Ed McCracken. He was the CEO of the company. Handpicked by the board. But Jim couldn’t utter the man’s name without referring to him as “Fucking Ed McCracken.” After everything he had been through. The highs and lows. The heartbreaking disappointment. The billion-dollar skyrocket of his company Silicon Graphics. This moment was perhaps the most absurd. The very people he had enriched were the same ones stealing his business out from under him.
He wasn’t bothered so much by the raw, naked greed. It was the incompetent dishonesty that enraged him. They were idiots in suits who thought they were taking advantage of him. Little did they know the measure of the man they were dealing with.
The success of Jim Clark was as improbable as it was magnificent.
Born in less than humble beginnings, his home life was the epitome of abuse and alcoholism. Every day his father would get blisteringly drunk. And every night, Jim would listen to his mother, Hazel, get screamed at and beaten in the other room.
Finally, when Jim was 14, Hazel divorced her abusive husband. That still didn’t end the cycle of violence. For the next few years, Jim’s father stalked Hazel and the kids, vandalizing and sabotaging her barely workable vehicles. Slashing tires. Cutting brake lines. Smashing headlights.
The last of these incidents left his mother and sister on the side of the road far from home. It was scary. And dangerous. But at 16 years old–and jobless–Jim knew the financial stress it caused. His mom would have to save two months of her meager salary just to get the car back on the road.
It left a mark on Jim. Something he would never forget.
He hated school. He was bored. Teachers treated him like a loser. Told him he would never amount to anything. Jim kept himself entertained by building small bombs to detonate on the school bus and smuggling skunks inside his tuba case. Or lighting a string of firecrackers inside a classmate’s locker.
When he told his English teacher to “go to hell” it was the perfect opportunity for the school system to get rid of him. He was expelled from school indefinitely. He wouldn’t ever earn his high school diploma.
It seemed like the perfect opportunity to get out of Plainview, Texas and join the US Navy. That would certainly make his life easier. But he could not have been more wrong.
They treated him like an idiot too.
He was given an aptitude test to decide where best to position him. It was a multiple choice test. Which he had never taken before. Instead of circling the best answer, he ended up circling most of them — on each question. In his analytical mind, he could, in fact, see some truth in every answer.
The navy labeled him a juvenile delinquent and shipped him out to sea, where he spent nine months doing the dirtiest jobs the ship had to throw at him and dodging insults from higher ranking officers. He hated the Navy more than he hated home.
Back from the sea, Jim started testing again to see where he “fit in” in the Navy. The first test he took was a math test. He scored the highest in the class. Even the Navy wouldn’t believe that this juvenile delinquent was capable of such high numbers.
So they gave him a second test. Again, he scored the highest.
Within six weeks, Jim was teaching algebra to the new recruits and being encouraged by his instructors to consider college. Maybe he wasn’t an idiot after all. No. He surely wasn’t.
It was a few short years later that he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Physics. And a Master’s degree in Physics. And a PH.D. in Computer Science. All at the same time.
So Jim Clark became a professor. At Stanford. The most prestigious university in the world of computer science. Then at the top of this roller coaster of success he was riding, he pushed things too far. Was a bit too edgy. And got fired.
But along that journey, he did something magnificent.
He invented a new type of computer chip. Built specifically for 3D computer graphics. When he explained it to potential investors, they laughed him out of the boardroom and refused to play, or pay, for Jim’s unorthodox ideas.
But Hollywood wasn’t so cynical. They got wind of Jim Clark’s 3D technology and were practically banging down his door to use it in their movies. If you’ve seen a Steven Spielberg movie from the 90’s (or later), you’ve seen the magic of Jim Clark’s company, Silicon Graphics.
Soon the investors were back on the Jim Clark boat. But it came at a price he would only discover much later.
He had risked everything to start Silicon Graphics. Lost a job. Lost 2 wives.
Invested his own money. Recruited researchers. Hired students to help.
He watched the company take off. He watched it start to thrive. From nothing to millions. And then billions. He watched people get rich off it.
People like “Fucking Ed McCracken”, the new CEO, and Glenn Mueller, the original money man. People who had nothing to do with actually creating any of the computers or the amazing features of the computers. The investors were rewarding themselves and greedily starving the founders and engineers of any participation in the upside of the massive growth of the company.
Glenn Mueller was making the lion’s share of the profits himself. Jim was furious. Beside himself with rage that Glenn had taken advantage of his naivete when it came to investment capitalists. And when Ed McCracken came along as CEO to run Silicon Graphics at Mueller’s urging, things took a downward spiral.
Ed McCracken seemed to have it in for Jim from the beginning.
Together they would conspire to steal the entire business away from Jim.
When Jim Clark walked away from Silicon Graphics at the beginning of the 1990’s, he did so with a bad taste in his mouth. And rightfully so. He hadn’t just worked for over a decade for the billion dollar company. He had created it.
But he wasn’t done yet. Far from it.
So began the manic, frantic, disappearing act of Jim Clark. He wracked his brain for the next big computer idea. He, with the help of Marc Andreessen, finally came up with a web browser. He called it Netscape. Within four months of its release, it owned more than 75% of the browser market.
The personal computer–and the internet–would never be the same.
After many months of work, more than a year of perfecting the program, and his own $5 million dollar investment, Jim took Netscape public. And became a billionaire.
Many of the people who agreed to push him out of his own company, including Glenn Mueller, now came knocking on his door. They wanted in on the action. But Jim wouldn’t let anyone who was involved in the greed and pillaging of Silicon Graphics get involved.
Then Jim decided to build the world’s largest sailboat. And he wanted it to be manned completely by computer technology. That technology didn’t exist. So he created it.
When he saw the gaps in healthcare, he had the idea to revolutionize the way doctors interacted with patients, pharmacies, and insurance companies by digitizing the industry.
Healtheon was born.
When he saw that wealthy Silicon Valley individuals had trouble managing their money, he had the idea for myCFO–which went on to become a full bank with trading capabilities that didn’t exist anywhere else.
When he saw the impact of sickness on undeveloped countries, he had the idea for DNA Sciences, which would use genetic modeling to unravel the complications around common diseases.
Although he gave his family shares of Silicon Graphics and made them rich as well, Jim rarely visits the town of Plainview, Texas where he couldn’t even manage to graduate high school. But to Plainview, he’s the definition of hometown boy makes good.
One of the only people to have built three multi-billion dollar companies.
He wasn’t the idiot after all. Just a man on a mission to create change where it was needed.
How many times have you seen this type of story repeated?
Then why are you still giving up on your dream just because other people don’t believe in you? Why are you still making excuses for quitting just because the people you want to respect you, don’t?
You aren’t guaranteed acceptance just because you’re brilliant. Life isn’t especially unfair for you. Karma isn’t out to get you.
The results you achieve are the results that you demand. The outcome of your effort and determination.
If you don’t like something, change it.
When bad people take advantage of you, brush yourself off and get back to work being awesome. You can’t change other people. But you can decide to keep going even when things get rough.
You can make the decision to press forward. To keep trying. To invest in your own success.
The only thing that separates you from Jim Clark is your willingness to keep trying. It’s not about the money. Or the fame.
It’s about your willingness to ignore the critics and skeptics and achieve success regardless of what obstacles stand in your way.
If they can do it, why can’t you?