I think I had been to a Banana Republic store when I was doing my internship in NYC. Nothing about the brand seemed too creative and different to me. The name was a bit odd; but well in a country where a food’s name is hotdog and an electronics company’s name is Apple, no name should sound surprising. When I read an article where someone suggested that the book Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana By Mel and Patricia Zeigler should be made a must-read book for MBA classes, the ex-business student in me got interested.
The simplicity of the story-telling was engaging: a young couple read Napoleon Hill’s classic book “Think and grow rich” and worked on answering three basic questions: ” How much money do I want to make ?How long do I give myself to make it? How will I make it?” As their answers guided their plan: they quit their jobs, started a business with $1500 and started selling surplus military clothes. Their reason for quitting their job and starting the company exhorted me: it was not to “become rich” but to have the freedom to paint, write and travel.
The book narrates how it didn’t come easy: how they passed sleepless nights, barely ate and dealt with the unwarranted issues. However, in the end, they made it a company that was successful and unique. They did travel the world and did what they loved: wrote and drew! Despite different barriers, they ultimately did make it. I like the way, they mentioned the idea of “jeito”- the Brazilian term for “there is always a way”(Later, I googled and found that the term can have negative connotations!).
Whenever, I have read about different successful companies and people, what always stood out was the fact that they were brave enough to be different, they were risk-takers. What always came in my thoughts was : what about those people who took similar risks and didn’t make it? I am sure there are many college drop-outs who did not become Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates! There are probably leaders who died in jail and did not become Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. As much as Mel and Patricia Zeigler’s pursuit of quitting a job to start a business for gaining freedom inspired me, I couldn’t help wondering: “But what about those who quitted their jobs, started a business and never made it?”When we read or think of successful people, we often like to believe how courageous, creative or hard-working they were. But, we often forget to give credit to their luck. As Michael Lewis pointed out in his appraised speech, “those of us who are lucky owe it…not only to our gods, but to those who are unlucky”. Sometimes we almost forget or deliberately do not acknowledge our luck; as if it doesn’t justify the success! Zeiglers were lucky and everything else that brought them success!
As I read the Zeiglers’ musing about how they designed catalogues, how they decorated stores, I had this strong urge to experience them. But, that’s not to be: Banana republic is no longer a travel enthusiast’s brand. After the Zeigler’s quitted in late 80s, it was turned into a more upscale brand of what it is today. No wonder I didn’t find anything different about them! Thanks to internet, I found some articles that portrayed the old vintage. They are here and here. Through Alden library, I also ordered the book “Banana Republic guide to travel & safari clothing” that’s supposed to have their catalogs!(don’t you love being in school when the library gives you access to almost any book?)
The favorite part of my book is the last part, I guess, where the authors reflect on their learning. What is unique about Zeiglers’ experience is the fact that they went through success and failure; and they appreciate both. I love the way Mel Zeigler narrates it with an anecdote.
One day Mel was playing “catch the ball” with his little son. When he hurled the ball at his son, the kid caught it and laughed happily “I caught it, Daddy, I caught it”. The next time he threw the ball, the kid missed it and again but still laughed happily, “I missed it, Daddy, I missed it!”
When we play, we should play not for the joy in earning the points; but for the joy of playing the game!