“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own…I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
President Barack Obama, July 13, 2012
This statement, now called the “You didn’t build that” comment, has sparked controversy across the U.S. this election year by feeding into an existing perception that Barack Obama values government over business. His supporters cry foul, charging it was taken out of context, but millions of small American business owners reject that explanation.
American small business is defined as those companies with fewer than 500 people. Of that group, 80% employ less than 10. These “mom and pop” operations are the backbone of their local communities and are often gaming’s suppliers and customers.
In 80 years of legalized American gaming, countless individuals have taken their ideas to great heights. Pioneering gaming legends like Bill Harrah and Sam Boyd began as small entrepreneurs and casino operators in Nevada. Across the U.S., I think of family enterprises like Gasser Chair, AC Slots and Gary Platt Manufacturing, three of thousands, whose innovation, savvy and hard work brought success in the gaming industry.
If my own father Stan were still with us, I could hear his reaction to the Obama statement. Somewhere, he was probably screaming from that great arcade in the sky.
As a poor Depression boy, whose mother even wrote to then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to seek help in finding work, my dad developed soaring ambitions and the street smarts to succeed. In March, 1946, this 23-year-old World War II veteran opened our family’s Pennyland arcade in Philadelphia. He had 10 pinball machines and a dream.
As they say, my mother “hitched her horse to the right wagon” by marrying my dad. Coming from circumstances just as poor, she then worked at the company for decades, as did my grandparents. I spent nine years at the business under his management.
Between 1946 and my father selling the company in March 1991, our company grew to about 5,000 vending and amusement machines in almost 2,000 locations. This family operation supported thousands of employees’ families through the years. My own family did very well, but made enormous sacrifices as others chose different lifestyle paths.
For my dad, seeing his name on the door and recognizing what came from 12- to 14-hour days meant everything. He proudly recognized that he did indeed build something, rising from his poor childhood to realize the American Dream.
To the President’s point, yes, government paved the roads with taxpayers’ money and many people helped by working hard. But, in the end, they left work every day with no worries about getting paid. My dad took the risks and sacrificed the time, living the highs and lows that come with personal private sector ownership.
My husband Norman represents the “Baby Boomer”, or post-war generation’s version of that story. Working jobs whenever he had time, he escaped very humble Brooklyn, New York roots. Norman put himself through law school with his $50 used car. Decades later, he enjoys a fine reputation as an accomplished New Jersey attorney.
Norman dislikes the 1970s movie “Saturday Night Fever”, claiming it portrays everyone from Brooklyn as losers. Unlike Tony Manero, brilliantly played by John Travolta, who really was “going nowhere” as he strutted his stuff to the opening Bee Gees music, Norman aimed high and worked hard.
So, Mr. President, while no one lives in a vacuum, the world distinguishes the winners. The gaming industry has wonderful stories of leaders who began their careers as waiters and secretaries, salespeople and bookkeepers. They all showed the promise and perseverance to rise in their ranks.
To the next generation of ambitious young dreamers who spent their summers working multiple jobs instead of tanning poolside or on the beach like others, I say this…don’t ever make excuses. You will have worked hard, you will have earned it and you will be entitled to enjoy your success. The gaming industry will be lucky to capture your talents.