Sylvia was right. My mission was accomplished. In a larger sense, I realize the truth of those words. At 90 years old, it is almost time to go. But I intend to leave something behind.
That brings us to the book you are now holding in your hands. You may be wondering about why I wrote this book and its title: Who is this Walter guy, and why should I care about his “way?”
I’m Walter J. Scherr, and let me assure you, that “way” in the title is not as in, “my way or the highway.” It’s about how I’ve made my way…unsure, often; stumbling, even falling flat on my face a few times…through a life that has had its ups and downs; trials and triumphs.
When you get to be my age, people assume you must have some kind of secret formula for longevity. I am asked often about the “secret” of life. My answer, in three words: life goes on.
While our time on Earth is rounded with a peaceful sleep, no one really dies as long as there is one person in the living world who remembers him or her, remembers their words, or shares their thoughts with others. All who have lived and have been loved have earned a piece of immortality.
I believe that and I believe this as well. It’s what I tell when I’m asked another question. This one I get a lot, too, particularly from my grandchildren, who are now beginning to making their way into adult life.
“What do you need to be happy?”
Here again, I answer not with a shrug, or a sigh or some vague “it depends” response. No, sir: I know what it takes to achieve happiness, at least for me.
First, a moral code to follow.
Second, a cause to serve.
Third, a goal to believe in.
And for me, all those have converged here. My code, my cause, my goal…and hopefully my legacy, as well…are all here in these pages, which relate the story of my life and the lessons learned.
While I would never compare what I endured to the murderous fire Francis Bowen and his comrades faced in Normandy—or any combat, for that matter—I can tell you that I went through a hell of my own for nearly eight years; twice the length of our involvement in World War 2. I can also tell you that I came from nothing (nothing that is, aside from a loving family and a solid network of friends, pillars upon which my life still rests).
In “Walter’s Way,” you’ll find many adventures and excitement as well as disappointment and heartache. You’ll see that I traveled over two million miles and to 44 countries over the course of my career as a corporate executive and entrepreneur. I helped introduce the fax machine to North America; I was a founding board member of four international corporations, including one that was a pioneer in data storage—a precursor to today’s Cloud. Although I must admit I still need my grandkids to help me program my cell phone, I am proud to say I was one of the pioneers in what would later become, in various manifestations, the “high tech” industry.
I also produced a Hollywood film, worked in the defense industry and helped two of my sons establish an oil and gas exploration company.
My varied enterprises have on occasion been deemed newsworthy, as I have been profiled in both Fortune and The Wall Street Journal as well as Newsday, the newspaper serving the vast New York suburb of Long Island, where I have lived for most of my adult life.
But my story is anything but a smooth rise to the top: At one point in my career, I was blindsided and almost left destitute by one of the world’s largest international companies. I almost lost my home; I watched my bank account plummet from full to empty in a frighteningly fast time. I even spent a brief time in detention in a Communist country.
For reasons you’ll read about it in the next few chapters, I really didn’t even begin my career until I was in my late 20s. Maybe that’s why I was so driven to succeed. I always felt like I had a lot of catching up to do with my peers, who were already out of college and ensconced in their businesses by that point.
“That point” was the late 1940s—ancient history to most people alive today. If you’ve watched shows like Madmen or movies like Unbroken, you may wonder about what life was really like in those “distant” decades of the 20th century.
By all means read on, because I was there for it all: I had a bird’s eye view of the Cold War, as I worked for a couple of this country’s major defense contractors when our stand-off with the Russians was at its frostiest. But, a decade later, in the mid-1960s, I visited and embraced the culture of India, like the Beatles (although maybe not quite in the same way they did). I watched the economic juggernaut of post-war America reach full steam in the 1960s; and would probably have been considered a part of what was then called the “jet set” simply because I seemed to spend so much time in the air—flying all over the globe to close a deal, put out a fire, or exploit a new business opportunity.
In 1970, I became part of what would eventually be called the high tech industry, helping to pioneer the introduction to businesses of what was then a remarkable innovation: The fax machine.
In the 1980s, I was involved with video and film (imagine, me, a Relief kid from Queens whose first real job was as a junior accountant…in Hollywood!)
In the 1990s, I continued my involvement in the rising tide of the technology industry, working with companies that produced data storage systems, LEDs and atomic-force microscopes.
I’m also here to tell you that it’s never too late to build a successful company or, as they like to say today, “re-invent” yourself. At the age of 66, I started a new business with a group of fellow, like-minded entrepreneurs. Our first year, 1991, we had $31 million in debt, and $25 million in sales. The balance sheet showed 5 times more debt than equity. Fifteen years later the company was valued at one billion dollars!
Over the years, my work often took me to such “hip” locales as New York City’s SoHo section and Beverly Hills, and to what was then called “Swinging London” in the 1960s (although I must confess, even at age 36, I was a bit too old to be one of the swingers at that point).
Yet, despite my trips to cool and exotic places, I was also a conventional suburban guy with a beautiful wife and four wonderful kids.
I love my family—which now includes grandchildren and even great grandchildren!—I love my country, and I still go to church every Sunday.
Does that sound boring? I hope not, because along Walter’s Way, I have met some very memorable characters, including a sprinkling of celebrities and major world figures; and I have found myself in some tricky, hilarious, outrageous and occasionally dangerous situations.
I have also learned a thing or two about business, about success and about life (hey, when you’ve reach my age, you better have learned a few things, right?). For example: I have discovered that if you combine an old math formula and an egg, you can produce extraordinary results in both your professional and personal life. While this isn’t a how-to book per se, I will explain that to you; and impart a few of the other principles I’ve learned, not only from my successes, but from the failures as well.
In fact, if you’re someone right now who is going through a tough spot in your life, personally or professionally, I particularly hope you will turn these pages to find some inspiration—or at least to see that others have been there as well. I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t quit; it can, it will get better if you want it to.
While I did make money through my various endeavors, I have spent the last decade trying to give a lot of it away.
Which brings me to the underlying purpose of the book:
Through every up and down of my life, I had a caretaker who helped me through, whether it was via advice, encouragement, medical care or by simply giving me a chance. During the lowest point of my life, my caretakers were people with their own problems; people who would have been considered down and out themselves—and yet they kept me and many others alive.
Twenty years later, while in India, I attended a meeting with Mother Theresa (yes, the Mother Theresa—I told you I met some famous people!) in which she urged us to honor the caretakers. I felt that night like she was speaking directly to me, a person who was alive because of people like her and those who shared her ministry.
This book, in a sense, is a fulfillment of that calling: It is written to help support places where caretakers are doing their indispensable work every day. After all, the measure of who we are as a society lies in how we care for our most vulnerable citizens.
My work on behalf of these people has been ongoing. I am proud to say that I have sponsored scholarship programs for care takers, supported respiratory therapy programs, sponsored a comprehensive children’s care center. This book is a launch pad for a new program I have created with my family foundation, designed to honor and create opportunities for such caretakers, around the world. In fact, every penny earned from this book will go to this new initiative, which will represent a new model of individualized, comprehensive care and specialized treatment for special needs children.
You can read more about the particulars of my program at the end of this book.
But first, I’d like to invite you to turn the page; to allow me to tell you the story of a kid from Queens who, at an epic moment in both his life and the history of this country, found himself hurled into a new and frightening direction.
It was the beginning of a long journey; one that in a sense reached closure in the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach, many years later.
What happened in between is my life. So won’t you join me, as we follow Walter’s Way?