Spend time in the field

The Banana Man

You might not have heard of Sam “the Banana Man” Zemurray.

Many people haven’t.

But he has quite a story…

Sam came to the US in 1891, aged just 14, as a penniless Russian immigrant.

He worked a number of odd jobs in his local town until 1895 when he stumbled across his first banana. And the stage was set.

Sam saw the potential immediately. He got to work and began buying imported bananas at the dock and selling them on at markets.

Noticing a large portion of the bananas were being discarded, deemed too ripe, he seized the opportunity and snapped up this wasted fruit. From here, he grew the business steadily and before long had a thriving banana enterprise.

This success left him wanting more. Eying up the importing business he chartered a ship and set sale to the source, South America.


Over the next few decades Zemurray built an empire. He went toe to toe with United Fruits, the giant at the time, and ultimately ended up running them. Along the way he made a colossal dent in South and Central American history, even starting a civil war to protect his banana empire. And so, when all was said and done, Sam retired a rich man dubbed “the fish that ate the whale”.

How did Zemurray achieve all of this?

To understand, we can look at how Zemurray spent these years. Over a 60 year period he worked every job in the banana industry from unloading the ships to living in the jungles of Honduras and farming the bananas himself.

When the time came to do battle with the executives at United Fruits, they never stood a chance. Zemurray knew every inch of the business. They had barely stepped out of their glass offices.

Spend time in the field

Life is so complex. We’re constantly dumbing down the world around us to help comprehend it. It’s only when we get out in to the field and do the work ourselves that we truly understand whats going on.

If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and dive in you have a huge advantage against those stood on the sidelines.

The story of Sam Zemurray is told in Rich Cohen’s great book The Fish that Ate the Whale. Right up there with Shoe Dog as an entrepreneurial story.

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