I have a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Bill Morgenstein has led a very crazy life from growing up in Brooklyn, NY, to university in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to a stint in Korea with the army, and a lifetime of entrepreneurship. With a hearty, good-natured attitude toward life in general, he embarked with enthusiasm into every phase of his life (well, not so much the army), up to and including, authorship of a very funny, very interesting autobiography called The Crazy Life of a Kid from Brooklyn.
When I finished reading this light-hearted look at life, I contacted Bill and asked him a few questions about his life and his writing.
Q: What advantages do you think you had through your parents and grandparents as you grew up in Brooklyn that prepared you for what has been basically a lifetime of entrepreneurship?
A: My grandparents were kind and loving but they were no-nonsense people who worked long, hard hours in their “appetizing” store. My father was on the quiet side but he expressed his opinions mostly about health issues because he had medical training. My mother on the other hand exhibited a tough, no-nonsense attitude. She instilled ethics and honesty in me from an early age, right on through adulthood.
Q: Have you thought about writing a book of advice for young people who want to become entrepreneurs?
A: I would like to write a short book in order to help prepare and instill the idea in young people, especially minorities, to form small businesses. My belief is that many young people could break out of the poverty cycle if they had the opportunity to learn how to successfully run a small business operation. In that book I would encourage ex or current businesses to form support organizations in depressed neighbourhoods throughout the country in order to guide and teach youngsters how to run a successful small business.
Q: Are you yourself currently involved in helping impoverished youth set themselves up in small businesses?
A: I am not yet involved but I am talking to some people in the community and will shortly contact SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) at the SBA (Small Business Administration) to see if they will set up a program.
Q: Much of your adult life was spent in the shoe industry so a lot of your anecdotes are about that. Do you feel that these stories could be almost a tutorial for someone interested in getting into that field or has too much changed over the years?
A: The change in the fashion and shoe industries came in the early sixties when these businesses became more sophisticated and the focus went from the creative stylists and buyers to the accountants. [This shift increased as the computer industry developed.] My belief, at least when I was actively involved, was that the shoe industry was on a higher moral ground than the so called “Rag” industry. Because of the demand for footwear, especially from youth and women, it is still a dynamic industry to be in.
Q: You talk about many people in the shoe industry who helped you out at different stages. Who would you say was your most important mentor along the way?
A: I was lucky to have a number of mentors. Some taught me great sales techniques: Shockley from the Alabama Fence Co and Metzger from Sandia International. Frank Rooney from The Melville Corp reinforced the importance of ethics and professionalism. As mentioned in the book, both my mother and my wife gave me excellent guidance.
Q: When I was reading about your army career in Korea, I couldn’t help thinking about the television series, M.A.S.H. If you watched M.A.S.H., did you ever think, “Oh, this is so familiar!” or did you feel it was just a comedy without any relationship to reality?
A: As to my service in Korea, since I was there during a time of tension but no combat, the only thing that I could relate to when watching M.A.S.H. was the humour. In actual war there is little to laugh about. My guess, however, is that the writers wanted to show the ridiculousness of war in a funny manner. Those that served in Korea during combat would have portrayed the M.A.S.H. unit much differently I believe.
Q: Outside of your “dream trip” to Israel, which country would you say was your favourite as far as appreciating the culture, the people, and the setting?
A: I found something to like in almost every country that I visited and/or worked in. Most could do better if they had better government policies, especially those that reflect the Mercantilism of the 16th-18th centuries. My two favorites however were Brazil because of their fun loving people and their music and Italy, also because of the civilized attitude of their people. (In spite of their cumbersome government and frequent strikes).
Q: Do you have plans to write any more books?
A: I would like to write two more books: one about business and the other about recent Jewish history.
Q: Do you think you will ever completely retire?
A: I think what will keep me alive will be the fact that I won’t completely retire.
This book is full of humour, wisdom, and human interest. Bill has led an interesting life and has a way with an anecdote. His adult life has been just as interesting as his childhood, if not quite as mischievous. He has a genuine zest for life but also an “extreme dislike for injustice and tyranny”. I enjoyed reading about the various countries on the several continents he visited in connection with his work. It was exciting as he ventured to make inroads into new markets around the globe, frightening as he found himself caught up in the middle of unrest, and hilarious as newly-made friends took advantage of his naiveté. His take on restaurants and accommodations around the world could almost be extracted as a travel guide. My favourite part, though, was his “dream trip” to Israel. The places he and his wife, Sylvia, went and the people they met, made for an intriguing interlude between his official retirement and his return to an active role in finance and industry. As an archaeology buff, I was envious of all the places he described on this one vacation trip out of so many working trips. I just might print out his itinerary and keep it in a safe place until I’m able to go there myself.
This is not a book that you have to read in one sitting. It’s a book where you can read a few chapters, put it down, and come back to it again and again. It’s easy to see why Bill was successful in dealing with people — his whole ‘joie de vivre’ bubbles up through his stories and makes them a delight to read. I did find that I possibly learned more about the shoe business than I really needed to know but it stands to reason that, as that was his main career, the majority of the stories tended to be about that. An enjoyable read. Great gift for the entrepreneur or humourist in your family. The Crazy Life of a Kid from Brooklyn is available through Amazon or go to Bill’s website and buy with PayPal for an autographed copy. * * *