“You’ve made a radical change in your life. I gotta know how you did it,” I said.
In January 1993 I received a call from a friend who asked me to meet with his son. He felt like his son was drifting. The son didn’t do particularly well in high school, and at Auburn he achieved a .98 cumulative average. My friend said, “Now he is working an hourly night job and thinking about starting his own business. Please help him.”
Father Makes a Difficult Call
These are hard calls. I am a father of four children, and I know the love, pain, and concern that comes from being a parent. Kathy and I worked hard to give our kids a great education and every opportunity to succeed. So when I get a call like this, I understand the desperate nature of the request. Praying for wisdom and influence, I contacted his son, Michael, and we met.
Four years later, I am giving a lunchtime presentation on angel investing to a finance class at Georgia Tech. I look into the audience, and there is Michael. I am stunned.
At the end of the presentation, Michael comes up to talk. He told me he is one semester away from graduating from Georgia Tech with a finance degree. I’m thinking one thing, Amazing!
Michael’s Amazing Turn-Around
We recently got together, and I wanted to tell you his story.
“What happened since we met in January 2013?” I asked.
“I graduated from Georgia Tech last December with a degree in finance. I am now pursuing a computer science degree. I was hoping you could connect me to the Atlanta tech scene as I want to get a job as a programmer while attending school,” he answered.
“What were you doing when we first met?” I asked.
“I had dropped out of college. I was unloading trailer trucks and stocking shelves at night for Toys R Us while living with friends and spending my free time drinking and hanging out,” he said.
“How did you go from that to where you are now? What made you change your behavior?” I asked.
“You told me there was no way I would be successful in starting a business. I remember you saying I didn’t have the skills, know-how, or money.
“I believed you were right. Your advice was to finish my education and get a job. And that is what I did,” he said.
“Just like that?” I asked.
“Not really. When I left our meeting, I was pissed at you. I didn’t like what you told me or how you described what my life would be like if I kept doing what I was doing. I was thinking, What does he know anyway?
“But one night while unloading one of those trucks for five hours, I came to the conclusion you were right and so were the other people giving me the same advice. I made the decision to go back to college. I enrolled at KSU with the goal of getting a professional degree and then a great job,” he said.
“To that end, I went to the career office and asked what companies recruit from KSU. Then I looked into who recruits from UGA. Finally, I checked out Georgia Tech. That’s when I decided I needed to go to Georgia Tech to get my degree. Those are the companies I wanted to work for,” he said.
“With a .98 cumulative average from Auburn, how did you ever get into Tech?” I asked.
“I did the research and figured out what classes I needed to take at KSU for two years to gain admittance to Tech as a junior. I then put a plan in place. I needed a 4.0 in every class to overcome my poor Auburn performance.
“Lastly, I designed a process I would follow to take those classes and get those grades. And I did it. I pulled my .98 to a 3.3,” he said.
“Wow! You got the grades and got into Georgia Tech. What was it like when you got to Tech?” I asked.
“That first semester was incredibly difficult. I had to revise my process to make even better use of my time. I analyzed where I was wasting time, like how long it was taking me to get up, dressed, and out of the house in the morning, and optimized it. I scheduled every hour of my day, and whatever my calendar said to do, I did it.”
“That is incredible discipline,” I said.
“I came to realize I needed to stick with it to be successful. All it takes to succeed is time. And over time, I came to believe if I applied myself to anything, I would master it.
“Sometimes I would find myself reading the same material three to four times until I knew I had learned it. In fact, I achieved a 4.0 in my last semester at Tech,” he said.
“So how can I help you now?” I asked.
“I decided I don’t want to work in finance. I had a taste of it, and it doesn’t excite me. A professor advised that I should learn to program. So I did and found it compelling. This is what I want to do for a living and why I need your help. I don’t know anyone in Atlanta technology. I was hoping you would make some introductions,” he said.
“I guess you learned the power of networking,” I said.
“I’ve been working part-time for a retired F100 executive. He has taught me so much. I figured out he was successful for two reasons: his great education and his amazing network. It is very much about who you know and who can help,” he said.
“What else did you learn in the last four years?” I asked.
“The most critical lesson I learned is this: Find people who are more successful than you and listen to them. You don’t know everything.”