How an Article in Fortune Changed My Life

On a business trip in 1986, I was flipping through Fortune magazine, and I came across an article about Ronald Perelman. Here’s how the article began.

REVLON CHAIRMAN Ronald Owen Perelman has a penchant for contrasts: a tangy personal life and the practice of Judaism, fancy restaurants and junk food, earsplitting rock music aboard his corporate jet and long, pensive walks around Manhattan. But there is nothing paradoxical about his head for business.

Amazed and Captivated

This article grabbed me big time. I did, and still do, fancy myself to be a bit of an iconoclast like Perelman. As I continued to read about him, I discovered he started with a modest sum of money and, over a period of ten years, made millions through corporate takeovers.

He started with a small, no-name manufacturing business in Pennsylvania and ended with his capstone acquisition of the consumer brand Revlon in New York City.

There was an organization chart in the article which I remember reviewing with great interest. It showed all of his holdings which included properties like H. Upmann Cigars, Marvel Comics, and a chain of supermarkets to name just a few. And he owned the majority share of these companies himself. I was amazed and captivated.

The Perelman Way

It then talked about how he did business. He worked with a very small staff out of a million dollar townhome on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He smoked his H. Upmanns while ensuring continued growth and performance from his portfolio of companies. And he was always on the lookout for new opportunities. He was an avid investor surrounded by great operators.

I wanted to do what he was doing. The problem was I was working as the CEO of the Americas for a professional services firm. How could I get from here to there? I had no idea. But the vision was burned into my mind. It would never leave me.

How many people picked up that issue of Fortune and paged right past this article? How many read the article and thought it was interesting? How many read it and picked up a few tips on how to better do what they were already doing? How many read it and were set on fire like I was? How many of those that read it in 1986 are still talking about it 30 years later?

Hardship Begets Vision

This new vision owned me. Back then, I was sketching out scenarios on how to pursue it. But nothing made sense. In spite of having no practical plan at the time, I never stopped thinking about the vision.

Five years after reading this article, I lost my job as a CEO. This event caused me to begin a desert walk which I have written about in the past in great detail. I went from being a highly paid executive to having no job, then to AA and eventually seeking Jesus to save me.

This resulted in being born again with a new life and renewed purpose. But God didn’t take me out of business. He simply changed my occupation. I left the executive ranks and became an investor. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The vision was always guiding me.

Vision Becomes Reality

Within a few short years, my vision was becoming a reality. When I read that article, I had no idea where to go with it. I had never heard the term “angel investor.” Six years later in 1992, I was one of the leading angel investors in the Atlanta technology community. I was searching for new startup opportunities, putting together term sheets to start businesses, and investing in businesses led by amazingly talented entrepreneurs.

By 1995, the vision was a reality. I had multiple companies in my portfolio. I had a small but very talented staff. We were working in a nice office on the northwest side of town. We were quietly and unassumingly building wealth. Ronald Perelman hugely impacted my life. I’ve never let my subscription to Fortune lapse.