Young Boy Dreams of Flying with Rocket

Audacity: The quiet individuals, late at night taking on a significant endeavor, far outside their comfort zone. People sweating as they evaluate and summon up the courage to act. 

The Sheraton Hotel Company recently announced their 400th unit of the worldwide chain. The company’s beginning was less auspicious,- more like fear and trembling. I know because my Dad was there at the start as co-founder and President.

In 1933 the US economy was bad. Bad as it had ever been. The Dow Jones index dropped to 62 while Brokers were jumping out of windows. Dad’s friends asked: ” You are spending your few remaining dollars buying a failed, foreclosed hotel?”

 Dad bought it anyway. He had a few hundred dollars cash saved up, turned to his brother and sisters for more. He and his partner lined up more debt to place a ridiculously low offer at the hotel auction.

This was 1933! What were they thinking! With 15 million unemployed in the country, there would be nobody to travel and fill the 150 hotel rooms?

Roosevelt had just declared a national bank holiday freezing all bank assets. In March, the U.S. Treasury went off the gold standard so all you could get for paper money was more paper. Redeeming paper currency with gold was forbidden. The Dust Bowel was just beginning. The bank holding that hotel mortgage went bankrupt. Whatever Dad may have been thinking, he certainly was audacious.

It was only four years after opening, the Continental Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts was in foreclosure. The building originally cost over $1mm to construct. Dad and his partner put in a  ridiculously low bid for $250,000 together with the assumption of debt, liens and operating losses. When the bidding ended, Dad’s was the only offer. With no hospitality experience, he and his partner, both age 36, now owned a new hotel. They were in for many sleepless nights, but at least they’d have 150 rooms in which to lay down.

Within a year they were able to staunch the losses and finally operated in the black. With equal audacity and very little cash, they acquired three more hotels by the end of the depression. By then they had resolved to operate as a chain under the name Sheraton and the brand continues today.

Were they unbelievably lucky? Was their timing fortuitous? Were they able to draw upon just enough resources? Yes! Yes! Yes, but take away the audacity and it would all have come to nothing.

Makes me wonder: With a bit more audacity, what could we do with the resources and other things that are available to us today?

Categories: Humor, Motivation, Taking Risk

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