The Millionaire Next Door

CEO or Auto Mechanic?

In The Millionaire Mind I wrote that:

. . . millionaires . . . often . . .labeled by some authority figure or some standardized test result as being “average” or “inferior.”  But as the results of this research point out, such evaluations make some people all the more tenacious.  Some millionaires thrive upon such judgments, as they have made very clear to me.  Where did they get their resolve?  It was a direct result of their earlier experiences in deflecting negative judgments.

Ralph de la Vega is the CEO of AT&T Mobility.  This company has annual sales of $63 billion and employs nearly 50,000 workers.  According to a recent article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Never let yourself become a victim of the situation,” March 18, 2012, Mr. de la Vega immigrated from Cuba to the United States when he was ten.  The Castro regime would not allow his family to accompany him.  He lived here for five years until his family was finally allowed to join him. 

While in high school and struggling with English, he told a counselor that he wanted to be an engineer some day.  The counselor discouraged him from this goal because of his grades and his family’s lack of finances.  Mr. de la Vega states that:  He killed my dreams right there.  He dropped out of an academic high school and started mechanic’s school. 

But Mr. de la Vega had his dream rekindled when his grandmother arrived  in the U.S. and told him:  Ralph, don’t let anybody put limitations on what you can achieve.  If you want to be an engineer, you can be an engineer.

And so he did.  And he continues to offer his grandmother’s advice to young people who wish to achieve. 


5 thoughts on “CEO or Auto Mechanic?”

  1. I’ve met teachers like that. My sixth-form master in High School was one of them.

    He told my mother that I should “go find a job” after High School, and not try for a degree. Fortunately my Mum didn’t listen to him.

    It later transpired that he gave this same advice to all parents of non-white kids in the sixth form. I’m sure that this is the purest of coincidences.

    There are few people I know who are more deserving a good swift kick in the nuts.

  2. “…don’t let anybody put limitations on what you can achieve.”

    I will never be a basketball star or Olympic gymnast, no matter how much I want to be, because I physically can’t. It doesn’t matter how intrinsically talented a person is at art or math, if they never have access to the teachers or materials that they need, they will never be able to fulfill their genius. Sure, there are tales of success against overwhelming obstacles, like the one you told us; but there are also many, many more untold stories of people who try and try and never succeed.

    I’m not saying this to “rain on your parade.” I’m saying this because people want to act like there’s no such thing as rain, and then make no allowance for inclement weather.

  3. Cor –
    Once again, you miss the point. You seem to have not read the entire line you quoted, specifically “what you can achieve”. Correct, you can’t achieve the NBA MVP. No one else put that limitation on you…you can’t achieve it, end of story. But you probably could study hard, go to an Ivy League school and become a successful investment banker. Or start your own business, or move boxes for a living, whatever.

    “It doesn’t matter how intrinsically talented a person is at art or math, if they never have access to the teachers or materials that they need”. You are joking, right? I work with many folks from India who grew up poor wishing they had the resources of the worst inner-city schools in America. Yet somehow they have managed to come to the US and do very well for themselves. Something tells me if you were in their shoes, you’d still be in India, making excuses for yourself.

  4. I have a friend named Jeff. He went to school and obtained a degree in mechanical engineering. He took over his dads one man repair shop and has turned it into one of the largest auto repair shops in the state of ms. His son Jay is about to inherit the shop from him. Jay was the Napa auto mechanic of the southern region one year and is pursuing automotive business and accounting classes to make the business stronger. These guys work 60-80 hours a week and are known to be the best. Jeff was an engineer who wanted to be an auto mechanic.

  5. Am I the only one who reads these blog posts and thinks “what is the point then?” or “Not worth it.” Let’s see – you work like 70-80 hours; own a business; have like 10 mill saved (or whatever); and still live the same lifestyle as someone making 50k a year down at the post office? Why not just do that and get back like 35 hours a week of you like then?

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