From the editor Featured

10:10am EDT July 22, 2002

How to succeed after you're hit by a bus

By Daniel Bates

My car idled one afternoon with the rest of the traffic along the West End Circle when a school bus suddenly merged into my lane in front of me. Misjudging the space before me, the bus driver edged into my car, sideswiping my front right quarter-panel. Unfortunate, but no big deal. That is, until the bus driver pulled through the intersection and on toward the Parkway West without acknowledging my beeping horn.

I persistently followed the bus for 20 miles to its destination and, after waiting for the driver to unload her students, calmly approached the bus. When I told the driver what had happened, she balked at me and denied everything until we found a smudge of my car's paint on her tire. Then she said it must have been my fault.

Before we were through, the driver had concocted her own story, inventing a mysterious gray car, which had forced my car into her bus. The bus company's insurance carrier apologetically but firmly denied my claim.

As my obstinacy boiled to the surface, family and friends all told me I couldn't fight this, that I was taking on a challenge beyond my means and capability. They said-with no-doubt good intentions-that I would fail.

Maybe they were right, I mused. Perhaps I should have garnered enough good sense to quit before wasting any more time and energy. But I didn't.

Nor did Christine Toretti when faced with whether she should take over her father's drilling company after he committed suicide. As this month's cover story illustrates, Toretti's father didn't think she could ever run his company, and he even left informal instructions for his family to liquidate the business when he died.

Toretti's mother offered similar advice, as did others in a field wrought with serious economic problems. Toretti took over the company anyhow and, perhaps to the surprise of many, she turned around the foundering company.

Yes, she is stubborn, persistent, outgoing and eternally optimistic. Some might even describe her as foolhardy for defying reason and her family's urgings. I would bet, though, that the 300-plus employees working for her now aren't among them.

Restaurateur James Blandi Jr., the subject of this month's Start-Up feature, is just as stubborn. With his late father's blessing, he gutted his LeMont restaurant several years ago and redecorated it, rekindling its image as one of the region's premiere fine-dining restaurants. So when he wanted to springboard that success into an entirely new concept, his peers stepped in.

He says his friends and peers told him his Viaggio concept would never get off the ground. At first, he almost let those sentiments get the best of him. At one point, he says he was close to burying his dream. But with encouragement from his wife and a healthy sense of self-confidence, he launched it anyway. He now can boast both better-than-expected attendance and revenue over the last six months. His long-term success remains to be seen, but he has made it this far despite his critics.

As I see it, the only real failures personified are those who never actually act on their dreams-and those who, regardless of their intentions, try to stand in the way of dreamers who act. While I'm all in favor of those advisers who can give dreamers a healthy dose of ugly reality as they map out their plans, they should never tell people they're going to fail if they try. Give the advice-and then get out of the way.

For entrepreneurial stubbornness and persistence serve as powerful business-building-and survival-tools, if we use them.

I needed both on the journey that took me, first, to the Pittsburgh Police, who told me I couldn't file hit-and-run charges because I had made contact with the driver, and then through the confusing maze of insurance bureaucracies. Dozens of phone calls and documentation letters later, I was ready to quit.

Then a couple of months later I received an envelope from my State Farm Insurance representative. In it was, to the surprise of my detractors, a check for the full amount of the damage to my car. Alas, I won-another victory for the persistent.