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[MUSIC PLAYING] business practices like udacity, find business mentors
-How many dollars in your pocket when you leave? You're 16, you're 17. How many dollars were in your pocket when you left?
-Why would you ask that?
-Oh, I don't know. I'm just curious. I mean, did you have any money when you left?
-Maybe. I don't know. I live with my great aunt. I graduated from high school. She fixed my lunch in a brown paper bag. I remember that. I had one brown suitcase.
-So one suitcase. Where'd you go to?
-I went to St. Louis, Missouri.
-OK. So you moved from Mississippi to Saint Louis.
-Yeah. And I took-- going north.
-Did you find a job right away? How did you--
-Of course not.
-And this is important because when I left-- and I didn't have but maybe $3.
-Yeah. But $3 was $3.
-So maybe in today's money, that might be worth--
-Give me a break. I had $50.
-Yeah, I had maybe $3. But the one thing that I knew-- like I said, I wanted to be successful. And for me, success was Saint Louis.
-But what I really learned, Clay, success was not Saint Louis. Success had to be me. I had to win where I was. And I think I won early on in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta because I had a mindset that would really make a difference in how I would view my life.
-So everybody watching this, I don't know if you've ever felt like this, but if you feel stuck and you have $50, sometimes you just can't steer a parked bus. You have to get moving. You got to make some changes.
Maybe it's the change of scenery, or it's getting more education. But you can't just sit there and wait for something to change, right. I mean, you have to--
-You can't be a bystander.
-I mean, if you really want-- taking your word-- if you really want to thrive, you cannot afford to just simply be a bystander to life. You got to jump into life and add your input.
-Kind of make it up on the way as you go. I mean, you jump in and then you just kind of figure it out as you go.
-I don't think you make it up. I don't think you make it up. I think life happens as you go.
-And because you are determined to be successful, you handle the happenings of life differently in which something's going to be thrown at you. Like, when I first went to Saint Louis, I had never filled out an application in my life for a job. You don't fill out applications to pick cotton.
So I had to fill out an application, and all of a sudden, they're giving me five sheets of paper to fill out. And they want background checks on who you work for. That's what they ask you in the city.
-So you just put not given. Not given.
-I had to say not applicable. But you had three pages of not applicable, which meant it took me a while to get a job.
-So you basically, you're in Saint Louis, and you started with nothing. You came from the cotton fields. You moved to Saint Louis. Ultimately today, you've had some huge successes.
And I'm going to list off just a few that I know of, and maybe I'm missing some here. You've been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize with your book. You've been a best selling author. Your life was made into a movie, which I think is surreal. You helped launch the Stairmaster, right, helped market the Stairmaster.
-Yeah. I mean, it was a failing company. And that same idea of success that I had in the Mississippi Delta, I brought that with me to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
-And on your lapel here, you have you are on the board of a bank.
-Yeah. I'm on the board of a bank. And it's a bank that was purchased by a holding company out of Missouri. But that particular bank, I was part of the investing group in that De Novo Bank in Oklahoma.
-So you helped invest in the bank. You also are a member of an exclusive country club in Tulsa.
-Why would you want to bring that up?
-I'm bringing it up because I as a kid, I never really went to country clubs. And I remember one of our first interactions where I really got a chance to know you, you took me to Southern Hills Country Club. That made a huge impression on my life. And so I remember that.
-I think it made a huge impression on my daughter's life when she was alive. She called it the big restaurant.
-The big restaurant.
-Was there any other successes that you can think of? I know you've addressed the Supreme Court--
[MUSIC - CARL ORFF, "O FORTUNA"]
--which is this huge honor. You've been asked to speak at Harvard.
[MUSIC - CARL ORFF, "O FORTUNA"]
Any other honors that just in your mind that just kind of blew you away how blessed you've been, or anything else as far as achievement?
-One of the great turning points when I graduated from college, I had an opportunity to become part of a retirement system that was associated with the university here in Tulsa, Oral Roberts University.
[MUSIC - CARL ORFF, "O FORTUNA"]
That, that literally pulled out of me skills and gifts and talents that I didn't know I had. I mean, I faced an opportunity. It was like a huge mountain to climb, but I learned to climb it.
And that experience has literally help me in every single experience. That to me was a great success. That was a great success, having that opportunity.
