This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is a ghostwritten column, written in 1994, for a pharmaceutical executive’s monthly newsletter. You can get professional ghostwriting services from a business writer. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.
Message from the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Marco Polo was fifteen years old when his father Niccolo and his uncle Maffeo, two Venetian merchants, took him to meet Kubalai, the Great Khan of the Tartars. On the three and a half year-long journey, arco suffered snow, rain, floods and the invasion of Armenia by the sultan of Egypt. These tribulations were enough to send two of Pope Gregory’s emissaries back home.
For the Polos, the inclemencies of nature and man were calculated risks — risks that, over the next seventeen years, paid off handsomely. Marco traveled to Cathay, Bengal, Peking and Arabia on business and “fact-finding missions,” enriching is own purse and becoming a favorite of the Khan’s.
Marco Polo’s Travels is not some medieval tome that belongs exclusively on a young boy’s reading shelf. I mention it here because every quest, from establishing a business to marketing a product, demands the same passion that inspired the Polos on their many journeys east.
The Polos, like all people who set out to make a mark on the world, might have had easier lives if they had hewn to the tried and true. There is no record of Mrs. Polo warning her husband that a life on the road would be the family’s undoing. But undoubtedly, Niccolò, Matteo and Marco had to contend with other naysayers who predicted nothing but misfortune on a journey to the unknown. The fact that the Polos made the trip, conscious of the perils that lay in wait for them, is either a testament to humankind’s foolishness of its indomitable urge toward discovery.
Anybody who starts a business, or contributes to the growth of one, has heard plenty of discouraging words. How often were you told that “experience shows that it can’t be done?” How many times did you listen to “sensible advice” offered “for your own good?” While contemplating the establishment of Medicis, I was told that the multinational drug companies would crush us. Well-meaning words all, but none of them designed to increase humankind’s store of material wealth or knowledge of the wider world.
The problem is that in the course of our education, glories like Marco Polo’s travels are often reduced to a pragmatic but dull lesson: “Marco Polo introduced Asian spices to the west.”
What our schoolroom lessons fail to teach is that the courage of a few individuals redefines the geographical map and the psychological terrain of the human experience. The addition of curry and turmeric to the western palate may not have had earthshaking consequences for western history (although other plants, notably the poppy, have); but the routes that the Polos and other medieval merchants blazed had repercussions that affect our lives to the present day.
Not only did the Polos’ merchandising genius establish economic ties between Venice and the Tartar klan. It also brought the rest of the world to European shores — and two hundred and twenty-five years later inspired another Italian yo look got a short cut to India. The fact that Christopher Columbus failed in that venture and succeeded in another more portentous one underscores the point that every endeavor is subject to an uncertain fate. Virtually all of us will agree, however, that the risks Columbus took are the reason we are reading these words somewhere in the western hemisphere instead of an Eastern European shtetl, an impoverished Irish hamlet or a famine-stricken region in East Africa.
Notwithstanding some sacred saws about good old American know-how, the values of society at large rarely support risk-taking. If an entrepreneur, for example, does not succeed immediately. he or she is written off as a failure. Many of us still believe that when success comes, it comes swiftly. An entertainment writer once called the comedian Steve Martin an overnight success. Martin remarked that his success indeed had come overnight, but only after dozens of survival jobs and ten years of appearances in stand-up comedy joints. Every successful businessman, artist, and parent remembers the years of legwork that has turned his private passion into a public success.
Later this month, I will be speaking to a convention of a hundred-year-old pharmaceutical trade group about the importance of taking intelligent risks. I plan to avoid the current buzzwords popular in some marketing seminars and corporate sales departments. Instead, I will talk to convention participants the way Niccolò Polo must have talked to his son. Think big, I will say. Dream. Don’t turn back. Change when circumstances demand it. Fail when you have to. But, above all, just imagine the possibilities.