This week, we welcome guest Jack Nadel. Jack Nadel is a 91 year old entrepreneur with 70 years of business success. In our interview, we talk about how Jack started his first business on the heels of World War II with no college education, and took advantage of market opportunities to create a multi-million global empire through his namesake company Jack Nadel International. In “retirement,” Jack still writes book, articles, and recently released an educational video series.
Eric Rosenberg: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. Welcome back to the Personal Profitability Podcast for episode number 16. Today I am so excited to bring a guest that’s a very special person in my life and my wife’s life. My wife knows him as “papi”. I know him as Jack Nadel, superhero entrepreneur and something kind of fun tidbit about Jack because he has — I believe more entrepreneurial and business experience than every guest we’ve had on the show so far combined. He’s been doing this for quite a few decades, so everyone please give a warm welcome to Jack Nadel, who’s here in the line with us. Say hello!
Jack Nadel: Hello, good morning!
A Veteran and an Entrepreneur
Eric: So we have a few questions. I know your entrepreneurial career started quite a long while ago. So let’s start back at the beginning, can you share with everyone how you started out as an entrepreneur?
Jack: Well, there never really was a question. We have to go back to World War II. I’ve flew 27 combat missions in a B-29, and the war had ended, and we had decided, I decided the day I left the service, I was a navigator and right above the rank of captain, and I went right into business for myself. I don’t even think the word entrepreneur was coined then. I went into business. I felt that the horizon was bright. We just come off this terrible war, but much of the world had been destroyed by bombing and shelling. I had my own hand in it since I flew all those missions and they were pretty heavy duty right about 16, 17 hours – 15 to get there and 15 to get back. And the rest of the times spent always have been fighting off the fighters and trying to avoid the anti-aircraft fire. We had a lot of casualties, but I emerged all at one piece and without a scratch and ready to go back my way in the world.
Eric: What year was it when you started your first business when you returned?
Jack: The year was 1946, that’s 63 years ago or so
Eric: Just a couple, like a couple of weeks.
Jack: So I figure, I’ve been a working entrepreneur for 70 years. I’ve started, founded, operated more than a dozen companies in different parts of the world. And I made a very handsome living from it and started without any education whatsoever. I had a high school diploma and there was some very, very attractive offers from the US Government on the GI Bill of Rights where they’ll help you find a job or a school and paid your tuition. So you couldn’t do much better than that. We had a choice of anything and I said I don’t want to waste, I used the word waste loosely that time because I don’t need a four year education to make a deal. So the day after, we started a company that we called Trans Pacific Traders. We were in the import export business and we’re ready to do business with anybody that wanted merchandise anywhere in the world.
Eric: What types of products were you involved with importing and exporting? Was it a specific industry or was it a more wide in general?
Jack: Well, it was pretty wide. Not having a clue, we went to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce where they had a very active Foreign Trade Department and in it where a lot of inquiries from all over the world – everything from consumer merchandise to the basic chemicals. We had a lot of inquiries for industrial chemicals and particularly things like caustic soda and soda ash, but the first one were responded was as an inquiry from China for navy blue wool material. Now, during the war they didn’t make any navy blue material, making army uniforms and kayak, khaki and all of trim. So I have figured it out, it was a stroke of genius, why don’t I buy the army goods which is plentiful in a good price, dye it navy and sold it to the Chinese. That was the business plan, that’s what I did, and that’s what worked.
Eric: So from there your largest business that I know was your namesake, Jack Nadel International. Did that business exporting the navy blue material that China have any link to that, or was that a separate venture and idea?
Jack: It was a separate venture and idea, but of course it was irrelative because it gave me a great deal of experience. If you got no money, we were ‒ I got actually involved at that time in hundreds and thousands of dollars. Now where do you go to finance it? And I went to the Union Bank in Los Angeles and went to the Foreign Trade Department, and I got very friendly with the head of the department to this day that was 70 years ago. I remember his name was Leon Helfenberger and he took me under his wing and he showed me how to do it.
