When I was 13, my father decided I needed
work experience, so I was sent to work on
a large farm owned by distant relatives
near Orange, Virginia. I was paid $15 a
month, plus room and board.
Early Work Experience
Each day began around 5:30 a.m. For chores
before breakfast, I slopped the hogs,
chopped wood for the kitchen stove, ate
a field hand's breakfast, and went to
work with the field hands, some of whom
were white and some were black.
We worked in the blazing summer
heat shucking corn, picking wheat, oats
and barley. We also pitched hay on to
mule-drawn wagons and dug, graded, cleaned
and sacked potatoes. My clothes were drenched
with sweat all day long.
There was one spring we could get to in the
fields, and one rusty can for drinking. We gratefully
passed the can around for all to drink -- black
or white. This was 1943 in a Southern state.
We all worked together, we sweated together,
we ate together, and we drank water from the
same miserable tin can.
Our crew reached the fields shortly after
sun up. We went home at dusk. I remember looking
from the fields over at the convict road crew
who arrived an hour after we did, and called
it a day before five in the afternoon. As a
13-year-old, I thought that being on a
convict road crew was a really soft touch.
I held summer jobs with a Forest Service
timber crew in Montana, as a ranch hand in Wyoming
and as a filling station attendant in Yellowstone
Park. In retrospect, some of my most valuable
lifetime experiences came when I was 13
and 14 doing exhausting work for $15 a
month on the farm in Virginia.
Later in law school, I worked one summer
on the investigative staff of the Senate Appropriations
Committee and for one summer as the assistant
to the tax counsel of W. R. Grace & Co.,
the shipping, banking, and chemical conglomerate.
Business World Beckons
After graduation in 1955 with what later became
a Juris Doctor degree, I decided against the
practice of law and began a business career
in the South American manufacturing operation
of W. R. Grace & Co. Peter Grace, the legendary
head of the company, was obsessive about detail,
budgets, and financial projections. Despite
the fact that W. R. Grace was too diverse a
grab bag of unrelated entities ever to appeal
to Wall Street, there could not possibly have
been a better pressure environment for a young
executive to hone his business skills and learn
financial analysis than W. R. Grace.
I am an entrepreneur at heart, not a corporate
executive, so when a chance opened to start
a business with two law school friends, I took
it. My first corporation of which I was a co-founder,
co-owner, and executive was called the Curry
Sound Corporation, set up to exploit an electrostatic
loud speaker invented by an overweight, eccentric,
genius named Curry.
The Curry flexible electrostatic speaker
was a marvel of high-end sound reproduction -- linear
from 20 to 20,000 cycles. There was only one
problem. It required 2,000 volts of electricity
to make it perform. Anyone touching the elements
without the protective cover would receive such
a jolt that a spontaneous dance would come about
with or without music.
Another valuable lesson in business. The
greatest concepts can fail because of failure
to recognize significant impediments to success.
But while I was seeking success in business,
I began to realize that Someone was seeking
me. For the full story, click on spiritual journey.