Any CEO who writes a book must have a huge ego. They are rich and powerful, so they think they have all the answers. What other reason could there be for a chief executive to write a book?
I wish I had a few more of the answers, let alone all of them. I do know this much. Unlike some other CEOs, I’ve had more than an average share of experiences that have been extremely humbling. I have much to be humble about. Things like being two days away from my family being forcibly removed from my house by the sheriff due to foreclosure… things like standing in my apartment building’s driveway and begging the ‘repo’ man not to tow away my car.
From the beginning, with a bitter, alcoholic father who told me I was a sissy and a loser, much of my life has been a struggle. And when you’ve known disappointments and failures as intimately as I have, both personally and professionally, you know you definitely don’t have all the answers. What you do learn, from my vantage, is a deeper sense of empathy for others who have known hardship.
It’s true that I have an ulterior motive in writing, “THROUGH THE FIRES: An American Business Story of Turbulence, Triumph and Giving Back.” There are three things I am trying to achieve.
First, it’s my mission to fund college scholarships for kids of modest means. I started the Give Something Back Foundation out of gratitude for a $250 scholarship I received as a high school senior. Our foundation’s first scholarship winner is now a resident physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. It’s my goal to ultimately finance full rides for 1,000 young people. I’m hoping the book will encourage others of privilege to help deserving students.
At our foundation, we drove a hard bargain with universities. We offered $1 million in grants to three schools in exchange for deep discounts for our scholarship kids. The colleges virtually cut the costs in half, to $20,000.
Our leaders at the foundation, Steve Cardamone and Bob Tucker, will happily share our template, at no charge, to any person or foundation interested in helping kids go to college. We’ll explain how we cut our deals with the colleges.
I also wrote “THROUGH THE FIRES” to share the ethos at Heartland Payment Systems, a Fortune 1000 processor of debit and credit cards that I founded as a start-up with 25 employees—and now employs 3,300 colleagues. My late mother, Mary Frances Carr, a night shift waitress—and later one of my most valuable employees—lived by the credo that no one is superior or inferior to anyone else. This measure of fairness and respect can work in business. Unfortunately, these values are often sacrificed for higher profits. As for treating people with decency and compassion, that’s often regarded as a weakness of management style.
I’d like to think you can be a successful CEO without being an SOB. It’s my hope that an idealistic young person will read this book and see that business can be an honorable way to change the world for the better.
Finally, I wanted to share some of my personal struggles. It hurts to be rejected, to fail, to be betrayed. In a small way, I’m hoping that my story of overcoming troubles and obstacles—I’ve shed a few tears at the lowest points—can serve as a message of hope. For all those souls who are struggling to make it through the fires, I’m pulling for them.
This is the first of a series of books that I hope will contribute to an important discussion about education, business and ethics. My next book will focus on the challenge to help lower-income kids go to college. I will also publish a book about ‘The Heartland Way,’ which explores the culture of our company. And my memoir will describe my journey in life and business, a true tale with plenty of villains and some real-life heroes.
On this blog, meantime, I look forward to engaging with thoughtful people about competing ideas that animate business, education, family life, the meaning of our fleeting existence—and perhaps a bit about baseball, history and travel.