Rebel With A Cause

Overview

"A great life and a great read . . ."-George Soros

"A remarkably cogent story of a most remarkable man. Sperling's openness about problems and failures inspires and informs the entrepreneurial spirit. Sperling describes the extraordinary power and potential of focused human intensity. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in starting or building a business."-Peter Lewis, Chairman and CEO, The Progressive Corporation

"The University of Phoenix is the largest private university in the United States. It is fully accredited and traded on

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Overview

"A great life and a great read . . ."-George Soros

"A remarkably cogent story of a most remarkable man. Sperling's openness about problems and failures inspires and informs the entrepreneurial spirit. Sperling describes the extraordinary power and potential of focused human intensity. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in starting or building a business."-Peter Lewis, Chairman and CEO, The Progressive Corporation

"The University of Phoenix is the largest private university in the United States. It is fully accredited and traded on NASDAQ. Mere mention of its name produces anger, fear, and envy on the nation's college campuses. In the private sector, it has inspired scores of companies to enter the education market. This is the story of the entrepreneur who launched a revolution in higher education."-Arthur Levine, President, Teacher's College, Columbia University

"Education will be one of the key growth sectors of our knowledge-based economy over the next ten years. John Sperling, founder and Chairman of Apollo Group, has been one of the visionary driving forces behind this growth. By developing a unique customer-focused model of higher education, Dr. Sperling has helped to build the largest private university in the United States that continues to be one of the best growth opportunities in education today."-Thomas Weisel, President & CEO, Thomas Weisel Partners, LLC

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This thought-provoking memoir tells the story of Sperling's struggle to create the University of Phoenix--the world's most successful for-profit education company. (It currently posts revenues over $500 million, has a market capitalization of approximately $3 billion, operates in more than 35 states with a global distance education network, and has enrolled more than 120,000.) Here he traces the company's history--its ascent from a beleaguered institution to modern university. Sperling candidly describes his embattled quest, and along the way, shares his controversial views on how the United States must change its education policies to remain competitive in the new global economy. His controversial approach has already drawn fire, including from the library community. Recommended for academic and public libraries.--Samuel T. Huang, Northern Illinois Univ. Libs., DeKalb Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471326045
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/18/2000
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

JOHN SPERLING is Chairman and CEO of Apollo Group, Inc., the parent company of the University of Phoenix. He and his companies are widely covered in the financial and educational press, and have been the subject of feature articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Business Week, and the New Yorker.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Lessons

I have been successful in business--very successful. My essential metier, however, has been, and is, stimulating and enabling personal transformation and social reform. The reason for these interests will become evident as you read about my personal/company history. The typical American success story no longer begins with birth in a backwoods log cabin, but mine does. And that is only the first on a long list of anomalies in my life.

The money I've made notwithstanding, I am an unintentional entrepreneur and an accidental CEO. The company I founded in 1972 with $26,000 in hard-earned savings now has a market value close to $3 billion. This stroke of good fortune occurred after a largely misspent youth, dutiful but undistinguished military service, a graduate ate education that went on far too long simply because I had nothing better to do, and a lackluster academic career (except for the effectiveness of my teaching), that led me to delay finding my calling until the age of 39. Even then, the calling I found was not business--it was union organizing.

I did not become an entrepreneur until the age of 52. I created my first company with no thought for building a business, per se, but merely as a way to preserve an educational innovation from being destroyed by a small-minded bureaucracy. I had designed a program specifically for working adults that would allow them to earn a degree in the same amount of time it took full-time students on campus. Because this challenged many of the sacred tenets of academe, it was met with hostility bordering on rage.

The depth of opposition I encountered made it clear to me that creating a new, independent structure was necessary for the survival of my ideas, but even the decision to establish my new venture as for- profit--the ultimate apostasy in academe--still had nothing to do with business. In fact, as a left-leaning academic in a word culture, I was not only ignorant of business, I was hostile to it. I had recently been voted out of the presidency and control of a faculty union that I had built from almost nothing to one that was both important and prosperous. That experience cured me of my socialist sentiments in favor of nonprofits. I correctly perceived that the only sure way to maintain and enjoy the fruits of my labor was to create a venture I could control--it would be a for-profit corporation with majority control firmly in my hands.

This decision led me to found what would become the nanation's largest and fastest-growing private university. It also gave me a fortune beyond my wildest imaginings. The company I began in 1972 became, in 1985, the Apollo Group, which went public in 1994 and now has operations in 35 states and, by distance education, all over the world. We have a total enrollment of over 120,000 students and an annual growth rate of 25 percent.

There is probably something to be learned from all this, but what I'm offering here is not a conventional how-to-succeed-in-business business biography. I have always found the lessons in such books rather tedious, and I have never taken one of them to heart. I have learned far more about how to conduct my business affairs from such novels as: Tom Jones, Emma, Notes From the Underground, The Red and The Black, Death Comes to the Archbishop, and The Great Gatsby than I ever have from reading a business book. So, if there are lessons to be learned from my life, I have left them simply embedded in the story. I trust the reader to have the good sense to find them and to choose from among them.

