There are people in this life who give up, and those who fight their way ahead. There are people who give excuses, and others who make plans. There are many who don’t have the guts to pursue their dreams, and few who go after their goals or die trying.
We had the chance to interview an individual whose journey is nothing short of an inspiration to all of us, an individual who didn’t take life for granted when he could have easily done so, a visionary who built his success stone by stone and never stopped pushing the limit when he could have enjoyed a lifelong vacation spending his wealth and time caring only for his own self.
Alan Wilzig is man unlike others. A graduate of Wharton Business School, financier, philanthropist, semi-processional racer, entrepreneur, investor, restaurateur, loving father and husband, Alan kept himself busy for years now, but to understand his story, one has to look at the tale of his father first.
The father figure
Alan Wilzig’s father didn’t have it as easy as his son, in fact, he didn’t have it as easy as anyone of us, the reason being he was mistreated in Nazi labor camps and lost most of his relatives in Auschwitz. For someone to withstand the suffering and pain of such experience is simply a miracle, a miracle Alan knows all too well is a constant reminder about what his father went through to offer him the chance to grow up not worrying that he will be next in line to enter the gas chambers in Nazi Germany. Alan’s father moved to the USA with no family, no money, but with a determination and resolve to start all over again no matter how hard it would be.
“I worship my father spiritually and intellectually: He came with 10 bucks as his net worth to America flying away from Nazi Germany. When he landed here it was snowy, and the first 50 bucks he made in the US was through shoveling snow. 30 years later he ended up owning a bank and an oil company that are publicly traded on the NYSE.”
Why would you look up to Steve Jobs or Barack Obama when you had such a person in your life? Sometimes we tend to forget that what we think we are entitled to is something given, something obvious for us to have and own, but just a couple of decades back, people had to fight and die in their attempts to enjoy the most basic of things: freedom, a decent living, the right to live and equality. If you think today that you are putting enough efforts in your studies, in your business, in your relationships, believe us, you don’t know what putting an effort into getting something is.
The admiration Alan has for his father was noticeable throughout the interview, and the way he talked about him was a clear indication that the father was more than just that: He was a mentor, a friend, a confident, a teacher, a partner and a role model.
“He would be happy to see me doing this today, mentoring bright young people that have incredibly great idea. I understand that for a lot of people out there, the first step is the hardest, getting the first clients or landing the first contracts. Those are the toughest times, and my father used to tell me that much. The first one is the hardest one, the first dollar, the first million, the first billion. If you’re smart and prudent, it’s easier to double or triple a fortune than to create one. This is something I have learnt and incorporate through my venture capital work. Giving startups and enterprises that first funding breakthrough means the world to them, because once that first investment goes in, everything else follows. But again, it’s not like we accept anyone and invest right away. You have to send people off so that they can polish their ideas, you have to reject them a couple of times until they get the right product, and then you throw in some cash. I mean, it took my father 20 years as a salesman before he could afford to buy his first share of stocks. He had to teach himself through newspapers, he had to work hard to earn that first breakthrough. Discipline and perseverance is key in these case.”
Who needs to study when you have money, a family business promised to you and nothing to prove to anyone? Well, even though it might be tempting, and although you might think school is so overrated, education is and will always be a big part of who you are, and without it, you’re definitely missing out on something.
“My father used to say, as a source of both embarrassment and pride, I can tell you exactly how the federal reserve monetary policy will affect the prices of the bond or stock market because I lived it. I taught it to myself everyday riding home on the subway or the train when I was just a worker. It started making an intuitive sense to me, I understood the metrics, I understood right away how companies were valued, when a firm was overvalued or undervalued, but he would say, because the Nazis ended my education at 13, that’s what I miss the most, I wish I could have continued my education because I may well tell you about fiscal policy, the IMF, but I can’t tell you how this watch on my wrist works and keeps time.”
Yes, you might be a great programmer because of the 10 years you spent writing codes in your bedroom, but if you’re going to play with the big boys, sit on the same table with the executives and enjoy an intellectual discussion with your fiancé, knowing only how to code wont make the cut. There are things you can learn in life that school cannot offer, but there is also plenty to learn in a classroom that the street will never teach you, so humble yourself and open up that textbook and earn that degree, it will come in handy at some point.
Alan Wilzig learnt this the hard way: His father, who went through the hardships of life and realized how valuable education can be, didn’t go soft when it came to sending Alan back to his books.
“My father would come in and snap off the television with such an anger, and would turn to me and say: turn that thing off and read a book. He didn’t want us to suffer what he had to go through”
Working hard pays off
If there is anything that we can learn from Wilzig’s journey to success, it´s definitely that working hard does pay off. Now you´ll meet those who say that success is the result of luck, of connections, of having someone else looking after you, but I’d love to see those people say the same nonsense to a person escaping the Nazi camps after losing his family and building a fortune in the US out of shoveling snow.
