I have written a little book [The Ten Commandments for Business Failure]. I wrote it because it’s about how to fail, and I wrote it because success has always scared me, it’s always worried me, it’s always frightened me, the word — I didn’t allow it to be said any time and any place where I’ve been associated, because success flies on its own wings. And built into the DNA of success are two viruses, you can’t avoid them, they’re built into the very word success. It could happen to people, to companies, to countries, and those are viruses of complacency and arrogance, and they destroy so many successful people and successful companies and successful countries. Even now, for us in this country . . . to think about what success can do to you. Years ago I was asked to speak at a big convention, and it was how to be a winner. And I said, well, I couldn’t come speak about that because I don’t know about that, but I’ll tell you what, I can tell you how to be a loser. And that’s what the book’s about.
What we don’t know – Bernanke doesn’t know it, Paulson doesn’t know, Bush doesn’t know, nobody knows and none of us know. We don’t know really why we got here – we’ve all got ideas. We don’t know whether we’ve found the bottom. We don’t know how wide the bottom is. We don’t know how deep it is and we don’t know how long it will take to rise from it – one year, two years, three years. But I’m an optimist, so I will tell you that it will be sooner than the pessimists think and it will probably be longer than I think.
The Way Forward
We’ll find our way out of this, and in a way it’s good for us because it lets us reset our base and revalue what life is really about. I’m very proud of this country and of its people. Whatever the politics each of us have, yours or mine – we’ve just participated in a long and historic election with a historic outcome. We have a gracious loser. We have a gracious winner. We have a gracious president, sitting president, and an orderly transition that’s happening after a long and tough campaign. No guns, no soldiers, no unrest. And the world looks at this country right now and its people with wonder after this election.
Since the Revolutionary War, since the Continental Congress, we’ve continued to enlarge and enhance the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. It hasn’t been easy or swift, but a remarkable Constitution made better with amendments – and finally 75 years later, it dealt with slavery, which took a vicious Civil War and a courageous president. And then we had to struggle for decades about the right of women to vote, and then we participated in two wars we didn’t start to protect the freedom of the world. And then we had an election to determine whether religion would be a test for the presidency and we the people decided no. But then, after a long fight to civil rights victory that went on and on until November 4, 2008, a man of color was elected president of the United States. Listen to me. This would happen nowhere else in the developed world, and we should be damned proud of it.
A hundred and sixty years ago an 18-year-old kid, my great-great-grandfather Michael arrived on this shore, having left on a dreadful ship from New Ross, Wexford – a county, which along with the rest of Ireland was devastated by the infamous famine that delivered pain and suffering and death during those tragic years, and left us with scars that still remain today. And so today, I think of my 18-year-old grandson – he’s Michael’s great-great-great-grandson. He’s a healthy, bright high school senior on the rise. He’s captain of his football team, wondering where he’s going for college, he’s just one of millions of 18-year-old boys and girls who by an accident of birth were born in this country. You know, this is a great nation. And it’s going to – believe me – it’s going to prove its greatness again through this current economic crisis, just as it has, ladies and gentlemen, for decade after decade over the last two hundred and thirty years.
Ireland & The Diaspora
Ireland, like the rest of the world, faces great challenges. But in many ways, the psychological impact of the downturn in Ireland is severe because of the recent 15/20 year period of the Celtic Tiger, when everybody was on a roll and you almost felt a sense it was going to go on forever. Nothing does. But I do know this, I do know and I have confidence that Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the cabinet can and will successfully confront these challenges, but they need to have the support of the citizenry of the country. And I believe the fact that this taoiseach has commissioned a study of the Irish Diaspora [is key]. The Irish Diaspora, we talk about it as if it’s a studied thing. It’s the millions of people in this country and around the world who left years ago, and it [the Diaspora] can’t last forever. Twenty years from now it’ll probably disappear in the mist of reality. So I believe that Cowen commissioned this study to be certain that we have closer links between Ireland and America. It’s of huge importance.
Let me say this, Minister Hanafin [Mary Hanafin Ireland’s Minister for Social and Family Affairs, who was present], you and I are the envy of every country on earth because of the extraordinary network of friends in America that you have, especially in the business community. For too long, in my opinion, this has been sort of an accepted and undervalued asset. And I believe that a strong component of the Irish recovery will come from creating and working hard to create new networks and business opportunities with that community abroad here in America and in those places around the world, New Zealand and Australia and Argentina and others, where large groups of Irish have emigrated over the years.
Irish Ties That Bind
The Coca-Cola Company is building a plant in Wexford, which will create jobs and represents a huge investment. They deserve it because they are in the reigning competition, but it didn’t hurt that the chairman of the Coca-Cola Company was born in Northern Ireland. It didn’t hurt that the executive vice president, Irial Finan, who’s an Irishman, was the head of the study that made the decision. And in a way, it didn’t hurt that my family came from Wexford.
