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How Former Supermodel Kathy Ireland Built a Multi-Billion-Dollar Company by Instilling Trust Into a Brand Name

It all started with selling rocks. When Kathy Ireland was 4 years old, she collected rocks, painted them, and, with her sister, took them door to door in a little wagon. The going price was 5 cents apiece.

That entrepreneurial drive “was in my DNA,” she told American Essence. With her parents’ encouragement, she ran with it, putting up lemonade stands, washing neighbors’ cars, and designing jewelry—whatever she could find to do.

At age 11, she got her first serious job: a newspaper delivery bike route, up and down the hills of her Southern California town, with 100 customers. Her dad told her to give it 110 percent—if customers expected the papers in their driveway, he said, put it on their porch. That lesson in under-promising and over-delivering stayed with her ever since.

To some, Ms. Ireland is best known for her modeling work in the 1980s and 1990s. She graced many magazine covers, including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour. Sports Illustrated featured her in its swimsuit issues 13 consecutive times, including its best-selling 1989 swimsuit issue.

Many ask how she pivoted from modeling to business, but to Ms. Ireland, it wasn’t a pivot. Modeling simply helped her save money for college and fund her entrepreneurial ventures. Even during her modeling years, she was trying her hand at various businesses—and failing a lot, too. But as any entrepreneur knows, failure is an education in itself. In that respect, “I’m very well educated,” she has said in other interviews, with a knowing smile.

Ms. Ireland believes her early jobs contributed to her fearlessness. “I always worked, and I’m grateful because as I grew, it gave me confidence that I could walk away if the circumstances were not good. … I knew I could do anything else for a living.” She’d experienced so much rejection in the modeling business that she became accustomed to it.

Ms. Ireland said actress Elizabeth Taylor taught her a lot about jewelry: “She really educated me so much, looking for the quality inside, outside, every angle.” (Courtesy of Jon Carrasco)

Growing Her Company

In the early ’90s, as Ms. Ireland neared her 30s, modeling work grew more scarce. She got to thinking of business ideas that could leverage the appeal of her household name.

Swimsuits were an obvious choice—too obvious for her liking.

But she liked the idea of socks.

The idea was sparked when a request to model socks came her way. Someone else might have turned her nose at the offer. But Ms. Ireland liked the quality of the socks, and she liked the people who got in touch with the request—John and Marilyn Moretz of North Carolina—even more. In the end, she partnered with them, working with her team to put in sweat equity and lend her design flair to the socks; Moretz Mills would manufacture and distribute them.

The choice of product might seem unglamorous, but for Ms. Ireland, it was strategic. The kathy ireland socks served as a litmus test for her brand.

“Whatever little smidgen of celebrity I might have had back in the days when I modeled, I knew it wasn’t enough for a brand and that women were too smart to buy something just because it had my name on it,” she said.

If she could earn the trust of women—specifically busy moms—by offering a product that combined quality and value, then she knew her brand had a chance of succeeding in the long run.

It turned out that socks were just the beginning. Ms. Ireland’s brand licensing company, kathy ireland Worldwide, launched in 1993. As co-founder and chair emeritus, Ms. Ireland took feedback extremely seriously, “taking marching orders from [women],” listening to their needs and coming up with solutions to make moms’ lives better.

She expanded her customer base and diversified the industries she worked in. After developing her line of socks, she went into home furnishings on the advice of Warren Buffett, who told her that home products enjoyed more stability than fashion. These were followed by office furniture, event planning, jewelry (Elizabeth Taylor mentored her), apparel, and real estate, among other industries.

Ms. Ireland’s name now lends its Midas touch to over 17,000 products and services. Those include partnerships with MainStreetChamber Holdings, Your Home Digital, BMG, and Philip Stein Watches; and with retailers spanning from HSN, Camping World, and Nebraska Furniture Mart, to Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macys.com, Macy’s Backstage, and many more.

Because kathy ireland Worldwide is a private company, owned solely by Ms. Ireland, business numbers aren’t shared publicly. Forbes estimated it generated $3.1 billion in retail sales in 2021. In 2022, Ms. Ireland was inducted into the Licensing Hall of Fame.

As she expanded into various fields, she met with plenty of skeptics and naysayers. “I never liked limits,” she said.

“People said fintech was also an area that we couldn’t move into though nobody had a good reason why, so today we work in the area of credit card processing.”

What makes ireland Pay different from other such services, though, is that 51 percent of the company’s revenue goes to nonprofit causes.

Making a commitment to nonprofit causes is a requirement for any company that kathy ireland Worldwide partners with.

“Something that we do insist upon is that you’re giving back, and we have a list of 10 initiatives that cover everything from supporting our military veterans and their families, fighting human trafficking, working to eradicate disease, hunger, and poverty, [as well as] environmental issues.” It doesn’t need to be a financial contribution, Ms. Ireland explained, but could be a commitment to spread awareness or volunteer staff time.

“We just want to know that if we’re going to invest the time and resources to work together, that we will honor our vision statement—to teach, inspire, empower, and make our world better.”

Ms. Ireland foresees significant growth in the next few years, focusing on products “that might not necessarily have the biggest profit margins but [are] more frequently purchased.

“As we’re learning about the needs and daily struggles that people have,” she’s asking: “How can we make a difference here?”

“Even though we’ve been in business for a very long time, I really feel we’re a baby business,” she said. “We’re just getting started.”

Ms. Ireland and businessman Warren Buffett at the annual newspaper-throwing contest at a Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. “He’s got a few years on me, but he’s really good,” Ms. Ireland said. Both had newspaper delivery jobs when they were young. (Courtesy of Jon Carrasco)

Guiding Principles

Faith is always first for Ms. Ireland. From it, she derives her stamina and perseverance. It also underlined for her the need to consider others more important than herself.

Her philanthropy is extensive, supporting the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation as International Youth Chair; the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation; the Fallen Outdoors, which organizes outdoor adventures for veterans; and Hardwired Global, which advocates freedom of conscience, religion, and belief; among many others.

Ms. Ireland learned a great deal about philanthropy from one of her mentors, actress Elizabeth Taylor. “Her life was big. Her heart was bigger,” Ms. Ireland said. Her philanthropy “had a laser focus.” From her, she learned that “when you work in the area of nonprofit, it’s much like a public company, because you’re responsible for other people’s money.”

When asked about the legacy she wants to leave, Ms. Ireland was incredibly humble. Her simplicity and wisdom shone through as she spoke.

“Well, there’s a song I really like. It says, ‘I don’t want to leave a legacy. I don’t care if they remember me. Only Jesus.’”

“So I hope my life can point others to the love of the Lord. Not everybody on my team shares the same faith. But my faith is most important to me. I don’t really need anybody to remember me, but if they do, that’s what I would like them to know.”

(Courtesy of Jon Carrasco)

4 Questions for Kathy Ireland

American Essence: You’re such a confident woman. Where do your confidence and your fearlessness come from?

Kathy Ireland: I was the most awkward, shy kid. I couldn’t make eye contact. I love getting older, I really do. I hope I stay healthy. The things that I used to be concerned about, I’m not concerned about [anymore]. I’m not concerned about other people’s opinions of me. I don’t feel like I have to impress anybody, and there’s a lot of freedom in that. It really comes from my faith. In my favorite book, it says over 500 times, “Don’t be afraid. Have courage.” I believe the Lord tells us that because he knows that we can struggle with it. That doesn’t mean that things aren’t hard. We have good days and bad days. Life can be really intense. But I don’t have fear. One of the scriptures that I love is, “If He is with us, who can be against us?”

AE: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in life? What are you proudest of?

Ms. Ireland: Our children. I can’t take credit for that, but it’s more [that] it’s such an honor to be their mom. They’re grown now. We have three kids, Erik, Lily, and Chloe. Erik is married to Bethany, [whom] we love. We claim her, too, but we have to share her with her parents. And we have two grandbabies.

AE: You’ll have been married for 36 years this year. What are your secrets to a long, happy marriage?

Ms. Ireland: [My husband] Greg is amazing. But, it is really looking at marriage not as a contract, but as a covenant with God. When we have the days when maybe I’m not being so lovable, or he’s not being so lovable, we remember it’s OK, it’s not just a promise we made to each other. We made a promise to God as well, that He’s at the center of it. … We need that so that we can see each other through God’s eyes, even when the person isn’t being lovable. He gives us supernatural strength to love the unlovable. And that’s really how we have managed to get through, because every marriage has its ups and downs and challenges and struggles. I think also as you get older, you learn how to change your expectations, not lower them—that takes away respect—but change and recognize that you’ve got two failed people coming together. So you know, how are we going to make this work? And you get in your solution mode.

I’m grateful because He’s solid. He’s not a quitter, and I’m not either. Another scripture that I love is, “Consider others as more important than yourself.” And that is true, whether it’s life or business.

