Once an Acorn

This is the 63rd in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

Sometimes to make it big you first have to make it small.
Conrad Hilton started out sweeping floors in a dusty New Mexico hotel.
He cleaned up as owner of a famous hotel chain.
John Paul Getty started with a $500 oil lease in Oklahoma and became one of America’s richest men.
David Packard baked the paint onto his first product in a kitchen oven.
45 years later, he was running a $4.7 billion company.
There are anonymous men and women starting small today whose names will be household words in 20 years.
Will one of those names be yours?
Get started!

A couple of comments on this ad.

First, one of the books I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport, references the book “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries” by Peter Sims.

Sims notes that, “Rather than believing they (innovative corporations or people) have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance, they make a methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information form lots of little failures and from small but significant wins.”

Sounds like what Hilton, Getty, and Packard were doing in the examples noted above, and it seemed to pay off for all of them.

The second comment takes a somewhat different perspective.

The Wall Street Journal had a story last week about the Good Work Institute, a free business-education program for entrepreneurs with modest-sized firms. Run by Etsy.org, the philanthropic offshoot of online craft marketplace Etsy Inc., the program counsels founders to focus on virtues like sustainability rather than new storefronts and staff. It also cautions them against “just growing to grow,” which is often the mindset of businesses and individuals just starting out.

This mindset may be self-imposed, or it could be the result of outside pressures. Either way, the Good Work Institute, while not opposed to growth, preaches a gospel of small, slow expansion, offering sessions for entrepreneurs such as investing in environmental initiatives, fair wages for staff, and community involvement. It also hopes hopes to add a unit to the program for founders on “learning how to slow down.”

So while the people who are successful at growing their firms from acorns to oaks are the ones who make the news and the big bucks, I don’t think that is the only type of success that should be celebrated. There are many small firms with passionate, mission-driven people, doing good work who deserve to be recognized as well.

So cheers to the following graduates of the first Good Work Institute class:

  • Jeffrey Monteiro of J.M. Generals, a maker of home goods like blankets and cushions.
  • Ariel Barbouth of Nuchas, a small New York fleet of empanada stands.
  • Agatha Kulaga of Ovenly, a Brooklyn-based bakery.

All three are great examples of businesses which are focused on more than just the bottom line. I wish them all continued success, and look forward to trying Nuchas and Ovenly on my next visit to NYC.