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Bootstrapping Newcomers Pull Themselves Up In America
By Sonja Carberry, Investor's Business Daily
Business people have been bootstrapping in America for two centuries. Their lessons in forging:
• Pound the pavement. An opportunity grabber, German immigrant Louis Hensel worked as an engraver, farmer, opera set designer, shop owner, veterinarian and teacher. He'd lost everything — including a lucrative Parisian engraving business — before landing in New York City in 1848.
"(Hensel) arrived one day, and the next day he started walking the streets looking for a job," Sigrid Wilshinsky, who translated Hensel's letters for "My Life in America Before, During and After the Civil War," told IBD.
The job Hensel landed on Day 2 — carving ivory pieces for an art shop — was just the beginning of his American adventure.
His lesson? "Advance yourself," Wilshinsky said.
• Grab every chance. By saying yes, Hensel found himself in interesting places. "He was very adventurous," Wilshinsky said.
To meet President Lincoln, Hensel blended in with a group of Indian translators. When the Civil War ignited, he volunteered for the Union cavalry. Hensel's willingness to paint set pieces led to a job traveling every winter with New York's German Opera Co.
He later learned veterinary medicine in his spare time and "only took compensation if the horse got cured," Wilshinsky said.
• Keep moving. Hensel loathed inactivity and worked as a music teacher — he'd mastered the violin as a youth — until shortly before his death at age 91. "Work was a way of life for him," Wilshinsky said.
• Be a learner. As CEO of customer service firm Sitel, Bert Quintana leads 57,000 employees in 120 offices spread across 25 countries.
He started with zero.
Quintana's family fled Cuba in the early 1960s with one intangible asset: his mother's schooling as a nurse. "The only thing no one can take away is education," he said.
• Keep good company. A lesson from Quintana's father: Tell me whom you're with and I'll tell you who you are. In high school, the son landed a laboratory research internship at Miami's Mount Sinai Medical Center. "It was cool to be with engineers and scientists as a young person," he said.
• Adapt. The experience steered Quintana toward college. After graduating from the University of Miami, he worked his way to the stratosphere, at NASA and Dell (DELL).
An early management lesson from a superior: Today you are the solution; tomorrow you might be the problem.
"You always have to be reinventing yourself," Quintana said.
• Explore the edge. Imagine calling on soldiers to protect telephone company crews replacing copper wire — so your Internet firm's service can resume.
That was the situation in apartheid-era South Africa, where Daniel Chalef learned the startup ropes amid the tech field. Then a college student, he admired the Web company leaders' chutzpah.
"They were thinking outside of the box and in a transitional society," he said. "There were scary moments. Yet they were able to build a very compelling business."
• Take the leap. Chalef applies a pioneering spirit to KnowledgeTree, the South African document management software firm he's brought to Raleigh, N.C.
As CEO, Chalef chose the Southern clime after spending time in snowy Boston and cool San Francisco.
But first he built a network among the startup and venture capital set.
"One of the most important things an individual entrepreneur can do is get plugged in," he said.