09.30.2010 0

Heralds of Freedom: The Lives and Legacies of Harold Schafer and Harold Hamm

  • On: 10/28/2010 23:46:01
  • In: Uncategorized
  • By Gary Emineth

    Listening to the voices of doom and gloom broadcast in pre-election rhetoric and endless speculation takes its toll. Every once in awhile it seems a paradigm shift is in order. Around the conference table at the Harold Schafer Leadership Center earlier this month, the groundwork for such a shift was laid.

    As the participants listened attentively to Harold Hamm’s account of his experiences in oil exploration in North Dakota, sitting in a room filled with reminders of Harold Schafer’s achiev ements as an entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist, the expansive and breathtaking view of the Missouri River had its effect. A room with a view seems to open the mind, letting the imagination enter and creating space for ideas to form.

    As I watched, more as an observer than a participant, I realized that what these two “Harolds” had in common only started with their names. Something was stirring inside me — nudging me with the sense that all is not lost. I felt the permission and desire to dream again. In a word: I felt hope.

    These two men, one dubbed “The Last American Wildcatter” and the other “The Western Aristocrat” could be described as explorers, entrepreneurs, innovators, adventurers, businessmen and philanthropists. These are words which capture the essence of what it means to be American — to believe in a system of government which allows the people to live out their highest hopes and fondest dreams.

    The lives of these two men are evidence of the importance of this fragile and precarious system which celebrates individual rights, gives incentive for risk and creativity, and rewards hard work and personal responsibility. The system is capitalism and deserves its day in the sun before the doomsdayers and naysayers lay it to rest with other endangered ideas in this country.

    Often a story speaks truth better than the facts, so I will attempt to open a window in order for you to catch a glimpse of their lives and to get a taste of what I experienced that day.

    Both Harolds grew up in working class families and experienced the reality of life in less than ideal circumstances. Both began working “out” to help with expenses and while each finished high school, neither finished college. Each was a dreamer with an eye for opportunity and enough confidence and guts to step out and “give it a try.” For Hamm, it was the study of geology as he drove a gas truck in the oil fields and for Schafer it was sales. Hard work and long hours was a given, and as fate and luck would have it, both were in a position to take advantage of opportunity when she knocked.

    For Harold Hamm, his initiation into the oil business came with a lucky strike in an abandoned oil field and his words are a powerful testimony to the critical nature of incentive to ultimate success: “It grabbed my imagination that anybody could find this hidden ancient wealth-and it was yours.

    Hamm continued, “The incentive of reward for hard work-profit and ultimately ownership is the heart of an economic system which leads to productivity and a sustainable income. This is how wealth is created and how the economy grows and thrives.”

    He believes in perseverance and has demonstrated a remarkable resiliency in the face of a volatile world-wide oil market. His optimism is contagious because it rests not on some “pie in the sky” mentality but on solid geological evidence coupled with a trust in his own educated intuition. He studies market trends and works from verifiable data which fuels his will to go on when others have “lost the will to look for it.” At 63 he is the largest independent oil producer in the country, truly the “Last American Wildcatter.”

    Harold Schafer was a born salesman. Whether it was clothing, paint or cleaning supplies, he could convince the customer of its merit. While his success was not “overnight”, his work ethic and perseverance brought him to the place where steady gains were accomplished. All the while he worked, his brilliant and creative mind never rested.

    His Gold Seal Company, founded in 1942, was essentially the fruit of his personal philosophy: “Perform something worthy to be remembered.” Always willing to put in the extra time, in the beginning he filled bottles and cans of glass wax in the basement, typing out the labels by hand and getting the product out.

    The eventual success of his company is well documented and recognized as a model for business education, but he is best remembered at home for his generosity and personal commitment to his employees and the larger community. For Harold Schafer, moral principles were the foundation upon which to build a business. He is the spokesman for capitalism at its best — an opportunity to succeed in order to serve others.

    I came away that afternoon with a deep sense of gratitude as a benefactor of both “Harolds.” I had experienced Harold Schafer’s legacy in the facility and philosophy which provides a vehicle to give students and business leaders access to the living legacies like Harold Hamm. I heard the sound of freedom loud and clear and left with the desire to pass it on.

    Gary Emineth is the former Chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party. He blogs at http://garyemineth.com.

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