Generations ago, remittances from immigrants [to the folks] back home sort of underpinned the Irish economy, as it does in Mexico. So it puts the working relationship between Ireland and the Irish-American business community, I believe, [in position] to find greater opportunities for Ireland.
Your taoiseach will be here in months to meet with our new president, and it’ll be the meeting of two leaders who can both trace – listen to this now – their ancestry back to that little county of Offaly. Did you know that? That connection is pretty important for Ireland. Let me tell you something, in this new era, you use every opportunity you have.
Who We Are
Each of you comes to this gathering from a different group, a different dream, each of you is an exciting book about Ireland and about you and about America. Some of you trace your ethnic backgrounds to the Scotch-Irish tradition, with a strong Protestant equity and with a strong linkage to Great Britain. Others of you, like me, trace your roots to Ireland with a strong Catholic linkage. But forget that. We’re all gathered together with a common joy because we share a common Celtic heritage, and each with a personal history in America.
You know how lucky we are to be here, we have a one in seventy chance to be here. We won the lottery. And from whatever part of that magical island that we trace our roots to, you and I are the beneficiaries of a remarkable gene pool, think about it. These were people who as young people had the courage to leave; they had the guts to walk away from family and roots, to climb aboard an unknown vessel and to sail to an unknown address in an unknown new America. And they planted their feet and their bodies and their hearts and their souls in the soil of this nation, and they didn’t have a ready-made future. But look at us, we’ve created one. You and your ancestors and mine have helped build America. We’ve nurtured it; we have fought for it and thousands of us died in every war including the Revolutionary War and on both sides of the Civil War into the great wars of the twentieth century and beyond.
And so, my friends, each of us is a wonderful Irish story. And a wonderful American story. An Irish-American story. We each have our own story and it’s important that we have it, that we cherish it, that we pass it along to our children and our grandchildren, because the truth is that a family culture and a company culture and a country culture is a collection of stories. So we need to find ours and to tell ours, and for each of us, today is a new chapter in our story. I’m perhaps the oldest story in the room, so I salute each of you for what you’ve achieved and what you will achieve as leaders of our society.
We gather here in a country that is greater than the self-flagellation that we give ourselves, particularly after a tough presidential campaign and severe economic crisis. I’m sick of the barrage of careless faces that pounds us every day through 24-hour media focus, looking for fall guys instead of searching for solutions. I’m sick of the pundits here and abroad telling us that America, a ray of hope and promise, is now fading into history. Ladies and gentlemen, that is sheer nonsense. In a complex, extremely difficult and dangerous economic crisis, we’re confronting our problems, looking at them head on, and we’ll solve them.
With our global population of six and a half billion people – in the last decade one billion people have moved into the fringes of the middle class for the first time in history, in China, in India, in Brazil and in other countries in the world. And I know that in the next ten years, the world will be better. And twenty years from now, another two billion people will begin to find their way into the middle class. Once you’re there, you have something to protect and save. And I don’t believe that peace is very far from there.
At the turn of the century, the twentieth century, the average male could live until he was in his early fifties. When I was born in 1926, it crawled into age 60. Today it’s nearing 80, thank God.
And each year because of this remarkable – the greatest medical research in history – most people will live longer and healthier lives. America is, and still is, a land of hope and promise. And yesterday, today and tomorrow people are standing in lines at our embassies, seeking visas to come here and to touch freedom.
[As for] Ireland, that magical island so tucked away that the ancient Romans couldn’t find it! They conquered every land they’d ever found! That magical island that was discovered by the Vikings and the French and the Normans, [by] Saint Patrick, [by] American golfers and Al Gore! That magical island that has brought the world great writers and playwrights and great actors and great composers and great patriots, great entrepreneurs and great religious and political leaders, that island that birthed people who now are exciting, who are entrepreneurial, they have great leadership qualities and they’re graduating some of the brightest and youngest people in the world.
That little island that has given us 16 of our only 43 presidents, in both political parties, and some Irish students of the game say it’s 22. That magical island is populated today by a group of people very hopeful of their tomorrow. But Ireland also gave us Patricia Harty and Niall O’Dowd, who brought their wit and wisdom and vision to sort of open the door so that people like those of us sitting in this room could re-find our Irish heritage. Not the stage Irish, with the red nose and the bottle in his hand and the butt of jokes, but you – the American Irish leaders who are a vital part of mainstream America, who are leaders in every facet of our society. That magical little dot on the map, my God, I feel proud and lucky that, like you, I can claim to be a small part of its history, past, present and future, and I feel immensely proud to be here with you today. Congratulations, and God Bless you all.