However, there is another, perhaps more important, reason for avoiding a didactic presentation of what life has taught me. A reader would be well advised to strenuously avoid most of the behaviors that made me successful. For example, if one chooses to "challenge authority," as I have done, but is not tough enough or shrewd enough to carry it off, he or she will be ill served by the advice. The same can be said for any number of my other characteristics--opportunism, indifference to the advice of experts, and lack of concern for what peers and authority figures think of me. Behaving this way in most companies would soon lead to a reputation as an unsavory character and, most likely, an invitation to work elsewhere.

The three behaviors that have served me best in my career as union organizer and entrepreneur are implacable opportunism, joy in conflict, and getting a thrill from taking risks--none of them a safe ride. Janis Joplin immortalized Kris Kristofferson's observation that "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," and that's the freedom that comes to those who, like me, embark on life with nowhere to go but up. Having nothing, and therefore nothing to lose, makes implacable opportunism a rational behavior, and, eventually, such behavior becomes habitual. It is also vastly easier to take risks when the upside is so much greater than the downside. And, if one is an opportunist who engages in risky behavior, conflict is inevitable, so you might as well enjoy it.

Even though I now have much to lose, I'm still an opportunist, still get into a lot of conflicts, and still find risky ventures exciting because they heighten my survival instincts, focus all my senses, and force me to perform at maximum effectiveness. It was this bet-the- farm behavior that helped to build the Apollo Group, but now that Apollo is a large organization with very effective controls, I have to exercise my penchant for risk elsewhere. Fortunately, because of Apollo's success, I can afford to.

I now invest my risk capital in ventures that truly interest me, but also ones that stand some chance of promoting positive social change. One of these is Seaphire International, an effort to expand the world's food supply by developing saltwater agriculture suitable for third- world countries. Another is the Kronos Group, Inc., a commercial venture into longevity research, linked with the delivery of age man agement therapy in a clinical setting. These are hardly areas free of controversy, but to truly indulge my passion for conflict, I've also adopted drug law reform as my political passion. Working with financier George Soros and insurance executive Peter Lewis, we have formed a troika dedicated to demilitarizing America's "War on Drugs," which, in a time of sharply declining crime rates, has filled our prisons to overflowing.

The final chapters of this book describe these current passions of my "golden years." The other chapters describe how I built the wealth that now allows me to invest in controversial socioeconomic and political ventures. Most of the people who read this book will never be in a position to create a company like Apollo, or have the resources to engage in the kind of activism I've undertaken. However, they might enjoy reading about how someone with a propensity to bet the farm managed to do so.

Obviously, my own success did not just happen suddenly at the age of 52. It did not begin with the formation of my original company, or with the academic research that was its intellectual foundation. It began at my birth and slowly took shape as my intelligence, personality, values, ideology, aesthetics, persona, and world view were shaped by the people, places, and experiences of a lifetime.

There is a Chinese proverb that states, "Pain teaches." The American variation offers, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

If these adages have any truth to them, then I was lucky, indeed, to be born into the Missouri Ozark hamlet of Freedom School House, in a cabin made of rough-cut logs, in the year of 1921. Or, as Roberto Benigni put it at the 1999 Academy Awards ceremony, my parents gave me the greatest gift of all--poverty.

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Table of Contents

Lessons.
The Education of John Sperling: Part I--1939 to 1954--A Sea Change.
The Education of John Sperling: Part II--1954 to 1960--Voyage to Europe.
San Jose State and the Transmogrification of John Sperling: Reentering Academe.
The Unintentional Entrepreneur: Summing Up.
Exodus from California and Flight to the Valley of the Sun: Seeking a Strategy for Survival.
The War in Arizona: Setting the Scene.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: Part I--1979 to 1981--The FBI Arrives--RICO.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: Part II--1981 to 1986.
Toward an IPO and Beyond: Preparation for and Launch of the IPO--1986 to 2000.
Giving Back: Part I.
Giving Back: Part II--The War against the War on Drugs.
Give Back: Part III--The Second Battle for Proposition 200.
Epilogue.
Endnotes.
Index
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First Chapter

Chapter 1
Lessons

I have been successful in business--very successful. My essential metier, however, has been, and is, stimulating and enabling personal transformation and social reform. The reason for these interests will become evident as you read about my personal/company history. The typical American success story no longer begins with birth in a backwoods log cabin, but mine does. And that is only the first on a long list of anomalies in my life.

The money I've made notwithstanding, I am an unintentional entrepreneur and an accidental CEO. The company I founded in 1972 with $26,000 in hard-earned savings now has a market value close to $3 billion. This stroke of good fortune occurred after a largely misspent youth, dutiful but undistinguished military service, a graduate ate education that went on far too long simply because I had nothing better to do, and a lackluster academic career (except for the effectiveness of my teaching), that led me to delay finding my calling until the age of 39. Even then, the calling I found was not business--it was union organizing.

I did not become an entrepreneur until the age of 52. I created my first company with no thought for building a business, per se, but merely as a way to preserve an educational innovation from being destroyed by a small-minded bureaucracy. I had designed a program specifically for working adults that would allow them to earn a degree in the same amount of time it took full-time students on campus. Because this challenged many of the sacred tenets of academe, it was met with hostility bordering on rage.

