Arthur George Gaston (July 4, 1892 – January 19, 1996) was prominent businessman who established a number of businesses in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.
After serving in World War I, Gaston went to work as a miner in a town just outside of Birmingham. It was there he began his entrepreneurial pursuits, selling lunches to his fellow miners (he was mining the miners!). He must have done quite well because soon he began loaning money to those same miners, charging them credit card type rates of 25 percent and though that sounds like a lot, remember that it was during the Great Depression. Still working at the mine, he began offering burial insurance to co-workers and to the community, creating a small banking and insurance empire of sorts.
He opened an official Savings and Loan in the early 1950s, the first black owned financial institution in Birmingham in more than forty years. Gaston went on to build a huge financial and business empire, including a business college, a construction company, a motel, a real estate business, his original burial insurance company, two cemeteries, and two radio stations. When he passed away in 1996, his net worth was estimated at $130 million (about $190 million in 2014 dollars).
What were his rules for success?
I’ve carried around a clipping in my wallet for over 20 years with his “rules.” Given the mountains he overcame, from poverty to the racial discrimination of the 1950’s and 60’s, I think he has some valuable things to offer in the success category.
- Save part of all you earn. Money doesn’t spoil, it keeps.
- Establish a good [credit] reputation at a solid bank and establish a savings account there.
- Take educated chances with your money.
- Steer clear of gambling unless you have plenty of money to lose.
- Never borrow anything that, if forced, you can’t pay back.
- Don’t get big-headed with little fellows. That’s where the money is.
- Don’t have so much pride. Wear the same suit for a year of two.
- Find a need and fill it. Successful businesses are founded on the needs of people.
- Stay in your own class. Never run around with people you can’t compete with.
- Once you get money, or a reputation for having money, people will willingly give you money.
- Once you reach a certain level, it’s actually hard NOT to make money.