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Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
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Does it seem like everyone is “making a killing” in real estate but you?

If you have these feelings, I’d like to tell you a story about Merrill Lynch co-founder Charlie Merrill. It contains a lesson so valuable that it could make or save you many thousands of dollars.

The 1920’s was a boom time in America and the stock market skyrocketed. Stories abounded of investors who were getting rich quick.

The best part was that an investor could buy stocks with very little money, putting just 10% down (today it requires at least 50% down) and easily borrowing the rest.

As 1928 began, there were widespread predictions of record breaking stock prices and nothing but great times ahead. But Merrill saw stock prices being paid that made no economic sense to him.

Worse yet, he saw the stock market was emotion driven as investors wanted in before prices rose higher.

So early that year, in gentle words, he said something that shocked the investment community.

He told investors to “take advantage of present high prices and put your financial house in order.” In other words, he advised them to sell a sizeable portion of their stock portfolios.

That’s what he had Merrill Lynch do with its portfolio.

At first, this advice looked terrible. The stock market again rose sharply and those foolish enough to listen to Merrill lost out.

By early 1929, as the stock market kept rising, Merrill had sold most of his firm’s stock portfolio and publicly urged President Calvin Coolidge to speak out against rampant speculation. Coolidge did not take Merrill’s advice.

Then on October 29, 1929 the stock market crashed and thrust America and the rest of the world into the Great Depression. Investors lost much of their money.

But because Merrill had earlier sold his firm’s stocks, he had plenty of cash to buy-up shares of prominent companies for pennies on the dollar and of course, he “made a killing.”

Success Tip of the Week: When you invest, please consider what Charlie Merrill did and invest unemotionally. Do your homework and if you can’t justify the prices being paid for real estate or any other asset of interest to you, patiently save your money and then take advantage when the market corrects itself.

Success Tip of the Week: Often a defeat in your career is the best thing that can happen to you. It will shake you out of your comfort zone and force you to rethink your goals and even who you are today, versus whom you were when you placed yourself on that earlier career path.

Have you ever felt defeated in your career? If so, I’d like to tell you a brief story from my life that can help you.

From the time I was 19, I wanted to join IBM, who then dominated the computer industry. For a year and a half, I went to their Los Angeles Regional Office every 2-3 weeks, where each time the people in their personnel department said there was no job for me.

One time, a man even said, “Look, we told you last time and every time, there’s no job for you!” I told him I’d be back again. Then one morning when I arrived, a personnel man called out to me, “Kid, this is your lucky day.”

They hired me with the agreement I’d go to college and get a degree. To honor that commitment, I worked for them full-time and went to school full-time, all year long, no days off.

It took another year and a half but I got my degree. IBM placed me in an intense, high profile 10 week technical training course, joining about 40 other students. I was honored to be chosen and thankful for the opportunity.

I had no way of knowing my career would soon take an ugly turn.

Many of those students had strong technical skills, which I did not, and in comparison with them, my performance was just fair. But as the course ended I’d turn in my last software project and feel good knowing I’d successfully complete the course and get ahead at IBM.

When I finished my project, a group of students were still on the computer and they offered to turn my work in along with theirs. It was late at night and I thanked them, gave them my work and left.

But when I arrived the next day, all Hell had broken loose. I was summoned to a meeting before a group of IBM managers and teachers and on the way there people avoided looking at or speaking to me.

At that meeting, they accused me of cheating on that project and said everyone else involved had admitted they cheated. I was stunned and hurt by the accusation and vehemently denied it.

I said, “Why would I do such a thing? Even if I flunked that project, I’d still successfully complete the course. There was nothing to gain.”

But they persisted and finally I was called before my boss’s boss, a well over six feet tall, husky, serious man in his 40’s with a short military haircut. With his size and intensity, he intimated many people. But I liked and respected him and viewed him as a fair man.

When he stated the accusation, I again vehemently denied it. But he said he’d been told others had implicated me. Then he said he thought I was guilty.

Suddenly, from the anger and hurt, a burst of emotion hit me. I fought back the tears that began to well up in my eyes and sat silently for what seemed like a very long time.

As I got control of my emotions, I said if he and the others didn’t believe in my integrity, I would not work there anymore. I resigned and he accepted my resignation.

I was 22 years old with a wife and a six month old baby to support. I quietly packed my things and left IBM’s offices. Because I had seen my career as being “an IBMer,” I didn’t know what to do.

My wife Anne and I had little savings and I desperately needed a job. I called many big firms and sent my resume to many others, and got few interviews and no job offer.

But following a lead I got from my Uncle Gene, I made a series of contacts that led to interviews with a start-up computer disk manufacturer in San Jose, CA. Within a month, by convincing them to open a datacenter that I’d oversee, they hired me.

Anne and I quickly packed and moved to a place where we knew no-one. We had no way of knowing it but something magical had just happened. I was about to become an entrepreneur and a whole new world of opportunities would open.

As an entrepreneur, for example, I later started what became one of the largest computer leasing companies in the United States. It never would have happened without this ugly IBM incident.