The depth of opposition I encountered made it clear to me that creating a new, independent structure was necessary for the survival of my ideas, but even the decision to establish my new venture as for- profit--the ultimate apostasy in academe--still had nothing to do with business. In fact, as a left-leaning academic in a word culture, I was not only ignorant of business, I was hostile to it. I had recently been voted out of the presidency and control of a faculty union that I had built from almost nothing to one that was both important and prosperous. That experience cured me of my socialist sentiments in favor of nonprofits. I correctly perceived that the only sure way to maintain and enjoy the fruits of my labor was to create a venture I could control--it would be a for-profit corporation with majority control firmly in my hands.

This decision led me to found what would become the nanation'slargest and fastest-growing private university. It also gave me a fortune beyond my wildest imaginings. The company I began in 1972 became, in 1985, the Apollo Group, which went public in 1994 and now has operations in 35 states and, by distance education, all over the world. We have a total enrollment of over 120,000 students and an annual growth rate of 25 percent.

There is probably something to be learned from all this, but what I'm offering here is not a conventional how-to-succeed-in-business business biography. I have always found the lessons in such books rather tedious, and I have never taken one of them to heart. I have learned far more about how to conduct my business affairs from such novels as: Tom Jones, Emma, Notes From the Underground, The Red and The Black, Death Comes to the Archbishop, and The Great Gatsby than I ever have from reading a business book. So, if there are lessons to be learned from my life, I have left them simply embedded in the story. I trust the reader to have the good sense to find them and to choose from among them.

However, there is another, perhaps more important, reason for avoiding a didactic presentation of what life has taught me. A reader would be well advised to strenuously avoid most of the behaviors that made me successful. For example, if one chooses to "challenge authority," as I have done, but is not tough enough or shrewd enough to carry it off, he or she will be ill served by the advice. The same can be said for any number of my other characteristics--opportunism, indifference to the advice of experts, and lack of concern for what peers and authority figures think of me. Behaving this way in most companies would soon lead to a reputation as an unsavory character and, most likely, an invitation to work elsewhere.

The three behaviors that have served me best in my career as union organizer and entrepreneur are implacable opportunism, joy in conflict, and getting a thrill from taking risks--none of them a safe ride. Janis Joplin immortalized Kris Kristofferson's observation that "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," and that's the freedom that comes to those who, like me, embark on life with nowhere to go but up. Having nothing, and therefore nothing to lose, makes implacable opportunism a rational behavior, and, eventually, such behavior becomes habitual. It is also vastly easier to take risks when the upside is so much greater than the downside. And, if one is an opportunist who engages in risky behavior, conflict is inevitable, so you might as well enjoy it.

Even though I now have much to lose, I'm still an opportunist, still get into a lot of conflicts, and still find risky ventures exciting because they heighten my survival instincts, focus all my senses, and force me to perform at maximum effectiveness. It was this bet-the- farm behavior that helped to build the Apollo Group, but now that Apollo is a large organization with very effective controls, I have to exercise my penchant for risk elsewhere. Fortunately, because of Apollo's success, I can afford to.

I now invest my risk capital in ventures that truly interest me, but also ones that stand some chance of promoting positive social change. One of these is Seaphire International, an effort to expand the world's food supply by developing saltwater agriculture suitable for third- world countries. Another is the Kronos Group, Inc., a commercial venture into longevity research, linked with the delivery of age man agement therapy in a clinical setting. These are hardly areas free of controversy, but to truly indulge my passion for conflict, I've also adopted drug law reform as my political passion. Working with financier George Soros and insurance executive Peter Lewis, we have formed a troika dedicated to demilitarizing America's "War on Drugs," which, in a time of sharply declining crime rates, has filled our prisons to overflowing.

The final chapters of this book describe these current passions of my "golden years." The other chapters describe how I built the wealth that now allows me to invest in controversial socioeconomic and political ventures. Most of the people who read this book will never be in a position to create a company like Apollo, or have the resources to engage in the kind of activism I've undertaken. However, they might enjoy reading about how someone with a propensity to bet the farm managed to do so.

Obviously, my own success did not just happen suddenly at the age of 52. It did not begin with the formation of my original company, or with the academic research that was its intellectual foundation. It began at my birth and slowly took shape as my intelligence, personality, values, ideology, aesthetics, persona, and world view were shaped by the people, places, and experiences of a lifetime.

There is a Chinese proverb that states, "Pain teaches." The American variation offers, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

If these adages have any truth to them, then I was lucky, indeed, to be born into the Missouri Ozark hamlet of Freedom School House, in a cabin made of rough-cut logs, in the year of 1921. Or, as Roberto Benigni put it at the 1999 Academy Awards ceremony, my parents gave me the greatest gift of all--poverty.

Survival: Years 0 to 7

From birth to my 15th year was mostly a period of physical and psychic survival amid two quarreling parents, two quarreling brothers, and two long-suffering sisters--ideal preparation for the life of a contrarian and pioneer.

