Most people say hard work is the secret to success. I’ve always believed it was more about good luck.
About 40 years ago, I was lucky enough to meet and then partner with Walter Scott Jr, who died peacefully at his home in Omaha on Sept. 25.
Four decades ago, I had built the first competitive residential phone company in America, while Walter was chairman and CEO of Kiewit, one of the world’s largest construction companies. Under his watch, Kiewit had built a competitive phone company for other owners in Chicago, and having not being fully paid for their work, ended up owning one of these companies.
Walter had dispatched his right-hand man to see what a merged company would look like. We merged telecos and began an almost 40-year partnership with a handshake, and later a one-page document.
Throughout that partnership, I learned that businesspeople should leave everything they touch better than it was before.
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I learned that a handshake means something and to treat people fairly, regardless of the circumstances. That giving back to the community is a part of the job description.
I learned that protecting your downside is more important than trying to make an unreasonable profit. In fact, I learned that reasonable is an adjective that should be central to all conversations. I think globally the business community has forgotten these things, and therefore we have lost a giant.
Warren Buffett said on the news of Walter’s passing: “(We) cannot find a better citizen for a model than Walter Scott.” I’d argue we will have trouble finding a better man, plain and simple.
Just when the world needs more than ever to know what a capitalist is supposed to look like, we lost one of the best, one of the most generous, one of the kindest.
I was always impressed at how Walter had the discipline to be sure we were making a profit, but equally building something of value, while training young people and giving back to the community, all at the same time.
He believed assets were to be built upon, grown and nurtured, and then left for the next generation to do the same, and maybe even better; never to over leverage and strip of jobs, but to build value and give back to the community, with the same effort you spend on making a profit.
We lost a giant ... and my north star.