I happened to stop at one of the U-Haul truck rental couple of days back with my friend to rent a small size truck to pickup a mattress for my home. The U-Haul rental where I stopped was part of a public Storage company. The person who owned the facility was an Indian Gujarati old man with sharp features, all grey and scanty head, and a toothless mouth. “Hello Sir, I need a small size truck,do you have one to rent?.”, I asked. “Yes, we have one and when can you return it”, he asked even before renting it. I thought, like any other stingy businessman he was expecting me get the truck sooner than the scheduled time so that he can rent it to others. I asked “Isn’t that I can keep the truck for an entire day as per the rental policy, once I take it? Are you going to reduce the price, if I return it back in lesser time?” I asked. He said “No” and then asked me “What do you do for living?” I said “I’m an IT professional”. Immediately he asked me smiling, “When you charge for a project, do you reduce the cost of software if it was developed in lesser time?”. I just kept quite smiling back at him, thought in mind he is a shrewd old businessman.
While he prepared the paperwork for renting the truck, he kept talking. He wanted to know if he creates a website for his business how he can have Google display his company details on the top of the search when people search for storage companies. I was surprised to hear that. He had a good point. There are thousands of storage companies like him. Who would bother to look for a company that is listed way back in the search result. He just defined a good business rule “Merely having a business doesn’t help in modern world; it should be easier for people to find it too, if you have to utilize internet technology to enhance your business”. I asked him his age, to which he replied “78” years. I was impressed with his internet and computers knowledge at this age and also his curiosity of learning new technologies. At his age when most old men like to relax and not bother about what is happening around, here was a 78-year-old dude who was thinking about expanding his business with new technology. Impressive enough.
He completed the paper work, gave me the keys to the truck, and asked me to inspect the truck before I took it. Meantime he was trying to sell me additional insurance, loading dolly and other stuff like a typical businessman.
I finished my work and went to return the truck. The old man was surprised to see us come back so soon to return the truck. He got back on his computer to complete the remaining paper work and as usual kept talking. He talked about how he liked reading history and other books, playing his keyboard, listening to music. He asked me what music I like. When I said western, he started singing “Welcome to the Hotel California”, dancing a little bit J. He said he loved it. An old Indian grandpa singing to the tune of Eagles is very uncommon. Most old men I have found sing bhajans (religious prayers) at his age 🙂 .
I asked him how long he had been in the USA. He said 40 years. He had done his Bachelor of Commerce, and then studied Masters in commerce, Master in Law and Auditing in India. He was a manager in some engineering company and helped setup several startups in India before he decided to immigrate to USA to where his brother lived. When he came to USAin 1957, he carried only $10 since the Indian government wouldn’t allow any Indian to carry more than that at that time. He took a clerical job in a downtown hotel, which paid him $1.5 per hour as per minimum salary policy in USA. He went through several such odd jobs for a decade and was rewarded for his skilled work and smartness at whichever place he worked. His thought changed one day while reading a book in which was written “If you are smart, why are you not rich?“. He thought, “If this was real why am I still not rich. Am I under-selling myself?. If I’m smart, skilled and can run someone’s business with profit, why can’t I do it for myself and make lot of money”. His present condition working on low wages, said that either he was not smart or he was stupid. He refused to believe he was stupid and at the same time he was very confident about his smartness. That was a turning point in his life. While still employed he started finding ways to earn more money. He ventured into ice manufacturing business. He ran that for few years with a little profit. He started a candy kiosk in one of the mall, ran that for couple of years. He then bought a car wash place, converted that into an a public Storage place after he studied and found the car wash business wouldn’t give much profit. He ran that for a year with monthly losses of $3000. All of his savings he had made from his job was contributed to the business. Finally after a year he was able to slowly break the losses and run it with no profit or loss with 30% occupancy. In the next 3 years he renovated, promoted and marketed the business to make it 100% occupied and then on started to make lot of profit. Over the next 5 years he made his first Million Dollar. “The key point in beeznees is persistence and confidence”.” You need to put your heart in the beeznees and not be afraid of small setbakes (setbacks)”, he said in his Gujju accent.
He mentioned how his son who is a MBA and employed in a big company in NY, use to joke about his little known Gujarat university in India and how he used to compare that with the Georgia Tech University, which is supposed to be one of the best colleges in USA, saying that the Gujarat university was a waste. Annoyed by that the old man told his son one day,” You make a million dollar and then compare which university teaches you to get rich and if his university was better”. “Business rule… , no university or degree in the world will teach you to be a successful businessman or get rich, only confidence, persistence and smartness in work does”.
He later ventured into real estate business and made huge profits in that. He today owns 3 such real estate companies. He signed an agreement with U-Haul, for them to use his facility for rental truck service and started making money on that. In the last decade he added couple more millions. What surprised me was even at this age, he was still so energetic to run and expand businesses. I was very impressed by his perseverance.
Out of curiosity I asked him what is a best business to do, to which he said, “All beezneeses are good provided you have your heart in it and run it with confidence. You need to do what your heart loves to do”. I said these days there is so much competition, how can one succeed in such a cut throat competition for which he said “Competissan (competition) hes(has) been there ever since menkind(mankind) existed. There was competissan when men lived in caves”. “He competed with others to hunt and gether (gather) food”. “There was competissan, there is competissan, and there will be competissan in future too, it hes been always competitive. As long as you have high confidence and you have capacity to take risk, you will beat the competissan and succeed”. He suggested some good books to read on business and psychology. “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Dr Maxwell Maltz, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. He also gave some tips about seeking job, and recommended reading the book “What color is your parachute”, by Richard Nelson Bolles.
I would have loved to talk to him more, but I had to leave for an important work. While he made the final bill, I asked him if he can throw some discount to the rental charges for me, now that he has become a friend and advisor ;). To which he said “I wished I could my son, but I cannot …. BEEZNEES is BEEZNEES”. I got the point. Though not any discount, but at least I got some valuable business lessons from him and thanked him for that. How, with a mere $10 in hand he grew to become a millionaire was interesting to hear. I bid him goodbye and left the place. It was an inspiring and motivating conversation with the old man. His words will ring in my mind for several days to come :).