AE: What do you love about America?

Ms. Ireland: Having had the privilege of traveling the world and experiencing wonderful places, I really appreciate the freedom that we have in this country and the Judeo-Christian values that it was founded upon, which promises freedom to everyone regardless of their faith—including those who have no faith at all. Those freedoms are for everyone, and I love that.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

From May Issue, Volume IV

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Features American Success

Why Building Trust Is the Most Important Element to Business Success

In the world of leadership and trust, few names resonate as strongly as Stephen M.R. Covey. He carries a legacy closely tied to his father’s groundbreaking work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which was one of the most influential self-improvement books of the 20th century.

Mr. Covey co-founded CoveyLink, a consultancy firm, and is a leader at the coaching company co-founded by his father, FranklinCovey, both of which emphasize a movement toward trust and increased transparency in business ethics. His philosophy centers on the belief that nothing moves as swiftly as the speed of trust, making trust between partners critical for navigating the global economy. He defines leadership as producing results while inspiring trust, a pragmatic approach that enhances an organization’s ability to execute existing strategies. Mr. Covey’s insights on trust, leadership, ethics, and high performance have made him a sought-after speaker and advisor.

In this interview with American Essence, Mr. Covey discusses his latest book, “Trust & Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others,” in which he challenges the traditional “Command & Control” model of leadership in favor of “Trust & Inspire,” whereby leaders can foster creativity and potential within people.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

American Essence: What prompted you to explore the theme of trust in leadership and organizations as a central focus of your life’s work?

Mr. Covey: I was profoundly influenced by my father, Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Certainly by his professional work, but before it was out in the world it was in our home—we kids were the first guinea pigs!

In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” book, my father tells the story of “Green & Clean,” which is about teaching me to take care of our lawn when I was 7 years old. He uses the story to illustrate stewardship and win-win agreements. But I was 7—I had no idea what those things even meant! I just knew that he trusted me, and I didn’t want to let him down.

Through the years, it has become clear to me that being trusted is the most inspiring form of human motivation. Going into business, and particularly as a CEO, I began to really understand that trust is not merely a soft, social virtue but rather a hard-edged, economic driver. Trust always affects the speed at which we can move, and the cost of everything.

Over time, I began to see the presence (or absence) of trust everywhere and in everything. It became clear that trust is the one thing that changes everything, and that trust is a learnable skill—a competency. Experiencing and understanding trust from this perspective is what makes trust so powerful, so accessible, and so relevant.

AE: Can you discuss the importance of nurturing talent in others and how it ties into the concept of inspiring leadership?

Mr. Covey: I like the way this question is asked. One of the 5 Fundamental Beliefs of Trust & Inspire Leaders is that “people have greatness inside of them—so my job as a leader is to unleash their potential, not control them.” The implication of this belief is that there is genuine talent within everyone.

I maintain that the role of a leader is like that of a gardener, where the real power, the potential, is within the seed. The word “inspire” comes from the Latin word “inspirare,” which means “to breathe life into.” Without the proper conditions—water, soil, light—a seed will remain dormant, never realizing what it can do or become. The gardener nurtures and creates the right conditions for that seed to grow and flourish.

With people, we first have to really see someone’s potential. I like how Henry David Thoreau put it: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” When we see another’s potential, we can then communicate it to them so that they come to see it themselves. Then, our job as leaders is to develop their potential, and then, ultimately, to unleash it. It’s an ongoing cycle: see, communicate, develop, and unleash potential.

AE: Can you elaborate on the central concept of “Trust & Inspire” and how it addresses the challenges of traditional leadership models in today’s world?

Mr. Covey: The basis for traditional leadership flows heavily out of the industrial age. It’s often referred to as “Command & Control.” It’s all about efficiency and getting results through people. That’s not a bad thing; people are the ones who do the work, and we’ve made a great deal of progress in how they’re treated over the years. The central premise, though, is that people are a means to an end. Trust & Inspire is also centrally focused on results, but recognizes that people are not just a “means to an end”; they are an end, in and of themselves.

When people experience that they and their own growth and development matter as much as the results they produce, they’re inspired. When people are inspired, they’re able to tap into far greater levels of energy, engagement, creativity, passion, and commitment. They become phenomenally capable and perform better. Plus, they experience greater well-being. You simply cannot “Command & Control” this kind of performance out of people—you can’t buy it out of them. But they are able to tap into this, and contribute this, when they feel trusted and inspired.

(Biba Kayewich for American Essence)

AE: In your view, what are the key attributes that differentiate a leader who focuses on trust and inspiration from one who relies on authority and control?

Mr. Covey: Command & Control and Trust & Inspire are both focused on outcomes. Command & Control leaders tend to rely heavily on management of both people and things to get outcomes. Trust & Inspire leaders differentiate between management and leadership. Both skill sets are vital, but they are as different as they are important. The reality is that people don’t want to be managed, they want to be led. They want to be trusted, they want to be inspired.

AE: Could you provide an example from your book that illustrates the transformational impact of the “Trust & inspire” leadership model on an organization or team?

Mr. Covey: The transformation at Microsoft after Satya Nadella became CEO is a good case-in-point. At the time, the organization was really struggling. In Nadella’s words, “Innovation was being replaced by bureaucracy. Teamwork was being replaced by internal politics. We were falling behind.” They were also losing talent left and right. Satya came in, working closely with his executive vice president of human resources, Kathleen Hogan, and focused on changing the culture. They started with themselves and modeled the kind of behavior they were seeking: humility and courage, authenticity and vulnerability, empathy and performance. The leadership paradigm became one of trusting and inspiring others, manifested by adopting a growth mindset, not just for the leaders, but for everyone.

AE: In your research and experience, what challenges might leaders face when transitioning to a more trust-based leadership style? Any advice on how they can overcome these challenges?

Mr. Covey: I’ve learned the biggest barrier to becoming a Trust & Inspire leader tends to be that most people think they already are one! It’s a good problem to have because in general many really are partway there. What I find when I share what a Trust & Inspire leader is, people completely agree with the concept—intellectually. We know Command & Control doesn’t work well, and I don’t know that I have come across anyone who hasn’t experienced a Trust & Inspire leader somewhere in their life. The difference is night and day, the impact is profound, and most intend to lead this way and be this kind of leader for others.

What happens is that “style” often gets in the way of intent. We’re all deeply scripted, and when the pressure is on, we tend to go for efficiency and revert to what we know. This theme comes up constantly. The good news is that we can learn and choose to match our style to our intent.

People really want to operate this way, but have genuine concerns. They may feel like “this clearly is better, but it just won’t work here,” or “this is who I am, it’s who I’ve always been.” Some may sincerely fear “what if I lose control?” or “I don’t know how to let go.” These are all valid concerns, and I offer a mindset and solution to each of them.

(Biba Kayewich for American Essence)

AE: What strategies can leaders use to create an environment that encourages open communication, risk-taking, and learning from failures?

Mr. Covey: I highlight three stewardships of Trust & Inspire leaders: Modeling, Trusting, & Inspiring. Modeling is always the best place to start. Go first. Someone needs to go first. Leaders go first. Model open communication, risk-taking, and learning from failure.

Trusting others deliberately and explicitly to do the same is incredibly powerful. When they have your trust and really know that your trust is in them, rather than being conditional upon the outcome, you get far better outcomes.

Inspiring is to take an experience, even a failure, and imbue it with purpose. It proves the risk is worth it. It encourages a worker to become a creator.

When we model, trust, and inspire, we cultivate fertile soil that encourages and brings the very best out of others.

AE: Could you share some practical techniques or exercises from your book that leaders can use to build trust and inspire their teams?

Mr. Covey: On building trust, we certainly have to be trustworthy, but I work with organizations all over the world that are filled with trustworthy people, and yet, have low trust. To really build trust, you have to give it to get it. In other words, you not only need to be trustworthy, you need to be trusting. Look for ways to extend meaningful trust.

To inspire, start with yourself. It’s like the airline metaphor: Put your own mask on first before helping others. If you’re not inspired, you’ll have a hard time inspiring anyone else. An unlit candle cannot light other candles, but a lit candle can.

Second, connect with people through genuine caring and building a real sense of belonging. Caring will allow you to inspire others, and belonging on a team leads to the team inspiring each other.

An exercise I might add, that has an enormous impact on both building trust and inspiring, is this: Treat people according to their potential, not their behavior. There’s no better way to unleash that potential. Practice this. Don’t “eat the elephant all at once” and try to do this with everyone. Begin with one person. Ask yourself, “Who in my personal or professional life would benefit most by being trusted and inspired by me?” And then start there.

From Dec. Issue, Volume 3

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Features American Success

Entrepreneur Jamie Kern Lima Wants You To Be Unstoppable

Jamie Kern Lima is a pro at rejection—getting rejected, that is. Each time an investor or potential business partner said no, it felt like proof that her dreams were not worth it. But at her lowest moment, she realized that she could choose to celebrate those rejections instead.

