Few Americans really understand capitalism. They think mostly about getting a job someday and think capitalists are the rich guys who live in New York City. When I was growing up, my teachers would ask me what I aspired to be — perhaps a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher — but never once did they tell me I could own a piece of the rock and become a capitalist.
My teachers never spoke to me about owning or starting a business. I knew absolutely nothing about how to start or run a business. It was always, “Who are you going to work for?” or “What do you want to be?” It was never, “Do you know how to start or run a business with only a little money?” My school never brought any guest speakers into my classroom to teach me about business.
Focus on your approach
The closest I ever came to running a business was my childhood lemonade stand at my Aunt Eva Jane’s house, where I spent my summers as a youth.
Even after I graduated from Harvard Business School, where I learned the principles of running a business, I still focused on employment in my early years. I had little money and never realized I could own something. After I had worked for 10 years and made money for others but little for myself, I began to question what I was doing. Then I began to learn about leveraged buyouts and sale-leasebacks, and how I could use a bank’s money to purchase a company with very little equity.
This thinking led me to purchase a small company called Invacare Corporation with $19 million in sales for $7.8 million with only $10,000 of my own money — I was 39. Today the company has grown to $1.5 billion in annual sales. Some 100 deals later, here I am at 73 still looking for my next deal. Once I learned my first lesson of capitalism with Invacare, I repeated it many times over.
Own your piece of the pie
The lesson I learned, which I wish had occurred earlier in my life, is to own something as soon as you can — no matter how small. Become a capitalist! There are very few people who can accumulate wealth based on salaries. Learn your skills while on someone else’s payroll and then when you have your own company, you will have the positive outcomes that only your ownership can bring.
The lack of learning about entrepreneurship really needs to change in America; we have to change the mindset among those teaching our youngsters.
Believe in capitalism
Capitalism is the freedom to create something new and reach one’s self-realization.
I believe in this so strongly that I work every year with Richard Osborne, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, in a course he teaches on entrepreneurship.
I am one of the subjects for his class to do an in-depth study of my life experiences and professional career.
Some of those who have been invited to participate in the class include entrepreneur Dan T. Moore III and former Cleveland Clinic CEO Floyd “Fred” D. Loop.
Each student is expected to write a 3,000-word article that captures what he or she has learned about entrepreneurship. This assignment accounts for a big portion of their grade — so they are highly motivated to do a good job.
Mal Mixon is the chairman of Invacare Corporation. A complete story of his rise from rags to riches is told in his book “An American Journey,” published by Smart Business Books. It can be found at www.anamericanjourneybook.com and on Amazon.com. To contact Mixon, email him at [email protected]. For more information, visit www.invacare.com.