June 7, 2020

My late Uncle Buddy Plumley was famous for this quote:  “Experience is the best teacher, but it can be damned expensive sometimes.”

That’s a true observation he made.  I’ve learned that he was correct.  People learn from their own experiences and the experiences of others, too.  It’s usually better to learn from others, especially when they learned something the hard way – something that was bad.  I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, about my brother and me going to a pond barefooted, and in snake-infested terrain.  David got snake bit and I had to carry him on my shoulders back to where our granddaddy was. Granddaddy Jay laid David on the ground and cut an X-shaped cut on David’s ankle and sucked blood and poison from David’s ankle.  David was okay the next day, but we both learned a lesson that neither of us ever forgot.

I’ve always been fascinated with business successes – especially businesses that started from scratch and did very well.  I’ve been lucky enough to have personally met two such businessmen and talked to them about their successful businesses. One was Sam Walton. The other one was the founder of Murphy Oil. The other one, whom I did not meet personally, was J.B. Hunt, the founder of J.B. Hunt Trucking.  I met a high-level employee who had worked with Mr. Hunt since the beginning of Hunt’s trucking company, and he told me about Mr. Hunt.  I will tell a little about these men because they were legends In Arkansas, where I lived the most of my life.

I learned a lot about Sam Walton from one of his employees who had worked for Mr. Sam since the beginning of WalMart.  This man’s mother was a parishioner of mine when I pastored in Malvern, Arkansas.  I was visiting his mother one Saturday morning when she was in a nursing home.  Her son came to visit her while I was still there, and he told me all about working for Mr. Sam.  He said that going to work for Mr. Sam was the best career move he had ever made.  Mr. Sam hired him away from another company where this man was making more money, but Mr. Sam told him that it would be a smart move.

My new friend told me how much he had learned from Mr. Sam.  He said that Mr. Sam was so successful because he watched other bigger and older companies that were similar to Wal Mart and learned what to do and not to do.  Mr. Sam told this friend of mine to watch Sears and J.C. Penney.  He said that both would be completely out of business within the next 10 to 20 years. This was in 1987-88.  I eventually met Mr. Sam myself several years later and had lunch with him in Bentonville, Arkansas. That’s a story for another time, though.

I never met J.B Hunt, but again I had a parishioner, when I was pastoring out of Benton, Arkansas, who had a son who had worked for Mr. Hunt since Mr. Hunt’s trucking empire started up.  This man told me that one day when he was in Mr. Hunt’s office with a few other men taking a coffee break together, that Mr. Hunt’s secretary came in and interrupted him, bringing him a telephone and told him he needed to take this call. My friend heard the whole conversation.  One of Mr. Hunt’s truck drivers was stranded about 300 miles away, since his truck had broken down.  He told Mr. Hunt if he knew anyway how he could get home by dark because he had promised his son he would be home that night to watch him play his first football game as the starting quarterback.  The man told Mr. Hunt how important that was to him.  Mr. Hunt told him he would be up there in about an hour as he would call his pilot to fly him up there to pick him up in the plane, and he would be able to get home in time to see his son play that night.

One of the other men in the room told Mr. Hunt that there were several drivers nearby who would go with the pilot and drive the truck back home once it was repaired.  Mr. Hunt told him no, because only another truck driver could understand what this stranded man felt like.  He said he had been stranded several times in his truck-driving career and spent nights away from home drawing no pay while waiting for his truck to get repaired.  Mr. Hunt drove the truck back home himself.

Mr. Hunt then said, “I am so proud to have an employee who believed in me enough to call me personally and tell me his problem.  I have to help out an employee with such loyalty.” My friend concluded by telling me how much empathy Mr. Hunt had for all his employees, just because he had experienced all the problems they had.

I accidentally met Mr. Murphy when I was pastoring in Hampton, Arkansas.  I was visiting my parishioner in El Dorado, Arkansas, which was not far from Hampton. The door opened to the hospital room and in walked Mr. Murphy, who had been a lifelong friend to my parishioner.  My parishioner began introducing me to Mr. Murphy when I interrupted him and told him I knew who Mr. Murphy was, that I had seen his picture in the paper, and had read all about him for many years.  Mr. Murphy seemed flattered when I told him how much I knew about him and how I was so impressed by the way he built his company.

My parishioner said to Mr. Murphy, “Tell Spencer about the time you hired that drilling engineer right out of college.”  They both began laughing really hard. I thought it must be an Inside joke or something.   Mr. Murphy said, “Well, just like Jack said, I hired this kid right out of engineering school. He had an excellent book-learning education.  But I told him, before you ever step in an office of mine, I want you to work for six weeks on an oil drilling platform.  I knew he didn’t like that condition, but he cooperated with me and worked with the drillers doing all kinds of hard, dirty, work.”

Mr. Murphy went on to say that a few years later that that young man told him how much he appreciated his making him do that dirty, manual work. And that he could never have understood what it took to get the oil out of the ground and what those hard-working men had to do 12 hours a day.  Then he looked at me very seriously and said, “I would have never asked one of my men to do what I had not done myself.”

I often read in newspapers about people advertising for a job opening and stating “No experience required.” Those jobs usually are at minimum wage, with no benefits.  That’s okay, though.  Especially for young people with no marketable skills.  How does one gain experience without working at something?

One of my relatives, who eventually became an engineer, worked for a company free for a month to show the boss how hard he could work and how fast he could learn.  He was just a common laborer with an eighth-grade education at the time.  He so impressed his boss that the company sent him to school to become an engineer.  He spent the rest of his career with that company.

Sometimes one must pay for his experience. That’s one of the things that has made modern trade schools so important today.  People pay to learn – to get experience.  Experience is important, whether in your career or raising a family. There’s just no substitute for it!

God Bless You,
Spencer Plumley

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