The first time I ventured into the “bowels of Detroit” as some people call it was just a couple of years ago. I had been summoned to appear in the Supreme Court (no, not in that way – but to get sworn in as a US citizen alongside the melting pot of new immigrants who mostly didn’t speak English.) When I drove my car in downtown Detroit it felt like I had left America altogether and was instead in some burnt out husk of an impoverished African nation.
A homeless couple barreled up to my car at the lights, knocking on the window and demanding money.
Vacant buildings outnumbered occupied ones, broken windows and “no trespassing” signs peppered the landscape and there was trash everywhere.
There was no doubt this was a city of “pure grit” as I had once heard it called – it had birthed the hugely talented and controversial rapper Eminem, Cadillac cars, Kellogg’s cornflakes and Carhartt pants to name a few. Clearly the burnt out husk of a city I was experiencing was a far cry from the glory days of the past.”
To make matters worse that same day, Michigan headlined in all the national papers. People were fleeing Detroit and Michigan in a biblical sized mass exodus.
Eek. Not exactly what I wanted to hear as a business owner who had just relocated my marketing agency here from Los Angeles.
But here’s where my experience of Michigan and Detroit varies widely from all the media. I have lived in several countries around the world, traveled extensively in the USA and called 4 different states home.
I can honestly say I have never been to any place where there has been such a massive pool of exceptional entrepreneurial talent.
No its not what you hear in the media, but its certainly been my experience.
These are the people who ignore the headlines, pay no attention to the news and quietly go about their work building highly successful multi-million and multi-billion dollar businesses (some of whom I am privileged to call my clients). Companies like Moosejaw and Domino's Pizza, La-Z-Boy and Herman Miller, Two Men and a Truck Moving Company and Quicken Loans, Jiffy, Whirlpool, and Gerber Baby Food, to name just a few.
Now the City of Detroit is reeling from having filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy in history.
“Have you been busy packing?” my colleagues across the border ask me gleefully.
Its really no different to my experiences of backpacking through Columbia or South Africa. The media makes these places out to be the worst on earth, but my experience is that reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Michigan has soul and Detroit sure has heart.
The people from here are fighting to bring this city back tooth and nail. I met one Detroit native who ditched her high paying corporate job with Microsoft to take up a position in corporate philanthropy at one of the leading children’s charities “I was sick of people ragging on my city” she told me, “I’m here to make a difference.”
Seems she’s not only one. Just take a look at this ad that was run front page on across all the national newspapers a few days ago.
Some of the greatest businesses have been forged out of the toughest times – Thomas Edison founded GE in the middle of the panic of 1873 – a 6 year long recession. Hewlett Packard was founded in the middle of the Great depression. Bill Gates started Microsoft in his parent’s garage during the recession of 1973-1975. Revlon, one of the best-known cosmetic companies in the world, was founded in 1932 during the Great Depression. Brothers Charles and Joseph Revlon introduced their opaque nail enamel to the world, which sparked a business that became a multi-million-dollar enterprise in only six years.
I could go on.
Bottom line – one person’s adversity is another’s big opportunity… Whenever the media reports doom and gloom news, there’s a dedicated entrepreneur or group of individuals quietly working away and achieving success anyway.
It all depends on which end of the binoculars you choose to look through.