Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise

By George Gilder | Go to book overview
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15
THE DYNAMICS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

In the recent history of entrepreneurship in America, perhaps the exemplary moment came on a morning in 1966 when a man in Houston named Thomas J. Fatjo found himself immersed up to his armpits in garbage. Driving a door-to-door route in the city, he had jumped into the bin to stomp down the contents after the compactor broke down with seventy more houses to go. His immersion in muck climaxed the initiation into business for the young accountant, who had seen high opportunities in the field of solid waste disposal and had bought a garbage truck to enter the trade. Several times he skirted mental breakdowns and financial bankruptcy. But in the end he emerged as probably the nation's only CPA with an intimate knowledge of refuse, or the nation's only garbage man with a mastery of accounting.

Within ten years, Fatjo parlayed this rare combination of skills in money and garbage into creation of the world's largest solid waste disposal firm. Called Browning-Ferris Industries, it brought in $500 million in revenues by 1980, was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and commanded units in most of the nation's cities. As Fatjo explains in his book, With No Fear of Failure, however, the key to its growth was the detailed mastery of the garbage business he gained on his route, from door to door in the late 1960s. Day by day, drowsy in the front seat of a secondhand garbage truck as the sun rose over the misty streets, he developed the concept of a national company. Also at the wheel he acquired the sure sense of costs and values that made it possible for him to forge Browning-Ferris from local firms across the land.

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