My grandfather Brooks Turner was a tobacco farmer and businessman in Eastern North Carolina. He never drew a regular paycheck until his social security kicked in, a good 50 years into his career. Over the years he built numerous businesses, and was loved by his clients and partners alike. What were his secrets?
“Mr. Tobacco” as he was known, was passionately dedicated to his customers and his products. Early in his career, he joined his uncle and quickly became his partner in a tobacco warehouse. When he realized his warehouse clients needed seed and fertilizer, he and a friend also bought a farm supply company, and forged a partnership that lasted more than 40 years. He was highly available to his customers, to the point that if someone’s oil burner was broken, he went out to their barn to fix it. Whatever he sold, he serviced. When customers needed loans to get through the growing season, my grandfather got into lending. There was no market research or social media in those days, just listening, awareness and staying close to the farmers that bought from him.
Tractors started taking business from mules and horses a few years into his career, so he jumped into the tractor business. Average folks started buying cars after WWII, so he set up a company to offer auto insurance. That led to crop, equipment and life insurance businesses. When electricity reached rural NC, my grandfather created a booming business around water pumps, which led to refrigerators, TVs and other electrical appliances for sale to his regular customers. If a new market was developing, my grandfather noticed and took advantage of it.
On the day he died (at 91), my grandfather went to his warehouse, had lunch with his best friends, then drove himself to the doctor’s office. He waited patiently, and when called, let go his last breath with a gentle word to the doctor. Independent and in community until the end, he was ready to take the next hill.