Late on a Saturday afternoon, I asked my wife, “Is there a good movie on TV tonight?” Marsha replied, “The usual. Why don’t you go to the Redbox and get Company Men,” she suggested. So off I went in search of our evening’s entertainment.
I was scrolling through the movies on the Redbox touchscreen and, wouldn’t you know it, Company Men was not to be found. I kept scrolling through countless, nameless movies and just as I was about to give up, I saw Secretariat. Friends and family members had been telling me for most of this year that I had to see the movie, Secretariat. What, I thought, could be so compelling about another feel-good story about a horse? But with no other options, the choice was Secretariat.
When I arrived home I told Marsha that I could not find Company Men. “So I got Secretariat,” I told her. She gave me an impish smile and said, “I watched that movie with my parents when I went home to visit them.” She went on to say, “But I don’t mind watching it with you again.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The movie is not at all about a horse – it’s about heart and about believing in something or someone so strongly that you will risk everything against the most insurmountable of odds. It’s also about family pride, and the will to preserve a family’s proud history. We probably would agree that Mrs. Tweedy was crazy for turning down an offer to sell Secretariat for $8 million before he ever ran a Triple Crown race; and especially since the sale would assure that the farm would stay with the family. But Penny Chenery Tweedy wanted something much bigger; she wanted to create a legacy to her seriously ill father, Christopher Chenery. The only way to do that was to win – and win big. And, oh my, did she win big! Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.
It got me to wondering about the courage of some great leaders that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. I thought about “Broadway Joe” Namath. In 1969, playing for the New York Jets, Namath boldly guaranteed a Jets’ victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. While “trash talking” and bravado are commonplace among professional athletes today, many saw Namath’s action as insulting and disrespectful. As 17-point underdogs going into the game, almost everybody thought that the Jets would pay a heavy price for Namath’s “loose lips.” And the rest of the story is now part of NFL folklore. Namath made good on his boast and the Jets stunned the Colts, 16-7.
Probably the most significant event of my childhood happened during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. John F. Kennedy, the young and seemingly inexperienced American President, stood toe-to-toe with Premier Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviets to the very verge of nuclear war. Finally the Soviets removed the missiles from Cuba and the nuclear threat against the United States. While I was not yet 8 years old when the incident happened, I sensed the seriousness of the moment by my parents’ silence and the concern written on their faces.
While the risk that Mrs. Tweedy took with Secretariat may not have risen to the level of the Cuban nuclear threat, she did risk everything. When comparing the decision she faced to some of the critical decisions some business leaders face, most business scholars would probably advise that she accept the $8 million to secure her family. I would find it hard to disagree with them. But for Mrs. Tweedy, the decision was easy. To her there was no alternative but to win.