A billionaire who owns a bookstore, Sam Wyly is becoming an author, too. His 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire
is being publishing in September by Newmarket Press.
Writing a book has been "something I've been thinking I wanted to do forever," Wyly, who bought Explore Booksellers & Bistro, Aspen, Colo., with his wife, Cheryl, early last year, said. "Over 30 years or so I made a few efforts, but then always got busy with something else." But several years ago, he finally did begin to write his story--and found that the hard work was "not in the writing, but the re-writing."
The memoir/business book is written in elegant, declarative style and chronicles the author's life and career, starting as a record-breaking salesperson at IBM, then founding his first company and becoming a millionaire before age 30. Although he is best known for creating and building businesses--including Michael's craft stores, Bonanza Steakhouses, the Maverick Capital hedge fund, Sterling Software, among others--"I come from a long line of people who read and write," Wyly commented. "Books have always been in my life." His parents put out a weekly newspaper when he was a child in a small town in Louisiana. His father did most of the writing, and his mother handled the business side and wrote a social column. Wyly and his brother "grew up helping out. I was a bit of a go-fer."
The love of books also led Wyly and his wife to purchase Explore Booksellers & Bistro
when the store and building it is in were put on the market after founder Katharine Thalberg died in 2006. A seasonal resident of Aspen, Wyly had been going to the store "for a long time." (Explore general manager Lynda Schultz confirmed that "Sam had been coming in for years, but no one knew who he was. He would sit off in the corner reading books for hours.") Wyly admits to enjoying reading "a lot of biography, geography, history and fiction, especially historical fiction, like James Michener. I love good stories about imaginary characters built into real, historical things I've studied."
Wyly had already seen his two favorite independent bookstores close in his hometown of Dallas, Tex., and didn't want to see such a thing occur a third time. In addition, keeping Explore in business was "really good for the town." If he hadn't bought it, he added, the store likely would have closed and the building "converted to coops or something like that."
He and his wife inherited what Wyly called "a great team of people, several of whom had worked there for a really long time." He also praised Lynda Schultz, who before the sale was the children's book buyer and then became "an absolutely, terrific manager."
While aiming to continue the traditions of Explore--which stocks some 75,000 books in a 4,500 square feet of space in a Victorian house and includes a popular vegetarian bistro--the new owners have made some changes that Wyly described as "incremental." In fact, they sound substantial:
- The old main office in the back has been opened up and converted into an area that is used for events. (The rare and oop sections are on the shelves in the area.) In addition, the area has been upgraded with "the kind of a/v equipment some authors require now," Schultz said. The adjacent patio, which used to be reserved for the previous owner's dogs, is now also public space and is used for events, too. "We used to do our events in the front of the store and it got so crowded," Schultz noted. "Now we have a lovely space for authors to present their books."
- The computer system in the store is being upgraded, and the website is being improved.
- In line with a passion of the Wylys, Explore has made an effort to go green, Schultz said. The store has evaporative cooling, not air conditioning. Light fixtures have been replaced. "And we just got a little electric flatbed truck," Schultz continued.
Schultz confessed to having some trepidation when the Wylys bought the store. "We were worried," she said. "We thought only that a self-made billionaire from Texas was walking into the store." Besides his business life, Wyly also is well known as a philanthropist whose beneficiaries, when taken as a whole, are a bit bewildering for some: the Aspen Writers Foundation, his own foundation for minority businesspeople, an educational TV channel in Dallas, environmental efforts, the Bushes and the notorious Swift-boating campaign of 2004. (About these last donations, Sam and his brother, Charles, longtime Texas Republican contributors, have said that "loyalty" has been an important reason for their political choices.)
In the end, Schultz said, she found Wyly to be "one of the most genuine, down-to-earth, kind and ethical men I've met." The Wylys, she continued, are "fabulous people who truly value independent bookstores. You can't ask for more than that."
Besides a party at the store, Wyly will promote 1,000 Dollars & an Idea at an event at the Aspen Institute. He's also appearing at several business group gatherings, including the Entrepreneurs' Organization, the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.
Wyly sounds somewhat reluctant about the appearances, saying, "I want to see the book sell well, but I'm enjoying my peace and quiet in Aspen." But he's not reluctant about supporting the title in other ways. Wyly is putting up "about $300,000" to promote the title, according to Newmarket publisher Esther Margolis. The book will be advertised in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor and in six weekly ads in the Wall Street Journal. Wyly is making appearances on TV and radio. In addition, Continental Airlines will do a promotion for the book on all domestic flights in October that features an interview with Wyly.
There is also "a very strong Internet publicity and marketing plan," Margolis said, which will have an emphasis on blogs and sites with business and entrepreneurial themes. (The book's website is 1000DollarsAndAnIdea.com.)
Newmarket will continue marketing the book through the fall. "It'll be a great holiday gift," Margolis said. "And certainly for young people."
Margolis expressed a bit of surprise that Newmarket wound up publishing the book. Early on, she said, she was introduced to Wyly's agent, Ed Breslin. "We all met. Sam was curious about the business and independent publishing and peppered me with questions. I didn't think I was a candidate to publish the book." But later she met with them again saw the manuscript. "It was high quality," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, this is a real book, not a vanity thing.' "
She praised 1,000 Dollars & an Idea for "going into risk taking and failures, not just successes" and for its message of the importance of "listening to customers and paying attention to what they say." The book has gotten favorable reviews in Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. "It has great word of mouth, and I hope independent booksellers especially consider handselling it," she said.
Explore general manager Lynda Schultz said that in the book, Wyly "was able to retain his sense of humor and communicate his down-home, down-to-earth attitude that led to his success in business." She continued, "It's a business book, but so much of the man comes through. You can't separate him from what he accomplished. He is a remarkable man, a one of a kind."--John Mutter