My first great physical trauma came at age four. The only source of heat in the house, other than a coal-burning kitchen stove, was a coal- burning potbellied stove that sat in the corner of the dining room and on this late afternoon, one of my older brothers was laying a fire. As I stood at his side watching, he opened the mica-windowed door, put in some crumpled up paper and then several scoops of coal from the coal scuttle. He had brought a small can of gasoline into the house when he brought in the coal and he now poured the gasoline over the coal. As he lit a match to throw into the stove, I looked directly into the stove to see the firelight. My next memory was lying on a narrow bed with my hands tied to either side. I lay there for nearly a month as my mother and sisters and brothers placed water-soaked cotton on the blisters that covered my face and hands. I remember hearing the doctor tell my mother something like, "Don't let him break the blisters. Keep them full of water by soaking them with wet cotton 24 hours a day. If you do this, the blisters will finally go down, the skin will reattach and he will have no scars." The doctor was right.

I had most of the childhood diseases--mumps, measles, whoop- ing cough, chicken pox--but not scarlet fever. Sore throats were treated with cold cloths wrapped around my neck (I still use this remedy because it works); coughs were treated with spoons full of sugar dampened with kerosene; and croup was treated with a pot of hot water under a flannel blanket that was draped over a chair, with me kneeling on the floor and with my elbows on the chair. Constipation meant a dose of castor oil, and diarrhea was handled with tea and rice.

We always lived in tiny houses, the best having four original rooms--two bedrooms, a front room, a dining room, a built-on kitchen, and an outhouse--crowded with people, noise, and tensions. We ate mostly what came out of the garden, the henhouse, and two milk cows. Dinners included greens picked from dandelions and mustard added to the leaf lettuce and tomatoes from the garden, plus navy or lima beans cooked with salt pork. There was seldom any meat, but on most Sundays we had fried chicken.

In winter, the only greens were cabbage and brussels sprouts with potatoes and beans. As winter narrowed the available food, my mother's anxiety rose and her daily tirade against my feckless and almost always workless father was now punctuated with, "We're all going to starve to death; mark my words." It did not take too many "We're all going to starve," outbursts for fear to settle in. I didn't dare ask how the starvation would occur but, lying in bed at night, I ran through the scenarios of dwindling food and rising hunger. "Would I actually starve? No, I would beg for food from the neighbors, even strangers."

Perhaps in those moments an entrepreneur was born.

As the months passed with only minor diminution in the amount of food reaching the table, my fears subsided as my understanding of the hyperbole of marital warfare increased. Years later, I came to a better understanding of my mother's anxieties when she told me of our family's departure when, in 1916, they abandoned their homestead in Cochise County, Arizona. The homestead was one of my father's chronically unsuccessful initiatives in his attempts to provide a better life for his family. The family had sold enough farm equipment to buy an old Model T, and loaded it with four children and whatever else they could carry. As they were doing the final packing for the trip back to Missouri from where they had come, a friendly neighbor dropped by to wish them a safe trip together with a bit of derived wisdom for my mother. Out of earshot of my father and the children, he told her, "Mrs. Sperling, if these children are to be fed, you are going to have to feed them."

Except for the blistered face, I do not recall any serious problems with my health until my seventh year. Sometime in the late spring of that year, I invaded a neighbor's cherry orchard and gorged myself on half-ripe cherries. That evening, I became violently ill--vomiting and diarrhea with a fever. I went to bed and stayed there until the following spring. No one could tell what role the cherries played, but the fever was a symptom of pneumonia. Whether the cherry-induced sickness lowered my immune response or whether I had contracted a particularly virulent pneumococcus, I don't know. All I know for sure is that it nearly killed me.

From that first day, the fever did not leave me for nearly a year. As the weeks passed, I grew thinner and weaker and then, because of lying in bed for so many weeks, my left lung filled with pus--a condition called empyema.The doctor who came to see me informed my parents that if the other lung started to fill, I would die. Apparently, he consulted some other physicians who said that the only hope was to cut through the rib in my back--a procedure called a rib resection-- place a tube in my lung and drain the pus. Because I had only one functioning lung, they could not give me a gas-based anesthetic--in 1928 there were no intravenous general anesthetics, so only a local anaesthetic could be used.

The primary doctor told my parents that I was so weak, the operation would probably kill me but that it was my only hope. I have a vivid memory of the operation. It was a small brick hospital and I was taken into the operating room as soon as I arrived in my parent's Model T. The preparations for the operation were done quickly. They placed me on my stomach on the operating table. I felt the pricks of the needles as they injected the anaesthetic. Then, while two doctors and two nurses held my arms and legs, the operation began. I felt the incision like a knife in my brain. As the surgeon began sawing a piece out of my rib, I screamed and struggled--according to my mother who was in the operating room, it took all the strength of the two doctors and two nurses to hold me down. My mother said that when it was over and as I lay moaning, I kept repeating, "Oh, please let me die."

I was only in the hospital for one day and then back to bed at home on my stomach and then slowly on my side until the lung was drained. After two weeks, the lung had drained and the fever ebbed away. Then I began to mend but I was so wasted and weak I could barely sit up. Slowly, I was able to stand, but it was a month before I could walk, and it took the summer for me to regain my health. By September, 18 months after eating the cherries, I was ready to return to school.

