Dave was the fifth of twelve children during the Great Depression. His father worked at a sawmill and was a part-time basket weaver.
Dave had some problems: He was a stutterer, he had epilepsy, plus a learning disorder, all of which prevented him from graduating high school until he was 21. How do you like Dave’s chances in life so far?
But Dave was a good employee: first a Fuller Brush salesman and next a route man for two bakeries. Then, with all of his personal challenges, he purchased and successfully ran a restaurant and a grocery store.
Remember his father’s part-time basket weaving? Well, Dave started selling baskets: first from his father’s hands, and later from Dave’s factory. Oh, that’s right. You didn’t know Dave had a basket factory. Well, this was the basket factory Dave sold his two very successful businesses to buy. Turns out Dave had serious entrepreneurial sap rising in his bark.
Dave’s friends, family, and bankers were incredulous. Why leave a successful and sure thing to make baskets? By the way, they knew Dave didn’t know anything about how to make baskets himself. Would you have invested in Dave?
Turns out Dave also had vision. He envisioned a world that would need baskets—lots of baskets. And Dave Longaberger wanted to fill that need.
Over the next 25 years, Longaberger Baskets grew from selling a handful of Dave’s father’s baskets to millions of the woven wonders. Not too shabby for the stuttering, epileptic, learning disabled son of a sawmill worker, who took 15 years to get out of school.
What Dave lacked in education he made up with uncanny instincts. Any lack of sophistication Dave had was more than compensated for by an innate leadership ability that made employees want to follow him and customers want to do business with him.
Dave liked to say, “Your success will ultimately depend on the relationships you build with people.” There are a lot of highly educated folks who still need to learn that lesson.
Education is important. But an educated entrepreneur without instincts and leadership ability is like a jeweled Spanish saddle with no horse to put it on. As we say of someone who possesses awesome ability, Dave was a horse — an entrepreneurial horse.
Next time you feel deficient because you don’t have an MBA, ask yourself what Dave would have done. When you’re tempted to have a pity party because you’ve had it tough, imagine what Dave Longaberger would have said if you tried to lay a whiny attitude on him.
Write this on a rock… I’ll let Dave handle this one: “Your success will ultimately depend on the relationships you build with people.”
Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.