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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Seeking success in a strange location

By Dick Hirsch
I never aspired to be a tycoon, but if tycoonship happened to suddenly head in my direction and seek to overpower me, I certainly would not resist. Am I too old to reverse course and become a tycoon? Not according to a brief study of recent business history. While tycoons often develop in early adulthood, some astonish their friends and colleagues by emerging as tycoons in later life.

I’m no authority on the subject, but I’ve been interested to observe certain business opportunities present themselves in what I consider to be a most unusual setting. For some reason I associate major business proposals that lead to tycooning to begin in a conference room or perhaps over cocktails in a private club.

But no. As you might have been told in your youth, there are opportunities everywhere.

Some of these opportunities are found on utility poles.

Are you paying attention? Are you being observant and remaining constantly alert for business opportunities that may lead you to great success and immense wealth? Or maybe you’re just curious by nature. If you have been keeping your eyes open, you may have seen these signs on what must be strategically selected utility poles. Here is one of my favorites:

“ENTREPRENEURS!” it screams, printed in bold black ink on a golden stock. It urges calls to a certain number which I won’t print here. Somebody or some group affixed those signs here and there, expecting to attract entrepreneurial callers. I salute them for their efforts, but I wonder what kind of fish they are going to catch with such a curbside announcement.

What kind of a hopeful entrepreneur would act upon an invitation posted on a utility pole? Those poles perform essential functions, carrying electric power, telephone and cable television service to customers. But the poles also have been attractive targets for neighborhood notices advertising lost cats, church suppers, and rummage sales, all harmless notices that eventually blow away and end up in somebody’s backyard. People must respond to them, however, because with each passing month new ones are posted.

I am curious about the success of that method as it attempts to recruit entrepreneurs. Who would call? I cannot envision any investor or would-be tycoon placing that call. Of course, I did call. Yes, I did. Curiosity is part of my job description. It was answered by a recording, of course, and the male voice, sounding extremely agitated and enthusiastic, thanked me for calling, said that a great opportunity awaited me, and urged me to leave my name and phone number. That’s where it ended and I am still wondering about the quality of responders to such an opportunity.

Here is another favorite which you may have noticed on your way home yesterday, stapled to a utility pole. I’m not giving the location, because there are probably many around the area.

“RETIRE YOUNG! RETIRE RICH!” it said, followed by a phone number. I may have the text wrong; I was driving as I wrote it down. It could have been: “RETIRE RICH! RETIRE YOUNG!”, an approach that places more emphasis on accumulating wealth rather than leaving the workplace. I called that number, too, and heard a voice that sounded very much like the first guy, the entrepreneur seeker. The story is that there are ways to amass enough money to finance an early quit.

Here is another opportunity not to be missed: “WE BUY HOUSES!” That sign relates to a sensitive area of business, with the real estate market in knots and few houses being sold. If you were a seller or a potential buyer, would you call the number on the sign? Or would you look in the newspaper or on the Internet or call a real estate broker? I know these are difficult questions, but I pose them for your consideration.

What’s the point of all this? Only to go on record as being curious about the type of respondents who would be attracted by such a rudimentary approach.

I was going to close this column by observing that Phineas T. Barnum was correct, and still is correct, when he said “There is a sucker born every minute.” Much to my surprise, I was a sucker because modest research disclosed that Barnum never said that at all; it has been attributed to at least two other people.

So I’ll conclude by encouraging all aspiring tycoons: there are always opportunities and it is never too late. You decide whether you will follow a lead on a utility pole.



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