The entire U.S. oil industry was changed in 1908 when his father patented the two-cone roller bit. Wells could be drilled faster and in more diverse locations. That drill bit also had a significant impact on the family and the son, who was three at the time. For one thing, the financial reward was enormous – they were suddenly a family of significant means. It wasn’t just the money that had an impact on the boy. His father – personable, strong and confident – left the boy somewhat awe struck, while at the same time exposed him to broad thinking, hard work and a very keen approach to business.
Though they lived in Texas, the boy was sent to school in Massachusetts. Home on a school break one year, he was unsuccessful in convincing his mother to allow him to buy a motorcycle – so he motorized his bicycle using a car starter and a battery. At one point his father said he could have his choice of present – he chose to ride in a ‘flying boat’ which ignited his love of aviation. The family began spending more time in California where his uncle was well connected in the film industry. His parents became acquainted with some of Hollywood’s elite and with that, he developed a fondness for the movie industry.
When he was 17 his mother died suddenly, At the age of 19, his father died. He inherited 75% of the family business. When he turned 21 he was able to legally run the business completely his own at which time he bought out the rest of the family ownership, creating some hard feelings which didn’t seem to faze him. He had very little interest in running the business so he hired people for that purpose. With the company in qualified hands, he married a Houston socialite, moved to Los Angeles and immersed himself in the film industry.
Many of his films were disastrous, while a couple showed a modicum of success. One such film cost nearly $4 million – an incredible cost for a film in 1930. The other cost was his marriage. He continued making movies and dating a string of actresses until urged to stop by those running his company. He acquiesced and turned his attention to aviation, launching what would eventually become one of the most profitable builders of aircraft in the world.
He set a time record for crossing the U.S. He and a crew of four followed that by flying around the world in then record time – less than four days. His notoriety and fame grew. He gained a share of Trans World Airlines and his company began designing new military aircraft. The company continued to grow – as did his wealth.
He continued to pursue his passions – movies and aviation. He had some film success but perhaps made his biggest impact in Hollywood when he introduced Jane Russell to the big screen and brought the censors to the forefront. It was in aviation where he made his mark and further built his fortune. He had the same forward thinking as his father and used it to conceive and build aircraft never before seen – most of which he test piloted himself. He survived two crashes – either of which could have killed him – which left him physically impacted for the rest of his life.
Driven, daring, determined and dashing – he became one of the very first billionaires at a time when millionaires were rare. He had a significant impact on the aviation and movie industries both in spite of and because of his many failures. His wealth and business success combined with his eccentric behaviors and extreme pursuit of privacy to make him one of the most interesting yet mysterious figures in the world. It’s not his money nor the notoriety that makes him a fearless brand. Howard Hughes is a fearless brand because he was always authentic, followed his passions and his talents in every aspect of his life.
Fearless Brands aren’t affected by the expectations of others – even in the face of controversy.
There is a great deal of mystery, urban legend and flat out false information surrounding Howard Hughes. He certainly became a recluse later in life – refusing to see people or to be seen. Stories abound about his eccentricities, poor hygiene, alleged drug addiction and reputed obsessive-compulsive disorder. The talk and speculation didn’t bother Hughes when he was alive and frankly, have no bearing on his being a fearless brand. This is a typical response to the skeptics – “I’m not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I’m a billionaire.”
Through the years, there have been many allegations of suspect business practices and shady involvement in covert political activities. Many point to his notoriety as a “ladies’ man” and the string of starlets he dated as questionable character. Again, none of this comes into play with him being a fearless brand.
‘How can that be?’ you might ask. Well, it’s quite simple and the answers provide key learning as you build your fearless brand.
Be true to yourself – We have to answer to ourselves – our dreams, goals and beliefs. Don’t get me wrong – this is not intended to sanction bad or illegal behavior. What this means is that we have to know our own beliefs and follow them. We have to make decisions and take actions which we believe best reflect our convictions. Don’t be swayed by others – but do listen to sound reasonable advice and ideas.
Failure is more than ok, it’s essential – Hughes made many movies which might qualify for the worst of all time. He designed aircraft which didn’t perform as planned – notably his ‘Spruce Goose’. Each of his failures resulted in learning – either identifying positives to build on or by determining false assumptions. Don’t be afraid to fail because it’s necessary to reach your best idea – your greatest work.
Delegate to experts – Hughes deplored the day-to-day routine of running a business so he sought experts that would manage his business freeing him to engage in the things he cared about and had the aptitude for. No one can do everything by themselves – it’s a function of time, talent and interest. Identify those areas you are best suited for and place your efforts in those endeavors.
Howard Hughes was certainly an authentically unique person. At the age of 19 he wrote this on the back of a receipt – “Things I want to be: 1) The best golfer in the world 2) The best flyer pilot 3) The most famous producer of moving picture.” In pursuing those goals, he was true to himself – disregarding the naysayers and critics. Follow his example as you build your own fearless brand. You don’t have to produce bad movies, test pilot conceptual aircraft or become a recluse – just be your authentic self. Determine your own goals based on your skills and passion then set about making them happen.