Voices

A blog from the Bruderhof

Guest Post: Reflections from an Entrepreneur in Peru

August 5, 2019 by

hiking in Peru

My day starts quite early: At 3:45 a.m. the jarring buzz from my alarm clock prods me out from under the sheets and onto my feet. From outside the bedroom door I can hear the whining and scratching from my three big dogs, eager for their pre-sunrise run. Careful not to wake my sleeping wife, I pull on my running gear and tiptoe to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. I open the bedroom door and get a face full of happy dog, then I head down the stairs and out of the house. The cool Peruvian mornings are wonderful. The trails and dirt roads are empty of traffic, my dogs rush around sniffing and exploring, an occasional figure appears now and again out of the darkness – someone else getting a jump start on his day.

Back from the run I hop into the dry sauna to sweat and read. Then a crispy cold shower and a strong cappuccino before settling into my home office by 5:45 a.m. to move the ball forward on the many companies that I am involved with. It really is a capital way to kick off the day.

As an entrepreneur in Peru, I find that I’m constantly casting around for opportunity, for an untried angle or a crack at a solution to a stubborn problem. There are opportunities and problems everywhere I look. It is a wonderful life.

I am the general manager of a plethora of small companies – a microbrewery, two taprooms, a restaurant, a mountaineering agency, an energy bar company, and a small loans platform – which all hum away under the watchful eye of their designated supervisor or administrator. This leaves me with the luxury of having my days relatively free of cumbersome schedules and predetermined obligations beyond the overriding responsibility of ensuring that each company has what it needs to operate and that the people in charge have been hired well, trained well, and understand the task at hand. I can float between companies, help solve problems and put out the occasional fire, or work on developing a new venture.

Few people have this luxury and I am deeply grateful for the flexibility that I enjoy. The drive for this independence that has spurred my enthusiasm to start my own businesses was subconsciously cultivated in the Bruderhof’s workshop and garage.

I grew up at the Bruderhof, an intentional community with roots tracing back to pre-World War II Germany. As kids we learned to work hard, doing indoor and outdoor projects with our class as well as with our families. Those experiences are worth their weight in gold – quite literally. The Bruderhof’s integration of practical and academic learning, in my opinion, was brilliant. It taught us kids about pushing through unpleasant drudgery, and working hard even when you didn’t feel like it. As a young man, I worked in the Bruderhof’s wood workshop, where I machined wood components and assembled furniture. This taught me that factory work was simply not what I was cut out to do. Factory time crawled, much like jail time I suspect. It even went backwards sometimes. When Johnny Scott, the head mechanic, invited me to leave the monotony of the assembly line and work with him in the garage repairing engines and replacing brakes pads on the community’s buses and trucks, I knew that I had hit the jackpot and vowed I would make the most of it. I immersed myself in the new job.

Johnny was a small wiry man, brimming with boundless energy and optimism, who was quick to dish out a compliment as well as correction. The learning curve was steep. There was something about him that made me want to please him. I would do anything he asked and more. Quite the contrary to some of my former supervisors in the factory that, despite their best efforts, somehow managed to trigger an almost involuntary desire to skate around their well-meaning rules and attempts to guide my young restless soul.

While my path has since led me beyond the borders of the Bruderhof, thirty years later I still reflect fondly on the values I gleaned during the two years working with Johnny. I learned about work, about creating results and about taking full responsibility for your mistakes. I learned to take pride in a good day’s work. I learned how to show up. I learned the importance of setting an example and expecting people to follow it. I learned that problems happen and are often fun to solve. I learned that to solve a problem you have to first take the time to understand it. I learned that you have to tell the truth and not complain. I learned that you can’t be afraid to get down and dirty and crawl underneath something to see what’s really going on. All valuable lessons that I’ve remembered ever since.


Ted Alexander lives with his wife, Jenni, in Huarez, Peru.

Image used with the author’s permission.

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