Yesterday, our guest speaker in the Midwest Entrepreneur’s class was local entrepreneur and philanthropist John Twomey. While all our guest speakers could accurately be referred to as “role models,” John Twomey–now 91 years young–stands out as the quintessential example of a positive role model for the students; not only as an entrepreneur but as a passionate, caring, community-minded person living a long and meaningful life.
Today’s blog entry for this very special guest speaker is Midwest Entrepreneurs student Adam Parr.
I sometimes worry that a 20-something year old student may not fully appreciate the entrepreneurial–and life–lessons shared by someone of Mr. Twomey’s generation. That is certainly not the case below; Adam Parr has done an outstanding job of capturing and here communicating the essence of what was shared by John Twomey–and learned–in class yesterday. Enjoy…
Growing up, we have all heard about the idea of the “American Dream.” However, very rarely do you find someone who actually has lived out the American Dream. John Twomey has done it all from serving in World War II, being a star athlete, raising a family, starting an extremely successful business, and everything in between. John Twomey has lived the American Dream.
John Twomey was born 1923. By the age of six he was working on his father’s farm milking the cows with his sister. Mr. Twomey’s father was an extremely hard worker who dropped out of school to take over the family farm at the age of fifteen after his father had passed away. Mr. Twomey said that he developed his work ethic from watching his dad at a young age and over time he became a “product of his environment.” John continued milking the cows until he was in high school where he began a new chapter in his amazing life.
As he told the class yesterday, Mr. Twomey had a strong interest in running track in high school. However, the coach thought that he was two small and would not let him be a part of the team. The track team got a new coach during John’s junior year of high school, and the coach let Mr. Twomey onto the team. He instantly became a key part of the team.
After high school Mr. Twomey went to Western Illinois University where he also ran track for two years. During this time, the United States was involved in World War II, and “Uncle Sam came calling” for Mr. Twomey. The next two and half years for Mr. Twomey were spent on a B-24 bomber fighting for his country which was something that he took great pride in doing at the time. I enjoyed briefly hearing about Mr. Twomey’s experience in the war because it is hard to find living WWII veterans today. After his time in the war, Mr. Twomey spent the next two years running track at the University of Illinois.
After his college days, Mr. Twomey then spent the next three years running in the Pan American Games and AAU track meets all around the world where he became a champion by beating former collegiate national champions and other world-class athletes. As a current collegiate track and field athlete, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his track and field stories. I also greatly respected what he achieved in college and on the global circuit because that takes tremendous talent, dedication, and hard work to achieve which are all traits he gained at a young age and used to his advantage to start a successful business.
Once his track career was over, Mr. Twomey went back to his roots and began working on the farm again. While spending time on the farm, Mr. Twomey discovered a problem with the way that the grain was being stored inside the grain bins and discovered a better way to store the grain. Because of this, Mr. Twomey entered the grain elevator business and began implementing his ideas into the industry. Mr. Twomey recognized a need in the industry and that was that the farmers needed a cheaper and more efficient way to store their grain without it getting spoiled like it would in the standard grain bins at that time. Mr. Twomey addressed these issues and began building warehouses that would spread the grain out evenly from top to bottom without having peaks at the top of the stored grain. By spreading the grain out evenly in these warehouses, the grain stays fresh and does not spoil like it would in a grain bin. This innovative new way of storing grain is one of the many things that turned Mr. Twomey into a very successful entrepreneur.
As time went on, Mr. Twomey eventually had the cheapest storage rate for grain in the United States. Because he had the cheapest storage rates, demand was high for his services. To keep up with the high demand, the Twomey Company began building more warehouses and expanding to new locations including a location along the Mississippi River which helped the business succeed immensely. Mr. Twomey’s business was able to expand quickly because of the extremely low costs for building warehouses. Mr. Twomey did everything that he could to make his business succeed to its fullest potential and that included taking care of his employees. He said that he would always try to be “one of the guys” while working with his employees and usually that meant doing the same work that they were doing during the day. Mr. Twomey also made sure to take of his employees financially by paying them high wages and giving them pension plans as well. When Mr. Twomey retired, the company had seven locations. Before the business was sold, the company had expanded to eight locations. The Twomey Company was sold in 2011 because the Twomey family could “see the writing on the wall.” Mr. Twomey said that bigger companies were beginning to surface and it was just a matter of time before the Twomey Company started losing customers.
Looking back, it was clear that Mr. Twomey had a great passion for business and that he understood what he needed to do for the business to succeed. The Twomey Company expanded rapidly and succeeded thanks to the innovative ideas that Mr. Twomey had and the amount of hard work and dedication that Mr. Twomey put in every day.
As I watched Mr. Twomey’s presentation in class, I was amazed at the amount of energy and excitement that he had when talking about his life. Mr. Twomey told us that he likes the idea of “the journey” in life and he feels that his life has indeed been a journey. It was clear to me that Mr. Twomey cherished every moment in his life and I believe it is important for everyone to cherish “the journey” throughout their lives because one day we will all arrive at “the station.”