Enjoy this interview with author Walter Scherr about his new book that dives into his life’s journey. There are plenty of insights you can benefit from.
What first sparked the idea to write WALTER’S WAY?
I’m 91 years old and I want to leave a legacy. This is my story – how a Depression-era boy from Queens, New York overcame a life-threatening illness to live an adventurous life as a globe-trotting executive who witnessed and helped foster the post-World War II economic boom.
Could you give us a quick high-level summary of your background?
At age 17 I was ready to enlist after Pearl Harbor, but was found to have active tuberculosis, and was confined to a sanatorium for more than six years while my buddies went off to war, some of them never to return. Due to my illness, I didn’t begin my career until I was in my late 20s. Maybe that’s why I was so driven to succeed. I always felt like I had a lot of catching up to do with my peers, who were already out of college and ensconced in their businesses by that point.
At 28 years old, I was a soda jerk and social outcast. By the time I was 37, I was in charge of Sperry Ltd. in London. I worked for Litton Industries in Beverly Hills, which at the time was the Google of its day. I founded Visual Sciences Inc. / Panafax, the first publicly traded facsimile company. At 66 years old when most people were retiring, I was a founder and board member at Veeco Instruments, Inc. The first year at Veeco, we had $30 million in debt and $25 million in sales. Eighteen years later, the market value of Veeco was approximately $1 billion. A major factor in the success of the company was acquiring and integrating eighteen successful acquisitions over a twenty year period. In 2005, I was honored by the United States Congress with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for my outstanding and invaluable service to the community. I am currently working with The Center for Discovery in Monticello, New York to develop a “World Cup for Caregivers,” a recognition program to honor professional volunteers and innovative caregivers around the globe. I received my bachelor’s degree from Pace College and my master’s degree from Hofstra University.
Delving into your book now, who would benefit most from your book?
Entrepreneurs will learn lessons, seniors will smile at the memories, and young people will be inspired and motivated to succeed and give back. As a matter of fact, I think the younger generation can benefit greatly from this book. It’s important to never forget those who served and perished. There’s a section in the book where I discuss how I traveled to the American Cemetery in Normandy to pay respects to a soldier from Queens who died shortly after D-Day. He was a soldier I never met but nevertheless felt a strong bond with, and I still hold Normandy dear to this day. I think that the younger generation would read this section of the book and appreciate the sacrifice of those in Normandy, and those who served and still serve in the Armed Forces.
What makes your book different from other business books?
Everything is different about this book simply because it’s the story of my life. My age is probably the greatest factor that sets this book apart from the rest. I was there for it all: I heard the death rattle for 3 years when I had tuberculosis. One third of the people diagnosed with tuberculosis passed away; one third of the people survived but were left disfigured; and one third of the people survived but did not have any discernable outward signs from the disease: I was one of the few that was lucky enough to survive with my lungs and body intact. I had a bird’s-eye view of the Great Depression and the Cold War, as I worked for a couple of this country’s major defense contractors when our stand-off with the Russians was at it’s frostiest. I watched the economic juggernaut of post-war America reach full steam in the 1960s; and would probably have been considered a part of what was then called the “jet set” simply because I seemed to spend so much time in the air – flying all over the globe to close deals, put out fires, or exploit new business opportunities. There aren’t many authors who can say they have traveled over two million miles and to 40 countries over the course of their career as a corporate executive and entrepreneur; or who helped introduce the first fax machine to North America.
This book is also different because of the Divine Providence that is the work of my life. I don’t think there are many other entrepreneurs who have met Mother Theresa. I met her while attending a meeting in India in which she urged us to honor caretakers. I felt that night like she was speaking directly to me, a person who was alive because of people like her and those who shared her ministry. This book, in a sense, is a fulfillment of that calling: It is written to help support places where caretakers are doing their indispensable work every day. After all, the measure of who we are as a society lives in how we care for our most vulnerable citizens.
What lessons did you learn while writing this book?
I learned that a lot of my life lessons resonate with a wide range of people. Whether it be business executives, veterans, or lovers of life, my story inspires many.
I also learned that throughout my life, and while writing this book, what it takes to achieve happiness:
- First, a moral code;
- Second, a cause to serve; and
- Third, a goal to believe in.
My code, my cause, and my goal are all in the pages of my book.
With that being said, it is also important to remember that you can’t bring your bankbook to heaven because it won’t get you anywhere. It’s what you do with your bankbook while you are alive that is most important. I learned, and I hope after reading the book that others will learn, that life goes on after we pass on. As long as one person on this earth discusses you after you are gone, you’re still here.
Out of all the advice you’ve given to others wanting to become an entrepreneur or small business owner, which 2-3 points do think are most significant?
It’s never too late to build a successful company, or as they like to say today, “reinvent” yourself. At the age of 66, I started a new business with a group of fellow, like-minded entrepreneurs.
Out of all of the advice I have given to others wanting to become an entrepreneur or small business owner, the 80/20 rule is probably the most important, and the one that I live by. Eighty percent of productivity really does come from twenty percent of the time contributed.
But the 80/20 rule is not just for business; it can also be used in other areas. It is applicable to our personal life as well. Generally when it comes to personal finances, about eighty percent of our expenses come from approximately twenty percent of the budget categories. While twenty percent of our financial choices impact about eighty percent of our financial outcomes. The 80/20 principle shows us which items are most important to focus on so that we can be most efficient with our time and money. No matter how bad things get, in any situation, it is most important to never quit. It can and will get better if you want it too.
It is also crucial to remember that good times, as well as bad times, do not last forever. At one point in my career, I was blindsided and almost left destitute by one of the world’s largest international companies. I even spent a brief time in detention in a Communist country. Yet, I rarely met a risk that I didn’t want to take. In order to be successful in business, it’s crucial to take risks.
Where can people find out more about you and/or your book?
For more information, please visit waltersway.org. There you will find excerpts, Q&As, links to interviews, and information about The Center for Discovery.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention to our readers?
Because of what happened to me when I was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and the many struggles I have endured throughout my life, I am proud to say that my late wife Vera, my children, and I established the Vera and Walter Scherr and Family Foundation to provide resources for people with developmental disabilities and their caretakers. I am alive because of the caretakers that helped me through, whether it was via advice, encouragement, medical care, or simply by giving me a chance. In 2004, the foundation partnered with The Center for Discovery, a nationally recognized provider of health, educational, and residential services for children and adults with severe disabilities and medical frailties. The foundation underwrites the tuition for Discovery employees who want to further their knowledge of special education and clinical therapies. Discovery has awarded scholarships to ninety staff members, empowering those employees to earn bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees from thirty-one colleges. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sales of WALTER’S WAY will be donated through the Vera and Walter Scherr and Family Foundation to nonprofit organizations.
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