Junior Achievement apparently has come a long way since I was a youth. As I learned today, the teaching tools now utilized by the hands-on entrepreneurial program for kids include interactive curricula, classroom instruction on a host of business-related subjects, and sophisticated computer simulations. It seems a worthy program, and one which I would’ve appreciated as a high school student.
I hadn’t realized Junior Achievement still exists until a high school freshman in my neighborhood informed me. In August, when Ken told me his school offered the program and he was considering it, I gave him the cautionary tale of my own misadventures.
I joined Junior Achievement in ninth grade. The local businessman leading our group explained how companies throughout the land made millions, and that someday we could too. Encouraging us, he said we’d simply need a good product, a good business plan, and determination.
Unfortunately, no titans of industry numbered among the economically-challenged souls comprising my Junior Achievement group. After a couple of meetings brainstorming the ideal business plan, the moneymaker our fertile young minds selected consisted of a roadside emergency flashlight for automobiles. This “invention,” which all of us expected to patent, employed an actual headlight encased in a rubber shell. Attached to it was a twelve-foot split wire which connected directly to a car’s battery, like jumper cables.
Our product looked even less dazzling when manufactured than on paper. Not only did it prove bulky and awkward to connect, but it also suffered from two inherent drawbacks. First, if a vehicle broke down on an unlit road, the driver wouldn’t have enough light to affix our emergency lamp to the car battery — unless he used a separate flashlight. And if the car’s problem involved a dead battery, our emergency lamp wouldn’t work at all. So, safe to say, we junior achievers and our product offered no threat to Thomas Edison’s legacy.
Despite their limitations, when our emergency lights drew ready for market, all of us intrepid salespersons set off through our home neighborhoods with fire in our bellies. I, like the others, naively expected the products to practically sell themselves. But after a few days of slamming doors and “thanks, but no thanks,” I began to suspect that the “Life Lamp” would not furnish my ticket to early retirement. In the end, I sold exactly three units (to my father, mother and brother), thereby earning the dubious distinction of our Junior Achievement cell’s poorest achiever.
The story made quite an impression on my young listener. After hearing it, Ken decided to forego Junior Achievement, and he also spread the word to his friends so that they too could avoid an awful experience. As I learned today, the school’s freshman class has seen its lowest Junior Achievement turnout in years.
I received news of the membership decline from a sponsor of the program who’d learned of my input to Ken. The unhappy fellow informed me of my profound impact just before telling me about the fabulous changes made to the Junior Achievement system since I’d participated.