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Article published in Issue Number: 070101

Street SmartsSM:
Finding the entrepreneur in you

By Michael Nardy, Electronic Payments Inc. (EPI)

Chances are, if you are reading this column, you are involved in the merchant services industry and have a keen eye for some of the advice I give on becoming successful in this industry. Recent postings on the GS Online MLS Forum and articles published in The Green Sheet have dealt with many issues facing entrepreneurs, as well as what it means to be an entrepreneur in this industry.

My focus is always first to help - whether it is with advice or information - and then to encourage so as to support your ongoing sales efforts with constructive tips and tricks that anyone, not just those in this industry, can use to grow a business.

That said, I want to write about what it is to actually be an entrepreneur and really let your actions and day-to-day activities become the very definition of the word "entrepreneur." I am going to write this article the way I write many of them: I am going to tell a story; this one is about my grandfather.

My grandfather, the entrepreneur

Robert Nardy Sr. was born in 1921. He died in 1999, but his death from cancer is irrelevant to the story of his life, for he accomplished much more in the years that he was living than many are capable of doing in 10 lifetimes.

His life began in the New York City borough of the Bronx, a tough environment where youngsters learned as much from the streets as they did from their parents. This life of hardship was not distinct from any other hardship experienced in New York, but the Bronx was unique in its ethnicity.

The Bronx oozed an aromatic ethnic soup. Any of its various neighborhoods, formed from tight, compact combinations of city blocks, could be anything from Jewish, Italian or Irish, to Germanic or Eastern European. If any part of this burgeoning city on a hill was a melting pot of nationalities, the Bronx was it.

So, Robert's life was speckled with an infusion of colors and tastes, dialects and traditions. His life was one of exposure to all the sorts who have come to form the fabric of America.

No doubt this exposure turned him, by the age of 10, into a young boy filled with life and thirsty for the successes to which any New Yorker, any American for that matter, was entitled at the end of the 1920s.

But his was not a life that would be easy to lead. In 1930, after a steep downturn in the economy, America (and much of the world) was thrust into a depression that lasted through most of the 1930s.

Robert's formative years were not as carefree as they should have been. Instead, his experience growing up laid the foundation for how the rest of his life would be led - with determination and a quiet resolve to ensure his family would not experience the same hardship as he.

When my grandfather was just a boy, he earned money, like many during the Depression, selling anything in demand that could earn a small wage to help buy bread or, when they had the money, milk.

Apples. My grandfather sold apples out of a basket to anyone who would pay the nickel for his handpicked efforts. He and his father, an equally driven man, would separate for the day and sell as many apples as they could, just trying to scrounge enough money together so they could eat. But they often would only meet up later empty-handed.

The apple racket in Depression-era New York was not a boon, but the spirit of my grandfather's entrepreneurship was sown in these long days peddling apples.

I'm sure he would have found a way to bottle air and sell it to New Yorkers thirsty for a breath if he could have. Anything to put a meal on the table.

In the early 1940s, in contrast to so many others in the city, my grandfather was able to attend college in Springfield, Massachusetts. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a vault-like brain that stored even the most esoteric of details.

If you wanted to know the proper way to boil ravioli, he could rattle that off just as quickly as he could tell you the Yankee Clipper (a nickname for Joe DiMaggio) had a batting average of .381 in 1939.

But as smart as my grandfather was, he was equally poor. He knew that at $0.10 per bottle, he had only enough money to treat himself to milk a few days each week. On his $1 weekly food allowance, there just wasn't enough money.

Early in his college career, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to London, where he was promoted through the ranks, finally earning the status of Technical Sergeant, the third highest class of sergeant in the army.

It takes drive and determination

In all the years I had the privilege of knowing my grandfather, his drive and determination in all that he did - whether as a sergeant in the army, a student in college, or an amateur gardener - are the key characteristics I use to define an entrepreneur.

Robert was discharged after the war in Europe ended, and he returned to New York to work under the tutelage of Donald Collins, the chief entomologist of New York State Museums.

Robert was charged with finding and trapping animals in a region of Long Island now called the Hamptons. (This was long before Martha Stewart and Puff Daddy.)

The Hamptons of the 1950s was artistic. It was the place where Jackson Pollock straddled his outstretched canvas and drizzled paint on it in frantic, yet deliberate, recklessness. It was also the milieu in which my grandfather saw an opportunity to start a pest control company: There were no other exterminators in the area.

Robert left the museum shortly after beginning his career there, but not before a work accident resulted in the loss of his toes, leaving him with a mangled leg and painful limp.

My ever-thrifty grandfather had tried to save bullets by dispatching an animal with the butt of his rifle. But, in an unfortunate series of actions, the bolt of the gun released and a loud, high-pitched, thwapt sounded the event that would change his life permanently.

Buckshot still remained lodged in his leg 25 years after the accident, but nothing stopped the man from starting his business and fighting through, yet again, a series of lean years.

He walked door-to-door, much like the salespeople of today's merchant services industry, offering his services to bars and restaurants, laundromats, and the city's office buildings.

Each painful step was rewarded; his business experienced greater success with each passing year. But just as artists like Pollock, Liechtenstein, Krasner and Warhol eventually reached the sunset of their lives, so did my grandfather.

This article started out claiming my grandfather's death was irrelevant to the way in which he led his life, and indeed that is true. His final years were marked by the resurgence of a cancer he had beaten (for good it seemed) 15 years earlier.

It came back once more, this time while he was enjoying the retirement for which he had worked a lifetime and while he watched his eldest son run the family business that he had started some 50 years earlier.

This was a business that started from my grandfather's assignment to study the deer tick in the Hamptons. The busiest day he experienced was equivalent to the slowest day my father experienced during his subsequent tenure running the company.

The fact that this business was able to sustain multiple generations of my family is a testament to the never-ceasing desire to always put forth the best effort possible, to learn from mistakes, to work through hardship and to try something new when no one else is thinking on the same level.

Any grandson could tell a thousand stories of the fight that our Depression-era grandparents put forth. Their lives were filled with a fluid mixture of spirit and celebration for the life they were willing to work day and night to achieve.

My grandfather's life was no different. Whether he finessed his way through the politics of street life in the Bronx, learned from his mentor, Don Collins, or saturated his mind with information he would later use to start his company, the ingredients for his life's meal were a gift of years of hard work and the desire to do better than where he came from.

My grandfather was an entrepreneur in every sense of the word.

Michael Nardy is Chief Executive Officer of Electronic Payments Inc. (EPI), a founding sponsor of the National Association of Payment Professionals and one of The Green Sheet magazine's Industry Leaders. EPI is one of the nation's fastest growing privately held payment processing companies offering ISOs and MLSs profitable partnership programs and cutting-edge tools to help their portfolios grow. To learn more about partnering with EPI, visit www.epiprogram.com or e-mail Michael at mike@elecpayments.com

Article published in issue number 070101

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