With her company on the brink of bankruptcy, Ms. Kern Lima began doing research on successful entrepreneurs. “Every person I admired most, who’s built great businesses or changed the world or impacted humanity, … every single one of them has gone through so many rejections. They’re just the brave ones, willing to keep going forward anyways. And I decided to create this new definition of rejection,” she said. “I trained myself to celebrate … and go, ‘Oh, this is a reminder, I’m one of the brave ones willing to go for it. I’m not sitting on the sidelines of life, living in regret.’”

Today, she teaches others how to transcend their setbacks, drawing from her own experiences of building her cosmetics brand IT Cosmetics, which eventually got sold to L’Oreal for $1.2 billion in 2016, the French beauty behemoth’s largest acquisition at the time. Her forthcoming book to be released in February, “Worthy: How to Believe You Are Enough and Transform Your Life,” teaches concrete steps to build strong self-worth: something she believes can give people the ultimate sense of fulfillment. She wants to pass on these lessons so that people don’t miss out on valuable experiences.

(Courtesy of Jamie Kern Lima)

“What has self-doubt already cost you in your life? And go by category: in your career, in your relationships, in your joy of simply looking in the mirror? … We are worthy of love and belonging exactly as we are—not as we achieve, not as how much of the world’s definition of success we have, but exactly as we are,” she said.

What Is Self-Worth?

She illustrates the point with an anecdote. Years ago, after her company had already become successful, she had the opportunity to meet media personality Oprah Winfrey. After having lunch together, Oprah left her phone number and said to Ms. Kern Lima that she could call her anytime. But it took Ms. Kern Lima more than four years to get the courage to reach out to Oprah.

“I would tell myself stories like, once I think of the right thing to say, then I’m going to call her, or everyone probably just wants something from her, I’m going to prove I don’t need anything.” Then one day, she realized the real reason she hadn’t called her. “Deep down inside at my core, … I didn’t think I was worthy of being her friend. And so I sabotaged the opportunity,” she reflected. This was the moment she began digging deeper into the topic of self-worth.

(Courtesy of Jamie Kern Lima)

Don’t Let Mistakes Define You

Ms. Kern Lima outlines ways to reframe one’s thinking. Many people struggle with letting their past mistakes define them. “They’ve gone through past failures and rejections, and they’ve assigned a meaning to them that is so painful, they just stay stuck.” She urges people to remove that emotional association and instead look at each situation rationally. “What is the meaning we told it? What is the story we told ourselves about it? What’s actually the truth about it?” She suggests then finding a new definition to the meaning of rejection: something you must believe to be true. For Ms. Kern Lima, it was her belief that each rejection was just God’s way of protecting her from something that was not part of her destiny.

(This is a short preview of a story from the Jan. Issue, Volume 4.)

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Features American Success Entrepreneurs

NASA Commander Shares What’s in Store for the Next Moon Mission and Future of Space Exploration

On December 14, 1972, surrounded by darkness and light and standing where only 11 others had ever stood before, Gene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon. As he prepared to depart, he announced over the radio, “As we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”

Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 mission, died in 2017 and never got to witness another return to the moon. That hope of returning, however, remains very much alive at NASA, and with the Artemis missions, mankind will once again take that giant leap to the moon. 

Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. (NASA)

The Artemis Missions

The first of the Artemis missions took place on November 16, 2022, with the unmanned Orion spacecraft traveling more than 1.4 million miles over the course of 25 days. The spacecraft traveled thousands of miles beyond and around the moon before it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere at nearly 25,000 miles per hour, finally splashing down into the Pacific Ocean. 

The next mission, Artemis II, is scheduled for a 10-day flight around the moon in November 2024 with a crew of four: mission commander Reid Wiseman, pilot Victor Glover, mission specialist Christina Koch, and the Canadian Space Agency’s mission specialist Jeremy Hansen. For the Americans, it will be a return to space, but even for them, humanity has never gone this far away from Earth before. The Artemis II mission could break the record for distance traveled during a manned space flight.

(NASA)

“It will depend on where the Earth-moon system is when we launch,” said Mr. Wiseman, who has been a NASA astronaut since 2009. Apollo 13 currently holds the record, at 249,205 miles from Earth; Artemis II could end up reaching 10,000 miles farther. “Hopefully a year later, we will eclipse it again, and a year after that we will eclipse it again,” he said of future NASA missions.

The Artemis II mission is the beginning of what is expected to be not just a return to the moon, but eventually, the establishment of a base camp on the lunar surface, and a future trip to Mars. NASA’s goals are lofty, and Wiseman believes that those goals are not just achievable, but inevitable.

“I think we are definitely looking at humankind living on the moon, living on Mars, getting out into the solar system,” he said. “If you look back at what humans have done on Earth, we can’t sit still as a group of beings. We are restless and we are very inquisitive. I think we will always look at the moon and want to go there. And for those of us who find Mars in the night sky, we want to go there. I would love to go to the moons of Saturn and wake up in my living room and see the rings of Saturn in the morning. I think that is just where we are headed. We are never going to quit.”

(This is a short preview of a story from the Dec. Issue, Volume 3.)

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Features American Success Giving Back Kindness in Action

‘Wonder Years’ Actress Danica McKellar Wants To Inspire Goodness, Whether It’s Through Movies or Teaching Math

After a lifetime in southern California’s eternal sunshine, Danica McKellar made the move to rural Tennessee last year. It appears she’s taken a page right out of her Hallmark and Great American Family movies, which often take place in a small town filled with kindhearted people and blessed by seasonal beauty.

Since her move, the actress and producer has indeed been marveling at “the most amazing Bob Ross painting at every turn,” she said.

Ms. McKellar is widely known for playing the character of Winnie Cooper in “The Wonder Years.” The comedy-drama, which ran from 1988 to 1993, followed the highs and lows of young Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage). Set in suburban, middle-class America in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the series, and the messy and complex affairs of the heart it depicted, kept viewers coming back episode after episode. For many, their coming of age happened alongside the protagonists’—including McKellar’s character.

Etched onto the public consciousness, she became the epitome of the sweetness of first love. Late-night show host Jimmy Fallon once referred to Winnie Cooper as “the coolest girl in any TV show ever.” 

An adult Kevin Arnold narrated:

Once upon a time there was a girl I knew, who lived across the street. Brown hair, brown eyes. When she smiled, I smiled. When she cried, I cried. Every single thing that happened to me that mattered, in some way, had to do with her. That day Winnie and I promised each other that no matter what, we’d always be together. … It was the kind of promise that can only come from the hearts of the very young.”

This Christmas season, Damon Runyon and Ms. McKellar star in “A Royal Christmas Romance” on the Great American Family cable network. (Rachel Luna/Stringer/Getty Images)

Math Whiz

On-screen Winnie Cooper was smart and sweet, and because Ms. McKellar knew that young people were looking up to her character, she felt the need to live up to being a role model. 

She went on to graduate summa cum laude from UCLA with a major in mathematics, with the distinction of co-authoring a mathematical physics theorem called the Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem.

In 2000, she testified before a congressional subcommittee about the importance of women in math and science. When she read that young girls’ interest and confidence in math eroded significantly by the eighth grade, even though they performed as well as boys, she reflected on her own self-doubts while in college:

No one ever told me I couldn’t do math or science; I just saw it as inaccessible and foreign. The strange thing is, at the same time that I harbored all of these self-doubts and feelings of alienation in regards to math, I was graduating high school with really good grades in math. True, I had struggled in middle school to even get a ‘C’ in math, but now I was in the top 3 percent of my high school, graduating with honors and an A+ in the highest AP Calculus course offered in the U.S.

She went on to write 11 math books for kids spanning ages 0 to 16. She knew that she had to change the stereotype about math and make it not only accessible but also cool, initially targeting girls at the middle school stage, a time when math gets harder and new social factors also come into play. Because of this, her bestselling books incorporate confidence-boosting messages.

(This is a short preview of a story from the Dec. Issue, Volume 3.)

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Features American Success

How a Group of Friends Escaped War in Yugoslavia, Found Freedom in America, and Opened Award-Winning Bakery

Can friendship survive a war, migration to another country, and life’s ups and downs? One group of friends from former Yugoslavia has demonstrated that a strong friendship bond can overcome any tribulation.

There’s Uliks Fehmiu, an Albanian who loves acting and still participates in film projects in Serbian and Bosnian; Bane Stamenkovic, whom Mr. Fehmiu first met when he was 7, then going through high school and later mandatory military service together; Igor Ivanovic, who played a pivotal role in Pain d’Avignon’s founding but later left to start his own bakery; and Vojin Vujosevic, who was always the cool kid in the group.

