Without personal determination and resolve, persistence and perseverance quickly dissolve under intense and sustained pressures, especially those that are created by adversity and failure. By anchoring themselves in the strength of their personal vision, however, the great leaders were able to withstand both internal and external pressures, strife and feelings of defeat.
This in turn, produced the fortitude and resolve to continue in their pursuits. George Washington’s personal vision of the creation of a republic is what gave him the strength to endure eight harrowing years of leading the American Revolution, and then more to lead the republic in its infancy as its first President.
Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn) is another notable example of determination. As an entrepreneur from early on in his youth, he experienced a series of adversities and setbacks. “From the days when he first peddled The Saturday Evening Post as a youngster, through his founding of Holiday Inn, up to his creation of Wilson World and Orange Lake, he has stuck to his goals.” 
Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) faced overwhelming challenges when he initially launched his airline. He was immediately sued by his competition to prevent Southwest Airlines from making its first flight. He described his experience, “For the next four years the only business Southwest Airlines performed was litigation, as we tried to get our certificate to fly. After the first two years of defending lawsuits, we ran out of money.
The Board of Directors wanted to shut down the company because we had no cash. So I said, ‘Well guys, suppose I just handle the legal work for free and pay all of the costs out of my own pocket, would you be willing to continue under those circumstances?’ Since they had nothing to lose, they said yes. We pressed on, finally getting authorization to fly…
Our first flight was to take off on June 18, 1971 and fly between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. I was excited about being in the airline industry because it’s a very sporty business. But the regulatory and legal hoops enraged me. I thought if we can’t start a low cost airline and the system defeats us, then there is something wrong with the system. It was an idealistic quest as much as anything else.
When we brought the first airplane in for evacuation testing (a simulated emergency situation) I was so excited about seeing it that I walked up behind it and put my head in the engine. The American Airlines mechanic grabbed me and said if someone had hit the thrust reverser I would have been toast. At that point I didn’t even care. I went around and kissed the nose of the plane and started crying I was so happy to see it.” 
Conrad Hilton (Hilton Hotels) went bankrupt during the Depression. “Faced with challenges that might have seemed insurmountable, he did what he had done since he was a boy—resolved to work hard and have faith in God. Others, it seemed, made up their minds to put their faith in Hilton.
He was able to buy goods on credit from locally owned stores because they trusted his ability and determination to one day pay them back. As the kindness of others and his own ingenuity helped him rebuild his hotel empire to proportions previously unheard of, he solidified his commitment to charity and hospitality—two characteristics that became hallmarks both of Hilton Hotels and of the man who began them.” 
Walter and Olive Ann Beech (Beech Aircraft) started their company during the Depression. “ ‘She was the one that kept trying to get the money together to pay the bills,’ said Frank Hedrick, her nephew, who worked with her at Beech for more than 40 years and who succeeded her in 1968 as president of Beech Aircraft…
She said she didn’t give much thought to the problems of starting a new company at a time when most airplane companies were closing, not opening. ‘Mr. Beech thought about that,’ she said. ‘(But) he had this dream and was going to do it. He probably didn’t know how long the Depression was going to last.’
The first few years were difficult, she said. They sold few airplanes. ‘We had to crawl back up that ladder.’ ”  Olive Ann Beech overcame additional adversity when she took over the company after her husband contracted encephalitis during the Second World War, and again, after he suddenly died in 1950.
Joyce Hall (Hallmark) saw his company literally go up in smoke three years after he started it, when his business burned to the ground. “Hall was $17,000 in debt when a flash fire wiped out his printing plant. Luckily, he was able to sweet-talk a local bank into an unsecured $25,000 loan, and he has not taken a step back since. By the late 1930s, Hallmark was one of the top three cards.” 
- Success Secrets of Memphis’ Most Prolific Entrepreneur (Business Perspectives, July 1, 1997)
- Kristina Dell, Airline Maverick (Time Magazine, September 21, 2007)
- Gaetz Erin, Conrad Hilton’s Secret of Success (American Heritage People, August 2, 2006)
- Earle Joe, Olive Ann Beech Rose to Business Greatness (The Wichita Eagle, February 11, 1985)
- The Greeting Card King (Time Magazine, November 30, 1959)
Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter