It was June, 1969, and although I had been out of grad school for two years, and working as a research scientist for Exxon, I was still smack dab in the middle of rock and roll, playing every weekend with the Royal Teens at clubs in New Jersey and Manhattan. After 10 years as an entertainer during one of the most exciting periods of contemporary music, I found it difficult to cut the umbilical cord. We were waning in popularity, surviving off our decade earlier successful recording of Short Shorts, a national hit that put us on the road with many of the pioneers of rock and roll music. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Little Richard, among others were our constant companions.
On a dreamy Friday evening, I was driving my red 57’ Chevy convertible with the top down, soaking up a warm summer breeze, the radio blasting out what today is referred to as “oldies but goodies.” I was on my way to Danny’s Hideaway on Route 22 in Union, New Jersey, where we were booked for several weekends. During a commercial, I impatiently flipped through the stations and stumbled on to easy-listening music. And there it was, I heard it for the first time, “Ol’ Blue Eyes” singing My Way. I could not get myself to change the station back to rock and roll. The melody and the lyrics touched me deeply. I have probably sung My Way a thousand times since then and I never tire of it.
The music, written by Claude François and Jacques Revaux, was put to haunting lyrics by Paul Anka. Paul and I both launched our start in show business at about the same time. My Way was custom made for Sinatra. The lyrics, more often than not, touch the soul of anyone who’s played the role of entrepreneur. Certainly, Frank was one in his own right.
For me they paint a vivid picture of a man at the end of his life, looking back on his journey.
And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.
My friend I'll say it clear, I'll state my case of which I'm certain.
These lyrics embraced me even more so as I progressed along my path from rock and roll to corporate America, to founding and leading the growth of two public companies, to making and releasing a feature film, to my life in Prague as a holistic hotelier.
I've lived a life that's full, I traveled each and every highway.
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
Mine has been a life of many ups and some downs, and it most certainly has been full. I spent a good part of my professional career founding and leading the growth of ventures that have made a difference in the U.S., Europe, Asia and South America—and what a ride it’s been! Often I was on a path that “experts” said would never work. But, just like “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” I had the brilliant counsel, guidance and support of a few “giants” along the way. So when Frank sings “My Way” he doesn’t mean his life was a solo; however, in the end, it was he who looked destiny straight in the eye and took personal responsibility for his final decisions—so, yes it was My Way.
Regrets I've had a few, but then again too few to mention.
I did what I had to do, and saw it through without exemption.
Sure, I had regrets on occasion, like taking on two wealthy investors who ruthlessly pulled their funding during the early stages of our company, forcing us to lay off 20 percent of our talented team; some, very close friends. But something always lifted me up again, and I could see that precious light on the distant horizon. An inner voice propped me up more than once; “Don’t give up! Dammit! Follow your dream!”
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway.
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
We planned and planned, and it didn’t always work out, but “mistakes” for us were “learnings,” and they were minor compared to our successes. It’s been a journey I will never forget.
Yes there were times I'm sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out, I faced it all,
And I stood tall and did it my way.
Yes, there were times we pursued projects I wasn’t sure we could deliver, but with the unmitigated dedication of our inspired management team and employees, we made it happen. In less than five years, we grew our pharmaceutical business from five people to 2,000 with sales of $500 million and a billion dollar market value on the NASDAQ stock exchange. We had to jump through hoops for the Security Exchange Commission, but our creative financial and legal teams always found a way, and everyone in the company shared in the dream—and in the rewards.
We were driven with intense personal passion because we saw ourselves creating technologies that enabled us to manufacture critically needed drugs at low cost and without environmental impact. All of us had someone in the family who could not readily afford their monthly prescription bills. We truly wanted to make a difference.
I've loved, I've laughed and cried, I've had my fill, my share of losing.
And now as tears subside, I find it all so amusing.
Sure, I’ve laughed and cried along the way. With two beautiful daughters, watching my wife lose her battle with breast cancer was more than a personal tragedy—it tore at my soul for quite some time. But, the Universe has been good to me and eventually gifted me with a beautiful soulmate—inside and out. We work as a team, following our dream, doing our best to make this a better world.
To think I did all that, and may I say not in a shy way.
Oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way.
As I look back over the years and contemplate my journey, I’m deeply grateful for the people I met along the way, compassionate “giants” who helped me, who cared for me, who loved me, who helped me trust my inner voice.
For what is a man, what has he got, If not himself then he has not.
To say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows,
And did it my way.
Those lyrics have inspired me for more than four decades, even through my darkest hours.
I believe when that final moment knocks on my door, it won’t be about the money or the “toys,” and it won’t be the awards or festive celebrations. It will be, “Did you make a difference? Did you put at least a small dent in the universe? Did you show compassion, love and understanding to those you met along the way? Did you follow your heart, your soul, that inner voice?” I hope to respond with a resounding “yes,” and four final words . . .
It was My Way!
- The author has lived “five professional lives” spanning the fields of entertainment and technology—Rock Star; Scientist and Corporate Executive; Entrepreneur; Filmmaker; and Holistic Hotelier. His journey is discussed in his book, BALANCE: The Business-Life Connection [www.JamesCusumano.Com].
- The male gender is used because of the lyrics to My Way; the concepts presented apply equally to both men and woman.