Pain d’Avignon was among the first in the Northeast to offer artisanal bread. (Ed Anderson)

They all eventually made their way to New York to escape getting drafted into the war and, incidentally, fell into the world of baking. Together, they formed Pain d’Avignon, a boutique wholesale bakery for high-end restaurants and hotels in New York. In 2009, the bakery expanded to offer their selections to ordinary New Yorkers via cafes, opening four retail stores alongside pop-ups within hotels across the city.

The path to success wasn’t easy, but every step was buoyed by the knowledge that there was no turning back to the violence and hatred back home. Whatever hardships they would go through, they would go through them together as friends.

“Our story can never be only about the bread and its technical aspect, because to us, it represents this odyssey, this journey, this element of survival, this moment of adaptation … into a new country, new environment,” said Mr. Fehmiu in an interview.

A Friendship Forged

Growing up in Yugoslavia before the Yugoslav Wars broke up the Balkan Peninsula, the group of friends lived in a place not unlike New York: Different cultures and religions intersected in a region bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania. “It’s where Austro-Hungarian and Oriental architecture clash beautifully. Where one could ski in the Alps in the morning and swim in the Adriatic that afternoon. Where, in the same pastry shop, one could find baklava by way of Turkey or Greece and Sachertorte compliments of the Viennese,” wrote Mr. Fehmiu in the bakery’s 2022 cookbook, “The Pain d’Avignon Baking Book.” It was an idyllic time filled with beautiful memories for the four childhood friends.

(L to R) Cofounders Tole Zurovac, Mr. Stamenkovic, and Mr. Fehmiu, with Mr. Fehmiu’s wife, Snezana Bogdanovic. (Ed Anderson)

When, in the late 1980s, tensions ran high and war seemed imminent, the friends each found ways to escape the draft. Mr. Ivanovic became the reason they ended up in baking. After he got discharged from mandatory military service, he headed straight to New York. While there, he hung out with fellow Serbs, some of whom worked for Eli Zabar, a popular bakery and supermarket in the city. He soon found a job delivering bread at Eli’s.

Mr. Stamenkovic joined his family in New York (his father was a textile executive and moved there for business) as soon as he finished military service, while Mr. Vujosevic returned to America for studies at the persuasion of his parents, who saw an increasingly volatile situation back home and wanted him to stay away. For several years, Mr. Fehmiu was the only one remaining in Belgrade, hoping to develop his acting career. But by spring 1992, things came to a head. The military police came looking for him. With his mother’s warning, he was able to stay at a friend’s house and later flee to Macedonia. From there, he made his way to New York.

(This is a short preview of a story from the Nov. Issue, Volume 3.)

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Features American Success

From Fateful Fall to Winning Olympic Gold, Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis Shares Her Journey of Self-Discovery

Sports, like life, can be unforgiving. If anyone in the world of sports knows what that is like, it would be Lindsey Jacobellis.

Ms. Jacobellis is the most decorated snowboard cross athlete of all time (snowboard cross is a competition involving going downhill among turns and jumps). Her longevity and continued success is a testament to her work ethic and her natural talent. But, as is too often the case in the world of public opinion, a single misstep that accounted for mere milliseconds has long been the haunting taunt of her career.

In 2006, during the snowboard cross event at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, Ms. Jacobellis had a commanding lead over the three other contestants. The speed and turns had thrown two off the track, and Swiss snowboarder Tanja Frieden lagged behind in second. But in the second to last jump, only seconds from the finish line, the inexplicable happened.

Ms. Jacobellis grabbed her board to perform a move called a method. It is a relatively simple and common trick. But she hadn’t planned for it. It was muscle memory taking over, and she fell. As reliable and absolutely necessary as muscle memory is in sports, in that moment, it failed her.

“I spent a lot of time in therapy trying to find out the root cause of what really happened, and I couldn’t come up with anything other than it was that lapse in judgment—just dropping the ball, whatever sports metaphor there is,” Ms. Jacobellis said in an interview. “It was just something that happened that I can’t actually look back and understand why.” At the time, the general consensus in the sports world was that it was showboating gone horribly wrong. But for anyone with a keen eye, it appeared as if she tried to restrain the move while performing it: a decisive moment filled with indecision.

For athletes competing at the highest levels—and one cannot reach higher than the Olympics—a misstep, an injury, a malfunction can leave a searing mark that may never heal. When that mark is self-inflicted, the healing process becomes even more difficult. These are traumatic moments that leave athletes haunted by what-ifs. Ms. Jacobellis, then 20 years old, was not given a moment to gather her thoughts. Reeling from the disaster, trying to understand the moment while still in it, she was bombarded by journalists with probing questions.

“I had media training, and they want you to be articulate and to make sure you are representing your country well and are being a good sport,” she recalled. “So I’m proceeding through this procession of one after another. You’re trying to be a good sport while at the same time trying to understand what actually happened. [In those interviews,] you can see that I’m sort of all over the place. I was not giving a different excuse, but a different response with each interview, which only opened me up for more ridicule.”

Ms. Jacobellis in the lead, during the FIS Snowboard World Championships held in Utah, 2019. (Ezra Shaw/Staff/Getty Images Sport)

In her new book scheduled for release in October, …

(This is a short preview of a story from the Oct. Issue, Volume 3.)

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Features American Success

Indy 500 Champion Won Race on 12th Try, Perseveres With Dad’s Advice: “Pursue It to the Very End”

Being a professional adrenaline junkie requires a cool head, according to Josef Newgarden, the newest Indy 500 champion. The open-wheel car racer had run the race 11 times prior, and he said the only difference between the 11th and 12th times was the fact that, as this latest attempt drew to a close, he saw he had the opportunity to fight for the finish, and he did.

“I think you just have to be prepared for the opportunity to win the race,” said Mr. Newgarden, who has been racing the IndyCar Series for 12 years and joined Team Penske in 2017. There was a tremendous moment of recognition, he acknowledged, but the very next weekend, they had a race in Detroit—the Indy 500 is only the sixth race of the season, after all.

The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race is the premier race of the top-level IndyCar (American open-wheeled car) race series. Traditionally, 33 drivers speed around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 200 laps on Memorial Day weekend with nearly 300,000 spectators and crew packed into the space. “It’s the Super Bowl of our sport, if you will,” Mr. Newgarden explained. And the energy there is palpable.

“It’s really a sight to behold.” His first race, he felt engulfed in something extraordinary. “I remember feeling in awe of what the event represented and the magnitude of it, it’s really what you feel, the enormity of what the Indianapolis 500 is. That always sticks with you—certainly the first one, but all the way up to my 12th.”

The energy of the crowd so inspired Mr. Newgarden that moments after winning, he took off through a hole in the fence to spend the first moments of victory with fans before returning to the traditional ceremonies.

Josef Newgarden emerges victorious from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Ind., May 28, 2023. (LAT)

Hard Work and Belief

For Mr. Newgarden, the word success brings to mind the idea of hard work.

Mr. Newgarden grew up watching racing on TV, introduced to it by his father and grandfather, both great fans of the sport. From as early as he can remember, Mr. Newgarden said he begged his father for a kart, and it wasn’t until he was 13 that his father relented. Professional go-karts are far from the amusement park vehicles that come to mind for most. They are used for racing and look like smaller versions of Indy cars. Mr. Newgarden played other sports, like baseball and basketball, but he had a passion for racing that far exceeded a hobby.

The family lived in Tennessee and traveled weekly to Indianapolis in order to compete.

“[My father is] certainly someone who has the belief of: If we’re going to try to pursue something, we’re going to pursue it to the very end,” Mr. Newgarden said.

He modeled the ability of being able to stay positive and motivated no matter the external circumstances, and it would prove invaluable for Mr. Newgarden. Between ages 16 and 17, Mr. Newgarden was out of school regularly for competitions, wondering if he would be able to make it professionally. Many, many other aspiring racers have this story, he added, dealing with the constant struggle of securing sponsorships and planning the next move. At times, it was demoralizing and demotivating. But his father’s steady approach taught him the art of “great perseverance.”

“He was the ultimate believer that we could do anything or figure any situation out. You have to be realistic but you also have to have that unwavering belief that you can continue to work hard and figure any situation out, or any challenge out,” Mr. Newgarden said. If there was no sponsorship, maybe it meant passing on the immediate race and putting together a business plan for the next. There was always a path forward.

“That, to me, is the biggest gift that you can give to someone who’s young,” he said. Mr. Newgarden and his wife welcomed their newborn son last year, and he looks forward to imparting the same gifts and lessons that his father taught him.

Race day on May 28, 2023, was much the same. The win was the result of steady, hard work, Mr. Newgarden said, and brilliant teamwork.

Mr. Newgarden (#2 Team Penske Chevrolet) and other drivers in a tight race during the NTT IndyCar Series at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, April 2023. (Sean Gardner/Stringer/Getty Images Sport)

The Perfect Race

“I’m a very competitive person, it really drives my life and I have to be competing at something,” said Mr. Newgarden. A driver has to enter each race believing in the opportunity to win, he said, but the Indy 500 is a kind of exception.

