Three years ago, my grandfather Harry Eisen passed away.
It’s difficult to narrow down all he accomplished in his 95 years into a blog post, or even a book for that matter, so I won’t even try. Instead, I’m dedicating this Tort Talk post to him, because he taught me most of what I know about business and how to be a better lawyer.
Those who knew my grandfather will remember that he wasn’t shy about sharing his opinions and what he believed were the secrets to his success. He did not have a sophisticated vocabulary, probably because his highest level of education was the third grade in pre-war Poland.
But he did have a way of delivering descriptive punch-lines to an audience, and these lines very clearly articulated to others his views on succeeding in business. They’ve helped guide me in my quest to be a better lawyer and business owner, and I’m sure they can help you too. So here they are!
“Sell ‘Em Or Smell ‘Em!”
I used to ask my grandfather how he came up with the idea to go into the egg business. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1948, after surviving several concentration camps, including Auschwitz. His decision to sell eggs was simple, he told me. He couldn’t speak English, but language was no barrier when housewives in the neighborhood needed to buy eggs. So he bought some hens and started a business.
His business plan was simple. Sell ‘Em Or Smell ‘Em! If he didn’t sell his eggs, they would rot and he’d be left with unsalable goods. So he made sure to sell eggs. Lots and lots of them.
Sometimes business owners tend to overthink things. We try to plan ahead for every contingency, thinking we are in control. It leads to analysis paralysis, and that’s bad for business.
If you’re on the fence about starting a business, or have worked through a complicated business plan and still don’t have all the answers, remember Grandpa’s line. The solutions are often less-complicated than we think. Find a new customer or client, close the deal, and repeat.
“Business Is War”
This was one of my grandfather’s favorite lines, and I can still hear him saying it in his heavy Polish-Yiddish accent.
When my grandfather began expanding his egg business in the 1960s, his competitors started noticing. At that time, the egg business in Southern California was mostly comprised of a hodge-podge of local farms. When he started growing, the old-boy’s network didn’t like it.
They threatened him. They tried buying him out. They even tried forcing him out of his own business, but none of it worked. Why not?
Because business is war.
My grandfather devoted a lot of time and energy to thinking of ways to distinguish himself from his competitors. How would he convince customers to buy his eggs, and not the other guy’s? One day he found the answer, but it would require him to take a huge risk.
The egg business worked largely on credit. Customers would get their shipments of eggs, and they would pay the bill every four weeks. Grandpa decided to do something gutsy. He would extend the credit for much longer. Instead of paying him every thirty days, customers would now pay him after five months.
His competitors thought he was crazy, and they all predicted he’d soon go out of business. They were wrong.
They began following his example, but not before he surpassed them in market share and industry dominance.
Grandpa found a way to distinguish himself and his services by outsmarting his competitors. Business is war. Nobody is advocating that you use force, cheat, lie, or steal, but you can and should compete in your industry and find ways to distinguish yourself from your competitors.
Find your niche, exploit it, and reap the rewards. It’s what I do as the Rabbi Lawyer, and I learned this important lesson from him.
“Be The Best At What You Do”
My grandfather used to always tell me that at heart, he was just a chicken farmer. It didn’t matter that he had hundreds of employees and eventually became one of the largest egg distributors west of the Mississippi. He was just a good, plain old farmer, as he used to say, but a really good one!
He worked hard to understand his industry and his product. He hired experts and great employees to help improve his product lines. No matter how good he was at what he did, he knew he could be better. He was never satisfied, and I believe every entrepreneur has this same fire burning inside.
When I graduated law school, Grandpa told me to be the best lawyer I can be. Do not ever become complacent. Somewhere, there is someone better than you, so keep working hard to improve yourself.
Don’t rest on your laurels. Did you resolve one case today? Congrats–but now it’s time for another.
“The Sky Is The Limit”
I’m always amazed at my grandparents’ perseverance. They survived the Holocaust, then for three years they scraped by in a D.P. camp. They arrived in Los Angeles in 1948 with nothing.
They pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, and got to work starting a business.
Over the next six decades, that business would become one of the largest of its kind. By the time my grandfather sold Norco Ranch in 2000, he had become the egg-king of California.
How did he do it? How did he go from penniless immigrant to egg tycoon?
The Sky Is The Limit. He started small, but dreamt big. More importantly, he took action and pursued his goals, instead of just dreaming about them.
And as much as he succeeded, he knew there was always room for greater successes.
There’s always another goal that’s attainable, if you set your mind to it. I started my law practice after he died, but I’m sure this is what he would’ve told me. I keep this lesson and the others in mind every day.
Always remember that the sky is the limit.
Thank you Grandpa.