Joe Girard is one of those rare creatures: a highly motivated man who can
communicate his inspiration and attitudes to others.
Joe refers to it as"spark." In his own words, "sparks create fires." His first
sparks would come painfully at an early age. He was born on the east side of Detroit, Michigan,
in one of the city's most deplorable ghettos. He lived about one mile from one
of his earliest heroes, Joe Louis, who escaped from poverty and became
heavyweight champion boxer of the world while Joe was still a struggling
The initial struggle beganwith his own father, Antonino Gerard, an extremely poor man of Sicilian birth who found no success in his new country and vented his bitterness, both
physically and emotionally, upon his younger son. Joe often speculates as to
whether his father's behavior was the carefully planned campaign of a man who
desperately wished to challenge his son. Whatever the truth, the senior Gerard
chose to constantly berate his son with the message that Joe would never amount
to anything worthwhile. This was Joe's first spark: the determination to prove
that his father had been wrong.
At the same time, Joe's mother fed him her constant love and belief that, indeed, Joe was capable of succeeding in life. This was Joe's second spark: to show his mother that her
love and judgment had not been misplaced.
These two sparks led to Joe's first revelation: that smart work and persistence could
At the age of 9, after school and a hurried dinner, Joe patrolled the neighborhood bars for some shoe shine customers. He would not have thought of it in these terms, but after
examining the market he decided that the best source for business was a place
of leisure where people were relaxed and inclined to be generous. Bars had another
advantage in bad weather: they were warm. To this day, Joe's two most precious
possessions are his original shoe shine box, sitting proudly upon the one file
cabinet of his office, along with a photograph of Joe shining shoes in a
saloon. The experience taught him another valuable lesson: a fear of alcohol.
Joe is willing to have an occasional drink, but he has never forgotten what he
saw in those bars.
His joy with this success lead to his next enterprise as a newscarrier.
At the age of 11, he took his second job as a newscarrier for the Detroit Free Press.
Because it was, and still is, a morning paper, it was necessary to be up at 5:30 a.m. to complete
his route before school. The Free Press, he quickly learned, also offered
bonuses for enterprising newsboys who where willing to solicit and gain new
business. For each new customer, the reward was a case of Pepsi-Cola. The old
barn behind the Gerard house was soon stacked high with the rewards of Joe's
efforts. Although it provided the four Gerard children with a huge supply of
soda pop, something their parents couldn't possibly afford, Joe soon realized
that he had a growing inventory of value and soon began his third business
venture as soda pop supplier to the neighborhood children at a price no ordinary
vendor could meet.
His proudest moments were on those days when he brought his
earning to his mother; no childish gesture as his pennies helped to put badly
needed food on the Gerard table.
MORE to come..