And the way we did it is we, I got what was called an Irrevocable Letter of Credit from the Chinese guaranteeing payment, and the payment would be made by the bank not by the Chinese importer. So it was guaranteed as long as the proper documents were provided, that we ship the right merchandise at the right time at their instructions. So with the letter of credit that was how we collected from them and I won’t post any boring details but you can get things like back to back letters of credit and one letter credit acting as a guarantee for the next one. Somehow it was a game of musical chairs but it came out at the end of the day. We sold hundreds of thousands of yards of woolen material to the Chinese which incidentally I found out long afterwards was the material that they used to manufacture their uniforms.
Eric: It all came full circle. Some more questions about Jack Nadel International. So for those who are not familiar, this company creates all sorts of name-branded, a lot of things like giveaways you might see at a conference or trade show, all those little squishy balls and pens with company logos on it. So how did you come up with the idea and see the need for that type of marketing materials?
Jack: Well you said one of the operative words – the need. One of my mottos is to find the need and fill it. You know I’d paid enough storing up to create the need. You’re not going to build a new industry. I think at this point that it should separate, people often ask me, ‘Are entrepreneurs made or can they be trained?’ And the answer is yes. It goes both ways, but the ones that don’t need the training or what I call the geniuses, the Steven Jobs and the Bill Gates, who’ve changed an entire industry and entire world.
There was an industry that was called specialty advertising and the largest company in it had a slogan was remembrance advertising. In other words you give a gift to your clients, or your customer or your prospect and hopefully he’s going to remember your name and your phone number when it comes to calling you to place an order. Costs a lot more than they cost in between, but I look at that after being at it for a couple of years.
I realized that I wasn’t selling merchandise, I wasn’t selling t-shirts, or coffee mugs or anything like that but the customers imprint on it. I was really selling ideas. It was the promotion. It was a thought behind it. It was how it went.
So I coined the slogan called ‘Ideas that mean business’ and that seems to resonate it very well. What I did was, I didn’t walk in with a bunch of samples or anything. I wanted to find out more about the business and what the problems are, and what we could do to make them meet at this, to solve the problems, to increase the business and to do all the good things that you want to do when you’re building a brand new business. The transition went from more industrial chemicals on to consumer merchandise, so there were a lot of highlights through all my career.
Jack: I’ve had a lot of historical stuff you can say, what started the t-shirt craze, well, someone decided that there was a picture by Steven Spielberg called Jaws and they were the first figures, believe it or not, of the t-shirts that we use to provide for the customers and to show the advertising on the shirt. We’ve gone from that to very sophisticated operations. So it was a question and I sum it up really quickly by saying, forget the words entrepreneur, business, etc. I was an opportunist, but for 70 years I’ve been an opportunist and I’ve made a profit every year.
Eric: That’s a great track record to have overall those years. When you first started Jack Nadel Internationals, a clear link as you were saying to your prior businesses, but did you go out and find that first customer or did they find you? Or did you just had ‘a-ha’ moment one day sitting around thinking, ‘this is the next business for me’?
Jack: There’s no “a-ha” moments. We went out and found the customers and we called on them physically. And don’t forget this is long before the computer or email. In fact, to get my first samples to China took over three weeks, so the business didn’t move with the rapidity that it does today
But we were able to overcame those obstacles and we found that the ideas that we had worked and resulted if you want to increase your business, get more traffic, get more brand recognition, which is very important, that this an ideal medium, that we were not just competing with other pens, wallets or anything. We were competing for the entire advertising dollar.
Mastering the Art of Negotiations
Eric: As the company grew overtime, I know you made lots of savvy decisions along the way. One story that you’ve shared with me in the past was about when you were getting near selling your company and you had multiple assets there. You have both the building and the company itself – Jack Nadel Internationals headquarter is in Los Angeles where Jack was living at the time. How did you decide, would you mind sharing that story with us on how you were…held on to the building for a little a while after you sold the company or as you were selling the company.
Jack: Been delighted because for me, it confirmed say, as a kid I was pretty smart. It worked very well. We kept getting a good reputation in the field and we had a number of major clients and the way we got them was the hard way. We worked in and out of offices, introduced ourselves, tell them what we do and made some suggestions. And all of that I’m in that space and having ideas that worked.
About that time I came up with my three rules of business; basic education, say, reading and writing and arithmetic as the basis for everything. My three yards for business is relationships, results and rewards. That the first thing one must do is to establish a relationship so that the potential client says, ‘I’m willing to listen to this because this is beginning to make sense.’ We made a transition and we have done many good things.
