Work Ethic: The Individual

Updated: May 6, 2013


By Mr. Twisted

“Are you bored with life? Then throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find happiness that you had thought could never be yours.”

– Dale Carnegie

What does it take to succeed at the individual level? In profiling some interesting success stories, I believe we can find some common themes that present themselves repeatedly, allowing us to learn from others who have gone before us and use their examples in application to our own lives.

Texas in the depression was not an easy place to be born and grow up as a child. Henry Ray did so and even as a child began working hard to be successful during a time when earning money meant more than simply having enough cash to buy some baseball cards or a soda—it meant eating. Working sometimes meant your family could have meat instead of just bread.

Henry’s dad was a cotton wholesaler who would often take young Henry to cattle auctions, where he became, in his own words, “a day trader” of saddles, other equipment, and even animals. “You’d buy it in the morning and sell it in the afternoon and make a few dollars’ profit if you were lucky,” he recalled. He supplemented the meager income of selling horse and cattle equipment by delivering newspapers.

In 1949, Henry enrolled in the United States Naval Academy where he excelled due to his tenacious work ethic, which led him to his position of class president both his junior and senior years there. After serving honorably and attaining the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, Henry left the Navy to pursue a career in the business world—becoming a salesman for International Business Machines. There he excelled as a top employee but had his ideas rejected over and over by his supervisors.

Perot1Within five years of his employment with IBM, Henry decided to take all of the money he and his wife had—$1,000—and form his own corporation. Despite being rejected seventy seven times before receiving his first contract, Henry Ross Perot turned Electronic Data Systems (EDS) into a multimillion dollar corporation within 6 years and was himself worth hundreds of millions of dollars in under a decade. By 1984, Perot had become a billionaire by selling his company to General Motors.

How did he do it? What made Henry Ross Perot the “fastest, richest Texan” according to a Fortune magazine cover story?

As the title of this series would imply, his work ethic had no small part in what made Perot successful. “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success,” he once stated. “They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.” Perot’s whole life has been about pushing forward, regardless of current situation. His work ethic was not about a particular moment or even a few specific events—it was about a constant drive that did not end just because a goal was or was not achieved.

“Something in human nature causes us to start slacking off at our moment of greatest accomplishment. As you become successful, you will need a great deal of self-discipline not to lose your sense of balance, humility, and commitment.” Perot’s philosophy went well beyond simply succeeding and into the realm of pushing success into uncharted territory. This is difficult to do, as it is like he stated “human nature” to relax and become complacent when we should drive on to the next objective.

Lest one think that Perot’s success was all about work and making money, what must be understood about the man and his ability to do well is that he had an incredible devotion to those he led and was responsible for. The dedication this man had to his employees has become, quite literally, the stuff of legend.

In 1978, shortly before the Iranian Hostage Crisis that played out on the national news for well over a year, employees of Perot’s company (EDS) were taken hostage in Iran. While Washington bureaucrats moved with all the rapidity of a vapor-locked Yugo, Ross took matters into his own hands and hired a team of former Special Forces operators—lead by Retired Colonel Arthur D. “Bull” Simons, most famously known for his leading the Son Tay raid in Vietnam—to get his people back. All personnel involved returned safely to the United States and was later written about in a book entitled On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett and made into a movie, as well.

One does not become successful in a bubble. People who achieve greatness are often found surrounded by other hard working individuals who can help them do so and are fiercely devoted to them because of their drive and dedication both to the job and to the individuals in their care. Perot had a large group of people working hard for him because they all knew he had their backs and that he was not going to go home early when his people were still slaving away; he wouldn’t have them doing anything he wouldn’t do himself or didn’t do already.

Interestingly enough, at the time Ross Perot became most famous—when he ran for President of the United States in 1992—it was said that he still drove to work every day in the same 1984 sedan that General Motors gave him when he was on their board of directors. At a time when he was worth approximately $4 billion, he still showed up early for work every day and was regularly there late into the night; ensuring the productivity of his organization by setting the example for others to follow and leading from the front.

Audie Murphy Oil PaintingAnother Texan, born several years earlier than Perot and in greater poverty, was denied entry into three branches of the military for being too small in stature to serve. Due to an unwillingness to quit and a desire to serve his country, within just a few short years of being turned away, Audie Murphy had become one of the most highly decorated soldiers in history. When asked about his motives, he simply stated, “I want to succeed in the thing I started out to do. I hate failure. I hate quitters.”

Devotion. Dedication. Desire. A strong aversion to quitting. These words and themes come up again and again in stories of success. Ask yourself what levels they occupy in your own life and adjust accordingly.





  1. Sahal

    May 6, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Unfortunately it seems as though the majority of today’s Americans don’t have that work ethic.

  2. Lextalionis

    May 7, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Great article! The thing to focus on is not whether “the majority of Americans” have this work ethic. Point is to ask yourself if you do. Who cares about what others do? What are you made of? That is what truly matters.

  3. Charles

    May 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    It’s an easy task to “lead” if everyone is fit, healthy and happy. Now mix in the rest of the population you are working with and does your work inspire the rest? If not, you are not the leader.

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