“The great thing about the USA is that you don’t need to be born a Rockefeller to be a Rockefeller. Everyone can make it, and that’s the story of my grandfather who came to America and made a fortune through various entrepreneurial ventures. I mean you see today, you can be a bunch of kids developing innovative apps out of your parent’s garage, and next thing you know you are selling your app for 19 Billion USD”.
But working doesn’t mean you won’t have your share of troubles! Alan is far from the successful guy who jumped from one good deal to another. He had his troubles and tough times as everyone else; the secret is to never let those moments drag you down. As Rocky would put it “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s how about how hard you can get hit and keep on moving forward. That’s how it is done!”
“My life hasn’t been all successes, I have had my share of failures but I have been fortunate enough that my successes far outweigh my setbacks.”
It’s in his Facebook profile, he talks about it with his wife, kids, friends and anyone interested in knowing who Alan Wilzig is: Motorsports. Now it looks like an addiction, sounds like an addiction, so it probably is one. Motorsports have been Alan’s passion for a while now, that’s why it comes as no surprise that he´s built the largest private racetrack in the US – in his backyard. Taking it too far one might think, but when it comes to one’s passion, it’s never too much!
“For me, growing in a house where there was no watching of sports or television or participation in clubs, was hard. I was deprived of the things many young people spend an awful lot of time playing, and talking about. Anything remotely connected to sports was, for my father, a waste of time. Later on as I moved to college, I started joining competitive teams, and I felt that sports were a perfect medium to distress and let the steam off, but these were mostly distractions. My passion was for motorsports; racing cars, hitting the gas and listening to the tires tear off the asphalt. People are obsessed with European soccer teams or NFL players; I am obsessed with the Dakar rally and the 24 hours of Le Mans!”
It’s never too late to follow your passion, do what you love and fulfill your dreams, never too old to tick off those boxes in your bucket list. Alan, at the age of 45, decided to give it a try, and today he’s never had a single regret about it.
“I would have never though that at 45 I would say let’s go racing against professionals who were 22 years old, had the fastest cars on the track and were karting even before they started walking. You see, I breathe motorsports, I live motorsports, I eat and sleep motorsports. I dedicate a lot of free time to my passion, now my backyard is blanketed with 1 meter of snow, so while I would usually race lotus cars on the circuit, I am now skiing and driving snow hawks.”
Some of you are probably still stuck with the idea that Alan owns the largest private racetrack in his backyard, so here something more on that:
“Having a private circuit is the dream of every motorsport enthusiast. I mean if you want to drive at 200 mph without looking over your shoulders for cops, you better do it at home! My farm with the private circuit is a couple of hours from my house, which allows me to bring my kids and wife over here to have fun, drive a different car every now and then and enjoy my time with my wife and kids. Although motorsport is my passion, it doesn’t have to be all about me. My wife Karin and my kids have a blast driving these fine machines aswell. They love it as much as I do, and that’s what makes the whole experience that much more rewarding because my family can be a part of it.”
Nothing is permanent aside from your death
Alan recalled the philosophy of his father, a philosophy that could help us move a long way if only we applied it in our everyday life, and coming for a guy who survived the holocaust, it should have a great deal of truth to it.
“Only your death is permanent, everything can be changed, can be improved, there will always be hope for renewal, a chance for renaissance.”
Yes, you have no excuse to stop pursuing your goals, the only time you should give up and stop hustling is when you are buried 20 feet under, but until then, every second matters, every decision you make, every person you meet, there is always a chance to keep on moving forward or reinvent yourself completely. I mean, look at youth today, the way they just surrender to the “harsh” realities of life. You talk to Gen-Y and all they have to say is that there is nothing you can do, the markets look bad, there is no way to find a decent employment, the political leaders are failing them blablabla… When you hear this whining, just stop them and say: What are you going to do about it
“Gen-y has lost confidence in the corporate world, lost confidence in big companies, lost hope in Wall Street. I mean I don’t blame them at first, they saw their parents or relatives getting kicked out after 40 years of service with a small thank you note whenever the company is restructuring or moving offices, they started understanding that loyalty means nothing. But when there is a will there is a way. Instead of begging for a job around, invent your own. Become an entrepreneur, work for yourself; this is the new way of doing things, the new American dream of never having to work for anyone else again. If my father did it decades ago, and if young people still do it today, then you will have no excuses!”
To sum it up, Alan is someone who teaches us that we should not take things for granted, that we should work hard every day in order to pursue our dreams and prove ourselves. Having a dream is always worth running after, because it’s never too late to succeed, it’s never too late to make your dreams come true. As long as you’re passionate about what you want, nothing can stop you. But remember, your successes are the result of your work and other people’s contributions at various points in life, so make sure you pay back and make a difference in other people’s lives. We have only one world, and whether we like it or not, we have to share it, and the best way to make it a livable place is by making sure everyone is chipping in. You have a skill; put it at good use. You have wealth; let others have a taste of it. You have a story, share it with the world and inspire people around you.