October 11, 2015

Paul Newman

I do not usually react when a performing arts celebrity passes away, but Paul Newman’s passing was different.  Over time, I came to realize that, in certain ways, he was a role model for me.

He was a person who achieved phenomenal success, but never became arrogant.  When I met him on two different occasions at fund-raising events, the first of which was at his Westport, Connecticut, home, he seemed like a very low-key, normal person well-grounded in reality.  He clearly did not appear to take himself too seriously.

What I most admired about him was his passion to keep expanding his horizons.  Had he just been an actor, he would have had a career that, by itself, would have been among the most distinguished of all performers.  However, he became an award-winning director, producer, and writer, all of which required very different skills from acting.

At age 47, he took a hobby, race-car driving, and created a second career around it.  He stayed in racing for over two decades, as a driver and a co-owner of a race team, and he achieved very high levels of success at an age when many would long since have retired.

At age 67, he started a very successful business, Newman’s Own, with a broad line of food products, and committed to donate 100% of the profits to charity. He did so well that he was able to donate over $200 million.

He also had a hands-on approach to the charitable and political causes with which he identified.  He contributed his brainpower and work energy as well as his money.

I admire someone who is unafraid to reinvent himself and to expand himself so many times in so many different ways.  Every one of these careers would have been enough for a single individual.  He went in four very different directions: performing arts, race car driving, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy, and he excelled in all of them over a very long period of time.

When I had a conversation with him last summer at his home at one of the fund-raising events, I told him that I admired his restlessness and his willingness to keep testing himself.  I then asked him what made him proudest of all his accomplishments.  He smiled, and answered:  “the salad dressing.”

I could never tell whether he was serious or joking, but I have to believe that he was partially serious, because the success in starting a business and having an extremely successful food product was so different from how he had succeeded previously, and because it was a platform for him to do a lot of good.  Many celebrities start businesses and lose fortunes.  Paul Newman succeeded beyond most people’s wildest dreams as a business executive.

Too many of us stay trapped in whatever we are doing today, and do not think of everything it is possible for us to do.  To some degree, we are constrained by the need to make a living and support ourselves and our loved ones.  However, I have found many individuals of very modest incomes and big financial obligations who have found ways to reinvent themselves and feel free in doing so.

I am thinking broadly about what I want to do once I leave Pitney Bowes. I do not expect to take on a career like race-car driving, but I have been inspired to think out of the box about what it is possible for me to do.  All of us thinking about next stages in our lives can have no better role model than Paul Newman.  Paul Newman, the flesh-and-blood human being, has left us.  Paul Newman, the role model, will inspire us forever.