Find your Branch Rickey

I watched the movie “42” with my wife this past weekend. It’s a fabulous movie. I had mentioned to my wife after the movie that “every kid in America should see this movie.” If you haven’t seen it, take your kids and go.

I thought more about the movie during my morning run the next day and realized that every entrepreneur should watch the movie too. I won’t equate starting a company to breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in the late ‘40’s, but there is certainly some parallels in trying to do something that has not been done before, and particularly the determination and sacrifices that are required to get there.

Let me explain my thought process. I already knew the story of Jackie Robinson – even though he died when I was only 6 years old, everyone knew what he had done for baseball, and by the early 70’s, many of the games stars were African American. However, I didn’t know much at all about Branch Rickey. I knew his name, and that he signed Jackie, but I didn’t know why. I also had no idea how much support (beyond financial) that he provided to Jackie during that first horrible year when Jackie was harassed, threatened and constantly torn down.

While watching the movie, it seemed that every time Jackie experienced a particularly tough situation, Branch Rickey was there to support him. Ultimately, that support helped Jackie become an icon in the sports world and an ambassador of good will.  I’m sure that was a little bit of extra Hollywood “flavoring”, but I did appreciate the context – the Director really wanted to show that while Jackie was the front guy out there, there was also a man behind the scenes that provided the support and encouragement that helped Jackie during his darkest moments.

Every entrepreneur needs this type of person. Starting and running a business is extremely hard.  Most of the time you have people telling you what you’re doing can’t be done, or that you’re doing it wrong, or that you’re simply crazy.  Most startups will go through the hype cycle – including my favorite step – the trough of disillusionment. It’s imperative that you have that person that believes in you, that will encourage you and help you through your own entrepreneurial dark days.

Of course it is always helpful if this person is supporting your business financially (like Branch Rickey did for Jackie) but I don’t think that’s required.  In fact, in many cases, it takes a very unique individual to be able to provide the support required when they themselves have so much financially riding on the outcome.  Branch Rickey was indeed a unique and amazing man.  Not only did he want to move our country forward from a social perspective, but he felt the introduction of black ballplayers would significantly increase the popularity of the game in the city and provide him with a whole new demographic to market to.  He was correct on both counts, but again, that is beside the point.  Without his unwavering support, his ability to keep Jackie focused on the big picture, how and when to “pivot” based on the feedback being presented to them, and also knowing when to push and when to hold back, Jackie could have easily succomed to the pressure and set back equal rights for many years.

Current and future entrepreneurs – of course continue thinking about or building out your dream idea… but along the way, don’t forget to seek out your own Branch Rickey. If you’ve already found him or her, let us know in the comments section!

 P.S. Happy Birthday Dad!!!

 

  • Tom_Salzer

    Great points.

    Another perspective is to look at Branch Rickey as the entrepreneur rather
    than the mentor. There he was running a successful business with roughly the same model as every other baseball team. It would have been easy to leave things
    alone.

    It was a combination of amazing vision and a raw act of courage to recognize that business had to change and then to implement that change despite the obstacles and risk. Branch Rickey had no idea whether he would succeed or fail – like so
    many entrepreneurs. However, he did have a vision of where he thought the market and his organization should be.

    • Absolutely Tom. In this case, as well as current entrepreneurs, many of our mentors will be (or have been) entrepreneurs themselves. In Jackie’s case, his outcome and Branch’s outcome were somewhat intertwined – that’s also typically the case if your mentor is also your investor. But that can get messy too, for the reasons I described – money can certainly get in the way of a strong unbiased opinion!