“A bend in the road,” says Ed Hajim, “is not the end of the road.”
He should know. At the age of three, Hajim was kidnapped by his father, driven cross-country, and told that his mother was dead. He pressed his face against the car window, watched the miles pass and wondered where life would take him. It took him on a journey from one dire situation to the next, from one crowded orphanage to an unfamiliar foster home, from having one semi-present parent to having none. It was a daily struggle to survive.
Yet somehow, not only does Hajim make it through, but using his own grit and determination, he flourishes. His life comes full circle and he lives the American dream as an accomplished, respected Wall Street executive and model family man with great moral fibre and the means to give back to a world that early on seemed intent on rejecting him.
MORE THAN JUST A RAGS-TO-RICHES STORY
Hajim’s vivid memoir, On the Road Less Traveled: An Unlikely Journey from the Orphanage to the Boardroom (Skyhorse), is more than just another rags-to-riches book. It is several storylines in one: the improbable tale of how the author overcame the heavy odds against him as a child; the incredible ride up the corporate ladder to a stellar professional career; a study in the drive, principles, philosophy and character of a man seeking his dream; and a set of guidelines — both personal and professional — for others to consider in living their lives and seeking their own dreams.
In Hajim’s story, he writes, “All kids depend upon adults to protect and love them, but it doesn’t always happen that way.” As it turns out, the adversity Hajim faced as a youth made him self-reliant and gave him “an unshakable self-confidence.” Sounding like the ad for a popular athletic shoe company, he says, “When you have to do things by yourself, you just do.”
As readers lament over Hajim’s early years, it’s hard to imagine — and yet it is so clearly and logically detailed — how the boy dealt such a poor hand eventually excelled as a senior investment executive at such firms as E.F. Hutton, Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions, regularly transforming fledgling operations into skyrocketing growth machines.
He made huge contributions to the University of Rochester, eventually as chairman of its board. His life accomplishments were rightfully acknowledged in 2015 with the Horatio Alger Award, given to Americans who exemplify the values of initiative, leadership and commitment to excellence and who have succeeded despite personal adversities.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
Hajim took every experience as a learning opportunity, and a step to reach his next goal. Take his time in the U.S. Navy, for example, which he says “gave me three precious gifts: it trained me to become deliberate in everything I do. It showed me that every mission needs well-defined rules, followed to the letter, in order to ensure success. And it showed me that no mission can be accomplished without a well-motivated team on board.”
Hajim also learned along the way to surround himself with smart people who filled roles better than he could fill himself. He goes into great detail about his colleagues and how they were major contributors to his success.
“When you can lead people … to believe they are better than they think they are, they feel good about themselves and become more productive. That’s really what life is about. If you can do that, ultimately you will have a success story to tell.”
While Hajim created many of his own breaks, he is quick to acknowledge that luck plays a part in the equation. “The universe often delivers what we need exactly when we need it.”
ON GRABBING HOLD AND LETTING GO
But that’s no reason to downplay the character and ingenuity that helped Hajim accomplish his goals. He tells the story of how he missed out on an interview for a much-sought-after position but waited outside the interview room, and wrangled a dinner invitation with the company chairman and the other interviewees. “Jim Fullerton learned more about me in the 15 minutes I spent accosting him after the last interview than he did about anyone all day long.”
Throughout his career, Hajim was guided by his instincts to know when a situation had run its course and it was time to move on. “Sometimes it’s better to sever ties and leave on your own, even if the next step is unknown,” he writes. “That’s often the road less traveled, but it’s so worth the journey.”
And what a journey it’s been.
Learn more about Hajim in our interviews with the author here and here.