During the year in bed, I was too ill most of the time to perceive much of the world about me. My mother and sisters spoon-fed me at every meal, although I could eat very little and my appetite dwindled to only a couple of foods; it revived only after the rib resection. I spent that year in my parents' tiny bedroom. At night, I slept on a trundle bed that slid under their bed; in the morning, I was lifted into my parents' bed where I spent the day.

I am not fully aware of how that year in bed with its attendant pains, discomforts, frights, and boredom affected my soma or my psyche, much less my future business success. Before the sickness, I was the leader of the boys in my circle, prone to risky behavior and relatively indifferent to physical pain. After that, I ceased to lead and shied from pain. It was not until my late teens that my animal spirits revived, the fear of pain disappeared, and the thrill of risk returned. It was not until my late thirties that I again exercised leadership; however, when I did, it felt completely natural.

One thing that seemed to have sprung from that year in bed was my inability to tolerate boredom. Whenever it closes in, I take action. As my academic and business colleagues have often pointed out, I take action whether it is prudent or not even when doing nothing seems to be the wisest course. Fortunately, what appeared at the moment as unwise, has often proved to be very effective and, for this, my colleagues have accorded me the gift of insight and the power of vision.

Grade School

I went to two grade schools, one in the country south of Kansas City, Missouri, and one on the edge of the city. I started in the school in Kansas City, moved to the country, then back to Kansas City, but I can't remember which grades were which. I remember little of either school in years five and six, but I do remember that I found it difficult to learn to read. Although I was a very verbal child, I simply could not connect the words on the page to their meaning. Reading time was painful; I knew that I couldn't read, but neither my teacher nor my parents did anything about it. I suppose they figured I would learn eventually. I did finally learn simple sentences, but once I made them out, I memorized them so I could read them in class when my turn came. I have what some of my friends say is an exceptional memory and any natural ability was probably strengthened by that early exercise. After reading came writing and, here again, no matter how hard I tried, I could not do cursive. My writing book was a mess and the best I could manage was to print in large capitals. Although in my late teens I learned to read quite well, I have never been able to write a cursive script and, with the exception of my barely legible signature, I print everything I write.

After I returned to school from my year in bed, I do not remember anything about school that I enjoyed. I do not remember whether I was held back a grade or rejoined my class. I hardly remember school at all. Whether I was in the country or in Kansas City, I simply wasn't understanding much that was going on. In fact, I began to think of myself as rather dumb. The only powerful memory of the final years of grade school was having to fight many more times than I wanted to. On my way home each day, I passed the house of my main tormentor, Louie Adams, who was much stronger than I. Most days he presented me with a Hobson's choice: either absorb his taunts or else fight him and get knocked down. I usually absorbed the taunts because the fear of pain that followed my lung operation carried over into every aspect of my life. It made me less than a stellar performer in any childhood games that required physical contact, especially football, and I slowly but surely developed a reputation as a coward. That reputation became a barrier to participation in almost any activity with other children and I became a marginal.

High School

I don't remember finishing grade school, but I do remember going to high school because I had to ride the streetcar. Kansas City's Paseo High School was a prison set on a hill. It was concrete block with four stories, endless hallways, and what seemed to me to be hundreds of classrooms. I was a loner who wandered from class to class with little interest in what was going on. The only class that I remember doing well in was algebra, but I remember doing so poorly in Latin and geometry that I failed. Often times, I would become disoriented and have to go to the office for help in finding the classroom. Although school was bad, riding the streetcar was worse. The ride to school was okay because there were lots of people going to work as well as to school. However, most of the passengers going home in the afternoon were students from Paseo. I was the butt of jokes; my books were dropped down behind seats; and because I have kinky hair with a slightly brown complexion, I became "Nigger John." All of this probably built my character, but it didn't do my self-concept much good.

Mother

My mother was 36 when I was born, and my nearest sibling was five years older. Although I was the result of an unwanted pregnancy, my mother was possessively loving. However, she was not, as one finds in biographies of men with possessive mothers, a person who urged me to study hard and to do great things. Rather, I think I was a surrogate love for the one she did not have with her husband. She was very solicitous of my health, provided loving care during sickness, and shielded me from my father's anger, but she was largely indifferent to my psychic well-being or intellectual development.

My mother was a Macnama of Scotch-Irish lineage. They were a hard lot, and from what little contact I had with them, I can understand why the troubles in Northern Ireland have persisted for so long. Her forebears, so she claimed, had arrived in America in the early 1700s. If that was true, then the clan must have migrated down the Appalachian chain, down the Ohio valley, and across the Mississippi into southern Missouri. Her family considered themselves to be Southerners and, as was the case with most yeomen farmers, they wanted nothing to do with Negroes.

My maternal grandfather was a prosperous farmer and cattle trader who, according to all accounts, was small, compact, and very tough both physically and mentally. He was domineering with his wife, his children, and his workers. He lived into his nineties and was gored to death by a bull. I think my mother must have taken after her father. Like him, she was small and tough as nails, and she dominated her husband, her children, and anyone else who happened to be around. When my big hulking brothers, who were quite violent with one another, would fight in the house, knocking over furniture, she would take a pan and whack their heads until they stopped. Then, when one of them would raise a hand as if to strike her, she would stand, arms akimbo, looking up at him and say, "You wouldn't dare strike your mother."

