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Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson and the American Dream

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Best-selling author, latest, American Entrepreneur (Harper Collins, 2018)

CEO Duck Commander, Buck Commander, Fin Commander, & Strut Commander

Cast member and executive producer of A&E’s record-breaking show Duck Dynasty

Married to Korie

Children: John Luke, Sadie, Will, Bella, Rebecca, and Rowdy

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Willie has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. In fifth grade he earned the name “Little Tycoon” because he began selling and trading things to kids at school to make cash. His family was poor growing up, so he came up with creative ways to earn money like selling candy on the school bus or out of his locker. He was making good money until he got called into the principal’s office. School concession sales were down so the principal told him no more selling stuff at school.  Desperate for money, Willie came up with another idea called the Human Jukebox. For a quarter, Willie would sing whatever song you wanted to hear on the school bus. Although not as lucrative as his candy business he still did pretty well.

The business venture Willie helped with the most was the family business. In 1972, his dad, Phil, decided to make and sell duck calls. He took out a loan from the Howards (a family of entrepreneurs who would eventually become Willie’s in-laws) for $25,000. The family business grew gradually through the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Then Phil began filming himself and the family hunting and selling the series on VHS tape in stores called The Duck Men. The tapes helped the sale of their duck calls. In fact, Walmart put the duck calls in their national chain of stores and began selling 500,000 calls per year.

In 2002, when Willie was thirty years old, Phil made him the CEO of the company. His main job was to expand the business and get their products into sporting goods stores. In 2008, they got an offer from the Benelli Shotgun company to do a show on the Outdoor Channel. Willie’s wife, Korie, encouraged him to do the show. Although Phil thought it was a terrible idea Willie felt like it might help them sell more duck calls. That show, Duck Commander, developed a good following and got them more visibility in the hunting world. A few years later, Willie got a call from a TV producer in Hollywood who thought they could go bigger. Willie’s family put together a sizzle reel. A&E loved it and Duck Dynasty was born. The reality television series ran on the network for 5 years and had 130 episodes. The series which portrayed Willie’s family and their family-operated business, Duck Commander, became the most watched nonfiction series in cable history. The series finale aired on April 12, 2017.

“For the Robertson family, we redefined what success meant, beyond just worldly good and riches. For us, success meant you can make a living off hunting and fishing and being together. To us, that was success,” shares Willie. Below he shares other entrepreneurs who’ve helped to shape America:

  • Andrew Carnegie – created the American steel industry and spearheaded America’s march into the modern industrial age. He was also passionate about giving away his fortune. His favorites charities were schools, museums, and libraries.
  • John D. Rockefellar –  a super tycoon of the oil industry and the greatest philanthropist in history so far.  He funded projects that made huge strides toward eliminating scarlet fever, typhus, etc.
  • Madame C.J. Walker – the first self-made black female millionaire and a pioneer of the cosmetics industry.
  • Reginald F Lewis – a Harvard trained, venture capitalist and corporate takeover artist, one of America’s greatest black entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
  • Mary Kay – a single mother who built a $1 billion cosmetics and skin care company. Her philosophy was to “praise people to success.”

Willie has a copy of the Bible on his desk at the office and often starts his day in a moment of prayer and reflection, heeding the challenge of Psalm 5:3. “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”

“There is a wealth of magnificent wisdom in the scriptures that can help the American entrepreneur, or anyone else, thrive through risk, danger, and adversity, and master the challenges of failure and success,” shares Willie. In fact, he believes one of the reasons entrepreneurs have made such a powerful contribution to American history is that religion, spirituality, and the Bible are a part of so many lives. One day after reading the Bible from front to back Willie realized that both testaments contained a pattern of five great insights he calls “the Entrepreneur’s Code”:

  • Wisdom – in many Bible passages you can find a road map of inspiration to help you achieve wisdom for success in life and business.
  • Courage – as an entrepreneur you must be able to push through the trials and storms of business with boldness and diligence.
  • Compassion –your personal and business goal should be compassion. It is important to show mercy, love, understanding, and positive actions to your family, your co-workers, partners, customers, even your competitors. The Bible promises in Proverbs 3:3-10 how “you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man” if you guide your life by love, mercy, and truth and place your honor and trust in God.
  • Integrity – as an entrepreneur integrity means being honest with your employees and business partners and constructively pointing out their mistakes and areas of improvement as a way of helping them.
  • Humility – be honest with yourself – admit your weaknesses and limitations and reach out for help when you need it. Willie says the Bible teaches him that as a father and a husband it is his responsibility to learn from his mistakes and try not to repeat them.

Several years ago, when the family business was in the early years they ran out of money. They had nothing in the bank but owed an $800 bank note. Phil went to check the mailbox to see if anyone had sent any checks. His mom, Miss Kay, said there were no checks due. Phil went to the mailbox anyway and found an envelope with a lot of international postage on it. It was from Japan and enclosed was a check for $800 to prepay for a bulk shipment of duck calls. Willie didn’t remember too many orders from Japan before then, and he doesn’t remember too many at all since then. His family was able to make their bank payment and it literally saved their family business. “The Lord truly does works in mysterious and beautiful ways. He certainly has for this American entrepreneur and his family,” reveals Willie.

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