When I say I’m an opportunist, one thing led to the other was natural progression. For example, the most popular product in those days was the ball point pen. The ball point pen was very new. I didn’t know was at the beginning, if you knew the history of the ball point pen, you could not use your pen to sign checks because it was very simply ‒ you could roll your thumb over the way you’ve signed the check and transfer to another piece of paper or to another document. So banks were not accepting checks that were written or signed with the ball point pens. However the first ones who overcome that problem was Paper Mate and that’s what it became the huge item that it was. So we got into first as a distributor, then as a manufacturer, then as an exporter, and then we even started to license names which is an entire other business, but once more opportunity knocked. When opportunity knocks, open the window or the door or wherever it is.
Eric: How far along into the business were you when you decided it was time to sell Jack Nadel International and start working on other projects? And how did you know for you that it was the right time?
Jack: I didn’t know as many things have happened. I had no intention of selling the company, I didn’t think of it. Actually I decided to build a family company where folks could grow into it and we started with a tiny office in Los Angeles. My wife and I, and it was so tiny that if a third person walked into the office one of us had to walk out. Today, we’re very fortunate. I’m now ninety-one years old. I’ve long since retired from day to day business which I did at 70. The business got to be so well known, we’ve got to be known for our creativity that some [inaudible][00:20:40] employers would like to buy the company. There started the whole other process of negotiations.
I’ve always had the idea that I was in business to make money; that was the end of the line. That was what you were doing. At that time when they were very popular, people were selling their companies and taking a capital gain and making a great deal of money in the process. I said, ‘Yes, I wasn’t looking for buyer, I wasn’t trying to sell the company. But if you have an interest, I’d be delighted to explore it with you’; which is what we did. Now also, prior to that, I realized that we needed good headquarters with a good office space, a warehouse space because we did a lot of things. I’ve decided to be my own landlord and put a building that housed Jack Nadel International. It served quite well.
There lies the story that goes with like one of my other sayings which is, ‘Never negotiate out of fear and never fear to negotiate’. Yes, they wanted to buy the company. I’ll see whether it’s worthwhile. Over a period of months, we did negotiate a deal. We did make a deal for a company that was on the New York Stock Exchange. To have what will stand though, still is, I guess, as a tax-free exchange of stock. In other words, we assessed the value to the stock for Jack Nadel International and they had a listed stock. We exchanged a like amount. Seeing like an unbelievable amount of money at that time so the temptation was great.
While we’re negotiating, they also wanted to buy the building. Well I have established a separate real estate company because that’s the simplest way to handle it. And I had it separated from our regular business. They wanted to buy the corners as well. I said no, I’ve tried to keep that. Well finally they said they want us. Okay, you can buy it but it’s not for stock. It would have to be for cash. We’ve got an appraiser and got the value of the building as they would pay me cash for that. That’s the deal that was made. Now why negotiate, never negotiate out of fear? Never be afraid to walk away from negotiations. Six months later when I came to sign the deal, they had it written out that definitely this company was for stock, but the building they wanted to also pay stock for. I said, ‘No, that has to be cash.’ The interesting in the real estate especially if you have a good location, it just keeps increasing in value.
At the end of the day, I would not sell them the physical facility for stock if they’re unwilling to pay cash. So we made a deal that I kept the property and charge them rent just as I would anybody else. Paid fifty, some sixty years later. As a matter of fact, I held that property until last year.
Eric: Just recently.
Jack: That’s last year, just a year ago. Maybe two years ago. The valuation of the property was many, many, many times what the, I originally paid for it and what they we’re willing to pay for it. I collected rent for 60 years and then hold up with the cash anyway.
Eric: That’s definitely a long term entrepreneurial adventure there. 60 years of holding a building making rent. That’s a great cash flow. Obviously it shows you had a savvy with real estate at that time as well. After you sold Jack Nadel International and knew once people have the entrepreneurial bug, it is something very hard to shake out. You have it forever. I’ve joked that my wife is doomed to be married to an entrepreneur forever. What next project did you work on?
Jack: I’m delighted to welcome you to the fraternity.
Eric: Thank you.
On Loving What You Do
Jack: Now, let’s see, being an entrepreneur, I loved it. I love every moment of it. I’d say I didn’t work a day of my life. I was having a ball even in the midst of these crazy negotiations for the building. I was enjoying it. I realized I enjoyed it. I like to negotiate. I like to sell, I like to buy. I like to trade. I like everything I was doing.
