Whether you just entered the working world or you're multiple rungs up a ladder, career climbs today are steeper and falls are harder. As the head of a college that prepares (and repairs) men and women for that world, I have a little counsel for you from a legend who stepped into the work landscape and proceeded to rewrite the map all the way across.
That man is R.G. LeTourneau, and you have over him that he stepped into a difficult economy with pretty much no preparation. For most of his life, he called himself "a mechanic the Lord blessed," and that's where the understatement begins. The thing is that R.G. LeTourneau knew how to learn; as an inventor and innovator, he changed what's possible in our world by completely upending how earthmovers are made and the very things a machine can accomplish. As a philanthropist, he put new lenses on how Christians look at careers-and built what is now LeTourneau University, a most practical place to see spiritual gifts blur into marketplace skills.
If you're a professional looking for a model, here he is; for a Christian to emulate, you're still in the right place. And if you're in the market for some savvy career advice, read on:
1. Never Let "Unfair" Stop You
When America entered World War I, a prior injury kept R.G. LeTourneau from military service. So he left the auto garage he co-owned and served his country by working in a shipyard. His reward for that altruism? He returned to a bankrupt business that saddled him with serious debt. Unfair? Certainly. But never mind that. Mr. LeTourneau found work using his mechanical skills to repair a land scraper. The machine's owner asked him to level a 40-acre plot, and Mr. LeTourneau fell into a lifelong passion for the earthmoving business. The moral: "Unfair" may be the open door you didn't know you wanted.
2. Failure Is an Option . . . and an Opportunity
The film Apollo 13 popularized the phrase, "Failure is not an option," but we've already seen from R.G. LeTourneau's life that it was for him. More often than not, failure is opportunity in work clothes. Finding his passion in earthmoving couldn't prevent the potholes. Twice he almost went bankrupt in that competitive niche of the construction business. And in facing those setbacks, he turned his eye not to moving earth but to the equipment that does it. He became an innovator, inventor and industrialist. The young man "unfit" for World War I manufactured 70 percent of the heavy machinery used by the U.S. to win World War II. Moral: Early failure leads to later opportunity.
3. 'It Hasn't' Doesn't Mean 'It Can't'
With the exception of 4-year-old boys, people today hardly blink as they pass the massive earthmovers common at construction sites. Some of these machines are the size of small buildings themselves. There was a time, however, when no one conceived of machinery on such a scale. R.G. LeTourneau successfully made earthmoving machines, but why stop there? After he sold one manufacturing firm, he started another-this time to employ game-changing technology in earthmoving equipment that he pioneered. His career decisions shone out a simple truth: just because something hasn't been done, doesn't mean it can't be done.
4. Your Mission Field? You're working in It.
R.G. LeTourneau moved the earth in many ways. Another case in point: He pioneered the idea that a "mission" field goes way outside the borders of church work or foreign service. What about the workplace? R.G. LeTourneau, in fact, often was called "God's businessman." That legacy thrives on at the university he founded, America's only Christian university clearly mandated to prepare Christians for the marketplace.
5. Some Things Never Move
R.G. LeTourneau in his day moved a lot of dirt, but never forgot that both work and personal life have everything to do with that real estate that does not shift: where a person stands with God. Through bottomed-out economies, personal catastrophe, bad business partners, short deadlines, breakdowns, hard decisions-and repeatedly facing off against real mountains-he knew who God was, so he knew who he was.
The smartest business people I know seek out any best practices that can advance their courses, their ladders and climbs. If you're just hearing about R.G. LeTourneau, you would do well to study what made him such an original. If you know about him, you already know that.