Meet Sam Antion

Leadership Skills from a Man Who Came to America in a Dung-Filled Cattle Boat

I've been bragging about my dad ever since 1973 when I did my graduation speech. I've even done professional speeches about one of the techniques he used to make me tough when I was just a baby (see below). Until I was preparing his eulogy this past week, I have never actually written down all the leadership skills he taught me. As I was working on them, I thought that they would be a good example that anyone could use both in their life and in their work.

I only saw dad speak in public once and that was at his 50th wedding anniversary, but I witnessed the leadership skills listed below, my whole life.

Here's Dad's Memorial Top 10 List

Leadership Skill #1
Build it Strong

Dad would always build things more sturdy than they needed to be so that he would never have to worry when an extraordinary force was applied. He knew that whatever he built would stand up to the test. This applied to both character traits and real hammer and nail construction. In fact, without his insistence on this leadership trait, I would not be here today.

When I was 16 years old a drunk driver doing nearly 100 mph (161 kph) ran his car off the road, smashing it into the corner of our living room. I was the only one in the room when it exploded around me. Had this been a normally built house, the car would have burst through the wall and killed me.

Leadership Skill #2
Don't Take Short Cuts

Dad was an electrician by trade. When doing his wiring, he would always route the flat wires he worked with in a nice symmetrical and evenly spaced pattern. He would never just cut across the shortest distance to save wire and make his costs a little cheaper. I remember as a child watching him and asking him why he did this when it would be a lot shorter to just run the wires directly between two points. He said, "When someone looks at this job years from now, they will know that a professional did it. And also, if they ever have trouble, they will be able to track down the problem easier because I did a nice, neat job."

I can't remember dad ever being out of work one day in my whole life. When everyone else was laid-off, he was always in demand.

Leadership Skill #3
Don't Waste Things or People

Think a rock isn't worth much? Read on. At the age of 73, dad was purchasing some used lumber that someone had advertised in the paper. When he went to pick it up, he saw a large number of boulders in the front yard. He asked what they were going to do with the boulders. The man said, "I just want to get them out of here." Dad spent two weeks hauling them back to our house and another two months cutting them up with a chisel and a hammer. He then built a beautiful stone fireplace and chimney for one of our rental properties.

Also, I can't tell you the number of nails I removed from used lumber that dad made me straighten and use over again. I still do it to this day. A bent nail, with a little help, can be very useful again. Sometimes people also need a little help to do the job they were meant to do.

Leadership Skill #4
Be Self Reliant

Working as a team is great, but when the team isn't there you just don't sit down and wait for help. Dad built pretty much every building and rental property we own. I remember being so busy with football and other activities that I didn't get to help him too much (I probably would have slowed him down anyway). One day while he was working on remodeling one of our buildings he asked me to go to the automotive parts store to get him about 20 feet of clear gas line tubing and several bottles of Coca Cola. I wondered what he was up to because he never drank Coke and our car was working fine.

I came back with the tubing and the Coke and stood back and watched as he did his thing. He plugged one end of the tubing and started pouring Coke in the other end (I was sure he had lost his mind after spending three months building the chimney). He said, "When you boys aren't around it's hard for me to make things level because I can't be at both ends of these long 2x4s. So I'm going to nail one end of this tubing on one end of where I'm working and take the other end of the tubing with me to the other end of the board. He knew from his self-taught physics studies that liquids seek their own level. He could see through the clear tubing to the Coca Cola inside. The level of the Coke on one end of the tubing would be exactly the same level as at the other end of the tubing and that's where he would nail his board—and it was always perfectly level.

Leadership Skill #5

Dad only went to the 5th grade, and that was after skipping two grades,—so he really only had three years of formal education. At ten years old (the oldest boy with father deceased), he was head of his household and shining shoes to support the family. He saved part of his tips and ordered an electrical engineering course from the American School. At 13, he had his own electrical contracting company and installed the first electric light in Carnegie PA. He also bought his younger sister the first electric washing tub in Bridgeville, PA

He would read, read, and read some more every time he wanted to learn how to do something. When he retired around the age of 73, he sat down and read the ENTIRE World Book Encyclopedia. Now, that's a lot of reading! Still at 94 and legally blind he listened to hours and hours of biographies and books on tape, and newspapers on tape provided by the Library of Congress for blind people. He knew more about current events than anyone. If you want to learn how to do something, study and try it out until you get it right.

Leadership Skill #6
You Can Have Whatever You Want if You are Willing to Work For It

This was the 1910 version of "Just do it." I don't want you to think I wasn't given tons of things by my parents, because I was. But the most valuable thing was that I was conditioned from a very young age that the world didn't "owe" me a living. I had to earn it. I got a serious work ethic that I will always carry with me. If I want something, I go after it. I won't step on people to get what ever it is, and I won't cheat or steal, but I will work until I get it or don't want it anymore.

This would be a foreign language to many of today's youth.