Eric: Can you share more about what you did next after you sold the business? I know you’ve done quite a bit in the last 20 years.
Jack: We expanded geographically. An old slogan of mine is to think global but sought local. By thinking global and incidentally this entire story is in my book, The Evolution of an Entrepreneur, the first half of the book is more of business biography but it goes into more details and gives the reader a very big clue as to how to make these deals successfully. Because I won’t say I never had a failure, there are some things that didn’t work. But I never had a year where I wound up losing money.
Eric: That’s something most companies can’t claim that long track record of a positive history like that. That’s very admirable feat you’re able to pull off.
Making Good Deals
Jack: I think I’d surely find there are so many things. You see what was existent before, no longer exists. The country it’s different. Its safety nets are gone. You can’t count on union or the company to give you a cradle to grave security. So you must take care of yourself.
I think this should be one of the first adages that you should observe, make sure that you’re making good deals for yourself but at the same time, try to make your deals so that everybody benefits. I think that’s the secret, if there is any secret, to whatever success I’ve enjoyed is every deal I’ve made, I don’t know how many I never bothered to count, they have really benefited everybody. When the deal went sour, either I got offered or changed it.
In other words, the certain things that you learn on business school that have become obsolete over the years, I knew that and understand that you’re in a changing economy. Everything changes and it changes constantly.
Let me answer your first question. What did I go into? I went into many different products because we offer an array of thousands of products that were available. I actually took a proprietary interest. I love the ball point pen business. I was having a certain amount of success as a distributor. I became a manufacturer for a factory in New York. That became very important factor in the export business because that’s where so much of my strength in training had come from. We sold pens all over Europe. We’ve started out with a bunch of name brand pens like Sheaffer, Paper Mate.
After a while, after a great deal of success, I suddenly realized, I needed my own brand. That was I felt was the need. Since at that point we were manufacturing these pens in French, I wanted to find a well-known French designer that I could put the name to and get a superior product. I did eventually make a deal with Pierre Cardin. For years we were licensee of Pierre.
Author and Mentor
Eric: I know in the last couple of years, you’ve written several books. How did you come up with the idea to jump into writing?
Jack: Well, I have always felt that business is something that should be shared. Now, we all benefit. If I give you a dollar and you give me a dollar, we share one dollar. If I give you an idea and you give me an idea, we’ve shared two ideas. So passing it along to me became more and more important, particularly as we became more successful. We kept opening up new offices until today. There are 25 offices around the world. We’ve started with one account executive and now we have a hundred and twenty account executives. And I had decided on my own personal plan that I wanted to retire at 70 which seems like a long time ago. But to you it must seem a long ways away.
The idea was I never really wanted to just stop doing everything. I want to do things that I enjoyed during on my own schedule. So at 70, I turned the reigns over to my brother Marty, or long before that, because we had other operations. Now the company is sixty-two years old. It has had three Chief Executive Officers – myself, my kid brother and my nephew.
Now, it’s been said, it’s been a family oriented business. Everybody that works there, even today, feels to me like part of my extended family. We took advantage of the fact of the tremendous increase in ability to communicate and to send merchandise across vast distances. And having offices in different areas of the world, has helped us in coordinating really wonderful concepts for major clients such as Apple, and Facebook, and of course, a lot of the older companies as well.
It’s been a bug of mine that I wanted to teach. I wanted that I’ve a great time, that I have made more money than I’m going to spend. I’m going to pass on as much knowledge as I can because there’s an overall idea here that is the healthiest thing for the United States of America to have a strong economy. In my opinion, one of the healthiest parts of that economy should be the participation of entrepreneurs. Because we, the entrepreneurs, are really responsible for most of the new and usable merchandise that appears all over the world now.
I wanted to educate people. So I started to write books and I’ve written seven books since then, six business books and one novel. I’ve also given webinars. I’ve also done learning processes for veterans which I feel very strongly about. As I am a veteran and I did come through at World War II. We’re getting fewer and fewer. What I know, I know. And what I can pass on, I can pass on this manner, much better than I can if I just try and do it person to person.
