The Basics of Business


Jack Houvouras

Jack Houvouras

The best advice I ever received in business came from two men. The first was Marshall Reynolds, who told me, "Work is only work if you'd rather be doing something else." The second was my father, Andrew Houvouras, who once said, "I was very lucky in business. But you know, the harder I worked the luckier I got."

It doesn't get any simpler than that.

I was recently reminded of those two nuggets of wisdom while interviewing Huntington native Alex Bolen at his offices in midtown Manhattan. Bolen is the CEO of one of the most renowned fashion houses in the world -- Oscar de la Renta. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1990 before going to work on Wall Street. Following a successful 15-year run in the world of investment banking, he was recruited by his father-in-law, fashion icon Oscar de la Renta, to run the family business. While our interview covered a lot of ground pertaining to his success, there were three themes Bolen kept circling back to -- hard work, passion and luck.

I first met Bolen when we were teammates on the Huntington YMCA swim team. If you aren't familiar with the sport of swimming, let me just say that the training is brutal. Every Monday through Friday afternoon we would swim for 2 ½ hours, covering four to five miles. Three days a week we would double down and hit the pool at 5 a.m. for 1 ½ hours of swimming followed by 30 minutes of weight training, before hitting the pool again in the afternoon. On those days, we would log seven to eight miles in the water.

"Working hard counts for a lot in New York City. I think the idea of grit, and that coming first, is something I learned in West Virginia," Bolen told me. "Whether it was in the pool at the YMCA, watching my father put in long hours as an attorney or seeing the dedication of the people at Trinity Episcopal Church, it left an impression."

As the interview progressed, he touched on the importance of passion in his career.

"You have to love what you're doing. I am extremely excited to come into the office every day," he said. "If you don't love what you're doing, then you have to move on."

And finally, much like my father, he admitted that luck has played a pivotal role in his success.

"It's much more important to be lucky than smart," he said. "We simply focus on working hard and then wait for fortune to smile on us. Nothing beats being at the right place at the right time."

Hard work, passion and luck. They are the hallmarks of successful businesses from the gentle hills of Huntington, West Virginia, to the bustling streets of New York City. Put your trust in these three basics of business, and prosperity will eventually find you.


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