Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
Originally published: June 17, 2002
A living legend--and one of my personal heroes--turns 100 this weekend. He’s W. Clement Stone, founder of Combined Insurance Co. (which is now a part of Aon Corp.) and author of one of the best-selling motivational books of all time, Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude. And he’s proving that his philosophy can not only make you rich, but contribute to your longevity, as well.
If you haven’t read his classic book, give it a try. It certainly has passed the test of time, just like its author. I first read it in my 20s, and I make it a point to reread it every decade. I’ve always recommended it to friends and family, especially those just starting their careers.
It’s easy to recall my first interview with Mr. Stone. It was back in the 1970s, for a segment I was doing on Channel 26’s Stock Market Observer program. His enthusiasm for the possibilities of life burst through the camera, as stock market quotes streamed below. It was as if he were exhorting the viewers to believe that they could do whatever they dreamed. And, in fact, that was his message.
Clem Stone and PMA
His motto: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve with PMA.”
I was mesmerized by his incredibly thin mustache. And by his energy.
Over the years I had many more opportunities to spend time with this living legend. The picture that accompanies this column was taken at the celebration of his 90th birthday--a gathering that was attended by former President Nixon and the Rev. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral, as well as the business elite of Chicago. Somewhere I have a videotape of the two of us dancing. That was a form of aerobic exercise as he energetically wheeled me around the dance floor. Later I learned that ballroom dancing was his specialty.
This weekend’s celebration will be a quiet one. He will be joined by close friends, and his wife of 78 years, Jessie, who’s only 99. Obviously having a Positive Mental Attitude must be contagious.
Once I sat a row in front of Mr. Stone on a flight to Europe. As the flight attendants were trying to rouse sleepy passengers for an early-morning landing in London, I suddenly heard a loud voice behind me: “Stand up. Raise your arms. Repeat after me: I feel healthy! I feel happy! I feel terrific!” And, you know, I did feel a lot less jet-lagged after I joined him in his everyday ritual.
W. Clement Stone is a true Horatio Alger story. (For younger readers, around the turn of the last century Alger wrote inspirational stories about young men who through “pluck and luck” rose from poverty and obscurity to the threshold of success.) Stone fit the picture. His father died before he was 3 years old, and he was selling newspapers on street corners at the age of 6. By age 13, he had his own newsstand.
His mother worked for an insurance company, and the son dropped out of high school to start selling policies. (He later earned his degree.) Soon he signed up salespeople to work for him, eventually building his own company, which became Combined Insurance Co. of America, located on North Clark Street in Uptown and listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1980.
What goes around comes around
Combined merged in 1982 with Ryan Insurance, which was re-named Aon Corp. in 1987. Now, Aon is in the process of spinning off Combined, and several other property and casualty divisions, to its shareholders as a stock dividend.
This week, in celebration of their founder’s birthday, Combined’s sales force and executives are determined to break a record. They will sell more policies--more than 100,000, worth $30 million of new annualized premiums--than during any other week in the company’s history. The effort will be made in all 50 states and the 14 international companies in which Combined has a presence.
It’s an effort that’s a fitting tribute to this living legend. And here’s another tribute.
Please put down this newspaper. Stand up. And repeat after me: I feel healthy! I feel happy! I feel terrific! You’ll feel a lot better. I do. And that’s The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and is on the board of directors of McDonald’s Corp. and Pennzoil-Quaker State Co. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. She appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5’s 4:30 p.m. newscast.