It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish


“Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little.”

This unpromising review for Frederic Austerlitz would certainly have discouraged a less self-confident man than the extraordinary star of stage, film, and television, Fred Astaire (nee Austerlitz). Success is not always instantaneous. In fact, you could make the argument that some failure is a necessary ingredient in the success of every venture.

Consider the start and finish of some of these businessmen:

Henry Ford: After building his first vehicle in 1896, Ford launched two unsuccessful car companies- The Detroit Automobile Company and then the Henry Ford Company. Ford abandoned these initial failures, readjusted his approach, rallied financial support, and in 1903 created the Ford Motor Company with 12 investors. Ford is now one of the largest automotive manufacturers and has been under family control for over 110 years.

Mark Cuban: Now known as a billionaire TV personality, political contributor, and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Cuban’s early jobs and businesses ventures proved less lucrative than the $5.7 billion sale of his company to Yahoo!. He was fired from his first job after college and proved incapable as a cook, waiter, and carpenter. None of those positions were right for him, he pivoted, adapted, and tried again, ultimately finding that business investment and nurturing were his strongest skills.

Sir James Dyson: After 5,126 failed prototypes, Dyson finally perfected ‘the Dyson’ (vacuum). Inspired by the failure of his Hoover vacuum’s diminishing suction and performance, Dyson sought to design a bag-less machine whose power would not be compromised. It took over five thousand tries and tweaks to get a successful model and even then he was unsuccessful at selling his vacuum to major cleaner manufacturers. Determined, he launched his own company and now Dyson is known for consistently creating innovative solutions to typical vacuum problems.

Haas Students: Whether it’s an app, a charity, a product, or an investment idea, Haas students have created unique business propositions. Some of have failed, many have succeeded (Intel, eBay, Tesla, The Gap,, PowerPoint, AIG, even Pokemon Go). Beyond having a winning idea, a cohesive and cooperative team, a dynamic pitch, clever marketing, and thoughtful financial analysis – Haas businesses have been designed by creative men and women determined to succeed. All have faced some challenges: an app design was incompatible with a new software update, a competitor beat them to market, or a good idea was pitched in a poor investment environment. Haas students realize that facing initial or intermittent challenges is part of succeeding.

After all, pushing ourselves to continually improve has been instilled in us through our interactions with Haas. The famous ‘defining principles’ of Haas – Question the Status Quo, Confidence without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself all encourage us, in at least one aspect of our endeavors, to move beyond failure, adapt, adjust, rework, fix, modify and strive to create our best possible effort.

How is it possible that failure is a good thing? Fred Astaire, Henry Ford, Mark Cuban, Sir James Dyson, and enumerable successful Haas grads would all affirm that it builds character, inspires determination, and helps dispel that insidious obstacle to success: fear of failure itself.

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