Today: 5 success lessons from Gene Kazan, a top businessman and a renowned voice of reason.
“This little boy will do wonderful things all of his life,” said the Rabbi in 1931, as he stood little 4 year old Gene Kazan at center stage in front of 200 people in the Congregation. “Please give him your attention and caring.”
And the Rabbi was right, as Gene later became a self-made successful businessman and family man and he is also my uncle. Today he is 84-years-old, yet continues to run a multi-million dollar manufacturing business, making and distributing lighting parts across the United States. Lighting parts are in every light fixture or lamp and from his 61 years in business, you likely have some of his lighting parts in your home or office. And his punch presses make other parts as well so you may also have his manufactured parts in your heater or refrigerator.
Business today is tough for Gene because the U.S. is swamped with cheap Chinese made parts and in these hard times, clients often buy from the cheapest source. So he too manufactures in China but he also still manufacturers in the U.S. And even at 84, as he was 20, 40 and 60 years ago, he is a man of tremendous energy, a quick mind and often with a warm outgoing personality.
What is his ethical standard? It came from his mother, who during the Great Depression was well known among friends and neighbors for helping feed the poor and homeless at her own expense even though she too had very little money. But in 1942, she was stricken with ovarian cancer and gravely ill. One day she asked 15-year-old Gene to sit at her bedside. “I’m sorry I won’t be here for you,” she told him just a few weeks before dying. “I’ve done the best I can with you and if you can look yourself in the mirror each day and like what you see, that is what counts.” He has lived by his mother’s dying statement ever since.
What makes Gene the voice of reason? Whenever there is a crisis, he calms everyone and helps them talk through that crisis and resolve it. For example, in 1996 he was buying a foreclosed 22 unit apartment building owned by a bank. The crisis came when the bank ordered the ex-owner, a man in his 50’s, to sign the papers to conclude the deal. This man was traumatized because he had lost all his savings invested in this building. But the bank’s management was angry over their losses and treated him like trash. The man hung his head and cried so hard, at one point his body shook. That’s when Gene stepped in, calmed the bank and gave this man a hug, assuring him that to save his building he had made a valiant effort under dire circumstances.
As this man replied to Gene, we heard about his family and how he had started from nothing and built a successful business, until it was destroyed by the 1990’s Recession. After losing his building, he was broke. Gene had us take a break as he counseled this man and then he took the bank’s paperwork, helped the man sign it and assured him that without the financial nightmare of this building, he could apply his extensive business skills to create a new and rewarding career. The man agreed, shook Gene’s hand and walked out with dignity. Subsequently, Gene sent him a follow-up letter offering to assist this man as he put his life back together. That was the voice of reason in action and it reflected the compassion his mother had instilled in him.
When he isn’t running a business, Gene cooks, for he is a gourmet chef. He cooks for family and friends, often driving the food to those who are unable to visit because of ill health, which is true for many of his friends who are also in their 80’s or early 90’s. Over food and drink, Gene tells funny stories and with his smile, he listens to what they say and even helps them if they need it. That help may be a few dollars at a crucial time or to be a driver for them to visit a loved one. But most important of all, he is there when they need him, a very big thing for those with Parkinson’s, cancer, a leaky heart valve or other serious health issue.
So what are the 5 success lessons?
1) Don’t retire. Every day Gene arises with a sense of purpose and a burst of energy, as he keeps his mind sharp through intense activity.
2) Don’t think because you are successful today, you will be successful tomorrow. Success is a never ending process and you must adjust to technology, competitors, the economy and numerous other factors if you want to stay on top.
3) Don’t take yourself too seriously. He and my Aunt Eleanor, who is a great joke teller and has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known, laugh often and they keep those around them laughing as well. That’s part of why they have a 56 year marriage.
4) Don’t think only of yourself. If you want a meaningful life, go out and help others. Sit with them, have stories to share and most of all, smile and be a good listener.
5) Don’t assume others won’t also appreciate a great meal or even a nice snack. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef like Gene. Stop and pick-up some goodies and whether over a business desk or a kitchen table, your thoughtfulness will make a big hit.
Gene and Eleanor have two adult children, Ken and Terri. Ken is married to Cathy and they have three 19 year old daughters, Courtney, Shannon and Lindsay.
In the next KazanToday:
A real life guardian angel.