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Risk vs Reward: Small Biz Lessons on Hank Aaron’s Homerun Anniversary

Hank Aaron hitting homerun

April 8, 2024 marked the 50th anniversary of Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th homerun. Aaron, along with his Atlanta Braves team, faced many risks, including death threats, playing amidst 1970s racism and bigotry as he moved closer to breaking Babe Ruth’s iconic record late in the 1973 season. But the ultimate reward was too great a chance to miss. Small business owners might face less existential risks, but there are three important risk v reward small biz lessons they can learn from Hank Aaron.

  1. The status quo can and should be upended. Whether it’s long-held assumptions about what products the market will buy or how to sell them, people’s perceptions of what’s “accepted” are always fluctuating.

Even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, baseball remained a white-dominant sport as Hank Aaron continued to excel. But the public perception of what a baseball player “should” look like began to change after Aaron’s remarkable feat.  When it comes to risk vs. reward, challenging the status quo takes courage, but the reward will usually be there.

  1. There are no sacred cows. Every entrepreneur has heard the same cliché— “you’ll have to choose between work or your life, because you can’t run your own business and have both.” Yet most entrepreneurs discover work-life balance is very achievable, as long as you remain committed to the goal of finding that balance.

Babe Ruth’s record was certainly a baseball sacred cow that held strong for 39 years. It was considered unbeatable…until Hammerin’ Hank. And it wasn’t just the record, but the legend behind that record. Babe Ruth’s status as a celebrity was as iconic as his baseball achievements. For anyone to even come close to exceeding it, let alone a Black man on a Southern team barely a decade past the Civil Rights Act, was unimaginable.

  1. Ignore the noise. “That business already exists.” “Nobody will buy that product.” “You need more cash to start out.” Whatever the naysayers throw at you, and there will be a lot, you have to ignore the negativity and just keep moving toward your goal.

When Aaron was closing in on his 713th homerun in the summer of 1973, an avalanche of hate mail proved that there were many who did not want to see him break Babe Ruth’s sacrosanct record. The hate mail elevated to the level of death threats, to a point where even the FBI asked him to consider not playing. But Aaron kept his focus, relayed his concentration on his goal, and achieved his reward. When he hit his 715th homerun in Atlanta on April 8, 1974, he received a standing ovation from the southern crowd.

Hank Aaron’s record for career homeruns held for 33 years, almost as long as Babe Ruth’s, until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007. On the night that Bonds hit 756, Aaron’s congratulatory message appeared on the Jumbotron at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Later, in an interview with Atlanta sportscaster Chris Dimino, Aaron commented that for him, breaking a record was more about performing to one’s best ability, rather than the fame and adulation that accompanies it. Risk vs. reward wasn’t even a calculation in Aaron’s mind, because his goal never wavered.

Business owners would do well to emulate Hank Aaron’s approach to a job he loved: Shut out the negativity, keep your focus, and the rewards will almost always outweigh the risks.

Published: April 8, 2024
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