Taking a Look at How Modern Entrepreneurs Work & Live!
|Success is Sweet When You Combine All the Right Ingredients|
If there's anything more American than entrepreneurial spirit, it's chocolate chip cookies. When you combine the two, you produce one of the greatest entrepreneur success stories of the past few decades. Born in 1936, Wally Amos says that he did not come from an entrepreneurial family background. He says that he was simply in the right place at the right time when his business took off. Amos shined shoes, delivered ice and newspapers, and worked in a supermarket as a child. He was not afraid of hard work. If he couldn't do something, he knew he would get it eventually.
Amos earned his GED in the Air Force and then attended a secretarial school where he received training in business. He took a job at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, but decided to look for a new career a few years later. Amos returned to the secretarial school in search of a new assignment. Civil rights organizations were putting pressure on theatrical agencies to hire more African Americans, and Amos was placed with the William Morris Agency. Amos says, "I showed up, I was at the right place, it was the right time, and I was the right color."
At the William Morris Agency, Amos took a job as a mail clerk. He worked his way up through the ranks and eventually became an agent. He went on to represent such great musical artists as The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and Simon & Garfunkel.
Amos eventually left New York and moved to California to start his own agency. For five years, Amos gave away cookies as his calling card. He used them as icebreakers. "You talk to a casting director, or a producer, and they see hundreds of people each day. Something has to differentiate you from everyone else they see."
Amos developed a reputation for his great tasting cookies. "People would have meetings and before they did anything else they would ask, 'Where are the cookies?'" Amos says that his cookies got him through a lot of professional doors.
At the urging of friends, Amos decided to start selling his cookies. He raised about $25,000 from friends to start, and Marvin Gaye was one of his investors. It only took five months from the time Wally decided to sell his cookies until he opened his Sunset Boulevard storefront in Hollywood.
Amos says that his first year in business was chaotic, fun, and completely dictated by trial and error. He had no experience with a retail store. However, Amos says the idea of not being able to do it never crossed his mind. "I was so totally into the business and having so much fun, that I was selling cookies like crazy."
Word spread about Amos's cookies and soon he was on the cover of Time Magazine. Just about every other media publication was knocking at his door. Amos says the experience was disorienting. "You kind of lose your perspective at some point."
The Keebler Company now owns the Famous Amos brand, but Amos started Long Island-based Uncle Wally's Cookies in 1996. The company produces fat free and sugar-free muffins. Amos is currently constructing a new 43,000 square foot building for his operations.
Amos says that he loves the promotion of his companies the best. "I do not like the day-to-day tasks of business. That is not my forte. I like starting stuff and promoting it."
Wally Amos is also an author and has written five books so far. The first book was The Famous Amos Story: The Face That Launched A Thousand Chips. Then came The Power In You: 10 Secret Ingredients For Inner Strength, followed by The Man With No Name, and fourth was Turning Lemons Into Lemonade. Amos's most current book is Watermelon Magic: Seeds of Wisdom, Slices of Life.
In October of this year, Amos is coming out with a brand new book entitled The Cookie Never Crumbles, and will be published by St. Martin's Press. The book is a collection of anecdotes that will highlight the rougher times in Amos's life that eventually turned out positive. Amos will spend much of this fall promoting his new book.
Amos's wife, an artist, recently created two dolls called Chip and Cookie. Amos will market the dolls under the heading "Wally Amos Presents Chip & Cookie." The Gund Corporation will be producing the dolls for Amos in March of 2002.
Amos is also working on two pilots with KCPT, a PBS station in Kansas City, for a show called "Read Aloud With Wally Amos. It will be an interactive television program that supports and encourages children to read. It will also give families the tools and skills that they need to work with their children and help them learn to read.
Amos has been promoting literacy for twenty-two years now. He is the national spokesperson for the Literacy Volunteers of America. He is also on the Board of Advisors of the National Center For Family Literacy and the Board of Directors for Communities In Schools, a group that works to keep children in school. He even worked with Barbara Bush to promote literacy. Amos said that he would like to work with the current First Lady and is sure he probably will at some point.
Bush to promote literacy. Amos said that he would like to work with the current First Lady and is sure he probably will at some point.
When asked where he gets the ambition for his endeavors, Amos responded, "I think we are supposed to do things. We are created to produce, perform, and create. I like being creative and it's stimulating."
Amos says that there are no typical workdays for him. He is always traveling and in different cities. He travels 70-80% of the year, so free time is something that is not allocated formally. When he does get to travel for leisure, he and his family enjoy visiting Bali. He has also enjoys Bora Bora.
Amos says that, to his daughter, he is "Papa," and to his wife, he is Wally. "Being famous is no big deal. I have three sons and they don't care that I am famous. I am just their father. Being famous is not what's important. It's the fact that I am involved with my family and my community."
Amos has been living in Hawaii for twenty-four years now. He serves on the board of the YMCA, United Way, and several other organizations in his community. He was stationed in Hawaii from 1954 to1957 and moved back in 1977. "Hawaii was always a part of my life and it never left me. It has been a wonderful experience. It is my most favorite place, no question."
When asked who has been instrumental to his success, Amos says, "I am inspired by so many people. From children I've met, to fictional characters in books. We all inspire each other. There are people who are achieving and make me think that I can too."
Amos says that he would like to be remembered for serving people and helping others feel good about themselves. Most recently, he has been communicating with a woman who is battling cancer via e-mail. He decided to visit her and the two made cookies. "I love bringing joy to people's lives. My life is rich because I do so many things. It is not just selling products. I have had too many failures to be egotistical at this point. It's not about I, it's about us."
As for advice he would give to other entrepreneurs starting out, Wally says, "Be positive and believe in yourself. Have faith. Be sharing also. If you are looking to get only for yourself, that is very short-lived. Share what you have with others."