Q: What was it like starting a business at such an early age?
A: It was impossible. My life is just like Forrest Gump. It's been impossible that I've met all these famous people like Tom Hanks and President Clinton, but I have. Entrepreneurs have a common thread among themselves. They want to leave the world a better place.
Q: How much time do you spend on the road each year? And is it difficult spending time on the road or does it never get old?
A: About 80 percent of the time. I have plants all over the world. My avocation and vocation are the same. On the road is not really on the road for me. In the summer most of [my] time is spent in Cape Girardeau and Marble Hill. In the wintertime I spend a lot of time in Arizona. We have so many trade shows in Las Vegas that I spend a lot of time there. I also spend a lot of time in D.C., six weeks a year.
Q: Tell me what hobbies you've enjoyed the most and why.
A: My hobby is taking good people and letting them be the best they can possibly be. Most people are burdened by their own great potential. I work with a lot of inner-city youth. I tell them you can run as fast and jump higher than anybody. The only thing holding you down is the chip on your shoulder. ... You have to get that chip off your shoulder ... and realize you're burdened by your own great potential. When I was visiting the Betty Ford clinic, I told the drug addicts they could be the one recovering, the one in rehab or the one dead. No one can make that choice except themselves. I told them we can't do it for them but can just give you opportunity.
Q: What moments in your life stand out as times that tested you and made you into who you are today?
A: I understand God has given me the ability to tell between right and wrong. When I do right, I know I'm doing right but when I'm doing wrong, I know I'm doing wrong. I've been challenged a lot in my life. I ask, 'Why me, God?' and then later realize that was the best thing that happened to me. I grew up in Bollinger County and dropped out of school. It was so boring that I couldn't stand it anymore. At 16 I went to Chicago and went to work in the steel mill. I had part-time jobs and got married when I was 16 to Debbie, whom I've been with for 42 years. We both went to Woodland. She and I dropped out of high school. I'm a true entrepreneur. I'm very outspoken because if you don't stand up for something you'll fall for anything. I credit overcoming those challenges to lack of fear. I was too dumb to do it and did it anyway.
Q: What is your philosophy toward people?
A: The big thing is I'm a social chameleon. I blend in with everyone. Music is a part of my life. I've never met a stranger. I don't know strangers. They're only friends I haven't met yet. When you're good to people, it becomes contagious. If you ever hear someone say they don't like me it's because they don't know me. You'll never meet anyone who says I have screwed them. I know people all over the world. You live and die by your word. If you break your word, part of your soul dies.
Q: Who are you people you feel have been the most influential in shaping you into the person you are today?
A: My father, John, was 59 when I was born. He was a wonderful, wonderful human being. He was retired by the time I was in first grade. From the time I was born he never went anywhere unless I was right there with him. He died when I was 16, but I had 16 great years with my father. Most kids don't get that. They don't get a lot of common sense from their father because their fathers are at work and then are tired after. We were really poor. If we wanted fish, we fished. If we wanted vegetables, we went to the garden. My father taught me never to take a dollar of welfare from [anyone]. And if you have any extra you give to anyone else. That's what we did. I believe in that. I give away millions of dollars each year. It's important. I'm a pillar of the United Way. I don't want people calling me looking for handouts, because it won't happen. I have a very specific way I give. I don't do business with anyone I don't like. If you do business with someone you don't like just for the money, then you're just a prostitute. You're prostituting yourself just for the money. I don't care if you're 8 or 80 years old, you just don't do it. You count your very best friends on one hand. You won't get any more than five. You'll lose best friends as soon as they stab you in the back for money.