Thursday, March 31, 2011

Patriotism in Practice

Touring the World War II Museum twice in one week got me to thinking about patriotism and business practices. Andrew Jackson Higgins, a native of Nebraska, and an adult entrepreneurial son of South Louisiana, was the quintessential American patriot. He was as rugged as a mountain man, as hard working as any lumberjack, as tenacious as a trapper, and as fair-minded as a family of farmers.

Hitler called Andrew Jackson Higgins "The New Noah". General Eisenhower said that Higgins won World War II. Neither of these things is exactly true. Higgins was more like Moses than Noah, and, if it's true that his boats won the war, it was the chosen people of South Louisiana who he hired that made it happen. Higgins was the patriot and visionary leader who believed in America, and the people who worked with him were wise enough to follow his lead.

Higgins had little formal education, but was one of the most creative problem solvers of the twentieth century. He knew more about building small boats than anyone who had ever lived. He was also a master at creating communities that worked together for the common good. Higgins consistently practiced fairness in his hiring practices and in pricing the goods purchased with the taxpayers' hard-earned money. This is what patriotism should be about.

Nobody believed more firmly in the American way of life than did Andrew Jackson Higgins. He believed that vision and hard work was the way to make waves of much-needed change, and he proved it every day. With his example and leadership, he inspired tens of thousands of average citizens of South Louisiana to give their all to their country. His American ingenuity combined with Louisiana labor proved to be unbeatable.

Higgins hired anyone who was willing to work: man, woman, black, white, healthy or infirm. He used the trade schools that already existed and set up on-the-job training schools at his plants. He got to know the people who worked with him by being on the job himself. As problems arose, he addressed them; even setting up a subdivision with a school and recreation facilities for Higgins Industry families when housing shortages presented themselves. This should be a hallmark of patriotism.

Higgins invested his mind and his money into our country. He insisted on giving our government the lowest price possible on his products. It was through his efforts that then Senator Truman created a commission to investigate and resolve the price gouging that many military contractors were practicing with impunity. This also should be a hallmark of patriotism.

Since 1997, hundreds of volunteers have invested thousands of hours in recreating Higgins Boats for the World War II Museum in New Orleans. This group of dedicated boat builders is now a non-profit organization called The Higgins Boat Society. The Higgins Boat Society celebrates and salutes the life and spirit of Andrew Jackson Higgins and the proud people of Higgins Industries. Not only our country, but a lot of Louisianians owe much of what we have to them.