The junkyard dogs of the business community are those misfits and mavericks, renegades and rebels, innovators and improvisors who know that traditional wisdom is often more tradition than wisdom.
Lee Iacocca was a junkyard dog.
The son of an immigrant hot-dog vendor, Iacocca was the visionary who gave us the Ford Mustang. He was later fired by Henry Ford II, a showdog, because Henry II said he didn’t want Iacocca to become CEO. Aware that the time for his own retirement was approaching, Henry II made it clear that he wanted to turn the company over to his son Edsel II, then just 28.
After being fired, Iacocca cheerfully went to work at Chrysler where he rescued that company from extinction by inventing the minivan. Later, when he told Chrysler’s head of engineering that he needed a prototype LeBaron convertible to use in a TV ad, the showdog engineer told him how many months it would take to design one. A true dog of the junkyard, Iacocca smiled and said, “Just get a LeBaron and cut the top off. I need it tomorrow.”
Focused on the outcome rather than the process, junkyard dogs are always messy.
Junkyard dogs worry about accomplishment.
Showdogs worry about appearances.
When the weather is calm and the water is smooth, the showdog owns the horizon. But when the storm is upon you and people are about to die, you want a junkyard dog at the helm.
In 1962, 16-year-old Miguel fled Cuba wearing a jacket his mother had hand-stitched from cleaning rags. He arrived alone in America. “Hamburger” was his only English word. Five years later Miguel married a teenage mother and adopted her 3-year-old son, little Jeffrey Jorgensen. Miguel gave Jeffrey the skill and confidence to survive and thrive. He also gave Jeffrey his proud Cuban name: Bezos. When Junkyard Jeffrey was 30, he borrowed money from friends and family to start a business in the garage of his rented home. He named that business after the largest river in South America. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
As a boy, one of Jeffrey’s heroes was Walt Disney, the fourth of five children in a family so poor that two of his older brothers, sick of the constant work and poverty, ran away when Walt was just 4 years old. When Walt was 16, he tried to join the Navy so that he could serve in WWI but was turned down because of his age. He then tried unsuccessfully to join the Canadian Armed Forces. Finally, he was accepted as a Red Cross ambulance driver.
Walt did not have an impressive résumé. Junkyard dogs rarely do.
When the war was over, Disney’s first company, Laugh-O-Gram, went bankrupt in Kansas City, so he moved to Hollywood where his first animated series, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was a big success. Disney lost the rights to that character when his distributor cheated him. So Walt, ever the junkyard dog, started working on another animated character, a mouse. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, too.
Disney Studios went on to make Lady and the Tramp, a movie about a showdog princess who falls in love with a junkyard dog. And then they made The Aristocats, a movie about an alley cat named O’Malley who rescues a housecat named Duchess who then falls in love with him. And when we saw The Rescuers a few years later, we all fell in love with a little junkyard girl named Penny when she stood up to the alligators of Madame Medusa.
Now that I think about it, has there ever been a successful Disney film that didn’t give us a misfit, junkyard dog to cheer for?
For the record, (and I quite literally mean “the record,”) no individual has ever received as many Academy Awards as Walt Disney. In fact, no other person has ever been nominated for as many.
I began contemplating today’s memo when I paused the movie, Public Enemies, to transcribe a bit of dialogue between J. Edgar Hoover, that little showdog director of the FBI, and Melvin Purvis, his golden-boy agent who was tasked with bringing the murderous bank robber, John Dillinger, to justice, dead or alive. After Purvis fails repeatedly, he calls J. Edgar Hoover.
Hoover: “John Dillinger held up a bank for $74,000 while you failed to arrest (Babyface) Nelson.”
Melvin Purvis: “Sir, I take full responsibility. Now, I would like to make a request that we transfer men with special qualifications to augment the staff here in Chicago. There are some former Texas and Oklahoma lawmen currently with the bureau in Dallas.”
Hoover: “I thought you understood what I am building; a modern force of professional young men of the best sort.”
Melvin Purvis: “I’m afraid our type cannot get the job done.”
Hoover: “Excuse me, I cannot hear you.”
Purvis: “Our type cannot get the job done.”
Hoover: “I cannot hear you.”
Melvin Purvis: “Our type cannot get the job done. Without qualified help, I will have to resign this appointment. Otherwise, I’m leading my men to slaughter.”
Furious, Hoover sends Charles Winstead (Stephen Lang) a junkyard FBI agent to help Purvis locate and assassinate Dillinger. Starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as Purvis, Public Enemies is an interesting look at life in America back when we were headed toward the zenith of our previous “We” cycle.
The zenith of that “We” was 1943. If you want to see what happened immediately after that zenith, watch Trumbo (2015) with Brian Cranston.
The current “We” will zenith in 2023.
Hang on, it’s going to be a wild ride.
Roy H. Williams
LingLing Wei is a naturalized American citizen and a Wall Street Journal reporter. When her grandfather was a young man, he was chosen to look after Mao Zedong’s health during the historic, 6,000-mile “Long March.” But when the United States expelled Chinese journalists this year, Lingling Wei was one of the American journalists expelled from China in retaliation. With her colleague, Bob Davis, Lingling has published a new book, Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War. To hear how they believe this trade conflict will impact American businesses, just zip right over to MondayMorningRadio.com
PS – The 3,000-year history of the pendulum swing between “Me” and “We” is explained in Pendulum (2012) by Roy H. Williams and Michael Drew. Here’s the link to your PDF copy. 🙂