Carpe Diem

The White Rock Court on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona is a manifestation of Conrad Minka seizing the day.

Cape Diem. The Roman poet Horace used the term which translates as “pluck the day” or “sieze the day” to convey the idea that every morning dawns with new opportunities. But there is a caveat. There might not be another day. There may not be anotther chance to sieze an opportunity.

Conrad Minka, a hard rock miner by trade, saw opportunity in the traffic flowing through Kingman on Route 66. He built White Rock Court in 1935.

He saw opportunity in the African Americans denied lodging. And so his motel was the only one in Kingman that was listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book.

John T. Woodruff and Cyrus Avery saw opportunity in the newly certified U.S. 66. Working with other visionaries they created the U.S. Highway 66 Association. They were so succesful with their promotional initiatives Route 66 today is the most famous highway in America. It even has an international fan club. And officially the highhway doesn’t even exist and it hasn’t since it was decertified in 1985.

Errett Lobban Cord’s father was a grocer. His mother was a teacher. From an early age he learned about failure, and the importance of seizing opportunity. When he was ten years old his father’s general store went bankrupt.

He attended a technical school as a teeenager. His focus was on automotive technology. At age 15 he quit school, took night classes on business and management, and sold used cars by day. At age 17 with the death of his father, he became the bread winner supporting his mother and sister.

Cord moved from selling used cars to working as a supervisor and mechianc at a garage. Then he bought a used Ford for $75, refurbished the car, and sold the car for a profit. He bought a new Model T, customized it and then sold it doubling his money. Then he began modifying cars and racing them, and selling them after claiming prizes. In 1914 he married and drove a car with a for sale signon his honeymoon.

Then he partnered with a cousin, bought a truck, and began hauling ore from a remote Arizona mine to a smelter. That enterprise when bust so he began selling Paige automobiles in Phoenix, Arizona. With money from that endeavor he launched a rental car business, with just one car. And on the success of that endeavor he established a bus line that operated in southern Califronia. That was followed by another stint as a car salesman, this time it was at Hay Motors selling Chandlers in Chicago. Then he went to california and began selling a new line of home furnaces.

His former employer at Hay acquired the exclusive distributorship rights for Moon in Chicago, and offered Cord a chance to buy into the enterprise. Purportedly within two years Cord had made nearly $1000,000!

Fortuitously Cord sold a Moon automobile to member of the Board of Directors of Auburn Automobile Company, a pioneering company that was established in 1900. By 1924, however, the company was moribund. It was on the cusp of bankruptcy with a massive inventory of unswold cars and parts.

Through the association made with the sale of the Moon, Cord was invited to evaluate Auburn operations in Auburn, Indiana. When offered a top managment position Cord counter offered. He wanted full decision making powers. He wanted 20% of profits. And he wanted the first option to by controlling interest in the company.

With his demands met Cord went to work. Even though some unsold cars were two or more years old, he had the entire inventory repainted in flashy two tone paint schemes. These were then sold at bargain basement prices. With this infusion of capital he purcahsed an interest in Lycoming Engine, and added these powerful engines to new Auburns.

Within twelve months the company was showing a sizable profit. With two years, at age 32, Cord became president of the company, and bought out stock holders. This would be the foundation for an empire that would come to include the legenday Duesenburg, the revolutionary front wheel drive Cord, Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, Stinson Aircraft and a host of other manufacturing interests.

Cord understood the meaning of carpe diem. Even in failure he saw opportunity. And he made the most from each and every day.