“It’s the hardest race to put together. Even if you were a great driver on the day, or you have the fastest car on the day, it just does not guarantee a victory. There’s just so much that has to go right,” Mr. Newgarden said. The Indy 500 is a race you may never win. “I know a lot of drivers that probably deserved to win the race that never won it.” Understanding that is freeing, in a way.

From the outside, racing may seem like a solo sport—much of the attention falls on the driver. In reality, Mr. Newgarden said, it’s not so different from football or a high-achieving company.

“There’s a whole team that is built around optimizing that race car and making it as fast as possible and trying to execute a perfect race,” he said. “I love that. I love the engineering that goes into it, the team dynamic. … We’ll have 80 to 100 people there across the month working on three cars, and we’re all pulling in the same direction.”

All races are team-intensive, but none so much as the Indy 500. Everyone has to execute perfectly down to fractions of seconds, and there are numerous variables beyond the control of any one person. “I’ve got to be perfect on that day, but if we’re not perfect as a team, we just will not win the race. It takes a big effort from everybody,” Mr. Newgarden said.

“It’s impossible to do almost anything in this world alone,” he said.

From Oct. Issue, Volume 3

Categories
Features American Success

From Batmobiles to Space Capsules, Art Thompson Designs Projects That Make the Imagination Soar

Babies’ chew toys, Batmobiles, rocket engines—Art Thompson makes them all.

Thompson is a modern-day da Vinci, the rare sort of individual these days who is equally comfortable in the worlds of arts and technology, and more often than not bringing the two together. One of his earliest jobs involved running a sign shop—the owner handed it over to him a day after he’d started. He was still a teenager. Later, his art background came in handy at the aerospace company Northrop, where he made architectural models and was pulled into working on the B2 stealth bomber for over 10 years.

Thompson’s own companies, Sage Cheshire Aerospace and A2ZFX, share a workshop space in Lancaster, California, devoted to design, engineering, prototyping, fabrication, and testing.

This Jeep Grand Cherokee was transformed into a commuter’s dream for a viral Verizon ad. (Courtesy of Art Thompson)

Sage Cheshire regularly makes parts for government agencies or aerospace companies—from aircraft fairings and components to antennae for the U.S. Navy—much faster and cheaper than they could do themselves.

“We’re a super small organization and highly efficient,” Thompson said. “So while a company like Northrop or Lockheed or Boeing spends a lot of time in bureaucracy trying to figure out what they want to do, we’re already finished with the project. And so they realize that and use that to their advantage by contracting work.”

The company can take on larger projects, too, such as scanning and reverse-engineering an airplane that an aerospace company bought from a foreign provider, who wouldn’t give them the plans. 

Thompson also has his own projects. Working with a space plane, he started to think about how he could develop the technology for a better defense system. Instead of using a hypersonic weapon against a hypersonic missile—the equivalent of launching a bullet to hit a bullet—he envisions launching a space plane at 250,000 or 350,000 feet in altitude, firing pulses of laser, which would have a better chance of hitting the target, since the speed of light is faster than the speed of a hypersonic missile. With its small footprint, the plane could also be used for reconnaissance and be transported easily anywhere around the world and launched from a regular runway, unlike a rocket.

In 2012, Thompson built a giant, 45-foot-long, 800-pound paper airplane that took to the Arizona skies for six seconds. It was part of the Pima Air & Space Museum’s Great Paper Airplane Fly-Off competition, to spark interest in aviation and engineering. The plane was based on a model by 12-year-old Arturo Valderamo. (Flight Test Museum)

While Sage Cheshire handles some serious business, A2ZFX focuses on product development and special effects—from the mundane to the spectacular. For example, the blister-like yellow bumps on sidewalks? Thompson’s team made the original version of these “truncated domes,” as they’re formally known. “And I cursed myself every time going over them with a shopping cart—along with millions of other people,” he said good-naturedly. A more dramatic, and flammable, example involved recreating a flying object zooming around in the air, to mimic the Human Torch for the promotion of a “Fantastic Four” movie. 

Some of his projects not only have an undeniable flair for fun but also are marketing gold—like the Hum Rider, engineered to show off a marvelous solution to traffic jams. Envision a Jeep Grand Cherokee, with a wheelbase that widens and a body that elevates several feet above traffic, leaving stunned commuters below in the dust. Conceived to promote Verizon’s Hum dongle and smart app, the video made ripples through the internet, receiving a billion views. 

The energy drink company Red Bull, with its marketing strategy embracing extreme sports and jaw-dropping stunts, was another client that was a natural fit. 

When Red Bull was in its early stages of entering the U.S. market, it hired Thompson to make its eye-catching “can cars”—Mini Coopers outfitted with giant Red Bull cans on top, deployed with reps all over the country to offer samples of its product. Thompson built over 1,000 of these vehicles, although he jokes he had to build 3,000 cans to replace the ones that got destroyed. He said, “We would always tell [the drivers], ‘Don’t drive into the parking structure,’” which they invariably would.

(Samira Bouaou)

Mission to the Edge of Space

In 2005, Thompson got a call from Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian friend whom he’d met at a Red Bull go-kart race in Austria. A daredevil and base jumper, Baumgartner was best known for his unpowered winged flight across the English Channel from 30,000-foot altitude in 2003 and jumping off the world’s tallest buildings, such as the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. 

He asked Thompson if he knew Joe Kittinger, who had jumped from a balloon at 102,800 feet in 1960 and reached a speed of 614 miles per hour, sustaining freefall for 4 minutes, 36 seconds. It was a record that stood unbroken. 

Then he asked Thompson: If you were to break Kittinger’s record, how would you do it? Baumgartner wanted to know if it was possible to jump from space or the stratosphere and fall at supersonic speed. 

“You know,” Thompson recalls telling him, “It’s 3:30 in the morning in Austria. Why don’t you go back to sleep, I’ll call you tomorrow and I’ll tell you some ideas.”

He ended up writing an 87-page proposal including how a pressurized capsule could be built, with redundant life support, spacesuits, and stratospheric balloons. 

Thompson flew to Austria to present the idea to Dietrich Mateschitz, the late owner of Red Bull, who engaged Thompson as the technical project director for the Stratos project. But Thompson didn’t want it to just be a marketing stunt. It needed to be real science with a purpose.

Art Thompson started making one “can car” for Red Bull and eventually produced over 1,000 of them. (Courtesy of Art Thompson)

Though Kittinger had made his jump over 50 years ago, the protocols around high-altitude freefall were few. Thompson saw a real-world opportunity. For him, it was about developing and researching how a U.S. Air Force or NASA pilot could safely exit a high-altitude craft, as well as medical systems to treat astronauts and pilots in case of ejection and rapid decompression. 

“The beauty of it is, the government didn’t pay one dime for it,” he said. “I got an Austrian energy drink company to pay for all of the development. We then shared this knowledge with the government for free.

“That’s the future of business, because the power of social media is that tool that can be used to fund future research,” he said. 

Say you wanted to go to Mars, Thompson offered by way of example. “The government doesn’t want to pay for going to Mars. … But if you could go to a tennis shoe company and say your tennis shoes are going to be the first ones going to Mars, and it’s going to cost this much,” these companies, with their huge marketing budgets, could step in and fund research programs that the government isn’t willing to fund. 

Doing the Impossible

During the Stratos project, another project turned up that Thompson couldn’t refuse. The Pima Air and Space Museum asked him: Would he build the world’s largest paper airplane?

When he was young, he would use newspaper and coat hangers and build giant paper airplanes. The largest he got was about 5 feet.

Thompson’s parents were science teachers who imparted to him a love of science. His mother, Alice, is pictured here with George, a pet mountain lion, in 1956. (Courtesy of Art Thompson)

This time, the dimensions were only limited by the need to fit the plane onto a semi truck. Built entirely out of paper, it was 45.5 feet long, with a 24-foot wingspan, and required 20 gallons of wood glue to put it together.  

As 300 schoolchildren watched, a Sikorsky S-58T helicopter took the plane up to 1,400 feet in the desert, and it was cut loose. It hit 98 miles per hour and flew just short of a mile. For Thompson, the main goal was achieved: to promote STEM education, and “help kids think outside of the box—that anything’s possible.”

“If I could have $1 for every person who told me the Red Bull Stratos was impossible, I’d be a millionaire,” Thompson said. There were physicists screaming at the end, ‘Don’t do it, his arms and legs will tear off.’” 

Kittinger calmly responded, “Thank you for your concern, you may want to recheck your calculations.”

There was certainly a lot at stake, and the project team of fewer than 100 people was working hard to solve problems as they arose. Thompson said, “I was told ‘no’ every time I turned around and just found a way around the issue to make it a ‘yes.’ That is the lesson for the next generation. Never take ‘no’ as a final outcome.”

