When searching Google for Peter Barton, it's hard to find him. He’s only considered the 4th most important Peter Barton (behind the actor, historian and rugby player). He died in 2002 when the internet was much less a part of our daily lives. If he had died today, I’m convinced he’d be at the top of the list.
So, before you click away, I should probably mention that Peter Barton founded a company in the 1990’s worth a few billion yet and only had 16 employees. After all, if you’re reading this, you are probably an entrepreneur. That mind blowing statistic should reel you in to read the rest.
Peter Barton lost his dad at an early age and always thought he would have a short-life. It turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy. At age 48, he was diagnosed with cancer and died a few years later. In the last leg of his life, he wrote a book reflecting on cancer, entrepreneurship, family and more.
Peter was an alpha-male thrill-seeker who was always seeking the next adventure. He started his 20’s living out of a van, then a hippie ski bum, to working on political campaigns and serving on the administration of a New York Governor, Hugh Carey.
Around age 30, he went to Harvard Business School for his MBA where we was the old guy surrounded by 24 year olds. They were analytically sharp and did very well in school, yet they were lacking something::
“I also began to realize something else about my fellow MBA candidates. It’s a sweeping generalization, but I stand by it. In the main, they weren’t excited about the content of their eventual careers-the actual work they’d do-but only the rewards.
They didn’t want to create. They didn’t want to take chances. They wanted to find a safe track that offered money and prestige; they would gladly settle for a bland, predictable ‘success’.
Bottom line: They were extremely bright people who would never really do anything, would never add much to society, would leave no legacy behind. I found this terribly sad, in the way that wasted potential is always sad.”
Upon receiving his MBA, he worked for free (at least for the first month) for an entrepreneur in Colorado and helped him build a large company, consolidating a fragmented cable television industry in the mid to late 80’s. He then co-founded Liberty media, which connected the wires (cable infrastructure companies) with the creative side (channels like Discovery, MTV, etc).
Here are my other favorite quotes from Peter:
The two most important life lessons: “Recognizing the difference between a dumb risk and a smart one, and Understanding when you need to change direction, and having the guts to do it.”
On choosing an industry to work in after graduating Harvard Business School: “I would only work in an up-and coming industry. (This, by the way, is something that still amazes me about so many of my classmates. These people could analyze anything, yet most of them followed the herd into mature industries whose greatest days were behind them. Why didn’t they take half an hour to analyze where the real action, the real growth, would be?”
How a house should sound when hosting a terminally ill person: “I love it, too, that my house is full of noise. Some visitors have been surprised at this, even rattled. They’ve felt that a house with a sick person in it should be a quiet place, a hospital zone. My own feeling is that there’ll be a plenty of time for silence, thank you very much. In the meantime I take a tremendous joy in clamor.”
On negotiations: “Seem reckless, but be prepared. Act crazy, but do your homework.” and (paraphrased): To be a good negotiator, you need to be feisty, but also work with a creativity that fosters win-win situations.
On ethics and poverty. For some context this was after, during a the NY Governor campaign, he turned down a cash bribe (after being tempted) from an undercover FBI agent posed as a wealthy Saudi:
“It’s funny, in a way-our society warns us about the temptations of wealth and power, about the slender chances of a rich man getting into Heaven. But poverty has its pitfalls, too. Too little dough can erode a person’s ethcis and values just as easily as too much.”
NOTE: after this incident, he immediately resigned from politics and pursued a level of wealth that would prevent him from worrying about money.
On why it’s important to take kids on field trips showing how things work behind-the-scenes: “Kids-both boys and girls-need nuts and bolts. Screwdrivers and lathes. To feel at ease in the world, they have to learn what the world is actually made of, and how it got that way.”
The book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Not-Fade-Away-Short-Lived/dp/006073731X