The Power of Relentless Optimism

My Dad recently passed away.  He had been in the beverage distribution business since 1956. One of the best lessons he taught me, and several other entrepreneurs, was the power of optimism. What follows is an excerpt from my eulogy for him:

Friends would ask me to list the reasons for my Dad’s business success. And the first thing I’d tell them was that it came as a result of his personal values – his success was about who he was as a person.  It was not the result of one big trade or one single secret investing strategy.

I would tell my friends that there were some obvious important reasons — having a loving wife who understood and supported his work ethic, moving to Los Angeles at the time this great city was just taking off, working six days most weeks instead of five, having a core group of long-standing, loyal employees, always trusting his gut and never seeking the last nickel in any deal.

But for me there was one abiding reason for his success: the striking power of his always present optimism. If there was a silver lining to be found, he was the guy to find it. It was part of his DNA to believe that there was something good in almost every hurdle or setback.  He was wired with an unending bias toward optimism. He had, as Mark Twain recommended, “a short term memory of his failures and a long term memory of his successes.”

If he had a blind spot – like we all do – it was that he simply didn’t want to hear bad news. He didn’t think it had much use.

And this optimism was most apparent in how he treated others. He didn’t waste a lot of time not trusting people. He knew he was better off believing the best in each one of us. He wanted to give non-performing employees second chances and third chances because he didn’t want them to fail.  As old-fashioned as it may seem, he wanted his life to be governed by gratitude and hope – not by paranoia and mistrust.

During the years I worked with him, I was often struck by how little he wanted to negotiate legal documents and how he wanted to do business simply with a handshake.  I remember asking him late one night in his office whether he really was a former lawyer.

He was in his own way a sort of positive contrarian. He knew how to invest against the grain but he also went against the grain by believing that each person he came in contact with would perform with the high integrity that is in all of us.

If he had one overriding investing strategy, it was this deep abiding faith in others.  One of my favorite short quotes is from the American poet Edwin Markham who wrote, “All that we send into the lives of others / Comes back into our own.”  That quote might be just a fancy description of Karma.  But I like it because I think it embodies my Dad’s life.  He sent to all of us that unique faith and optimism, and it multiplied back in his own life.

My dad’s prosperity came from his desire and his ability to help people grow – and to live a life with gratitude and optimism.