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October 21, 2014

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Where I Stand - Claudine Williams: Rule for success is no secret: Study, sweat, never quit

I UNDERSTAND what it is like to be at the bottom looking up. But all I can say about that is as you move up, no matter how high you go, the work doesn't get any easier, it just gets different. There are more responsibilities, but the rewards are so much greater.

I can't tell you the number of times I've stumbled trying to start something new. But if you are flexible enough to change your direction, you can find your niche and you will never be a loser.

I remember during World War II going to a friend who was a bank teller in Houston and telling him I needed to borrow $5,000. He said, "Gosh, Claudine, how are you going to pay that back?" I told him I was opening a restaurant -- a nice little elegant steak house -- and I'd pay it back with the profits I made. He said, "What are you going to use for security?" I said, "I give you my word."

I got the loan and spent it fixing up the place. And, wouldn't you know, right after that, the government began rationing meat. I didn't sit down and start crying that I was going to lose everything. Instead, I looked at my options.

I couldn't get steaks, but I could get hamburger. So my little elegant steak house became a hamburger joint. We had people lined up outside to get in. I paid back the loan and made more money than I had dreamed I would make. That's because I couldn't afford to give up.

My philosophy has always been that when a customer spends $1, you should work hard to make sure he gets his money's worth. There is no better advertising than a customer who feels he got a good deal -- whether it is an excellent rate on a car loan of several thousand dollars or good play in a casino.

Those of us who lived through the Depression learned the value of a dollar. You had to look for good buys because salaries were low and money was scarce.

And, when you got a good job, you worked hard to keep it because you knew there were eight people waiting behind you to take it. I was working in nightclubs and cleaning homes at age 14 -- anything to support my mother, sister and grandmother.

I worked in a private club in Dallas in the early 1940s. My hours were 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., sometimes later. It was a wonderful job and a great learning experience that helped me throughout my career.

People in business should be innovative. When my late husband Shelby and I owned the Silver Slipper in the late 1960s, we hosted televised boxing matches. TV wouldn't let us put up a Silver Slipper sign behind the ring, so Shelby got the idea to have pretty ring girls carry signs which, in addition to the round number, had the name of the casino on them.

When I see that on TV boxing matches now, it brings a smile to my face because it was Shelby who started that practice. It was an innovation that caught on. So don't be afraid to try ideas.

When Shelby and I built the Holiday Casino, it was a mom-and-pop operation. We did a little of everything to make it a successful business. When Holiday Corp./Harrah's bought it, they purchased it for what it was -- friendly atmosphere and all. It's hard for a big corporation to run that way, but Harrah's has managed to do it very well.

As for running a business, it doesn't matter whether it is a small venture or a giant corporation -- we are all in the service industry. I have always respected my employees because they are my partners in my investment. They are the first to greet the customers.

And my door has always been open to any of them, whether they want to tell me they are being treated unfairly or want to give me a suggestion on how to better run the business. You never know what you might learn by listening.

Also, I can't stress enough the importance of a good education. My only regret is that I didn't complete my formal education. However, I grew up in a much different time. I couldn't do now what I did then.

Employees of today must be able to keep up with the rapidly changing technology, so take every opportunity to get the best education possible. It will help you reach your goals.

I also believe you should present yourself well at any job because it tells your employer and your customers that you have respect for them.

As for being a woman in business, I never experienced the discrimination some women have faced. Men were always helpful to me whenever I sought their assistance. But, from the beginning, I proved to them that I was more than willing to carry my end of the load.

It is harder for a woman partly because it was only recently that women realized they had the freedom to pursue a career or help support their families without having to worry what others thought about it.

When choosing a career, try to find the type of work you enjoy doing. If your job pleases you and you take pride in it, your chances for success are much greater.

So, my advice to young people is get the very best education possible, don't be afraid to take chances, work hard, enjoy your job, take pride in what you do and don't ever give up.

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