When I reflect on how family genes are distributed, it is clear that my brothers got the Sperling genes. They, like my father, were large and, like him, died of heart attacks in their mid-sixties. I got the Macnama genes--I'm small and alive and well at 79.

Not only was my mother domineering, she was also one of the nosiest persons I have ever known. She wanted to know about everything I did, where I was going, where I had been, with whom I had talked, what they said, and so on.

Over the years, I learned to combat this constant intrusion by lying. I simply related events and conversations as I knew she would want to hear them. She was not stupid and would immediately seize on any inconsistency in what I told her. As a consequence, I had to create a counterworld of people, places, and activities she found acceptable. Because lying was necessary to my psychic integrity, lying became my standard response to almost any question. I would simply give a plausible answer that gave me time to consider just how I wanted to respond. This was a difficult habit to break and I had to work very hard at it. When I finally figured out that lying was counterproductive, I learned to tell the truth by pausing before I answered a question and then making a conscious decision to answer accurately. Years later, Ray Shaffer, a board member of my holding company, the Apollo Group, gave me a simple prescription for veracity: "If you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you've said."

My mother was an incessant talker, an unflagging moralist, and a midwestern Mrs. Malaprop. "If you can't say something good about someone, then don't say anything," she would pontificate and then launch into a diatribe about some neighbor whom she would characterize as a "floor flusher." Her speech was constantly interspersed with quotations, usually incorrect, from the Bible. "Woeful waste makes willful want." "Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth." She was also a vocal racist. There were "niggers in the woodpile," and if one of us had a persistent cold or pain, it was hanging on "like grim death to a sick nigger." She was no more charitable toward Catlikers, Sheenies, Wops, Dagos, Pollocks, or Spiks. The only group she did not criticize was the Jews. "Son, the Jews are God's chosen people, you leave them alone." If someone did something of which she approved, "that was mighty white of them," and if someone was "free, white, and twenty-one," they had all they needed for success. She was also a Calvinist, a fundamentalist Presbyterian when that denomination still preached John Knox's brand of Christianity. Her religion was about the only thing she was unable to impose on my father or brothers; they ignored the religion, but they adhered to her rules: no swearing, no liquor, and no smoking inside the house.

The local minister, Dr. Sutton, delivered fire-and-brimstone sermons every Sunday, and church was a must for me and my sisters. My one personal encounter with the good Doctor was one Sunday morning when we had gotten to church early and he interrogated me on my faith. My answers were not pleasing to him, and then he fixed me with his pale blue eyes and asked, "Son, are you saved?" I stammered that I didn't know, but I would search for a sign. At that point, he let me go. I knew that I wasn't saved, that I probably would never have a sign, and that I would die and go to hell.

The Bible and Pilgrim's Progress were the only books I remember my mother mentioning. When things were going wrong, she was in the "slough of despond"; when she thought I was too smart for my britches, I was "worldly wiseman." Whenever she spoke of her third- grade education, bitterness spilled out of her. Although I was a lack- luster student with few things to brag about, I did not dare brag about them to my mother. If I did, her usual reply was, "I can do that too and all I have is a third-grade education."

Despite the need to develop very bad habits to protect myself from my mother's suffocating love and knowing that, compared with the mothers of my few friends, she was a very difficult person, my love for my mother was total. Ours would later become a love-hate relationship, and I was not free from what I considered her malign infuence until long after her death.

It would be an understatement to say that my mother was and remains the most important influence in my life. Because of her, I have never again wanted to have anyone with a hold on me. At whatever cost, I try to stand alone rather than be beholden to someone to whom I must acknowledge superior status. No doubt, this sense of false pride has denied me the humility needed to curry favor with mentors who might have furthered my career. I often seek advice and profit greatly from it, but I have never been a client. Whenever I have asked for a recommendation or a loan, it was because I believed I deserved it. It has not been the most efficient way to go through life, but, at least, I am beholden to very few individuals.

Father

My father was a classic ne'er-do-well. In his later years, he became what today would be called a bagman, but there were no shopping carts back then; he carried most of the things he brought home in a gunny sack. He was some 50 years old when I was born, and the only job I knew him to have, other than his pathetic attempts at farming, was as a "butcher" who sold drinks and snacks on a train that ran between Kansas City and somewhere.

I do not know what education he had, but he could read and calculate and, in listening to him talk to others, he seemed intelligent and articulate. Over the years, I have wondered why someone who was reasonably good looking and intelligent could be so useless.

While I was very young and before my year-long illness, I was not aware that he was a bum, but by the time I was eight years old, that perception matured. Whether we lived in the country or on the outskirts of Kansas City, he was equally incompetent. When he farmed it was with one horse, a couple of cows, and a few goats, chickens, ducks, and rabbits. He was never able to produce enough to feed the family, and his efforts had always to be supplemented by what my mother and brothers could earn at outside jobs, always menial. I worked for him on the farm, but it was when we lived in Kansas City that my contempt for him changed to loathing. In the country, he was hidden from the neighbors and I had to feel little sense of shame when I went to the country school. In Kansas City, though, he was a very visible bum who ranged several miles from home doing what, I did not know or care. I only knew that when I was with schoolmates and he came into view, I would ignore him and, if possible, change direction and walk away. In school, when there was any discussion of parents, I never mentioned him and, because of the shame I felt at having a bum for a father, I never invited anyone to my house.

