"Through the Fires: An American Story of Turbulence, Business Triumph and Giving Back" is a book about the long-term journey of an entrepreneur. It's about sticking to that entrepreneur's journey when you are fearful about making payroll that month. It's about sticking to that entrepreneur's journey when you are flush with cash but get hit by a hacker. It's about the entrepreneur's journey of Robert S. Carr.
Through the Fires: An American Story of Turbulence, Business Triumph, and Giving Back is the kind of open and honest story that you wish a business leader would write. In this biography, you get the long term view of entrepreneurship. Instead of the typical business story where the business person hits that one big success and walks off into the sunset, you get a story about an entrepreneur who continues to get up. Each time Robert Carr got up, he returned to his vision, building a profitable business.
What is Through the Fires About?
Through the Fires starts off with a stark contrast. The book begins with a long list of gratitude, then dramatically shifts into a scene of physical abuse. Thirteen-year-old Robert Carr (the author) is being beaten by his father for “not being a man.” By the way, he participated in the gospel choir at his mother’s request.
This contrast isn’t so shocking when you complete the book, however.
By the time readers have finished the book, they will have gone through many high-stress events like divorce, one of the largest data breaches ever, and theft. The book has a happy ending, but that isn’t the overall point of the book. The overall point of the book is two fold, persistence and the wisdom that can be gained from it.
The first lesson, persistence, is the essential ingredient that every business person needs to survive in this world. No matter what Robert Carr faced, he got back up. When he arrived in college without a scholarship, he worked as a dishwasher to pay tuition. When he went for his Master’s degree, he worked as a manager in Arby’s to stay afloat. When his business was hit by one of the largest data breaches ever, he paid all of his customers back and became an industry expert in payment security.
The other lesson was learning from that persistence. Carr realized that persistence needs a vision for fuel. For Carr, that vision was becoming a successful businessman and using that business to improve the life of others. As a result, he defined and maintained several key traits (authenticity with stakeholders, empowering employees and investing in the future) that directed everything he did.
Robert Own Carr is the founder and CEO of Heartland Payment Systems, one of the largest electronic transactions companies in America. Heartland Payment Systems began as a 25-employee enterprise and became a Fortune 500 company that eventually took the lead in payment security. He is also the founder of the Give Something Back Foundation, a foundation that provides scholarships for eligible prospective college students.
What Was Best About Through the Fires?
The best part of Through the Fires is the upfront authenticity. The book provides an insider’s look at the really tough decisions a CEO has to make under adversity. During the data breach, for example, Carr had to decide whether he should be transparent with his customers or stick to the bare minimum provided by his lawyers. As a reader, you come to appreciate that complex environment a CEO has to make decisions in.
What Could Have Been Done Differently
Through the Fires is an excellent personal biography of the entrepreneur’s journey that can stand on its own. Two things that might have added additional value are more specific advice about Carr’s thinking process and payment security. Did Carr, for example, utilize a specific decision-making process?
The author provides a very interesting and informed perspective on the electronic payment industry, an area that many business owners are ignorant of. Carr’s leveraging of a data breach to become an industry leader could definitely provide some helpful advice and inspiration for dealing with related threats.
Why Read Through the Fires?
Through the Fires is an inspirational story about resilience applicable to any part of the entrepreneur’s journey. If you are currently experiencing a low point, this book will encourage you to embrace a long term view. If you are currently experiencing a high point, this book will prepare you for failure. If you are nearing retirement, the book will empower you to create a legacy that you can be proud of.