4 out of 4 stars
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Ready, Fire, Aim! An Immigrant's Tales of Entrepreneurial Terror hits the bull's-eye! In it, Charles Ota Heller tells us the fascinating story of his life.
Born in 1936 to a wealthy family of Jews, he experienced losing the family’s fortune, freedom, and future when the Nazis invaded his native Czechoslovakia. The Holocaust wiped out most of his family; the only survivors (his father and mother and himself) eventually fled their country (then under Communist rule a few years after the Russian Red Army drove the Germans away) and came to America as political refugees. He was thirteen.
Now in his eighties, Charles tells us how the scared boy who knew only two English words (“Sank you!”) when he arrived in America came to become Maryland’s “Mr. Entrepreneurship” and a sought-after inspirational speaker for both budding and established entrepreneurs. The book spans his early childhood, school life, and career as an engineer, an academician, an entrepreneur, a venture capitalist, and ultimately, a writer.
There’s more. The author is not just a career man. He is a versatile sportsman (he is into basketball, tennis, skiing, sailing, track, etc.), a patriotic citizen (he idolizes JFK and his what-you-can-do-for-your-country mandate) of his two countries (America and Czechoslovakia), and best of all, a devoted son, husband, father, and grandfather. Trust me that his story is worth telling (and reading). His life is beautiful. (The story also reminds me of the Italian film Life is Beautiful about the Holocaust because of the author’s loving and supportive father Rudolph, the driving force in the author’s life.)
I recommend Ready, Fire, Aim! to a wide variety of readers, owing to the wealth of experience the author shares.
Entrepreneurs top the list of beneficiaries. They will read stories of successes and failures, good and bad decisions, and how to rise again after a fall. The book title, Ready, Fire, Aim!, is a slogan of how entrepreneurs face their everyday challenges. Most decisions need to be made fast, even without proper contemplation. The entrepreneurs always hope (those who believe in God, pray) that the good decisions outnumber the bad. The book will inspire as the author has "been there and done that."
Those interested in the history of computers will relish this book. The author was a pioneer in computer-aided-design technology back when computers were the size of refrigerators or larger. The book traces the growth of this technology and the “reverse growth” in the size of computers.
Teachers and those in the academe will relate to the author’s discussions about the importance of the title “Doctor,” the desirability of tenure, and other intellectual stuff.
Most everyone who has held a job or started a small business will pick valuable morsels from this book. The author’s stories about botched deals, office intrigue, obnoxious venture capitalists, and the bias that employers have for Ivy Leaguers will bring back memories.
The author uses very simple language, allowing the readers to appreciate the material even when technical jargon is used. He also injects humor in the most appropriate places, thereby keeping boredom at bay. One funny line mentions a book on mergers entitled Welcome to our Conglomerate, You’re Fired! He jokingly refers to angel investors as “friends, family, and fools” and calls venture capitalists “Masters of the Universe.”
The vignettes are described with fantastic detail (the author kept journals all his professional life), allowing the reader to feel part of the scenes. Most stories are bereft of dialogue, as is typical of autobiographies. But dialogues are at times added to spice up the scenes, without affecting the authenticity of the account.
The author occasionally uses bad words, especially during times of crisis, but these are mostly in the form of thoughts and are rarely spoken to anyone.
The book is superbly organized. Save for the first chapter (which details a critical juncture in the author's life as a young entrepreneur), events are narrated chronologically; the reader has no trouble following the story. The chapters are aptly titled; this facilitates going back to sections one wants to reread. The “Author’s Note and Acknowledgments” and “About the Author” sections at the end of the book provide valuable insights about the writer’s qualifications and his decision to write the book.
The book was impeccably edited by two editors. I found no obvious grammatical errors, and the writing was smooth all the way.
There is still so much more to tell about this book, which I believe undoubtedly deserves 4 out of 4 stars. It is a wonderful story of resilience and about people’s ability to achieve anything that they work hard for, regardless of the odds stacked against them. My takeaway from the author is this: Whatever happens with your job, do not forget family, friends, and fun (your personal well-being). Nothing is worth losing them. This is wonderful advice for everyone.
Ready, Fire, Aim! An Immigrant's Tales of Entrepreneurial Terror
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