Fuqua on Entrepreneurship and “Getting Hooked”

Biographies and memoirs share so much about how people think and make decisions, which makes them my favorites genre of books. I just recently finished Fuqua. It’s a memoir by J.B. Fuqua: one of Atlanta’s premiere businessmen over the last century who’s philanthropic footprint can be found from the Botanical Gardens to Duke’s business school. His business acumen earned him a spot on the Forbes top 400 wealthiest people at one point. His web of lifelong relationships and friendships helped spawn Jimmy Carter’s political career and rub shoulders with Hollywood’s elite. Through it all, J.B. managed to keep a “North Star” purpose of positive change he could make in this world without getting complacent — all while battling severe depression. It’s an inspiring business career and one that started from very humble beginnings on his grandparents farm in Virginia.

J.B.

There are dozens of lessons to be taken away from Fuqua but in my new role at Atlanta Ventures, I’m interacting with numerous folks who want to start a business. The conversations ultimately revolve around their goals, purpose, vision, and what I ultimately call “getting hooked.” It’s a term I can only describe as a borderline obsessive focus on a project or task. I’ve “gotten hooked” a few times in my career on projects or businesses or articles or even hobbies. The days pass with almost no concept of time. You’re in a state of flow where all other priorities seem to disappear — for better or for worse. Once you’re done getting hooked there isn’t a question you can’t answer on the topic with conviction. I bring this up because that’s how J.B Fuqua started his entrepreneurial journey:

“Fortunately, something happened when I was about 14 or 15 that changed the course of my life. We had just gotten our first radio and the rest of the family had gone to Farmville for the day and left me home alone. I started playing around with the dial until I came across a station in Richmond where the chief engineer was teaching a course in Morse code. At the end of the program, he announced that anyone who was interested could mail him 25 cents and he would send them a book entitled How to Become an Amateur Radio Operator. Well, I sent my money and soon received a booklet explaining how to buy radio parts from a mail order house and make my own radio receiver. That 25 cents was the greatest investment of my life. I learned Morse code and before long I was able to order enough parts to build a transmitter.”

This is such a clear example of “getting hooked.” It starts with curiosity (playing around with the dial and finding a station), followed up with self starting decisions (investing 25 cents on the book), continued with self education and experimentation. Most importantly, it was in a very early market at the time: radio and communication. J.B. would later read every book possible on radios that he borrowed from the Duke library, end up working at a radio station, then start a radio station, and eventually buy numerous stations and businesses through savvy deal making.

There is real energy and excitement around entrepreneurs who are hooked or getting hooked on their craft and passion. J.B. started by learning everything about radio transmitters, followed up by passing the examination of a commercial radio operator’s license (no college), and continued it throughout his career in business.