As for IBM, after I joined that start-up firm, I called the man who had accepted my resignation and requested my class diploma. He said my resignation was seen as a confirmation of guilt.

I explained again the case I originally made to him, explained how IBM should have conducted an open hearing and allowed me to confront my accusers and the specific accusations against me.

I told him about my wife and baby and asked what he as a man of honor would have done if he faced similar accusations. This time I heard the emotion in his voice. My diploma arrived a short time later.

Success Tip of the Week: Often a defeat in your career is the best thing that can happen to you. It will shake you out of your comfort zone and force you to rethink your goals and even who you are today, versus whom you were when you placed yourself on that earlier career path.

In the next KazanToday, Have others ever unfairly tried to stop you from becoming successful? This is the story of a black man who overcame overt bigotry to become a famous architect.

Today, I’d like to tell you the remarkable story of Rose Blumkin, a Russian immigrant who never spent a day in school, arrived penniless and built the largest home furnishings store in the United States.

Blumkin was born to poverty in 1893. Her father was a Rabbi with little income and her mother worked long hours running a small grocery store to support the family of eight children. At the age of six, tiny Rose began working in the store to help her.

At 20, Rose married Isadore Blumkin, who was also poor. So they could have a better life, he went to the U.S. to get a start but before she could join him, World War 1 broke out and it would be three years before the couple could reunite.

In 1919, they settled in Omaha and struggled to get by. He ran a secondhand-clothing store and a pawnshop. Rose helped him with the clothing store and to supplement their modest income she used her basement to sell furniture. They learned English from their four children.

Rose knew first hand the difficult circumstances the vast number of poor and struggling people of the 1930’s endured and saw a business opportunity. Despite the Great Depression, she acted.

In 1937 Blumkin was nearly 44 years old but she borrowed $500 from her brother and opened a store in the basement of her husband’s shop. She called it the Nebraska Furniture Mart and her motto was, “Sell cheap, tell the truth, don’t cheat nobody.”

Blumkin’s business grew by offering merchandise at rock bottom prices. At times when she didn’t have enough inventory, she hauled her family’s own furniture into the store and sold it.

Her big competitors deeply resented her undercutting their prices and pressured manufacturers not to sell to her. This didn’t stop Mrs. B as she came to be called. She’d visit distant retailers and buy their excess inventories at sharply reduced prices, sometimes for pennies on the dollar.

As her store kept growing, Mrs. B, applied to the banks for credit but banks scoffed at her as an illiterate immigrant. She resented these “big shots” treating her this way as she had to operate from cash generated from selling her merchandise and from credit she got from her suppliers.

Despite this lack of liquidity, by working seven days a week, 10 hours a day, selling a high volume of furniture at very low prices, Mrs. B built her store into a success.

Something else also made it successful. Sometimes when a family needed furniture and didn’t have enough money, rather then let them leave disappointed, Mrs. B quietly cut the price for them. This was a nice thing to do but it was also wise of her because it built repeat trade as that family would return time and again and her business grew.

But in 1951 Mrs. B’s store suddenly hit the wall.

This happens to many fast growing businesses because cash may not come in quickly enough to cover the cost of a larger inventory or other expenses. Mrs. B got in a cash bind and couldn’t pay her suppliers.

Confronted with the loss of her business and all that she had worked so hard for, she took bold action. She rented Omaha’s City Auditorium, ran a massive sale, blew out $250,000 in inventory in three frantic days and paid off her suppliers.

After that, she operated strictly from cash as her store grew at a carefully measured pace into the largest home furnishings store in the United States, making her extremely successful.

Then one day in 1983, long-time customer and legendary investor Warren Buffett came into the store to see her. After wading his way through acres of bed-room sets, tables and chairs, lamps and rugs, he spotted Mrs. B.

Though she was nearly 90 years old, she remained a bundle of energy, using her electric scooter to zip up and down the aisles as she quoted prices and deliveries to customers, advised her staff and directed where and how to display merchandise.

Buffett had enormous respect for what Mrs. B had achieved and he wanted to buy the Nebraska Furniture Mart. He asked if she would consider selling it and when she said, “Yes,” he asked how much she wanted.

“$60 million,” replied Mrs. B. After a brief conversation, she agreed to sell 90%, with her family retaining 10% and they shook hands on the deal. Because of his respect for her integrity and her business acumen, he made this offer without auditing her books or inventory. Tax returns showed the business made $15 million a year pretax and that satisfied him.

Buffett had a one-page agreement prepared and Mrs. B, who could barely read English and did not write in it, made a mark at the bottom to signify her approval. A few days later, Buffett gave her a check for payment in full.

To close the sale, Mrs. B insisted that she remain the boss and continue to work seven days a week, 10 hours a day, as she had long done. Buffett hardily agreed and she remained active in business for the rest of her 104 years.

Success Tip of the Week:As Rose Blumkin showed us, a lack of a formal education need not prevent business success. The key for her and for any of us is to have passion for what we do and to be alert so that we absorb the crucial knowledge around us.

Many of these short stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!

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