Eric: So everyone if you are interested in reading any of Jack’s books, there’ll be in the show notes linked on this page, go to personalprofitability.com/episode16. You’ll have a link to Jack’s most recent book, Evolution of an Entrepreneur and his Amazon profile, where you can pick up any of his books there. I’ve read several of them they’re really a tremendous value, tons of knowledge in there. That’s based on ninety years of life experiences and seventy years of business experience. There’s a lot of great information in there. I’d love for you to pick it up and learn what Jack has to say to all of us.
Before we go, I have a couple of other questions. One, I know you’ve gone beyond the printed word and you are probably the most text savvy person over ninety in North America. Can you share a little bit about what you’re doing online now and taking advantage of the internet to spread the word?
Jack: Thank you, Eric. First of all, I did construct a very valuable website. It not only tells me it tells about business conditions. It tells about opportunities. It shows what has been done. Our website is JackNadel.com. And in it, I’ve got a very complete stories and interviews like this one. And as a matter of fact, the most recent one was last week with Forbes Magazine.
My ideas have caught on, they’ve been profitable. I had my own group of young people who I’ve had been mentoring and successfully. As a result of what I’ve been doing, there was an organization that has picked up on it called Thrive 15. And I love their idea because it’s also mine, that today’s education has to be snappier, more attractive, more fun and faster. In other words, more at our convenience. People are getting used to being educated online and on demand. I may not have time at 3 o’clock this afternoon but I know I’ll have time at three o’clock this morning if I happen to be up and I wanted to look at any of the material. There are ideas, series of mentors. They have a website that I think is very attractive. This Thrive 15, all the information, incidentally, is put on a 15-minute videos. It’s the easiest form of communication. I think the most penetrating intellectually that we have. We’re using that.
There’s a lot of activity. I also have been teaching on and off in school although that’s dropped off somewhat last year. I was fortunate enough to receive the very first Lifetime Entrepreneurial Award from the Santa Barbara City College which is rated the number one community college in the nation. I’ve been quite busy. I’ve rejected all offers to have personal clients because I just haven’t got the time, and the thing, at ninety-one, I can do anything I could do before but I’ve got to do it slower. It takes longer and I needed nap in between.
Eric: I think that might be the trick to long life I’m noticing, stay busy, stay active, keep doing what you love and if you’re making a few bucks while doing it, it’s a win for everybody.
Jack: Yes. It is. I’ve never exclude making a few bucks by thriving. As you grow, you have different driving points, things that push you, things that make you do what you do, that you have to do. It isn’t like I have a choice. I really thoroughly enjoy. I could look back and I have so many friends around the world.
So much experience and I’ve enjoyed so many good times. I’ve got to tell you, there’s one story before I close it out. It’s a quickie. I used to work very hard. I had no idea what I was or about because I just enjoyed doing it. That was it. A very good friend said to me, ‘why you’re working so hard? I can’t make a date with you on a weekend anymore? You’re always busy’. I said, ‘Well I’m doing it because at this age, I can do it. I don’t know what I can do when I got older. I know I won’t have the earning power I have now.’ Although I’m not doing badly.
What I found is as more and more friends have had problems economically and they have to choose between medicine and food and make these terrible, terrible choices. That should not happen in the United States. I just feel that the more we know the better off we are, the better equipped we are. The more I can share not from theory, I have no theories, but from practical knowledge and from practical experience and from actual results. I just hope some of it passes on. You know, Eric, since you’re my grandson, the wires are always open to you.
Eric: Thank you so much. Everyone if you want to learn more about Jack and his projects, you can go to JackNadel.com or personalprofitability.com/episode16. You’ll find links to his books and everything else we’d talked about today.
I want to share one more tidbit before we go. Jack Nadel has been successful in business but he’s also been very successful in his love life. He has been lucky enough to find two loves of his life not just one; his first wife being my wife’s grandmother, Eleanor, and his current wife, Julie Nadel. They’ve just recently passed ten years together. Julie’s been a successful entrepreneur in her own right. She’s ran catering businesses and event planning businesses and planned an absolutely amazing 90th birthday party for Jack just over a year ago, which coincidentally is also the day that I proposed to my wife, so an extra special little memory in my heart.
Thank you everyone for listening to the end. If you haven’t already, please take a quick moment, give us a rating on iTunes, Stitcher or your podcast listening platform of your choice. And until next time, stay profitable.