Wall Street executive Ed Hajim helps people identify what matters most.
Wall Street executive Ed Hajim helps people identify what matters most.
“One of my favorite books is ‘Who Moved My Cheese,’ and if you look back on history, fables basically have communicated principles as much as any form of literature: ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go’ by Dr. Seuss, ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘The Alchemist.’ I thought I’d try to write a short book to communicate a series of ideas that helped me throughout my life. That’s what the ‘Island of the Four Ps’ is all about.”
The son of a Syrian immigrant, Hajim was kidnapped by his father at age 3 and told that his mother had died. He grew up largely in foster homes and orphanages, and at age 11, lived alone for a month out of a Coney Island hotel room, taking the subway into Manhattan to explore the city. Despite an early life of instability and adversity, he says the challenges he faced strengthened him.
“My disadvantages became advantages. Think about someone living in 15 or 20 places before you’re 18 years old. You’re adaptable. When you go from one schoolyard to the next, and I was in five different schoolyards between ages 5 and 10, or one orphanage to the next, you learn how to adjust and to fit in. Not only do you get adaptability, but you get self-reliance, you get perseverance and you get resilience. Resilience is like a muscle. And if you use it as a young person, you can use it later in life. In my business career, with my ability to adapt, there was no task that I wouldn’t take on. And I could relate to almost anybody.”
With no money, no family and no connections, Hajim, as a young man, got himself accepted into a private college, the University of Rochester, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He received his MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School and held senior management positions with prestigious financial firms. Despite his success as a Wall Street executive and financial manager, he was turned down for membership to a Nantucket golf club. Instead of fighting it, he built his own golf club, which has now become the largest charity on the island. Later in life, upon assuming the position of chairman of the University of Rochester’s Board of Directors, he gave the school its largest single donation ever, $30 million, to support scholarships and endow the Edmund A. Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“The instability I felt [as a child] had everything to do with my quest for a purpose in adulthood. Scary as my circumstances might have been, they ignited in me a desire to find my purpose and plan for the future I wanted,” he wrote.
“The Island of the Four Ps” reads like a storybook. Gentle and imaginative, and enhanced with colorful illustrations by Gabriela Leal, the tale is masterfully crafted with key ideas and questions to ponder at the end of each section. Readers follow the journey of a young adventurer named Marketus as he explores The Village of Passions, The Village of Principles, The Village of Partners and The Village of Plans, the Four Ps.
“It’s not a right or wrong book. It’s saying here are the things you should look at when you make decisions,” he said. “It’s intended for young people and anyone in transition. I’m trying to soften a few of the bumps on the journey of life. I like to say, ‘The highway of life is always under construction.’”
Marketus, and later, a character named Thalia, are guided by an older gentleman name Archimedes. “Their conversations are the same conversations that people must have with themselves to make good life decisions,” said Hajim. “You have an inner voice that you talk to and I wanted to give that inner voice a vocabulary. I looked back at the words I used [to make decisions], and my passions, my principles, my partners and my plans were all part of that.”
In the Village of Passions, Marketus is introduced to the value of finding his own passions by answering four questions: What activities make time pass quickly? What subjects do you hunger to learn about? What tasks do you pursue with commitment and energy, without hesitation? And, what do you daydream about? He also learns that not setting priorities “can leave us meandering from path to path.”
In the Village of Principles, the Blacksmith explains that the rules and actions we create must be our own. “They are based on the mix of principles and circumstances unique to you,” he tells Marketus.
The book also offers playful allegorical messages. The Village of Partners, for example, is accessed by a system of ropes, pulleys and levers that lowers a platform from a cliff to a river. “The chair mechanism is designed for two people working together,” Archimedes explains.
In The Village of Plans, Marketus and Thalia learn about creating A Life-Plan Map that reflects the interplay of three things: A person’s passions, principles and partners; a person’s environment; and the actions a person will take to pursue those opportunities. They also are encouraged to keep the plan updated and pay attention to change and economic cycles. “Never be afraid to test new paths,” Hajim said, noting that change, cycles and latent demand should be anticipated, studied and acted upon. “You’ve got to ask yourself constantly, ‘What’s next?’ Today, if you’re in AI [artificial intelligence] or robotics, you’re probably at the bottom of a long cycle.”
Hajim’s passions include putting people together to solve a problem, create a product or start a program. He found that what he really enjoys is helping people do better than they thought they could. His own guiding principles are: “Treat others as you hope to be treated; seek freedom to make your own decisions; and decide what is enough – enough money, possessions, accomplishments and recognition – and don’t pursue more than enough.”
“Everybody has to define ‘just enough.’ I’ve seen so many people in my business seek too much,” he said. “And that ‘too much’ makes them sacrifice the other parts of their life.”
Both in the book and in life, Hajim strives to balance his principles with four realms – self, family, work and community.
Hajim’s own story includes a happily ever after. At age 60, he learned his mother hadn’t died and was reunited with her when she was 81. They were close for the remaining 12 years of her life. He says his biggest legacy is enjoying a 57-year marriage with his wife, Barbara, having three children and eight grandchildren.
Today, at age 86, he says his purpose is as a mentor through his book and in person. Reflecting on his extraordinary life, he offers this advice: “Anything is possible. Education is the solution to almost everything. And, never be a victim.” QCBN
By Bonnie Stevens, QCBN
Hear more hard-earned wisdom from Ed Hajim on Zonie Living: https://starworldwidenetworks.com/episodes/exploring-the-island-of-the-four-ps-to-plan-your-future-with-business-leader-extraordinaire-ed-hajim-video.
Courtesy Photo: Hajim has received numerous awards and accolades including the prestigious Horatio Alger Award, given to Americans who exemplify the values of initiative, leadership and commitment to excellence and who have succeeded despite personal adversities.