background) for all.
I have no idea whether most wealthy people today resemble either the fictional, tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge or the modern tech billionaires who seem to want to change the world to fit their own political paradigm. But I do know that the two wealthy entrepreneurs who became part of Sunny Wilson’s life were, like her, beautiful people who loved life, who loved work, and who loved generosity.
Perhaps their early struggles to survive financially forever marked them with compassion for others. Perhaps it was because they became wealthy through their own creativity and hard work. Perhaps their pattern of life is still the norm for self-made people.
Or, perhaps the American culture was different then. After winning wars in both Europe and Japan, seemingly unbridled opportunities appeared everywhere as the United States embraced a hard-fought peace. Perhaps that optimism provided a more buoyant outlook for more people than the world had ever known before.
At any rate, Mary and Ralph left a legacy worthy of documentation, admiration, and emulation. Neither one ever suffered from depression, drunkenness, or drug addiction because they were having too much fun just living their lives, as in the picture above.
Mary approached her work and her business from the standpoint of her Christian beliefs. After being left holding the bag with two young children, she went into overdrive, learning to place her future in her own hands instead of depending on a husband. Her first solid precept became that there should be no difference in one’s attitudes and actions whether in the church pew or in the market place. She became a beloved Bible teacher at her home church as well as a wealthy woman.
Not only was she generous at church and when rewarding her demonstrators (the women who sold her decorative items), she also gave outright gifts of money to those in need. She frequently tried to cover a specific need for a temporary setback. For example, she had helped Sunny start her side business of selling decorative objects for the home by lending money to buy the samples, then personally tutoring her in the art of selling by the party plan that was popular at that time. Within a few months, Sunny’s side business far outstripped her salary.
Mary was gregarious, reaching out to others to recognize their genius, even when they believed themselves to be worthless. She was a superb listener, often winnowing the words to get down to the underlying problem, then assisting them find a way out. Since she worked primarily with women who were in a crisis of some sort, she frequently spent hours drilling into them: “You can if you think you can.”
Mary was a combination of psychotherapist, coach, and cheerleader. She helped her representatives learn to make money and thus increased her own bottom line every single year.
Ralph, on the other hand, appeared to most people in Temple to be the epitome of the hard boiled boss. He had little patience with any hint of laziness or lack of responsibility.
He had learned to work with plaster after leaving a small farm in Indiana and moving to California to “seek his fortune” as a young man. At that time in Los Angeles, Fox was putting up grand movie theaters decorated to the hilt with ornamental architectural features. So he headed there to learn how to make the molds for plaster in various forms, install the finished product, and see that it was painted appropriately. He began as an apprentice, worked his way up from journeyman to foreman because he taught himself (and then others) how to do it better and faster. After becoming the straw boss with one group, he left to start his own company.
He made a great deal of money decorating Fox Theaters, churches, and other buildings in flamboyant California. After almost three decades though, he got bored and sold his company to someone else. It was probably excellent timing because the elaborate movie theaters soon lost their popularity. Even churches began accepting modern architecture’s austerity.
Part of the agreement was that he would not open up a competing business in LA or start any business within the state. So Ralph looked into Temple, Texas and decided to build a plant there producing the new melamine counter tops like Formica. Only his were called Wilson Art, with designs by his grown daughter. Soon he developed ways to get the finished goods to the buyer with a network of regional warehouses and a secret system that implemented deliveries in less time than any competitors could match. And his business flourished beyond all expectations.
He demanded a lot from anyone who worked at the plant in any position. If someone did not perform well, he was fired. When traveling to visit the sales reps or warehouse managers, he often took them and their spouse out to a fine dinner with lots of entertaining conversation. But, if he sensed a lack of honesty or a good work ethic, he would go into the office the next day and hand them severance pay because of what he learned during the previous evening.
If there were a crisis at any location, the needed employees were expected to work extra hours until the problem was solved, even if that meant a week of 12-hour days. And no one ever appeared to resent that dictum.
Like Mary, he was a listener, filing away in his memory names and details of family members that he had not even met and referring to them weeks later. This real concern was for both the shift workers and the suits in the front office.
His charity was primarily cash to help anyone in a bind meet an unexpected need. Few recipients ever asked for help, but instead were shocked when he privately slipped two to five hundred-dollar bills into their hands.
He also insisted on paying all employees well —— actually the wage rates were higher at his plant than anywhere else in the county. The unions tried every few years to win the representation of his workers. But every attempt failed because he already provided more benefits than their collective bargaining could promise. Many of the line workers stayed with his company their entire working careers. While all the foremen and the company officers were well regarded, no one ever captured hearts like Mr. Ralph did.
Mary and Ralph had no delusions of grandeur, i.e., changing the world or even amassing a fortune. Each, at one time had desperately needed money to pay their own basic expenses. Each one found a way to control the amount of money coming in – that is, they looked for and chose a form of entrepreneurship. Both admired generous people and both patterned their actions after their mentors.
Neither Mary nor Ralph gave a flip about whether their new friends at the club or the new members of their boards approved of them, their family, or the way they lived their lives. Each one just kept doing the next right thing whether it was paying for someone else’s kid go to college, quietly buying a new transmission for an employee’s old car, or improving the distribution process for products.
Toward the end of the party, when even the host and hostess relax because the Eastern Dudes had decided that Texas hospitality was far more entertaining and more gracious than they had ever imagined
Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather
Final installment of this particular series.