"Working on my second million dollars..."
My dad was quite an ambitious man. He was born in 1914, into a "landowning" family in Italy. I put quotes around "landowning" because the term may be misleading... The formerly prominent family living in the 600+ year old house on Via Porticella was better off than some, but they were a far cry from well off. My grandfather died when my dad was 11 years old. My father, the oldest of five brothers, was immediately given the responsibility of taking care of the family. His mother literally became an invalid due to her grief over her husband's sudden death. Life was not easy for this fatherless family and hard times followed. Their village, Martirano, was in very bad shape -- it had been all but wiped out by a major earthquake in 1905 and by the 1920's it still had not recovered, thus everything in this town was scarce and in short supply. The families of Martirano had long been used to working the land for survival, but there was rarely any type of surplus to sell or give away. To make matters worse, squabbling between cousins and various other relatives over land rights and ownership exacerbated these problems. How did a formerly prominent family find itself in such dire straits?
Don Antonio of MartiranoMy father's great, great grandfather, Don Luigi Antonio Gigliotti was a court magistrate circa 1800. His official title was "Cancelliere" translated as "Chancellor." He had jurisdiction over most of the towns in the Sila Piccola area of Calabria and by all accounts, had become extremely wealthy. Records show that he maintained three households, one in Serrastretta, another in Feroleto Antico and of course Martirano. He bought huge parcels of land around Martirano and lived a life of relative affluence. It is unclear, exactly, how he raised his children, but apparently at some point education took a backseat, perhaps forced by circumstance or some other unknown reason. In any event, by the time my father was born, the land had been divided, sub-divided and triple-divided amongst the generations of heirs. This dilution of assets was compounded by the usual calamities and political instability that must be expected within any 100+ year time period -- it stretched the family's holdings razor thin... Apparently my ancestors didn't make decisions as well as the Rothschilds!
Back to my dad... This was the legacy that he grew up with. As a teenager, he found himself scouring the countryside to eek out a living. He carried stones to build roads. He and his young brothers farmed their parcels of land. Seasonally, accompanied by his donkey, he journeyed into the high mountains above San Mazzeo to gather ice to make ice cream to sell at the local festivals. He sold fruits and melons in towns several days away (on foot) and took just about any type of paying work that he could find, in order to keep food on the table at home. He often ventured to Nicastro, Conflenti, San Mango d'Aquino, Nocera, Falerna and even as far away as Amantea, Cosenza or Catanzaro to sell produce or find work...
He had one very interesting characteristic, which stayed with him throughout his life though -- in public he was always very, very well dressed. Even when I was a child, I remember that whenever I accompanied him to do any type of work -- especially messy work, he always had a bar of Lava soap, a couple of bath towels and a change of clothes -- usually a suit with a freshly washed and pressed white shirt. His outward appearance was very important to him. In fact during the lean years of his youth, many of his contemporaries remembered him as always well dressed. Some didn't even know that the family was in such dire straits.
Fast Forward -- Thirty-something years later...After finally managing to come to the USA, he found an opportunity to chase his ambitions. He was a very proud man, but he was never hesitant to do any type of work as long as he didn't feel it was a waste of time. He set some very high goals for himself once he arrived. NOTE -- My mother was instrumental in every aspect of his adult life, but to do her justice, she will be the focus of another column. So back to the story... I was born when he was in his mid-forties, so my first point of personal observation began a few years later. He was a self-taught cobbler and had bought a shoe repair. He had established his business in Cleveland (a business which he bought from his father-in-law), and eventually ended up bringing everything to California when we moved here. He re-established his shoe repair business and began earning some money quickly thereafter. Though he was very good at repairing shoes, he absolutely despised working with old shoes and very badly wanted to establish a "high-end" family shoe store. His opportunity soon came. A salesman from one of the companies that sold him shoe products knew of an established store that was closing due to a family tragedy. That store would soon be available, complete with fixtures and everything needed for such a store. He seized the opportunity and immediately upon the store's closure, secured a lease with the landlord -- basically taking over an existing business.
Side Note -- Common Sense -- Retail Business Start-upEven though the business had been badly neglected by the previous family that owned it (because of their tragedy), the business itself, was still salvageable and "Gigliotti's Shoes" was soon up and running. During those years, my father and mother also managed to get my oldest sister through USC and my brother through UC Berkley. My other sister would soon be attending UCLA and in the distant future, I too would be attending a university -- that was the way it was going to be (period). All of his kids were going to college -- he never wanted to see his family in the condition it was while he was growing up. My parents scraped together everything and anything that they could to accomplish their goals. Never afraid of anything because he'd already been through most of the worst things that one can experience in a lifetime, risk never fazed him and he always managed to pay his debts. He was an expert at lengthening time. He knew when to write a check and when to persuade a creditor to give him more time. He could always get a loan and he always knew the most important people, when it came to banking and small business finance. People were always charmed by this distinguished Italian man with the cute accent. Eventually, he closed the shoe repair and stored the machines. He taught himself how to do prescription orthopedic work and soon became well known with orthopedic physicians and specialists. He gained many, many referrals to fill prescriptions for orthopedic footwear and braces. Very few people provided the services that he did.
Investment and FOXHe and my mother managed to invest in real estate and acquired some income property, which eventually paid off well. In his later years, he began to invest in the stock market. He didn't know anything about stocks, but he learned quickly. He made a great deal on "FOX" when they released "Star Wars." What a phenomenal investment that turned out to be. It just kept going and going. He sold a bit early, but he made a great deal. He eventually learned all of the variations of trading stocks -- "selling short," "puts," "calls" and many other forms of making money as prices went up or down. He was a quick learner, but he always felt that he could have done so much more, if he had been able to continue his schooling.
When the second million began...So when did he begin working on his second million? Well hmmm, so to speak... The fact is, he never made a million dollars... let alone two... It was simply his sense of humor. People always assumed... by the way that he carried himself, by the way that he dressed and by the way that he conducted himself in general, that he was a millionaire. When anyone ever asked about his "success," he would say -- "yes... I'm working on my second million..." [pause] "...I haven't finished the first yet, but I thought it would be a good idea to start the second million early..." Always an optimist, he never let anything stand in his way. If he didn't like the answer that he got from one person in an organization, he would ask someone else until someone finally gave him the answer that he was seeking, then he would get that person's name and that person would become his point of contact for as long as possible. His tenacity was simply amazing. Though he was capable of being the toughest man on the planet, he used "honey" to get what he wanted.
"Low and behold the answer reveals itself..."Optimism is the characteristic that rubbed off on me and as a result, I am simply incapable of giving up. Almost like someone in need of counseling, I will do the same thing over and over again for some reason, expecting a different result. Always seeking a new way, another method or even approaching a problem in what is thought to be a completely wrong way -- and just when I am willing to sacrifice everything, there is usually a breakthrough. The solution will suddenly become apparent. This characteristic has helped me innumerable times in my various endeavors and occupations. Things that simply were thought to be impossible, suddenly become possible... The beautiful thing about this type of optimism is that there are many people who also have it. I often seek them out and with the proliferation of the internet, I am usually able to find someone out there who has encountered a similar problem and when confronted by the proverbial "brick wall," they have somehow managed to apply non-linear logic to the problem and low and behold an answer reveals itself.
$2,000,000,000?Adjusting for inflation, I am currently working on my "second billion..." [pause]
Gigliotti, Lorenzo. "On the Way to a $2,000,000,000 Fortune ." The Random Times Volume 1.
The quixotic mind of Lorenzo Gigliotti
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