Then there was the unpredictable human factor.

Thompson (R) served as the technical project director for Red Bull Stratos. Joe Kittinger (C) was the primary point of radio contact with jumper Felix Baumgartner during the ascent. (Courtesy of Art Thompson)

After years of testing and development and only weeks before the first manned flight, Baumgartner got cold feet—he was at the airport in Los Angeles and called up Thompson, who rushed to go see him. Baumgartner, as it turned out, had developed severe claustrophobia inside his pressurized space suit. Human factors specialists Andy Walshe and psychologist Michael Gervais were brought in to help Baumgartner, pushing him into various uncomfortable situations and reminding him that he was a superhero and his pressurized suit was specifically designed for him. 

Early on, it was decided that Kittinger, the one mission team adviser who understood firsthand what Baumgartner would experience, would communicate with him throughout his journey and talk him through the 47-point checklist before exiting the capsule.

The Space Capsule

Like Kittinger’s gondola traveling into space, the Stratos capsule was tethered to a helium balloon—but 10 times larger. At the size of 30 million cubic feet, it was the largest manned balloon ever flown. The ascent to an altitude of 127,852 feet took about two and a half hours. 

Just as he prepared to jump off the ledge of the capsule, Baumgartner said, “I’m coming home now.” 

“I know the whole world is watching and I wish the whole world could see what I see. Sometimes you have to go really high up to understand how small you really are.”

Thirty-four seconds after jumping, he hit Mach 1—just under 700 miles per hour. Fifty seconds after jumping, he reached March 1.25, a record speed of 843.6 miles per hour for a freefall. For 30 seconds, Baumgartner was supersonic.

He also set two other world records: the highest balloon flight (superseded by Alan Eustace in 2014) and the highest unassisted freefall. This Red Bull Stratos record is still a standing record, as Eustace’s jump was assisted with the use of a drogue parachute.

On Oct. 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner made a freefall jump from space. Thirty-four seconds after jumping, he reached a top speed of 844 miles per hour and achieved his goal of being the first person to break the sound barrier without an aircraft. From a height of 127,852 feet in altitude, it took him nine minutes to get back to Earth, half of that time being in freefall. (Courtesy of Art Thompson)

It was just 65 years before, to the day, that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier piloting the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis.

Back on Earth, about 9.5 million concurrent viewers were transfixed watching the feat, as 3.1 million tweets pinged across the globe. 

In all, it would be viewed by 3 billion people. 

It was an unmitigated success for Red Bull, a marketing coup—delivering a big uptick in sales, by 7 percent to $1.6 billion in the United States, and by 13 percent to $5.2 billion globally. 

Igniting people’s imagination was certainly one part of the formula, Thompson said. But he also brought to the table a more intangible ability: an ability to connect with and understand people from different backgrounds—scientific, medical, military, aerospace, and yes, even daredevil mindsets.

The Flight Test Museum and the Future

Stratos also made Thompson proud, partly because many kids told him it inspired them to get into engineering. As chair of the Flight Test Museum Foundation, he sees a unique opportunity. 

California’s Antelope Valley, also known as Aerospace Valley, is home to many aviation firsts due to the presence of Edwards Air Force Base, the United States Air Force (USAF) Plant 42, and NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center, as well as companies such as Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, and Scaled Composites.

“Some of the most brilliant minds in the world are located [here],” Thompson noted.

He is now overseeing the move of the museum, currently on-base, to a new home—75,000 square feet of space just outside of the base. It’ll house the museum’s rare aircraft, but it will also be a STEM education center, as well as “neutral ground” for industry players, government, and schools to come together to discuss the future and inspire the next generation to want to be part of something greater.

What concerns him is the phenomenon of students being “plugged into the Internet permanently” and being “spoon-fed” set answers like “a stone wheel is the best thing on a car.”

A rendering of the planned building for the Flight Test Museum outside the gates of Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Antelope Valley. Designed by architecture firm Gensler, it resembles the shape of the Nighthawk, a stealth plane built in the 1980s. The museum will hold more than 80 historic aircraft; completion is due in 2024. (Courtesy of Art Thompson)

People want the answer quickly, Thompson said, but they don’t always know why they’re getting it. “We lose some of the creative aspects of invention and inspiration—because they settle for that answer.” 

Thompson’s parents, both science teachers, made it a point to expose him to as many interesting things as possible. “One of my best Christmas presents when I was a kid was when my parents got me a stack of lumber with a saw and hammer and nails. I was five or six years old in the backyard and started building pirate ships and forts.”

His inquisitive nature even became somewhat of a liability for his family. “One of the fears was, if they gave me something that I was going to take apart, and if I understood it really well, often, I didn’t bother putting it back together because—why?—I already knew how it worked.” 

When he was 13, he bought his first car, an old Karmann Ghia, for $500. He rebuilt the engine and redid the wiring harness—and drove it around without a license.

“Physics is so fascinating, because you see it in everything. And I remember as a kid, when math became a physical shape, all of a sudden, my mind exploded—because math formulas, you know, create not only two-dimensional shapes, but three-dimensional shapes.”

“If you can expose [children] to all the fascinating things in the world, at a really early age, that develops your synapses. All of that activity is making all those neural connections and mapping that make you want to do more and be more.”

It’s why he’s so passionate about the Flight Test Museum. “This becomes a world now that exposes people to what’s possible,” he said. “This is engineering in motion. It’s physics in motion.”

From February Issue, Volume 3

Categories
Features American Success Entrepreneurs Giving Back

Philanthropist Earl W. Stafford on How Faith Taught Him to Give Wisely: Help People Help Themselves

East of Philadelphia, over the Delaware River, lies a hamlet named Mount Holly. This New Jersey town is where Quakers first settled in the late 1600s. At one time, during the Revolutionary War, it became the state capital.

And, in the late 1940s, Earl W. Stafford was born in this same tight-knit community—a community he dubs “one of those George-Washington-slept-here towns.”

Raised in humble circumstances with meager means, Stafford is one of 12 children. He believes his upbringing made him the industrious business leader and philanthropist he is known for being today. He learned the values of charity, ethics, and kindness surrounded by the love of family and neighbors. “We weren’t rich by any stretch. If we wanted money, we shoveled snow, recycled bottles, cut lawns. It stuck with me,” Stafford recalled. He was fortunate, thanks to a neighborly, business-minded woman, Ms. Mason, who taught him the basics of business selling hot dogs and soft drinks around the block. He said that that entrepreneurial spirit still resonates within him today.

A Business Idea

After high school, Stafford went on to honorably serve in the United States Air Force for two decades, specializing in air traffic control. Equipped with leadership skills, along with an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an MBA from Southern Illinois University, and a graduate certificate from Harvard Business School, Stafford was ready to serve the world.

He had hope for success upon leaving the Air Force. Stafford founded a new aviation-related manufacturing company in Washington, D.C., called Universal Systems & Technology, Inc. (Unitech). He utilized his expertise in air traffic control services to create training programs and simulation technology used by the FAA and the Department of Transportation.

But it was difficult for the first four to five years.

“I wasn’t getting paid, and the lights and phones were sometimes cut off,” he admitted. “We endured; God worked it out for us. I stepped out in faith based on the values I was raised with.”

Stafford’s company eventually rose in revenue to the tune of millions. The success wasn’t lost on him or his faith community.

Stafford (L) and his wife Amanda, following his reenlistment in the Air Force, 1971. (Courtesy of Earl W. Stafford)

“One day, my pastor called me. He wanted me to go to Haiti to build a church. I thought of every reason not to go. But I found myself in Port au Prince, a bit disgruntled,” he said. “After a week or so there, getting dirt under my fingernails,” he continued, “I realized that these people were not looking for a handout. They were looking for a helping hand.”

Humbled by the experience, Stafford returned home with a new perspective. His belief in God opened his heart and eyes to recognizing similar circumstances in which people needed help, he said.

The Meaning of Giving

In serving others, Stafford found purpose outside of his career. In 2002, he founded The Stafford Foundation as a faith-based philanthropic endeavor. One of its capstone projects early on was the People’s Inaugural Project, an initiative to bring disadvantaged Americans to experience Washington, D.C., and celebrate the presidential inauguration in 2009. Stafford’s vision brought together several nonprofits that helped to select and welcome some 400 individuals from all walks of life—including wounded veterans and men and women staying in homeless shelters—and from all over the United States. It was a grand event.

With first-class accommodations and dressed in tuxedos and fine gowns, the charity recipients mingled with multi-millionaires. “You couldn’t tell the haves from the have-nots! They intermingled and integrated into the ball filled with over several thousand people.” Stafford continued for the next five years working side by side with those organizations to support the recipients through job training programs and scholarships. The foundation also ran a “Give Before You Get” program: giving homeless or at-risk populations an opportunity to lend a helping hand by building homes and volunteering at hospitals and assisted living centers.

