The making of a millionaire

How does a man who never made it past the fourth grade succeed in business and become a millionaire? The same way most people do – through trial and error and lots of hard work.

His name was Milton and yes, he was a grammar school dropout. At the tender age of 13 he got his first real job at a print shop. He was soon fired because he liked to play around at work. Obviously there was no chemistry between Milton and the printing press.

Next, Milton spent four years learning how to make candy. This he was good at and in his late teens Milton opened his own candy store with funding provided by relatives. He busted his butt for 16 hours a day, made good candy, but had no real business sense. And six years later, Milton was out of business and broke.

So far we see a young man struggling to put away the “child” in himself, find his niche and make an effort to run a business. But hard work isn’t enough, as Milton discovered. You need business smarts too.

That is a learned experience. Some people, like my Straight Line Persuasion students, prefer to learn from a qualified mentor. Others, like Milton, go it alone through trial and error. To each his own.

Milton then went to work for a candy maker clear across the country where he learned how to make caramel. He learned his trade well. But he’d already tasted life as an entrepreneur and being an employee was not Milton’s cup of tea.

He started another candy business, again with the financial help of relatives. And again, this time at the age of 30, the business failed. Milton was flat broke. With the exception of his mother, his family practically disowned him.

Third time’s the charm, they say, and Milton’s next business venture, the Lancaster Caramel Company, made him a wealthy man, and very quickly. I call this getting rich quick and it’s my preferred way to earn wealth. For some of us it takes a few months or a few years to be in a position to get rich quick. For Milton the wait was a little longer. About 14 years.

Milton did get one thing right from the very beginning. He learned to fail elegantly. For some people, failure is the end of a dream. But Milton was a life-long experimenter. He knew that success is often a process of elimination. If you eliminate everything that doesn’t work you eventually arrive at what does.

Other things he had to develop over time. In the early years Milton lacked a vision, which meant he lacked any concrete goals to attain that vision, which meant he didn’t know where the heck his business was headed. He just sort of went along for the ride. That’s why the first two businesses crashed.

Of course, few people are successful right out of the gate. Entrepreneurship, like gaining business smarts, is often a hands-on, learned experience. And failure is a great, but harsh teacher. So learn how to fail elegantly so you can stay on your feet long enough to succeed wildly.

It might have been three strikes for Milton had it not been for his vision. At one point, just before he became wildly successful, a note came due on the home his mother had mortgaged to fund the Lancaster Caramel Company. He was broke and his mother was about to lose her home.

So Milton goes to the bank and convinces the loan officer to come back to his shop so he can properly sell his vision. And that’s exactly what Milton did. The banker was so impressed he personally signed for the note. Amazing the interest you can attract with the right vision!

Now the story gets interesting. See, caramel was a cool commodity, but the truly hot confection of the day was milk chocolate. Back in the early 1900s it was imported from Switzerland and so expensive only the wealthy could afford it. Milton’s vision begins to expand. He experiments with ways of making a low cost milk chocolate for the masses.

Milton is growing into his entrepreneurial comfort zone. He sells his entire caramel candy company and pours the proceeds into his new milk chocolate venture. All one million dollars! Risky? Some people would think so. But entrepreneurs aren’t gamblers. They take calculated risks. Milton is learning from his earlier mistakes and this “gamble” pays off in spades.

Milton builds a new chocolate factory. But this is now a very small part of his ever-expanding vision. He builds homes for his factory workers to live in, schools for their children to learn in, churches to worship in and parks to play in. In fact he builds an entire town, along with a bank, a department store and public transportation system.

And during the Great Depression, when most businesses were closing their doors, Milton was hiring. He put more candy makers to work and construction workers too, building a larger factory, more roads and a new hotel. Everyone who worked for Milton thrived during the Great Depression. Remember all this the next time you take a bite out one of Milton Hershey’s chocolate bars.

All the best,