My father's workless life led me often to ponder how work was created. Why did most other fathers have jobs, why were they hired, who paid them, where did the people who paid them get the money to pay them, and how did the money spent in the grocery store get to the people who produced the food in the store, and on and on? In short, the workings of the economic system were a complete puzzle, but it was a puzzle I was too ashamed to ask my teachers to explain. Eventually, of course, that curiosity would lead me to become an economic historian--but that gets us ahead of our story.

One night when I was 10 and my mother was gone from the house, my father decided I needed a beating. This was not an uncommon occurrence: He would make me stand while he whipped me with a belt. This particular evening, however, I ran, and he followed me yelling what was going to happen to me when he caught me. I easily outran him and hid until it got very dark. When I went back to the house he was standing outside. I stopped far enough from him so that I could dart away if he lunged for me, and then I told him, "If you ever hit me again, I'll kill you in your sleep." He went back into the house, and he never hit me again.

By the time I was 15, it was pretty clear that my father's health was failing, and he spent most of his time in the house. Then, one day the miracle happened--he died in his sleep. In the morning when my mother told me my father was dead, I could hardly contain my joy. I raced outside, rolled in the grass squealing with delight. There I lay looking up into a clear blue sky, and I realized that this was the happiest day of my life. It still is. When I went back into the house I told my mother that I would find it difficult not to smile when I told anyone my father had died. She said she understood but that I should try to look somber.

Siblings

My parents had six children. Leon, the oldest, was lame; he was 17 years older than I. He had a short Achilles tendon and walked with a cane. Leon was another source of shame; to me he was proof that our family was congenitally twisted. I carried that sense into adulthood, and one of the reasons I have only one child is my fear that any child of mine would be born lame. Lewis, a year younger, was the next and he was normal. Both were broad shouldered and powerful, and both died in their early sixties of heart attacks. By the time I was old enough to really know them, Leon, who had apprenticed as a watch repairman, had married and moved into an apartment in Kansas City. When Leon died, he was still a watch repairman, although he owned a tiny jewelry store. Lewis worked as a draftsman and lived at home. He graduated from drafting to self-taught civil engineer, became a construction superintendent, started and failed in a building supply business, and died a bankrupt. Lewis was not the kindest brother one might imagine. For example, one day I was lying on our old couch on the porch when he came out of the house, lit a cigarette, and told me to get up because he wanted to lie down.I replied that I was there first and didn't have to move. He didn't say anything; rather, he simply took the cigarette he was smoking out of his mouth and began to shove it into the back of my hand. He only had to do that once.

The third child, whose name was never mentioned, died in infancy. Ruth was the fourth, eight years older than I. She was sweet and beautiful and the only sibling I loved, although she had little to do with me because she was very popular and had lots of boyfriends, all of whom wanted to marry her. Although Ruth wanted to marry a diaper wash driver, my mother persuaded her to continue her education. She went to live with my mother's only friend, a woman who had married a pharmacist and lived in Ashland, Oregon, where she attended a normal school. It was a good decision for Ruth. After two years, she got her teaching certificate, took a job in a small town in the ranching country of central Oregon, met and married a rich rancher, and was the only member of the family, other than myself, to achieve affluence, in her case through marriage.

Helen, the fifth, was five years older than I and the only sibling with whom I had an ongoing relationship, but it was not a good one. Helen was plain and had a sour temper that never left her until the day she died. We did not like one another and quarreled regularly. A couple of times I challenged her physically and she promptly decked me. Helen followed Ruth to Ashland, also got her teaching certificate, took a job in a small town in the ranching country of central Oregon and married a ranch foreman. She did not achieve affluence and pre-deceased her husband.

As one might gather from the preceding, we were not a close-knit family, and I spent much of my life putting as much psychic and social distance as I could between my family and myself. During their lifetimes, except for Ruth, I saw them or their families as seldom as possible. I neither asked of them nor gave of myself.

Oregon

My father died in the spring of 1936. I finished my sophomore year at the Paseo High School "Prison," but I did not enroll the following September. Late in the fall, my mother and I left Kansas City for Oregon. I don't remember where she got the money for the trip; she must have sold the house, but I do not know how or when. I do remember that my brother Lewis had just bought a new Ford sedan and that we drove with him to Albuquerque, New Mexico. In Albuquerque, we stayed for a few days with my mother's oldest brother, who had become a modestly successful businessman. I also met one of her other brothers, two sisters, and three cousins. We stayed about a month and then left by train for Oregon.

We were met at the Klamath Falls station by Ruth and her intended husband. Ruth had rented a small house across the road from her school that was some 25 miles west of Lakeview. It was mid- November when we arrived; it was cold with snow cover and I had no overcoat. Fortunately, the car was warm and the drive over the mountains to Lakeview was exciting; the arrival was not.

