What WW2 POW Movies Can Teach You About Not Only Surviving But Prospering as Well

There’s a lot of interest these uncertain days in business ideas and skills which will retain their value in regardless of the economic conditions.  If you want to discover one of the best skills to cultivate into a viable business, go rent those old WW II POW movies such as King Rat,  Stalag 17, The Great Escape, and Empire of the Sun. Although my memory has faded over the past 30 years since I saw them as a kid, they invariably had a stock character: the trader. This is the POW who starts off with nothing, just like his fellow prisoners, and then parlays some small asset into a business based on wheeling and dealing in anything that has value inside the environment from cigarettes to soap to tooth brushes.

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen

One film, King Rat, presents them as selfish characters who live in relative comfort by virtue of supplying necessities to fellow prisoners and, in some cases, guards. In other films, they are presented more favorably and demonstrate their worth by supplying critical items the escapers will need to break out such as shovels, civilian clothing, fake passports, and rations.

My point here is that people who can source and supply what others need are in a position to make a living no matter how hard times may get.

There are three basic ways of getting into trading.

– You can set yourself up as a retailer selling directly to the public. (In the event of prolonged economic woes, it’s better to set yourself up as an online retailer focused on a narrow niche than to open a bricks and mortar location. The former allows drop-shipping while the latter requires an inventory.)

– You can set yourself up as a wholesaler to supply retailers. This usually calls for more cash as you will need to invest in inventory.

– Finally, you can set yourself up as an arbitrage expert who wheels and deals in goods without ever taking possession of them.

The key to success is in shoehorning yourself between sellers and buyers who don’t know each other.

Many successful entrepreneurs take advantage of arbitrage opportunities to boost their cash flow not just in the startup phase, but throughout their business’s existence. Wheeling and dealing is not just for WW II POWs. Let me share a slightly comical example with you from Inc. magazine which I mention in my startup financing manual:

Cell phone distributor Brightstar “made a fortune”, according to its founder, during its startup phase by taking advantage of the disorganization of its much bigger supplier CellStar. CellStar’s Dallas office, which supplied the US market, would occasionally call BrightStar and ask if it had a certain model of cell-phone in stock. The Brightstar founder would put the buyer on hold and call up CellStar’s Miami office, which served the South American market, place the order, and then tell the Dallas office he was sending them right over. (Inc magazine, March 2004)

So what do you need to get started? A telephone, the gift of gab, a website, and a knowledge of where to find suppliers and buyers, and either some working capital or trade credit. It helps to think of businesses as falling into one of two categories: high capital or high hustle. The first requires a lot of startup capital while the second requires mostly a high level of hustle. Trading definitely falls into the second category.

Many billionaires started out trading. This is particularly true of tycoons from South East Asia and the Indian sub-continent. Their wealth often comes from building great trading houses. Think of those James Clavell’s novels such as Tai-pan.

So why am I talking about traders on this blog? Well, most billionaires are simply very good horse-traders, although they deal with cash producing assets, namely businesses instead of equines. If you can see yourself as a trader, you have the basic skills and personality to pursue the strategies in the Tycoon Playbook.

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