(Adhiraj Chakrabarti)

These projects allowed Stafford the opportunity to explore exactly how to serve others—to do good in the world. “One of the things the Foundation realized,” said Stafford, “is that we live with our hearts instead of our heads. We want to help everyone.”  He believes that the Lord has helped him find the missions that need the money most.

The work Stafford feels is most pressing today is for the foundation to provide assistance in Africa. Across more than 25 countries, the foundation has helped to build over 20 churches along with orphanages, training centers to teach women to read and write, and a business center to help small businesses grow. “We want to help people to help themselves. In fact, there are more ways to be helpful than writing a check. Helping others doesn’t have to be on a grand scale or on the front page of the news to impact people. We are judged not by what we give but how we give,” he said.

With grandfatherly wisdom, he believes it is important to listen to God. “When God uses you, it doesn’t mean you are the total solution. It means that sometimes you are part of a solution. When I reach the usefulness needed, God allows others to step in and help further.” He believes wholeheartedly that one can impact others in immeasurable ways. In the community where he grew up, if someone was in need, others gathered and tried to help, even if they didn’t have much themselves. “I knew my mother more than once sent a pot of something to a family who needed it more than we did.”

These kinds of values Stafford understood as an obligation to be “your brother’s keeper”—and he says we still have that obligation to each other today. “It’s not about ego. And it’s not about evaluating impact,” he stated. “We must continue to serve and plant the seed, and one day we will see what grew. We can’t be so satisfied with ourselves when we don’t know the impact we have had,” he said.

From January Issue, Volume 3

Categories
History American Success Entrepreneurs Features

Grumman Engineering Had to Get 30,200 Pounds of Apollo Spacecraft to Moon and Back

In the fall of 1962, a little airplane manufacturer on Long Island, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, beat out seven competitors for the lunar module contract. How did this happen?

The story begins when Leroy Grumman, the company’s founder, struck out on his own in 1929. Working out of a rented garage, he began developing some of his own experimental airplane designs. In 1932, he presented the U.S. Navy with the FF-1, his first production fighter aircraft. The plane’s design continued to be improved, leading eventually to the creation of the F4F Wildcat, Grumman’s first fighter with folding wings.

Diagram of the Apollo Lunar Module cockpit. (Jasmina Zhang for American Essence)

Grumman built tough planes. The “cat” series, built for the U.S. Navy, had a reputation for getting their crews home. The sturdy aircraft, designed and built for carrier deployment, earned the company the nickname “Grumman Iron Works.” Aluminum, however, was the material Grumman engineers had real mastery over, forming it into beautiful aerodynamic shapes to build their planes.

Enter Aeronautic Engineer Tom Kelly

Grumman engineer Tom Kelly spoke of his involvement in the early development of the moon lander: “I guess I’ve been involved in Apollo-related work as long as anybody in Grumman, actually. I started on the thing in 1960—April 1960.” Kelly and his team competed for NASA-funded studies. Though they didn’t win any of them, Kelly said, “we went down and gave our own study conclusions to the NASA people right along with everybody else—we had a very active interest in-house, and we just wouldn’t let it die; whether it was funded, or not, we kept going with it.” Kelly’s work ushered in a whole new era for the company.

Buzz Aldrin removes the passive seismometer from a compartment in the SEQ bay of the Lunar Lander (Apollo 11 “Eagle”), July 21, 1969. (Public domain)

Grumman was not one of the larger competitors for NASA contracts. They initially offered to be a subcontractor in General Electric’s bid to build the command module and service module. North American Aviation beat them out. NASA had originally intended for the command module and service module to land on the moon and take off directly from the lunar surface to return to Earth. That particular spacecraft configuration proved to be prohibitively massive. It would require a rocket larger than anything already developed just to get it into space. But an engineer at Langley Research Center, John Houbolt, suggested taking along a smaller spacecraft, just to land on the moon. It would then launch from the lunar surface and rejoin the command module, which would now remain in lunar orbit.

The lander would be discarded after the astronauts transferred back inside the command module, which alone would return to Earth. Rendezvous in lunar orbit seemed risky, but it saved so much weight that it allowed the program to go forward at a pace that would meet President John Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon within the decade. When NASA decided that they would develop the program around the lunar-orbit rendezvous approach, Tom Kelly and his team were well prepared to offer their proposal. Grumman wrote up the proposal, and General Electric became the subcontractor for the lander’s electronics.

When they won the contract in 1962, Kelly and his engineering team realized that they would be faced with the same challenge that had faced Leonardo da Vinci, the Wright brothers, and Charles Lindbergh: weight! Every step forward in human flight had involved overcoming the limitations imposed by gravity. NASA gave them an initial estimate of 30,200 pounds for the spacecraft. The craft that landed on the moon and then launched from the lunar surface to rendezvous with the command module had to fit within this prescribed limitation. They had seven years.

Armstrong trains in the Lunar Module simulator at the Kennedy Space Center on June 19, 1969. (Public domain)

Overcoming Challenges

Kelly’s team worked tirelessly to conserve weight in unusual ways—in particular, the engineering of the astronauts’ seats. Grumman built 15 landers, 6 of which actually went to the moon. Some of the others are on display in museums, and visitors often ask where the astronauts’ seats are. In 1964, the design team eliminated them. The astronauts flew the lander standing up. In gravity that was one sixth that of Earth, the astronauts could fly, land, and take off standing in the craft. Their legs were all the shock absorbers they needed. With no seats, the astronauts also had more room for donning their space suits for the walk on the lunar surface. They could also hang their sleeping hammocks for the rest they needed while on the moon. Removing the seats saved weight in itself, but the move also allowed the astronauts to stand closer to the craft’s windows, allowing them to be significantly smaller. This saved hundreds of pounds of glass as well.

Astronaut Pete Conrad would refer to the cabin design as a “trolley car configuration.” Bethpage, New York, where the landers were built, is just 30 miles east of Brooklyn, where trolley car motormen actually stood up while operating a throttle with the left hand and a brake with the right. According to Kelly, those trolley cars had already inspired the name of a baseball team. Manhattan residents, who had more subways, sometimes referred to Brooklyn’s inhabitants as “trolley dodgers”; hence, the team’s name came to be the Brooklyn Dodgers. Did the trolleys of Brooklyn also influence the design of the lunar lander? Conrad’s reference suggests it might have.

The Apollo 9 Lunar Module (Spider) photographed from the Command Module on March 7, 1969, the fifth day of the Apollo 9 Earth-orbital mission. (Public domain)
Armstrong after the completion of the Lunar Extravehicular Activity on the Apollo 11 flight; photographed by Aldrin on July 20, 1969. (Public domain)

The landing module (LM) had to operate in extreme temperatures. The team came up with the Kapton sheeting (a kind of Mylar foil covered with gold leaf) that gives the lower part of the craft its “tinfoil” appearance. It simply reflected the solar heat away from the spacecraft, much like a windshield reflector does for a parked automobile. Because the lander never had to fly in atmosphere, it needed no aerodynamic design—no smooth, rounded surfaces to resist airflow. It could just be a long-legged, boxy shape. The first manned LM, flown in the Earth’s orbit by Apollo 9, would be called “Spider.” After one more dress rehearsal in lunar orbit by Apollo 10, the “Eagle,” flown by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11, would land on the moon. The date was July 20, 1969—eight years after John F. Kennedy laid down the challenge.

Tom Kelly and the Grumman team did some thinking beyond the task at hand that proved invaluable just two missions later. They recommended designing “lifeboat” capabilities into the LM. These capabilities would save the lives of the Apollo 13 astronauts when their command-service module was crippled by an explosion. The crew fired up the LM and used it to provide life support and navigation right up to the time that they jettisoned it. The command module was the only part of the spacecraft that could reenter the atmosphere. Though the LM “Aquarius” was consumed in a fiery reentry itself, the “Grumman Iron Works” team had successfully delivered one more crew safely home. In 1994, Grumman merged with the Northrup Corporation to become Northrup Grumman, one of the country’s largest aircraft manufacturers. In 1994, Grumman merged with the Northrup Corporation to become Northrup Grumman, one of the country’s largest aircraft manufacturers.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine. 

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There Are Only 47 of These Vintage Tucker Cars Left in the World, and They’re Worth Millions Each

Since the dawn of the American automotive industry over 100 years ago, car enthusiasts have been debating which car is the most collectible of them all.

While some, such as the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, and the 1964 and a half Ford Mustang, are at the top of many collectors’ lists, most will agree the Tucker 48 is indeed the be-all-end-all car to have in a collection. Even if you don’t have a collection, one Tucker trumps a dozen Oldsmobiles.

Who and What Is a Tucker?

From a young age, Preston Tucker was in and out of the automotive industry. Even though he never had formal training or a college degree, he had a thorough understanding of how mechanical things worked, particularly automobiles.