The school was located at the crossing of two country roads, and the hamlet consisted of a tiny store, a post office, a creamery, and the school. It took us several days to get settled, and then my mother and sister addressed the issue of my returning to high school in Lakeview. I flatly refused. Not only would I have to ride the bus for 25 miles twice a day, I had no winter clothes I considered decent enough to wear to school. That was the excuse, but mostly I feared being friendless. In my view, there was nothing that would recommend me to any potential friend--I would be a marginal student, I was small with no athletic abilities and, worse still, no social abilities. I wouldn't go to school and there was no work for either my mother or myself, so we spent the days sitting around the house, talking about how we were going to get out of the situation, and taking long walks while we discussed the same subject.

In early spring, I was offered a job as a farm laborer by a wheat farmer whose wife had become friends with Ruth. Ruth bought me some work shoes, a heavy work jacket, gloves, and a stocking cap, and I took up residence as the sole occupant of a bunkhouse at the farm. I had done farm work before, but not on a large commercial farm; this was real work. My first task was the plowing on the night shift that lasted from 6 P.M. until 6 A.M. I had never driven a tractor before; there I was on a large diesel cat pulling a gangplow all night long. It was cold and lonely, especially when I pulled up to a shed out of the wind to eat my lunch and drink a cup of coffee. Sometimes, I would go to sleep, but fortunately I never fell off or I would surely have killed myself. Once the plowing was done and the wheat was sowed, things improved somewhat. I worked days as a sort of jack-of-all- trades doing the hundred things serious farming requires. I worked there until my sister's school was out.

My sister then married and moved to her husband's ranch. My mother and I moved to Ashland where my sisters had attended normal school. There we hoped my mother's friend, who had befriended my sisters, would befriend us. We stayed with her and her husband for a couple of weeks until we could find more permanent quarters. We finally found a partially furnished cottage, but work was harder to find. My mother took in washing and ironing, and I worked as a day laborer in the orchards that dotted the valley. It soon became apparent that we had no future in Ashland and, with the last of whatever savings we had, we took the train to Portland.

High School: Round II

We arrived in Portland in late August and moved into a small apartment. My mother got a job sewing sacks in a burlap bag factory and I got a job as a busboy. In September I was persuaded to return to school. We had enough money to buy some decent clothes for myself, and by working two jobs, delivering papers in the morning and bussing dishes at night, I even had a bit of pocket money. I was no better a student at Portland's Washington High School than I had been at the "Prison," but Washington was much more on a human scale and I formed my first important friendship.

I suppose it was formed in an odd way, like many friendships. In this case, it was in some math class where I managed to do fairly well. It was during one of the multiple-choice tests when the boy behind me who was quite large reached up and pushed me aside so that he could read my test paper. I tried to push back but he whispered that if I didn't cooperate he would make certain that I would be sorry. That was enough for me, so not only did I cooperate then, but cooperation with Jack O'Keefe became my way of life. After that, we slowly became friends and, for the first time in years, I had someone to pal around with. Jack was not only large, he was a good athlete and just right for me as a friend. I did not have to worry about having to fight anyone, because he made it clear that anyone who messed with me would have to mess with him but, more important, he was popular and I was happy to be a hanger-on.

During my two years at Washington High, I slowly became partially socialized in the sense that I managed to make a few more friends and even took girls out on dates. About the only indelible thing that happened to me in those years was my final break with my mother's religion. I was dating a girl and I knew that I wanted to have sex with her, but I also realized that it would be a sin. One afternoon while walking home from school on a day that I was to have a date with the girl, I decided that I would try to seduce her. I now had to face the fact that I truly believed that if I carried out my intention, I would be a lost sinner and go to hell. I also knew that I was firm in my decision that I would try to seduce her. Not wanting to spend a lifetime waiting for hell, I stopped, looked up, and said, "God, I am going to sin, if you have the power, strike me dead now." When nothing happened, I looked up again and said, "I reject you forever." I walked on free from God and free from my fear of hell, and free from my mother's religion.

As far as school was concerned, my poor reading ability and almost total lack of intellectual interest in my classes meant that I continued to receive low grades, but not so low that I flunked out. When graduation came, I did not go to any prom or to the graduation ceremony, I just left.

A Dead End

Once graduated, I lost my best friend. Jack left shortly after graduation to attend the maritime academy and without him as an intercessor, I soon dropped the other friends I had made and reverted to my loner behavior. Nineteen thirty-nine was not a good year for a high school graduate with no skills to find a job. I read the help-wanted ads, went to the federal department of employment; however, it was some time before I finally landed a job as a stock boy at a local department store. Although I thought that I was a pretty good worker, I was not fast enough for the supervisor and he sacked me after two weeks. That was the last job I had in Portland for some time.

In 1939, my prospects were bleak. There was still a depression, I was unemployed and, even though I had graduated from high school, I was semiliterate and fit only for common labor. Worse still was my utter lack of confidence or sense of self-worth. I considered myself to be quite unintelligent, physically unattractive, without any family support, and with no prospects of things getting any better. I wonder sometimes why I did not become a bum like my father; it must have been my mother's nature and nurture that prevailed. The Macnama genes are tough, as was my mother's nurture, and, just when matters looked really hopeless, good fortune sent me on the first positive path I had trod since the age of seven.

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