The day I got the call from an executive from Sharpsburg manufacturer Rock-Built, Coast Guard officials were still recovering what was left of the small plane that John F. Kennedy Jr. had crashed into the Atlantic off the coast of Marthas Vineyard.
That probably wouldnt have been a significant event to me if it werent for the fact that the executive called to tell me his boss, Rock Ferrone, had taken flying lessons and bought a small plane and he wanted very much to take me flying.
Was he nuts? Didnt he watch the countless news reports about the tragic crash and all of the reports on small plane problems and other crashes? Didnt he get the message?
Crash aside, this is a man who frenetically charged in one business direction, then another, then still another, not quite sure where he would land at any given time. He is easily excitable, not one to sit still for long, and he is always thinking about the next problem he can solve with some new invention or innovation.
In many respects, he is a self-taught genius. But could he fly a plane? And even if he could, how on earth could this new interest of his fit into the scheme of things for a company that manufactures inline trimming and stacking equipment for the printing industry?
And then there was that crash. Rock wanted me to fly with him right as the world was learning of the tragic deaths of Kennedy and his passengers. I paused for a long moment, my stomach knotted, and I shook my head at the phone.
But then I said yes.
As I thought about it, it suddenly dawned on me that this flight wasnt about near-death experiences or foolhardy whims by a man who could afford it. At that moment, I realized it was simply about taking chances. To me, it became entrepreneurship personified.
As this months cover story illustrates, this guy was willing to take chances. His gumption allowed him the freedom to jump from running a small printing operation to becoming publisher of a community newspaper. That same gumption allowed him the vision to create inline printing equipment and, ultimately, scrap the printing business to go after the big bucks with that new equipment.
The very same gumption gave him the foresight to look beyond his new love for aviation and see such great endeavors as his own airport and an industrial airpark where companies like his could prosper with help from general aviation.
Certainly, Rock is taking a chance as he soars over Pittsburgh to destinations east, west and south. Accidents do happen. But consider the benefits he receives for taking such risks. He saves time and money, and he makes a distinct impression on customers.
Had he not taken such chances, he never would have had the opportunity to buy and improve an airport, find a suitable new location for his manufacturing facility or establish a tax-free zone in a corner of Allegheny County where economic development is sorely needed. Thats what taking chances is all about.
I did take that chance as I soared through the clouds over Pittsburgh with Rock. It was my first single-engine plane flight, and I was scared. But Rock handled the plane as professionally as he handles every other business opportunity he seems to create. The ride proved smooth, exhilarating and eye-opening.
Are you taking chances? Do you willingly step out into unknown territory with the understanding that taking no chances will yield you no rewards? You could stay within a comfort zone and avoid risk. But thats not what entrepreneurship is about.
Interestingly enough, I learned my greatest lesson about taking chances once Rock landed the plane and sent me on my way. I crept up the on-ramp to Route 28 and was almost hit by another car. The moral? Some of the biggest chances you will take are the ones in which you think youre not taking any chances at all.
Is that a chance you want to take? Think about it.
Daniel Bates, editor of SBN magazine, wrote this column while flying from Pittsburgh to Marthas Vineyard for a vacation. For him, the irony was not lost. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.