One of our organization’s mantras, if not obsession, is our desire to implement systems within our client’s operations to allow for streamlined operations. A beautiful thing occurs when an entrepreneur is not bogged down by administrative muck: he or she is able to dream. When an American small business owner dreams, special things happen. Expansion plans, acquisitions, diversification of product lines: a business owner must have the peace of mind to think in bold macro terms.
This is part of the American historical mindset. Some of the greatest transformative acts in our history came with much resistance. Let us look at several bold, transformative decisions and that decision maker’s ambivalence towards the vehement opposition resulting therefrom.
Acquisition of The Louisiana Territory was a long-term goal of President Thomas Jefferson. Seeking control of the vital Mississippi River port of New Orleans, Jefferson tasked Jimmy Monroe and Bobby Livingston with purchasing New Orleans. Negotiating with Napoléon’s Treasury Minister, the American representatives agreed to purchase the entire territory of Louisiana. The French were enmeshed in multiple Wars, both in Europe and the Caribbean, so were quite amenable to finding much needed liquidity while forging an alliance with The Americans. The transaction was settled for $15 million which averages to less than three cents per acre (7¢/hectare).
Overcoming the opposition of the Federalist Party, who favored close relations with Britain over closer ties to Napoleon, Jefferson and Secretary of State Jimmy Madison persuaded Congress to ratify and fund the Louisiana Purchase.
The Louisiana Purchase extended United States sovereignty across the Mississippi River, nearly doubling the then size of the country. The purchase included land from fifteen present States and two Canadian provinces, including the entirety of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; large portions of the Dakotas; the area of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; the portion of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River; the northeastern section of New Mexico; northern portions of Texas; New Orleans and the portions of the present State of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River.
What was Tommy’s calm, reasoned reaction to opposition: “it is the case of a guardian, investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory; & saying to him when of age, I did this for your good.”
Go Big or Go Home.
Six decades later, Secretary of State William H. Seward signs a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7.2 million. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress as well as in the press as “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson’s “Polar Bear Garden.”
Seward, a supporter of territorial expansion, was eager to acquire the tremendous landmass of Alaska, an area roughly one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States. He had some difficulty, however, making the case for the purchase of Alaska before the Senate, which eventually ratified the treaty on April 9, 1867. Undeterred in his notion of America’s Manifest Destiny to occupy the Continent, he asserted: “Simultaneously with the establishment of the Constitution, Virginia ceded to the United States her domain, which then extended to the Mississippi, and was even claimed to extend to the Pacific Ocean.”
Despite a slow start in U.S. settlement, the discovery of gold as well as other natural resources, brought a rapid influx of people to Alaska, and has contributed to American prosperity ever since.
By expanding our borders and asserting ourselves on the global stage, these bold decisions changed the course of our Nation. Big decisions often come with big resistance to change. It is the executive’s role to listen and consider varying opinions, decide, and then maintain confidence in the selected course. It is the American way.
We Get Old When We Stop Being Bold.