Charles Nash, born in 1864, was an abandoned child that became a ward of the court. He ran away from an abusive situation at age 12, got a job on a farm, and in the years that followed learned carpentry skills, clerked in a grocery store and worked stuffing cushions for a wagon company. And he read books. In 1895 he was employed as the manager of the Durant Dort Carriage Company. Fifteen years later he was in charge of Buick, and in 1912 was president of General Motors. In 1916 he launched the Nash Motors Company and became one of the leading manufacturers of automobiles in the United States.
Henry Martyn Leland was born in 1843 and apprenticed under Samuel Colt, the firearms manufacturer, to learn precision tooling. He developed a hair clipper that revolutionized the barbershop. In 1894 he launched the first precision machine shop in Detroit specializing in gear manufacturing. Two years later Leland developed a line of gasoline and steam engines for use in streetcars as well as boats. In 1901 he developed an innovative engine for Ransom E Olds. Resultant of a factory fire that prevented Olds from the envisioned expansion, Leland took his engine to the men behind the Henry Ford Company. And that led to reorganization and the launch of a new company – Cadillac. In 1917 Leland organized a new company to produce aircraft engines under the Lincoln name. This company would become a leading manufacture of luxury automobiles.
There are lessons to be learned in history. Consider these two me as a case study. Nash overcame debilitating poverty and hardship, and never forgot. When new equipment was installed at Nash, he donned overalls and worked on the factory floor to learn its operation side by side with employees. During the depths of the Great Depression he had coal and apples delivered to laid off employees. And he survived and thrived during the economic collapse of the 1890s and the post WWI recession, and a world wide pandemic.
Leland may not have endured poverty but he was well acquainted with business disasters. After spending years working to develop Cadillac he was roughly shown the door. At an age when when most people have been enjoying retirement for nearly a decade, he launched a new company, and lost control of a company. He too survived economic downturn, and a couple of pandemics.
So, what lessons can be learned. Tenacity, perseverance and knowledge are key to surviving crisis, economic or natural. You are never old to learn. Linked with that, when you quit learning the world will pass you by. Flexibility is needed to survive changing times.
So, don’t be so quick to accept and regurgitate what you hear. Learn from history. You might just discover that when ever you are alive it is the best of times, and the worst of times. You might just find that politicians are playing you for a sucker. You might just find opportunity in a time of crises.