It was Tucker’s childhood dream to design and mass-produce cars for the American market using elements that were either his inventions or rarely used before. After the war, he was able to raise $20 million (over $259 million in today’s money) to do exactly that through the Tucker Corporation.

Tucker and his crew made 51 cars by hand. There were subtle differences among them and the designers were constantly making small improvements as they went along. Parts were not 100 percent interchangeable from one vehicle to another.

“You can’t take a door off one and put it on the other,” said Mark Lieberman, a Tucker owner and historian. “There were changes in the engine that were made. There were changes in the suspension that were made.”

Each car is known by its number. There’s the prototype, known as No. 1000, also referred to as the Tin Goose. Then there are 50 Tucker 48s, numbered 1001–1050. However, prior to the Tin Goose was the Tucker Torpedo. “It was never a car; it was only a plaster model,” said Lieberman. To make things even more complicated, Nos. 1026 and 1042 are known as Tuckermatics because of their unique transmissions.

Innovations

Safety was a priority for Tucker. In all of the cars, he installed a windshield that would pop out should the driver or passenger be thrown through it, thus avoiding lacerations.

You know when you’re looking at a Tucker because it has three headlights. Tucker installed one in the middle of the front end that was connected to the steering wheel.

Automotive visionary Preston Tucker drives one of the cars he designed. (Courtesy of the AACA Museum)

Then there was the sponge rubber crash panel, which was essentially the first padded dashboard. Tucker also had this material on the doors, making the Tucker 48 the first car with a padded impact area. The automotive industry has since embraced this feature. “It’s been a staple ever since,” said Lieberman.

Tucker wanted his car to have seat belts, which no other manufacturer had at the time. However, the marketing department felt seat belts would send the message that the car wasn’t safe, and Tucker was overruled on that one.

The Tucker 48 had four-wheel, independent suspension. “Unheard of at the time,” said Lieberman. “Now it’s commonplace on many automobiles.”

The Big Three and the SEC

At this time in America, just about every car owner owned one made by one of the “Big Three” car manufacturers, Ford Motor Company, Chrysler Corporation, or General Motors.

The automotive establishment in Detroit was not happy with Tucker’s unorthodox methods of manufacturing and marketing and perceived him as a threat. History has painted The Big Three as being the villains in this saga, but that isn’t necessarily true.

A smear campaign was done with false charges of fraud, brought on by the Security and Exchange Commission. Tucker and his executives were tried and acquitted, but the SEC succeeded in putting the Tucker Corporation out of business.

Where They Went

After the demise of the Tucker Corporation, the 51 cars were scattered about the country. In the 1950s, a showman named Nick Jenin bought up 10 of them and toured the country, bringing them to state fairs on two car carriers, where he promoted the story of Preston Tucker.

“Ezra Schlipf is another gentleman that bought quite a few of them and resold them,” said Lieberman. “There were guys that became known as Tucker specialists.” Collector David Cammack purchased three, none of which he’d even start, let alone drive, for fear of damaging them. Cammack also collected Tucker artifacts, such as original documents and blueprints, making his collection the most extensive of them all.

The second of the two Tuckermatics, No. 1042, had sat idle at the Michigan State Fair Grounds, even though it was owned by Jenin. The powers-that-be decided a good way to get this car off their property was to have an event where, for the price of a dollar, anyone could smash it with a sledgehammer.

In 1988, Paramount Pictures released the feature film “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” starring Jeff Bridges as Tucker. It was produced in part by George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Ltd. and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The biopic didn’t do well at the box office, but it introduced Preston Tucker to the general public. “The values of Tuckers wouldn’t be what they are today without the movie,” said Lieberman. Lucas owns a Tucker 48 and Coppola owns two.

The steering wheel of a Tucker, which directs the center headlight. (Courtesy of the AACA Museum)

The Resurrection of No. 1006

Lieberman has been a car enthusiast his whole life. In 1992, when he was 29 years old, a friend told him of a Tucker for sale. The story the friend verbalized was that in a parking structure in downtown Detroit, where he stores his car for the winter, there was a Tucker that might be for sale. Lieberman found this claim hard to believe. He went to the building, which was “packed full of dilapidated vehicles and cars in storage.” He met with the owner of the place, a retired police officer, who walked him over to a “dark, dingy corner.”

“Lo and behold, there’s three headlights looking at me from this corner,” said Lieberman. The exterior of the car was covered in dirt, and the interior was being used, literally, as a garbage can. This included Wendy’s bags and wrappers, a kitchen food processor, and a bathroom scale. Plus, the side windows were broken. “I didn’t care. I wanted it all,” said Lieberman.

After a few minutes of negotiating, Lieberman wrote a check and called for a flatbed to come get his newly found treasure. The trip home was in the pouring rain, which gave the car its first wash in decades, “leaving this trail of black behind it.” Lieberman didn’t realize until he arrived at his house that there was a convoy of drivers following them, who wanted to buy the Tucker from him on the spot. Lieberman has since restored the car to its original splendor (pictured) and at one time or another has owned five Tuckers.

A collector on Long Island currently owns No. 1044, which once belonged to Lieberman. “I pulled that car out of a barn where it sat since the ’70s,” he said. The barn was in Ohio, and he bought it in 2016 or so. “I just got it running and driving and I sold it at auction,” said Lieberman, where the current owner purchased it for about $1.3 million.

The Tucker Automobile Club of America

Lieberman has owned five Tucker 48s and he’s the senior director of the Tucker Automobile Club of America in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The club is part of the AACA Museum, which Lieberman describes as “the center of the Tucker universe.” On display there are Cammack’s three cars, Nos. 1001, 1022, and 1026, as well as the artifacts he collected. No. 1026 is the only surviving of the two Tuckermatics.

While the Tucker Corporation is long gone, Preston Tucker LLC exists today, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was started in 2012 by Tucker’s two great-grandsons, Sean and Mike Tucker. The great-grandsons work closely with Lieberman in restoring the autos. “The three of us know every bolt, every fastener, and every component of these cars,” said Lieberman.

The great-grandsons, Bob Ida and his Ida Automotive, and Bruce Devlin were the craftsmen who restored No. 1044, from the barn in Ohio, with parts supplied by Lieberman. Currently, all of them are involved in the restoration of three more Tucker 48s.

Other Locations

The Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska, currently has a Tucker on display, as does the Tallahassee Automotive Museum in Florida. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in D.C. has No. 1039 on display, which was acquired through a 1992 narcotics arrest by U.S. Marshals. The automotive museum at The Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas also had a Tucker on display for many years. The establishment is now called The Linq, and the museum is long gone. The car, No. 1008, is now at a museum in Chicago. No. 1030 is currently at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

Senior director of the Tucker Automobile Club of America and five-time Tucker 48 owner Mark Lieberman, with two Tuckers at his Michigan-based car dealership, Nostalgic Motoring. ( Courtesy of Mark Lieberman)

The LeMay Collections at Marymount in Washington state has No. 1007 on permanent display. It was purchased in 2002 at an auction for $334,800. Although its initial engine was replaced in 1948, the transmission is original. “The car came with a Cord preselector transmission from the factory and remains in the car,” said volunteer Tim Hallen. Its most recent restoration was completed in 1993. The original color of the body and interior was green, but both have been redone in a non-Tucker blue.

There’s a Tucker in Japan, one in Germany, one in Australia, and one in Kuwait. The City of Cacapava, Sao Paolo, Brazil, owns No. 1035, and the Maine Classic Car Museum has No. 1028 on display.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation has one on display, which is ironic because the Ford Motor Company was one of the Big Three that was supposedly responsible for putting the Tucker Corporation out of business. The disclaimer on its website reads:

“Tucker built 51 cars before a shortage of money and a surplus of bad publicity closed his company. Some think the Big Three conspired to destroy him. More likely, he was overwhelmed by the enormous cost of building an automobile company from scratch. Tucker raised over $20 million, but probably needed ten times that much to secure his firm’s future.”

Lieberman feels this statement is “all very true.”

“All cars are accounted for,” said Lieberman. “Of the original 51 cars, including the prototype, 47 survive.” He estimates that of the 47, just over half actually start and move but aren’t really roadworthy. He estimates about 10 or more can be driven long distances.

Tucker’s Legacy

Preston Tucker died in 1956, at the age of 53. So he never saw the worth of each of his 51 creations surpass $1 million. He never saw his life played out by actors on the big screen. So it’s up to collectors with the desire to keep the Tucker 48s intact, and craftsmen such as Lieberman, Ida, and the great-grandsons to help them do that, to keep Tucker’s legacy alive.

Perhaps if Tucker could witness these things, he’d know that there are 47 machines that represent American ingenuity, American entrepreneurship, and the American Dream.

And those things will always survive, even if the 47 remaining cars don’t.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.