Sunday, March 1, 2009

Unemployable Overachievers

For those of you who don't know him, here are a few pictures of my friend, Dave Stollery. Naturally, I don't have very many pictures of Dave at all, but I managed to crop him out of a few AREX pictures. I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about Dave and the Unemployable Overachievers Club.

A long time ago, Dave was working for a major automotive manufacturer and he had what I will call a very bad day. As a result, he decided that he wanted to control his own destiny and never work for a big company again. Since then, he has worked his butt off, done some very creative design work (both in automotive and in non-automotive industrial design), and succeeded in being his own boss for more than 25 years.

Back in the 90's, when we were busy showing AREX around at various car shows, Dave got together with some friends and acquaintances at dinner in Vegas and it turned out that all of them had significant accomplishments but felt they couldn't hold a regular company job.

The list of people at this dinner is probably wrong, since its just from my poor memory, but even if this is the wrong list, it was a very interesting group. From my memory the attendees included Peter Brock of Cobra Daytona Coupe, Bruce Meyers of Myers Manx, Robert Cumberford of Automotive magazine, Gale Banks of Banks Turbos, Jaz Rarewala (first importer of Lamborgini), and, possibly, Tim Considine, sometime actor and auto writer. Together, they formed the Unemployable Overachievers Club.

They spent the evening talking about how they found it impossible to bend their will to the company line when they tried to work for big companies and many stories about how they left various companies. At least, I've been told that is what they talked about. You see, as a corporate lackey with clearly flexible morality that had allowed me to stay employed at a large company, I was not welcome in this august group.

I was reminded all this in a recent phone call with Dave. These days, Dave is at an age when most people would have retired, but he still works 7 days a week, says he is physically stronger than in his youth, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. He told me that he had been thinking about that bad day at work, all those years ago. At the time, it seemed terrible, but he now thinks it was the luckiest day in his life. After all, if he hadn't changed directions then, he would have missed out on a lifetime full of interesting people, intense challenges, and proud accomplishments. He talked about his contemporaries who have recently retired from big companies and how they couldn't do what he has done. It takes years to build a reputation and build a client base for a consultancy. You can't just start at 65.

Some of us have had career challenges, especially in the last year. More of us are likely to face bad times over the next few years. I think Dave's story is good lesson. Even if things don't turn out like we thought they would, like we wanted them to, you just have to keep trying and stay open to new experiences. In the end, one definition of your life is the sum of your experiences, not your plans.


  1. Long ago in college (and a very brief college attempt is was) one of the guys in an acting class I was taking was Richard Geer. Yup, the same one. Looking back I've always felt I could have made it to the top like he did; all I lacked was looks, talent, ego, ambition, and Hollywood connections.

    I like to think I could have designed the Cobra Daytona coupe too, except I couldn't imagine such a vehicle until I saw it. I couldn't draw either.

    Did we settle for less, Jac, or just achieve our potential, such as it was? I've been pondering these things lately.


  2. Doug,

    It is interesting that you mention Richard Geer because my friend Dave was a child actor. One day he told his parents that he wanted to design cars, not act, took the money from a movie, and moved to Italy to learn car design.

    To your question, my view is that we made choices which are totally valid but maybe less ambitious. Its not all gravy doing what these guys have done. In fact, I'm guessing that neither Dave or Peter Brock have made tons of money. Last I heard Bruce Meyers wouldn't be considered rich either.

    I don't think any of them care, however. They did what they were passionate about, took risks to do it, and let the chips fall where they may.

    The thing I said about myself being morally flexible enough to stay in a job is also true. I'm pretty sure Dave wouldn't put up with some of the things that I have. Maybe at some level, they didn't fit in and took the path/risks they did because a "normal" life wasn't really an option. Of course, that just the opinion of a corporate slave. It would be interesting if Dave would comment himself.

    Meanwhile, I hear you have a second career as a photographer and will be polishing your artistic side as we type.

  3. Jac,

    No second career as a photo guy for me (unless someone comes knocking). I want to improve my pictures but I have too much respect for the real pro photographers to think I could join their ranks at this point in my life.

    For guys Banks or Brock, or your friend Dave, I think it comes down to a single minded drive, something they can focus but not control. That and sheer talent.

    There are people who have huge amounts of drive but little talent. They usually wind up building odd art sculptures at the Burning Man Festival or becoming auto industry executives.


  4. Well said. Especially those pesky auto execs. I'm afraid that you and I have known too many of those. Maybe the next time I get frustrated by one, I'll start asking them about Burning Man.