From a “Welfare Throwaway Kid” to Living the “American Dream”
I’m originally from “L.A.” (Lower Alabama!). I grew up on welfare in Mobile, Alabama. There were seven kids crammed into a little 600-square-foot shack. The roof on that house was so bad that every time it rained we had to get out the pots and pans to catch the leaks!
The house was on concrete blocks so there was no slab. It had a teeny-tiny shower (no bathtub) with barely enough room to turn around. One day my stepdad got in and it fell through to the ground! We propped it up with tree stumps, which created a gap between the shower floor and the rotten sheetrock. If the soap was dropped and bounced the wrong way, it would be in the dirt, UNDER the house!
We invented soap-on-a-rope!
My little mama somehow fed us on a hundred dollars a month from the welfare department, and I still remember getting Christmas presents from the social workers. My real dad left when I was only a year old and I didn’t get to meet him until I was 15. The only time I recall seeing him was at my grandfather’s funeral. I must have been about five years old at the time.
As I stood on the sidewalk of the funeral home with my family, a long black limousine passed by and someone said “there’s your father.” The back window of the car was rolled down on his side and I got a glimpse of him. When he saw us, he placed a handkerchief over his face. He must have been so ashamed. Little did I know that he would become a significant part of my life later on.
How does a childhood like that usually turn out? You become a pot-smoking, hell-raising teenager. When I was 18, I got in a fight with my stepdad (who took on 7 kids and got us off of welfare) over my pot smoking habit. He told me not to come back until I “learned what pot would do to me”.
This event turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I had NO money. At the time, my sister was visiting my real dad in Houston (whom I had met only twice at this point). My friend and I scraped up $39.95 for a Greyhound Bus ticket to Houston. I wasn’t really sure my dad would actually take me in, but I knew my sister would find a way.
When I stepped off that bus in downtown Houston, I literally had 25 cents in my pocket. No bank account. No credit card. That’s all I had to my name. My real dad was there to pick me up and I lived with him and his new family (who I became very close to) for about a year. I made sure to patch things up back home in Alabama, too. Although both daddies are gone, I have a great relationship with both of my families today, for which I am very grateful.
After a few odd jobs in Houston, I became a professional waiter and worked in high end restaurants where we did flaming tableside cooking, wearing a tuxedo. I learned how to make a lot of great dishes at the table – steak Diane, pepper steak, Caesar salad dressing from scratch, hot spinach salad, bananas Foster, cherries jubilee, and many more. Setting stuff on fire inside was very cool indeed!
During my years as a waiter, I learned a great deal about the customer service experience, but I always wanted my own business. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. As a kid, I cut grass, picked up pine cones, sold stuff door-to-door, and did anything I could to make money.
As I waited for the last table to leave each night, I scratched out business ideas on my waiter’s pad. But I still had no money to speak of. I made just enough to pay the bills.
That’s when I met my future wife. Denise Concetta Antoinette Pennella. Now, that’s Italian! I went to New Jersey to get married to Denise and when you marry into an Italian family, you don’t get wedding presents like dishes, toasters and blenders. Instead, you get CASH!
We got $3,000.00 in wedding money and while we were in New Jersey there was a friend of the family who was my age (23 at the time), tooling around in a little red Mercedes convertible. I said to myself “I want to know what THAT guy does, and I want to know if it’s LEGAL!”
Turns out he owned a business. So, as soon as I got back to Houston, I spent all of our wedding money to start a business. My wife was really thrilled about that, let me tell you!
So, I started my first business out of the trunk of my car. I still own that business today. Over 13 long years I got it up to about $30k per month. I was making good money, but I had become a slave to the business. Everything revolved around me. I couldn’t go on vacation without the appointment book or spending much of the vacation solving problems over the phone.
If you’re a small business owner and you have been in business for awhile, you know what I mean.
Two Big Secrets that Changed My Life Forever…
My mentor Bill Beckham would come to my office about once a week to talk and pray with me. As he observed how involved I had to be in every little detail of the business, and how dependent it was on me, he recommended I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.
That book changed my business and my life forever.
After reading The E-Myth, I took a week off and went to my favorite place in the world, Destin, Florida, and sat on the beach and re-created my future. The first secret I learned was how to build a turnkey business – one that operates just as well without you as it does with you. I learned how to work on the business instead of just in it as The E-Myth says.
The second secret I learned (also from The E-Myth) is that the only reason your business exists is to help you achieve your LIFE GOALS. You went into business for yourself because you had a dream of having more time for your family – a dream of doing WHAT you want WHEN you want. Instead, you sometimes feel like a slave to the business.
That’s what I felt like. I was literally a prisoner of my own making. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED serving my customers and doing the technical work of the business, but now I saw a different picture. I saw that I could have a turnkey business.
I recruited two friendly competitors to join my team and we began working on our systems. That business skyrocketed to almost $3 million per year! And the best part is that it is turnkey, which means I don’t have to be involved in the day-to-day. I have a staff of 40 people that run my companies for me.
In 1998, I began teaching my systems to other business owners through information products, seminars and coaching. As it turns out, I was speaking at the same convention as Michael Gerber (author of the book that changed my life – The E-Myth Revisited). The seminar promoter arranged for us to meet over breakfast.
Since that breakfast meeting in Las Vegas, Michael has not only presented at my live events, he has become a great friend and mentor to me. I talk to him several times a year and I will always be grateful to him for changing my business life. I love Michael and he is a brilliant, incredibly gifted man.
Since that time I have had partners, bought and sold businesses, and even started a franchise operation. My live events have included world famous American legend Zig Ziglar, best-selling authors Tamara Lowe (who runs Get Motivated!, the largest business seminars in the world, with her husband Peter), Bob Burg (author of Endless Referrals and The Go-Giver), Dr. Joseph A. Michelli (author of The Starbucks Experience), and others.
And I have been recognized by Dr. John C. Maxwell, the #1 leadership expert in the world.
I am especially grateful for my relationship with the Ziglar Corporation. I have been blessed to not only share the stage with Zig, and to be featured on their live webcasts, but to enjoy a close personal relationship with the entire Ziglar family and team. And I recently launched their very first coaching program for business owners.
Some years ago, when I still had a very small business and a very small staff, I was part of a local industry group that met every week to talk about ways to improve our businesses. There were about a dozen people that met every Monday morning. They complained about the economy and how customers wouldn’t pay their price. They had what Zig calls “stinkin’-thinkin’” and they needed a “check-up from the neck up”!
Some of them were wearing cut-off blue jeans, flip-flops and hadn’t shaved, and they wondered why they didn’t have much business. I strolled in carrying a briefcase, in a sport coat and tie, wearing a positive attitude. They literally laughed at me and said, “Who do you think you are, Zig Ziglar or somebody?”!
The funny thing is I did not know Zig Ziglar at the time. Little did they know, they were speaking prophecy!
I would love to help you with your business, career or life.
Visit www.HowardPartridge.com for free resources.