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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin


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The Indomitable Entrepreneurial Spirit

First, a disclaimer... I have promised myself, just as I had to promise the fine folks at Highland Woodworking, I would never approach a "politically sensitive" or "politically volatile" subject. In fact, I studiously avoid any political commentary. So, if in the following section, you infer a political motive, there is none. In fact, the following is more in keeping with my proclivity for amateur psychological study and human observation, and is offered only to illustrate two very different sides of the human condition.

Toiling away with a pan of sheetrock mud in one hand and a 12-inch spreader in the other, I heard a knock at the door. Over the music, I think possibly Lady Antebellum or Kid Rock at the time, I yelled "Just a minute!" but there is no way anyone could have heard me. The knock was repeated as I tried to put down the tools and run for the door.

When I got there, my visitor was walking away. I opened the door and yelled, "Sorry, I couldn’t get to the door." The young man turned and came back.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but I saw those metal shelves by your garage and was wondering if you are throwing those away?"

"Do you want them?"

"Yeah, I pick up scrap metal and sell it."

"Sure, no problem... let me move my truck so you can back up right to the pile."

After trading places with our trucks, I asked the gentleman about his business. In the conversation he told me he averages making $80 to $120 a day selling scrap metal.

"How did you get into this business?"

"Well, I lost my job a little over a year ago and haven't been able to find another. So I bought this old truck and started picking up junk. It pays the bills."

As I helped him dig everything metal from the pile of debris, I observed "It seems to me like you need some help. Some of the stuff you pick up must be pretty heavy."

"Yeah, I had a guy that would ride with me some days. I gave him $25 for a half-day's work. But a couple of weeks ago I had a really good day and sold everything I had picked up for $300. He demanded he should get half."

"Really?"

"Yeah… I told him, look, some days I pay you even when we don't find anything. And I bought the truck, I pay the insurance, and if something falls off the back of this truck and causes an accident, I'll be the one that gets in trouble. But he got mad, and I haven't seen him since."

As I watched this young man tie a rope around to secure the tailgate of his rusted, dilapidated old truck, I smiled at his indomitable spirit of entrepreneurship and determination and wondered why his "worker" would demand half just because his boss made a little extra money one day. I wondered if that same worker would ever strike out on his own and become an entrepreneur. I wondered how he would then respond if he had a good day and his helper asked for more money. And I wondered if there was more metal scrap I could find to help out this newly minted businessman. When he left I shook his hand and said, "Welcome to the business world. You've been doing this for a year now, so you are officially a successful business. And, you've had your first taste of management, HR, and labor relations. I wish you the very best, and hope you have many more $300 days."

I wish I had all that scrap metal back that I took to the "dump."


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Steven Johnson is recently retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson13@mac.com.

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