Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Filling in the Gaps

My dad taught me a lot of things, but one of the most important things he taught me was that you are never too old to learn new things. And considering he lived to be just about 97 years old, I think he probably knew what he was talking about. Another important thing my dad taught me, more by example and the way he lived, was it felt good to be your own boss. From the mid-1930s until about 2002, my dad never worked for anyone but himself. He was co-owner of Tranks Furniture and Jewelry on Florence Avenue, in South Central Los Angeles, first with his older brother Irving, and then joined by his younger brother Uncle Sam after WWII and Uncle Zvi/Harry after the Seven Day War. The store was a testament to family and neighborhood. And to sticking with things no matter how difficult they got. When the store was burned down during the Watts Riots, my dad and his brothers were there, along with their employees and most of the neighborhood, to sweep away the broken glass and rebuild. On a Labor Day weekend in 1974, when a pair of robbers were done stealing TVs, radios and whatever else they could get their hands on through the hole they made in the roof, they decided to torch the store. By this point is was just my dad, his employees and the neighbors. Irving had died and Sam and Harry had gone into business for themselves. My dad never wanted to give up on Florence Avenue, through many changes and challenges. When the gangs arrived, he stopped them from putting graffiti on his walls by hiring them to paint a full size mural of the Virgin Mary. Not bad for a secular Jewish kid from Eastern Europe. But when crack arrived, we knew it was time for him to get out and then it was only after he ran after a robber, already in his 70s, and luckily for all of us the robber's gun turned out to be a toy. He sold the business and retired. For about two months.

After that, he returned to his original career roots as a watchmaker and opened up a little shop specializing in antique watch repair in the LA Fairfax area. He quickly became one of the most sought after in the city with a celebrity filled clientele. It tickled him, as he used to tell me, that he had been working on the same watches for 50, 60 years. And I knew, even though he never told me, that most of all, he liked working for himself.

I'm about to take a leap of faith and as I stand poised on the brink of fully stepping into my own business, my dad's presence is with me constantly. He's my chairman of the board. And as my chair, he's advising me to be patient, slow down and most of all, to learn what it takes to run a business. And in finally listening to him, I realize that while I'm outstanding at what I do, can spin a press release faster than you can say Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson in one breath, and can foster lasting relationships with key press folks, my how-to-run a business skills lag behind. Not an easy thing to admit, at least not for someone like me who thinks she has to know everything even when she's never been shown how to do it!

Happily, here in Colorado, options abound for those of us taking this leap of faith and I've found what looks to be a gold mine of a resource - the Colorado Small Business Development Centers, who run ongoing classes for people in all stages of their business development. So I've signed myself up (and my DH, as the low tuition covers two!) for "Jump Start Your Business," starting on August 6th at the Front Range Community College Westminster Campus.

Thanks, Dad, for being such an awesome example of humility, persistence and quiet fortitude. For teaching me that it is all right to not know everything and that life is about learning, always learning. And mostly, thanks for being my silent partner. I guess it's time to learn what I don't know. I came across a wonderful quote today that is good to keep in mind as I take this leap of faith:
"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way" - Mark Twain

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