Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on October 6, 2009

Today: What Andrew Carnegie, Cary Grant and Sidney Poitier have in common that could benefit you.

Andrew Carnegie [1835 – 1919] became one of the U.S.’s richest men, building the predecessor to U.S. Steel. He was also one of America’s great philanthropists, among his many contributions being the creation of the U.S. public library system.

In addition, he founded Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Hall and made numerous charitable contributions and his foundation continues to make major donations today.

But Andy Carnegie began life in extreme poverty, the son of an alcoholic father who struggled to support his family. Andy never got past the 3rd grade because dire economic necessity forced him to quit school and help support his family.

Without working, Andy didn’t know if he’d have a home or food. His clothes were tattered and his shoes were worn out and ill fitting. He lived in the stench of sewage spills and rat infested housing and was just a rat bite away from a sickening death, an end to his miserable existence.

Because he lacked a formal education, and had to work six days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day, Andy had to educate himself. At that time libraries were private, the property of rich families.

But Andy managed to get access to a rich man’s library and absorbed books, reading being one of his great passions. As for business, others taught him their skills in exchange for his willingly working hard to make them more successful.

Thomas Scott, a Pennsylvania Railroad Company executive became Andy’s mentor, promoting him and guiding his initial investments as the young man began accumulating money and through Scott making business contacts.

This began Andy’s meteoric rise to his massive fortune. But he never forgot what it was like to live in extreme poverty.

As a result, he passionately donated nearly all his fortune to help those in need, the public library system being the crown jewel as it opened a world of knowledge to the vast mass of people.

Cary Grant [1904 – 1986] became one of Hollywood’s most famous actors, with his command of the language, charm, humor, self-confidence and good looks. He was seemingly a well educated man, of British descent, perhaps a Cambridge or Oxford graduate.

But Cary Grant was the stage name for Archie Leach, who was born in Bristol, England. He lived a miserable childhood, an only child whose mother was committed to a mental institution when he was just nine.

At 14, Archie dropped out of school and joined Bob Pender’s stage group, where he learned how to entertain an audience, doing pantomime and acrobatics and he was a stilt walker. The Pender group toured England and in 1920, came to the U.S.

“Good Times,” their Broadway show was a hit and ran for 456 performances. This brought Archie to America and he kept developing his skills. Later his diverse training helped him become one of the most famous movie stars in the world.

So who was Cary Grant? Archie created him, largely by studying others and by being a voracious reader, educating himself and by polishing his manner of speaking. “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and finally, I became that person. Or he became me.”

Sidney Poitier [1927 – present] also became one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars and the first black man to land starring roles in major movies and to win the Academy Award for best actor.

Sidney Poitier was born to a poor family in the Bahamas in a home without electricity or plumbing. He weighed just 3 pounds and was on the verge of death, as a tiny coffin was built for him.

Yet somehow he overcame enormous odds and survived. But Sidney’s family needed his support by working in the fields harvesting tomatoes. His formal education ended at the 2nd grade.

How did he rise from poverty and gain such stature, extraordinary speaking skills and command of presence in place of what he calls his “Caribbean sing-song” and his lack of self-confidence?

He came to New York and at 15; was a dishwasher and had “$3 in my pocket” and “slept in a pay toilet.” When he saw a Harlem job listing for an actor, it looked far better than what he was doing.

But when Sidney auditioned, he was so bad; the producer screamed at him and ripped the script from his hands. Embarrassed in front of a room full of people and fighting back tears, he vowed to do what was necessary to become an actor.

For the next six months, while washing dishes, he listened intensely to the radio and imitated the high brow manner of speech he heard. Sidney also became a voracious reader as he consumed newspapers and magazines and books, something he still does today at 82.

As his confidence built, he enrolled in an acting school, paying his tuition by becoming the school janitor. Soon he got a small role in a play and was so awkward, he made the audience laugh but in the wrong places. However, he also captivated them.

Now he was on his way and soon landed his first movie role. He was determined to overcome the color barriers that then existed. And he did, eventually landing starring roles, as he developed his skills and became one of the greatest actors of his day.

Summary: So what is it that Andrew Carnegie, Cary Grant and Sidney Poitier have in common that could benefit you? Each refused to accept he was not good enough to succeed, no matter how skeptical others might have been or however long the odds were.

And what they lacked in education, they overcame through hard work and extensive reading. So if you want to get ahead or even start a new career, do as they did. Give yourself the opportunity to succeed and on a grand scale that at first, maybe only you believe is possible.

Success Tip of the Week: Don’t wait. Make this the week you take action to attain your dreams.

In the next KazanToday: The path to a happier life.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
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