Thursday, November 24, 2005

Think BIG!

On November 5, 2005, John E. Rice passed away ending a remarkable and financially rewarding career. Along with identical twin Greg, the Rice brothers became self-made millionaires in real estate and blazed a trail as entrepreneurs. John and Greg Rice amassed a fortune in the real estate industry doing highly successful TV infomercials. The twins also landed acting roles, were the marketing brains behind a pest control business, and launched a motivational speaking company they named appropriately Think BIG, Inc. According to news reports, John, age 53, had broken his leg in a nasty fall on November 5th. Only one day later, he passed away at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida of a heart attack while being put under anesthesia for surgery to repair it.
The road to business success was paved with a few speed bumps along the way for John and Greg. The identical twins were diagnosed with dwarfism shortly after their birth in 1951. Astonishingly, they were abandoned in a hospital nursery by their natural parents shortly thereafter. Apparently, their parents just freaked out and left them in the middle of the night after learning of their diagnosis. Fortunately, the twins were adopted eight months later by a loving family who encouraged and supported them to succeed in life despite their obvious physical limitations.
Before John’s untimely death, the Rice brothers were identified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest living identical twins in the world standing only 2 feet 10 inches tall. Earning such dubious notoriety mattered little to the Rice twins. And growing up "vertically challenged" was no match for their creativity, passion, and determination. You see, John and Greg were not about to let something so trivial as their height interfere with their career goals. A close friend of the twins put it this way: "They always talked about it’s not how big a person is that makes a difference, but how big he thinks. It’s so true."
It was John who had the natural instincts and adventure to examine career opportunities for the twins based on their interests and innate abilities. In his own words: "if we were ever going to be anything in this life, we had to learn to run our mouths." John fully understood the challenges and likely discrimination the twins would encounter in the workforce due to their size and limited physical capacities. His brother Greg put it this way: "We couldn’t get jobs at the grocery store or pumping gas like all of our tall friends. The only job we could get was straight commission door-to-door sales."
Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Rice twins worked hard to identify their natural skills and examine how they might exploit them for business purposes. "One day John was reading the newspaper and there was an ad in there for a real estate licensing school," Greg once mused. "And John looks over at me and says, ‘Hey Greg, let’s go into the real estate business.’
A great decision. The twins went on to set real estate sales records in West Palm Beach, Florida and made national waves with their campy infomercials and television ads. In time, they ran their own real estate TV show called "Television Home Hunt," became co-hosts of "That Quiz Show," and landed acting roles as landlords on a comedy sitcom called "Foul Play" in 1982. As destiny would have it, the twins became nationally recognized celebrities and were featured as successful entrepreneurs on a number of TV shows including 20/20 and Regis and Kathy Lee Live.
With excellent marketing instincts and self-deprecating humor, the twins used their personalities and communication talents to broadcast clever commercial advertisements for a pest control business called "Hulett." The ads conceived by John Rice, and featuring the twins, increased the company’s sales by 800 percent over a seven year period!
Once their national celebrity was established, John and Greg then created a multi-million dollar company called Think BIG making 50-70 motivational speeches a year around the country. John shared his vision about the company with a newspaper reporter in 2001: "Our message is think big. My brother and I have overcome all kinds of obstacles due to our handicap. We want to tell people to concentrate on what they have and not to dwell on things they don’t have. Think bigger than a handicap. Be positive."
One Sunday morning I was clicking by TV channels with my remote control and I ran across one of the real estate infomercials presented so eloquently by the Rice twins. I just had to stop and watch the 30 minute commerical spot. No, I wasn’t much interested in their real estate pitch. Instead, I was astonished by the clever and persuasive marketing skills of these two self-made millionaires. I tend to take special note of individuals who are skilled in creating and customizing jobs for themselves despite the odds, and without apparent professional guidance. These savvy twins sure didn’t need much help from outsiders because they were bright and driven by high expectations and goals they set for themselves.
Make no mistake about it, John Rice was a marketing genius and shrewd business leader. Along with his twin brother Greg, he was smart enough to hurdle stereotypes and stigma associated with his diminutive stature. On his own, John Rice demonstrated how customizing employment despite living with significant disabilities and challenges can result in unexpected profit and career success if people are willing to think big. Sadly, his brother Greg will now carry forward the legacy of the twins’ time-tested motto, only solo now.
On November 12, 2005, family, friends, and colleagues gathered privately to celebrate the life achievements of John E. Rice. Once considered an "abandoned dwarf," Mr. Rice was now remembered by his friends and loved ones as the "little man with a big dream." Fifty-three years later, Rice was honored as a true giant in his community and highly successful business entrepreneur. No small feat for a man who stood tall at just 34 inches.


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