Straight talk from Clyde Strickland
Lawrenceville – Some people might look at Clyde Strickland and think, “Man, that old codger has it made in the shade.”
And who could blame them?
They have more money than a son and a daughter of sharecroppers could have ever dreamed of having, and their spacious – but in no way ostentatious home, includes a huge, bright kitchen, and oozes charm and warmth.
The Atlanta-based company that Strickland founded in 1972, Metro Waterproofing, Inc., was built literally from the ground up – “We started with a $1,400 pick-up truck, a $100 ladder and a $6,000 mortgage on our house,” he says proudly -- and today is one of the most successful and profitable in Georgia.
And despite undergoing knee replacement surgery on Dec. 29, Strickland, a God-fearing soul who’s never shy about sharing his faith, boasts a non-stop energy that belies his 76 years.
Shoot, Strickland even still has a good bit of his straight brown hair, which he keeps neatly combed and parted on the right.
Life comes so easily to Clyde Strickland, those same people might think.
And those same people would be dead wrong. Which brings us to the reason that Clyde Strickland welcomed us into his home on this overcast January day.
“Remember that guy who gave up? Neither does anyone else.” ― Unknown
“Amen, brother,” Strickland says with a nod when a visitor reads that quote to him. “Amen.”
Say what you will about Clyde Strickland, but one thing you can never say about him is that he quit on anything. Oh, he quit a few jobs here and there, like the time in 1959 when he quit selling magazine subscriptions in Dallas, TX, because he was homesick and “thumbed” all the way back to North Carolina (a three-day odyssey), but he always did so knowing that a better opportunity awaited.
“I’ve always been one to change jobs,” Strickland said. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur looking for a bigger dream.”
In fact, if there is one thing Clyde Strickland hates – well, hate may be too strong a word because in his generous heart there resides not one ounce of hate for anything – it’s a quitter. So when he sees someone who is down on their luck, thinking the world is against them and they’re ready to quit, Clyde Strickland is quick to impart the wisdom and knowledge by which he has lived every day of his life.
“If you undertake defeat, you’re defeated,” Strickland said. “The way to be successful is to always be moving forward, I don’t care how slow the pace.
“See, people are born with perseverance, but they lose it. When you face adversity, you have to out-work adversity. You do that and there ain’t nothing that can stop you.”
“I am not concerned that you have fallen - I am concerned that you arise.” ― Abraham Lincoln
Trust us, Clyde Strickland, like most people, has fallen. Many times. And rest assured that none was more painful or debilitating than the time he fell seven stories off of a scaffold, a frightening on-the-job accident that resulted in broken vertebrae in his back, a mangled right arm, a wrecked right knee, 276 stitches in his face (one of which remains in his lip this very day) and more than a few teeth knocked out.
The year was 1966, the month October, and a then 27-year-old Strickland was a crew foreman for a waterproofing company based in Charlotte, NC. He and a co-worker were climbing the scaffolding to do some caulking when a wooden pin holding part of the scaffolding together slipped out and the structure collapsed, sending Strickland and his co-worker, who would eventually die of his injuries eighteen months later, crashing to the ground.
Doctors were not optimistic about Strickland’s chances, either.
“They said I would never work again and never walk again,” Strickland said. “I had rods in my back and a brace and I couldn’t bend all the way over for eighteen months. When I was leaving the hospital they were going to get an ambulance to carry me back to Charlotte but I said, ‘I ain’t riding in no ambulance.’
“So I put a pillow in the back seat of the car crawled back there and rode that way. Four weeks later I was back at work.”
Fast forward 20 years, to a night in October of 1986, and Metro Waterproofing was fighting to find its footing. It was 1:30 in the morning when the phone rang.
“They said the building was on fire,” Strickland said. “The day before that we owed the world $52,000. Six months later we owed the bank and materials suppliers $4.1 million.”
Undaunted, Strickland did the only thing he knew to do – he picked himself off, surveyed the situation, devised a strategy and set out to rebuild his company.
“Back then we were big into roofing along with the waterproofing,” Strickland said. “I had about 200 roofers and about 150 waterproofers, so I had to close up something. To beat adversity you need to cut off what ain’t making money and stay with what you know. So I closed up the roofing.
“You always stay with what you know, and that will lead you through adversity. And you turn crises into opportunities.”
In two years, those bills were paid off. And in 1995, Strickland walked into Suntrust Bank and paid off every debt he and his company had.
“I’ve never owed nobody a dime since, and my company never owed nobody a dime since,” Strickland said.
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nothing about Clyde Strickland’s upbringing could have predicted his path in life. His parents were North Carolina sharecroppers who could neither read nor write, but they knew the value of work hard, and they instilled in their children the belief that if you don’t work, you don’t eat.
Strickland himself dropped out of school one month into this 10th grade year, with not much more education than his parents. But he had a dream of success, and he was determined to do whatever it took to achieve it.
“Daddy didn’t believe in education,” Strickland said. “Mommy and Daddy believed in hard work, honesty and all of the values that made America great.
“I walked off the farm with three dollars in one hand all of my clothes in the other hand. I was walking, thumbing, doing whatever I could to get a job. Back then getting a job at 16 was a tough job.”
His first job was at the Silo Restaurant, owned by a man named Wilber Hardee. You might have eaten at one of the hundreds of fast-food restaurants that today bear his name.
“I walked up to the window and asked for a job and the girl said, ‘Well, we’re not hiring anybody,’” Strickland said. “I said, ‘Well, I need to talk to the owner because I need a job.’ And this guy walked up and introduced himself as Wilber Hardee.
“Later on, I was at home cutting the grass, and up pulled this brand new pink Cadillac. And Wilber got out and he said, ‘The way you talked and the way you walked, I could tell you would be a good worker. When can you go to work?’ I said, ‘Whenever you want me to.’ He said, ‘Be there at 5 o’clock in the morning.’ I said, ‘I’ll be there.’
Three years later, in 1959, an 18-year-old Strickland joined the Army and spent two-and-a-half years stationed in Germany, where he worked in the transportation pool. Only problem was, the position required him to do a good bit of paperwork, which he knew was not his strong suit.
“I realized how uneducated I was because I couldn’t fill out those transportation forms to check the vehicle out of the motor pool,” Strickland said. “So I had to get an old one – now, this is overcoming adversity -- and copy it.
“I was stationed with these guys called ‘Yankees,’ and some of them had graduated high school and had some college, and that’s when I realized how uneducated I really was. I said, ‘Boy, you are a dumb country boy. You have wasted your life away.’”
But instead of using his lack of education as an excuse, Strickland did the only thing he knew how. He went to work.
“I went back to school and got my GED,” Strickland said. “But the most important thing I did was volunteer to join every training session for leadership. I went to NCO Academy – I went to anything that had to do with leadership that the military had.
“When I left Germany, I was in charge of 69 ambulances and 24 medical divisions.”
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.” ― Vince Lombardi
Whether working as a cook, hauling sweet potatoes and butter beans, toiling in a textile factory making imitation fur or selling magazines – all of which he did during his lifetime -- Clyde Strickland always knew he possessed the one quality that would never let him down.
It is a quality that he insists every man and woman possesses themselves, if they would only reach deep down into their soul, find it and let it come out.
“You have to out-work adversity,” Strickland said. “The way I beat adversity was to out-work everybody. The other thing is you need to stay calm. If you stay calm, you can beat adversity. If you get excited, it’ll beat you.
“Stay calm and stay mentally in the fight. Eventually, you’ll win.”
Amen, brother. Amen.