Leadership Skill #7
Give Before You Get

During the depression, work was more than scarce...more like non existent. Even my dad was out of work. He told me that he said to himself, "I'm a really valuable worker and I'm not going to sit around here and do nothing when there is work out there to be done." He knew there was a fruit shipping warehouse not too far from where he lived so he went down to the loading docks dressed for work and just started helping the men load apples. Eventually the foreman noticed him and asked the other guys who he was. They said they didn't know but that he just started loading apples. In fact, he was doing the work of three men. The foreman was so impressed he hired him on the spot and he hired several of my dad's cousins who were willing to prove themselves first.

Not realizing I was being influenced by my dad, I used to do the same thing when my landlord in college would work on our house. I would go out and help him, just to learn how to fix things. This same landlord gave me the biggest financial break of my young career when he guaranteed the financing and sold me his largest rental property when he retired to Florida—and I hadn't even graduated from college yet.

Leadership Skill #8
You Can Overcome Obstacles

This is one of my favorites. I have a visual that I use in a segment of a program called "You are Unstoppable." The visual depicts a baby crawling on cushions with a red ball on the other side of the cushions. Dad told me that he would put my toys on one side of the room and put pillows in front of me to teach me to overcome obstacles. Anyone that knows me sees all the time that I'll figure a way to get something done if it is worthwhile getting done.

Knowing that you can't be held back no matter what happens to you is a very powerful feeling to have inside. It gives you an unbridled confidence. Both my parents aligned to make me feel this way. Most of you don't know this about me, but 14 years ago I lost everything and was totally broke, sleeping on a mattress in a vacant house, injured and unable to walk, and living off credit cards. The powerful feeling burned inside of me to overcome this obstacle—and I came up with an idea for a unique entertainment company that in turn helped launch my speaking career.

Leadership Skill #9
Stick by Your Spouse

Well I haven't had much chance to try this one out yet, but when I do get the chance...I will. My dad stuck by my mother even when, as a know-it-all teenager, I knew she was clearly wrong. Maybe that's why they made it 57 + years. (I'll have more to say on this one if I ever get some real life experience, ha ha ha.)

Leadership Skill #10
Risk Everything for Something Really Worthwhile

Did you ever wonder why many people don't achieve their goals? Could it be because they were never really willing to commit fully to them? They always gave themselves easy outs so if the going got tough they could bail out easily. Around 1946, with a house full of kids and more on the way, Dad took every nickel he had, went 50 miles out of the city and bought 156 acres of land, a bulldozer, and enough fuel to run it. He did not want his kids being raised in the filthy air and tough streets of Pittsburgh, PA. He built a truck stop and motel and eventually warehouses, rental cottages and our house on National Route 40 one mile east of Claysville, PA His work can still be seen there today (along with the chimney I mentioned earlier that is on one of our rental properties).

All the kids grew up healthy and strong and not one ever got into any trouble (except the time I ran away from home and ate grass soup and hotdogs for two hours before I gave up and returned home).

Dad's leadership principles are influencing tens of thousands of people through me and because of all the people he touched over the years. I spent the 4th of July this week at the funeral home viewing which, to be honest, I thought was going to be a pretty barren site....especially at his age because all his friends must have died off....I couldn't believe it....People were everywhere. People that I'd never seen before or even heard of were telling me stories of when they were down and out 60 or even 70 years ago, my dad was the one that helped them, or gave them a chance, or encouraged them.

I just about fell on the floor when some one told me that around 1923 my dad took on the responsibility for an entire family of kids who had an old drunk for a father. Dad worked all week for 50 cents to buy a big sack of potatoes to feed six kids and himself for the week. I was told that Dad taught the boys of the family trades so they could go out and find work and that these people thought the sun rose and set on my Dad. I had never heard a word about them before my Dad's viewing on July 4th of this year....Oh, one more lesson that maybe I didn't learn too well from Dad ...don't boast ...just do good things.

What's this got to do with me, Tom?

Well, I'm hoping if you read this far that you saw some value in my Dad's leadership teachings. I'm hoping that when you run a meeting, send a memo, or take the stage that you will be a good example for the many people you will touch in your career. My Dad didn't have the stage in the conventional sense like we do every time we speak. He "lived" the stage. In fact, he "was" the stage that good leadership stands on. Your living example both on the stage and off will be what ultimately makes you a great speaker, great entrepreneur, great manager, or great leader. I can teach you the techniques, but you must provide the good example 24 hours a day, seven days a week....not just when you are on the platform.

Thanks, Dad
Love, Your little "Heapy"

SPEAKERS: Feel free to use any of the examples you see in this issue of "Great Speaking." Even if you just substitute the term "this old man I heard of" for Sam Antion, that's OK. His leadership legacy will live on.

© 2002 by Tom Antion. This originally appeared in Tom's newsletter, "Great Speaking." To subscribe, visit: For Back Issues visit:

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