Against All Odds

Being an entrepreneur isn't as difficult as the world would like it to seem. Sometimes being stupid is a benefit. Thank God I didn't know how to write a business plan and even if I did I wouldn't have known how to read one. All of the businesses I started and all of the non-profit projects I was involved with were a long shot. The only thing that kept me going was I didn't realize how much a long shot they were. I just figured they seemed like a good idea so why not get started. With that kind of juvenile Pollyanna -like thinking, I, from the age of 26 to 32, usually flat broke, started a construction company, a boxing promotion company, a limousine service, and even had a road race event. Some were very successful, some were sort of successful and some were as harebrained as they seemed and were a bust. The only thing I had going for me was I was young, goofy, naïve, and insanely ambitious. There was no adult supervision in my head. I was going to do this stuff come hell or high water. My God, this was before there were even motivational tapes and books out there. I don't know where I got that can-do voice. I think it was just arrogance or stupidity or both.

Here is how I started a construction company without any money, knowledge, or experience. I got tired of watching everybody in the late 1970s become a homebuilder, and I mean everybody. Here I was drawing these houses for these beginners, and these characters were building these homes and actually selling them for real profits. The only voice in my head said these people aren’t wizards. If they can do it so can I. At the age of 28, I marched down to the local small community bank in Portland and told the manager my plans. I told her that I wanted to build houses on speculation without a secured buyer with their money. After her very weird look, the manager reminded me that this was a risky business. She also reminded me that I didn't have the money, or the credit, or the background, or the experience to be doing any of this. Without batting an eye, I casually said why don't you make a list of what you would need from me to qualify me as a homebuilder so that you would loan me the money to build a house to sell. She reluctantly wrote down a list of about seven items. She then very casually stated that even if I fulfill most of the requirements she thought that there was no way I could fulfill the most important one. She said that the bank does not make it a habit of loaning out tens of thousands of dollars to a non-homebuilder with no experience. Rather than argue, I said I will be back. Thank God she didn’t ask for a business plan.

For the next six months I went to work solving all of her requirements. I found a way to increase my credit, get licensed and bonded as a general contractor, set up a new business checking account even with happy business cards, and I even acquired a free and clear (no debt) buildable lot in an established neighborhood. I got this buildable lot by trading my architectural services to one of my best developer clients and a good friend. But how to get experience without having any experience. That one took some thinking. When I showed up at the bank manager's office after the six months, she looked at all of my accomplishments and said that she was impressed but my biggest problem was still staring us in the face. I still had no background or experience being a seasoned homebuilder. I calmly asked her if she knew of Don Leedy. She said of course she did, Don’s had been building through her bank for over 10 years and he was one of their most competent and trusted builders. I said that's great because Don Leedy works for me. She said, “what”. You are 28 and he is 48. I said, “yes and you can give him a call, Don and I are very happy to be working together”. I saw my experience problem solved by just simply going to Don Leedy and asking him what he would charge me if he built a house for me if it was my money and only my risk. Don gave me a set price and said sure that he would I build a house for me. He just added it to the schedule of the houses he was already building. He said it was a no brainer. From that humble beginning, I eventually was building about eight houses a year and had a credit line from that same bank for a quarter of a million dollars. I now thought I was unstoppable.

Well I was for a short burst but that is another story.