Washington Post: Editor's Note - For these hall of famers, lessons start early

Most financial and career advice is wasted on me.

At my age, I’ve made just about every mistake possible, and so my education has literally been one of trial and error.

 2015 Washington Business Hall of Fame Laureate Sheila Johnson

2015 Washington Business Hall of Fame Laureate Sheila Johnson

I got the feeling, listening to the testimonials last week for the newest inductees into the Washington Business Hall of Fame, that my experience is not unique. The lessons we learn early in life are often the ones that stick with us longest.

Strangely, the hall of fame ceremony dwelled very little on the accomplishments that made the honorees worthy of recognition. Instead, the laureates reflected on their formative years and thanked those who helped them along the way.

Seth Goldman, the founder of Honest Tea, recalled how he got bit by the entrepreneurship bug early in life, when as a boy he fished golf balls out of water hazards and sold them back to the duffers. Starting a beverage company in his kitchen, he joked that there were many lean years when he regarded his enterprise as a “nonprofit.”

Joseph M. Rigby, the chief executive of Pepco Holdings who engineered its proposed merger with Exelon, talked about being a carpenter’s son and toiling summers on a farm. Life, he said, is not a “dress rehearsal,” seize the day.

Sheila Johnson, who co-founded Black Entertainment Television and went on to become a sports team owner and founder of comfy, cozy Salamander Hotels & Resorts, offered her own words of hard-won advice: “If you are driven by money, you’ll never be happy.”

John Toups, a leader of the former Planning Research Corp., and an early leader of the Tysons Corner business juggernaut we know today, left World War II with a purple heart and silver star. His father passed away when he was 12. He urged business leaders in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia to work together: “We are a region. We are not three separate places.”

J. Scott Wilfong, the retired Washington-area head of SunTrust Bank, mentioned working in a shipyard during college. His message: work hard. “God and angels can observe. The rest of us are compelled to participate.”

Wise counsel all.

It’s perhaps fitting that the hall of fame ceremony acts as a major fundraiser for Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, an organization that runs a host of financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship programs. In October, JA formally opened a new Junior Achievement Finance Park in Landover, where students can use tablet computers in a mini-city of mock storefronts to practice their personal finance skills. The center follows the establishment of one in Fairfax five years ago; another is planned for Montgomery County in 2017.

The idea is to teach kids how to save and invest, read a bank statement, manage a budget and more.

I could have used something like that.

I wouldn’t have had to learn the hard way.

By Dan Beyers // Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.