A new book, “No One Ever Told Us That — Money and Life” is another winner from John Spooner who, back in 2001, wrote the best-seller “Do You Want to Make Money or Would You Rather Fool Around?” His latest effort is aimed at young people entering the workforce who can use some insight as to how the world works.
As I read it, I was reminded of the failed business ventures early in my career that I might have avoided if I had happened upon Spooner’s writing back in my late 20s and early 30s. I occasionally give a talk whereby I run through the litany of extracurricular business efforts that all looked like sure winners at the time.
Skipping many of the colorful details, there was the bar in Walnut Creek that closed after just a few months when someone was stabbed in the parking lot. Before that, was the project where we cut down the eucalyptus trees owned by UC Berkeley after the freeze of ’73. The project ended with a 10-story pile of wood chips in the Port of Sacramento that caught fire (spontaneous combustion) and smoldered to cover the city in a cloud of smoke throughout the summer. The challenge for the port authority was figuring out how to put out a fire burning deep under 10 stories of chips covering several acres.
There was the rose-hybridizing project when we had 13,000 rose bushes being nursed along down in Modesto, but that winter saw huge rainstorms that flooded the field and destroyed almost everything. As it turned out, the roses that did survive changed color (turning gray) when shipped by air. So that was that.
The crown jewel of my entrepreneurial experiences was assisting in the production of the 1984 movie “Sheena,” starring Tanya Roberts (from “Charlie’s Angels”) that Columbia Studios spent $30 million to film after sending trained animals (including a rhino) from Los Angeles to Africa. The film opened in 1,200 theaters the same summer as “Ghostbusters” and closed almost immediately against stiff competition. One reviewer did say that it was the finest animal acting she had ever seen in a film, so that was a consolation.
By then, I figured it was time to “stop fooling around” and “make money.” A simple way to accomplish that was to take a straightforward business with predictable success at some level and just grow it creatively. In other words, go for runs batted in rather than swinging for the fences.
Spooner’s latest book is full of advice covering a broad spectrum of what younger, idealistic young people need to learn to navigate through life — relationships, careers, managing money, dressing for success, getting jobs, keeping jobs by doing what you say you’re going to do. The list of short chapters reads like a sort of Scout Handbook of everything you need to know to get your life together.
We’ve heard much of it before, but never all in one place. That’s what makes the book so useful. Sprinkled among the 59 short chapters are several that reflect the author’s jaundiced view of the financial industry and those who purport to be investment experts. “Ignore the headlines” is one such piece of valuable advice.
If I had read this book before spending time starting bars, timber companies, rose hybridizing and movie deals, I probably would have done all those things anyway. They were fun at the time and an expression of boundless optimism. Getting serious, on the other hand, might have been less of a culture shock if I had known then some of what Spooner has to share now.