PROFILES OF LEADERSHIP

PROFILE OF A ROLE MODEL: FROM HOLOCAUST HORRORS TO PROSPEROUS LEADERSHIP

My father was a true role model – not only for our family, but also for our community and beyond. He made it out of the horrors of the Holocaust and went on the create and (re)build a legacy that not only was a legend in his lifetime, but that even now, almost 20 years later, still remains!

UNTHINKABLE TRAGEDY

Barry Engel was born in 1928 in Tokay, Hungary – a pastoral town known for its wonderful vineyards and excellent wine. His boyhood was no different than that of any other boy growing up in Eastern Europe in the late 1920s and early 1930s. His family enjoyed a life of relative wealth and prominence. That is, until Hitler came to power in Germany and conquered country after country, eventually threatening even the world powers. By the time England and the United States intervened, 6 million Jews and millions of others had been murdered in the infamous death camps. Barry’s own father, Jeno (Jacob) Engel, had been rounded up in Budapest and sent to the Auschwitz Death Camp, from which he never returned.

RISING FROM THE ASHES

After the Allies brought the Third Reich to its knees and liberated the camps, the survivors tried returning to their homes to start new lives. For most of them, this hope could not be realized, as they discovered they were not really welcome in their own countries either. After attempting to settle in several countries, my father came to New York, with no money, language or family. (His mother and siblings would come later.) Years later, he would jokingly reminisce that even the clothes on his back, which he’d bought right before leaving Hungary, he had to throw out, because it made him look like a “Greenhorn”, which was a label that immigrants tried very hard to avoid.

A DREAM COMES TRUE

My father was able to find a job on the Lower East Side, working for a spice-importing company called “Schoenfeld & Sons”. The owner of the company, Mr. Schoenfeld, encouraged him to go out on his own, so my father opened a spice shop in Brooklyn with his mother and eventually his younger brother. He told Mr. Schoenfeld that one day, he would bring in a million dollars a year in sales.

 

From the storefront in Brooklyn, his business eventually moved up to a factory and warehouse in Queens, then to a larger factory and warehouse in Brooklyn, and then to an even larger facility in New Jersey, eventually growing to encompass two facilities and many warehouses. The company very quickly surpassed the million-dollar mark and continued to grow many times over. He was able to dream and dream big.

A COMMUNITY ACTIVIST

My father was also very prominent and active in community affairs, and was especially fond of helping others who struggled in their careers or business. He helped many people start and run successful companies, and they always joked about having an uncle in New York loan them three thousand dollars (in 1955 dollars) to help their fledging businesses. His motto was, “If you were blessed, make sure to help others.”

A MODEL OF HUMILITY

Though he dealt in millions and gave away millions to charity, he never felt the need to “show off”. He lived a simple (albeit comfortable) life, and enjoyed his wealth in a healthy way. He didn’t think it was beyond his dignity to fundraise for his favorite charities (which were many), and though he was often the largest donor, he was always ready to help the causes he believed in. His motto was, “Charity is obligatory and helping others was mandatory.”

A PILLAR OF COURAGE

Though my father was a peaceful man, he never shirked from standing up for what was right, and wouldn’t tolerate those who didn’t. His motto was, “If you are put in a situation that requires courage, then stand up and be courageous.”

 

Yes, my father had many mottoes. In looking back at his ideas, I’ve been able trace them back to some of history’s greatest philosophers and leaders. But, as he didn’t have any formal education (or its contemporary substitute – the internet), these were ideas that he created in his own mind but were still solid principles that helped him shape his own leadership personality:

  1. Never confuse efforts for results!

  2. Find a balance between others’ needs and your own

  3. Always give back to the community. Everyone needs someone to help him at one time or another

  4. Remember and be true to your roots. Understand your core essence and responsibilities

  5. Have an open mind to learn new things. If all you do is talk, you are just repeating what you know. If you listen, you learn new things

  6. Be humble. If you were given gifts, use them to help others, not to spite others

  7. Know what you stand for and what you won’t stand for. If you’re in a leadership position, think of the impact of doing the right thing

  8. There are two secrets to success: Having great ambitions and having an even greater discipline to achieve those ambitions

  9. Think past your nose. Have a wider vision, and don’t think small

  10. Anyone (idiot) can sell a dollar for ninety-nine cents.

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