Don’t let ‘bad timing’ change your mind

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Ted Judah didn’t let a soul stand in his way. He had come from Buffalo, N.Y., to California as chief engineer of the new Central Pacific Railroad for the chance to live out his dream of building a transcontinental railway.

But when Judah traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1861 to secure public loans, he found Congress absorbed in raising and equipping an army for the Civil War.

Judah managed to spark the interest of a committee, though, and debate started on funding and manufacturing the railroad. Through the next six months, delays bogged down the legislation, with one House leader arguing that the nation couldn’t afford a war and a railroad at the same time.Terrible timing, he said.

Judah persisted, and good thing.When the Civil War ended, thousands of battle-hardened soldiers headed west to fight the Indian wars and help finish the railroad, which soon became the conduit of an economic boom.

More than a century later, another East Coast zealot headed west to build an empire. Salesman Howard Schultz arrived in Seattle just as determined and doggedly persistent as Judah had been. But Seattle in1982 was not a happening place. After huge Boeing layoffs years earlier, someone had put up a billboard reading “Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn off the lights.” Bad timing, Schultz was told.

But Schultz remained undeterred. He left his big job in New York City to join a small chain of coffee shops, and a few years later, raised the money to buy it. He wanted to create an institution he called “the third place,” a comfortable, safe haven between home and work where you felt you belonged; something like an English pub. Today, Schultz’s baby, Starbucks, rakes in more than $4 billion in annual sales.

So much for bad timing.

— Adapted from Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, Stephen Ambrose, Simon & Schuster; and Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, Howard Schultz, Hyperion Press.

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