[MUSIC - CARL ORFF, "O FORTUNA"]
Find business mentors on Thrive15.com
-As you've gone from the cotton fields to where you are today, I guess the elephant in the room that I want to ask you-- and you can kick me off the show if it's an inappropriate question-- but I don't see a lot of African-American bankers. I haven't seen a lot of them. I haven't seen a lot of African-American bestselling authors. I haven't seen a lot of African-American heads of a bank or-- You know, you just don't see it very often. Have you kind of considered yourself as a pioneer? I mean, was it kind of-- Did you find yourself in uncharted waters? Or does that even factor in in your mind?
-I can answer that from the perspective of me personally. Coming from where I did, a legally segregated world, you really didn't grow up thinking in terms of this partnership of the races. And so finding myself in the environment, in the work environment, where these partnerships had to happen in order to be successful for the companies that we were involved in, that to me was a rare occurrence at the time in which it happened. But I would say today though, Clay, that in America, we are seeing a lot more African-American male and female being involved in really significant parts of the business. But at the same time though-- and this is the challenging part-- young African-American males, the age of my son or younger, many of them are slipping through the crack. And that to me, is why Thrive 15 is so important. Because how can we take the stories of others, the life actions of others, and grab the mind of a young man who's just about to jump, and all of a sudden he hears me say, hey, you don't have to do that. You really can really change your mind. That to me, is important.
-Just so that we can hear-- I think it helps to hear some the successes you've had and some of the companies you've worked with, just so people get a context for your career. Because I'm trying to, you know, in just a half hour interview here, get a lot of things to just take a whole career and put it into a small episode here. But what are some of the companies that you've consulted with or spoken for over the years? Can you think of some of them?
-You know, one of the great joys I had when I had done work in Northwest Pacific Coast gas. I mean, this was huge. I mean, I'm in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and you get this call to come and talk to all of these gas gatherers from the Northwest. But at the same time, to talk to them about leadership, to talk about diversity, to talk about team building. And I'm not sure they taught leadership while I was picking cotton. I'm not sure they taught team building while I was picking cotton.
-So you do feel a little bit of joy as you get to do these things. You don't forget where you came from.
-Yeah, you don't. And because I don't forget where I came from, I am clearly reminded of where others can go. And that's what thriving is all about, helping other people understand where they can go. And let's move further, to Sandra Day O'Connor, our former Supreme Court Justice. I met her. I didn't know her. I had shaken her hand, had no idea who she was. And the guy behind me said, do you know who you just talked to? I said, sir, I have no idea. He said, well, that's Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. I said, you're kidding me. And within months, she had arranged for me to come to Washington DC.
-Did that feel surreal when they asked for you, the Supreme Court asked for you to come and address them? Is that just a surreal feeling?
-When Judge O'Connor called me personally and asked me to come, I went, obviously. I got on the plane with my wife, and we went there to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. I mean, in the back of my head, I'm seeing Glen Allan, Mississippi. You know, I'm seeing our sheriff riding a horse, and now I am going to the highest court in the land, the judicial system of the last resort for our country. It is still surreal. It is still surreal to see several of the judges sitting on the front row, taking notes from what I'm saying.
-Now I have kind of a capstone question for you. For anybody who's watching this, who might be on the other end of this camera, who's saying, I'm finding myself-- You know, if they're saying that they're finding themselves right now in their early years, if they're discovering that right now-- Maybe they're hearing what you're saying today and they feel like, man I'm still in the cotton field. What would be your encouragement for that person who feels currently, right now, like they're in their cotton field of life.
-The impossible is possible. That's the first thing. The impossible is possible. Because often times in our mind, we feel that where we are will not get us to where we want to go. But I am a firm believer that every individual can literally win where they are. Because that winning starts with your thinking. Your mindset becomes an important part of this factoring. And so no matter what you're doing today, no matter where you think you are and wherever you think you can't go, I want you to know that you can walk on the moon, period.
-Hey, I appreciate you taking the time to be here, and for letting us ask you these questions, and for bringing some props with you.
-Well, you know, I never thought that I would be calling these props. But every time I look at them there in my house, it is a clear reminder of the world that almost tried to hold me hostage. But at the same time, it's a clear reminder that we can do what we set our minds to.
-Hey, thank you so much.
-I appreciate it.
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