My parents had sold our home; we were living in a rented house while they prepared to build a new one. With my mother's blessing, Dad took the money they had put aside from the sale of their house and used it to buy AMC stock. He even used the savings he had given me for Christmases and birthdays to buy stock. He believed in himself, and he believed in hard work and what it could achieve.
Dad spent long days at the office and, when he was home, the work continued. He met with the company's bankers, shareholders, and employees, explaining his vision for the company's future: dropping the venerable Nash and Hudson brands and focusing instead on the Rambler compact car. He would eventually close the company's Michigan plant to consolidate production in Wisconsin. He agonized over that decision, but concluded in the end that "to save a patient this sick, surgery is necessary."
In 1959, AMC's stock was selling for more than $95 a share. Dad made the covers of Time and Newsweek. He and Mom built their dream home, and we kids, now even more prosperous, were given still more chores.
What Dad accomplished at American Motors prepared him for the challenges that would follow. He served as leader of Michigan's Constitutional Convention, as three-term governor of Michigan, as secretary of housing and urban development in the Nixon administration, and as founder of the National Center for Voluntary Action. And I have to admit that the weeding and chores probably didn't hurt me, either something I understood well by the time I took the reins of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Over the years, I've come to believe that the value of "pursuing the difficult" applies much more broadly than only to individuals. When I met Tom Stemberg in 1985, he had come up with an idea for a new business, one he believed would revolutionize the retail industry, and in particular the business of selling and distributing office supplies. Tom's vision was to create the world's first big-box office products chain, one with hundreds of stores, tens of thousands of employees, and billions in revenues. Most people I spoke with thought it would never work, believing that businesspeople wouldn't leave their workplace to shop for office supplies, no matter how great the savings. But they were wrong, and today Staples is what Tom dreamed it would be.
Reaching Tom's goal was difficult. At first, the manufacturers of supplies didn't want to sell to him because his idea threatened their traditional distributors. Stores were hard to locate in real-estate-cramped New England where he began. A warehouse with multistore capacity had to be built and financed, even though at first there were only a handful of stores to serve. Copycat competitors sprung up everywhere; at one point, we counted more than a dozen. And money was tight. In the end, because Tom and his team achieved success in the face of so many challenges, Staples and its management team became very strong indeed, and now lead the industry.
Today, the United States faces daunting challenges, and I am similarly convinced that if we confront them and overcome them, we will remain a strong and leading nation. Just like individuals, companies, and human enterprises of every kind, nations that are undaunted by the challenges they face become stronger. Those that shrink from difficult tasks become weaker.