Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Russell's One Good Idea

My friends know that I love stories about how just one good idea can support a family for a generation, maybe more.  I'm thinking of the guy who learned how to keep Boston cream pie from going sticky in the pan.  Or the one who stitched up the sides of a piece of soft cloth, put it together with a can of polish and sold it to the hotel chain as a shoeshine kit.  Or the guy who bought real estate along Route 19 back when it ran through a cow pasture.

Here's another.   My friend Russell trained as a chemist.  By his own count, he has 36 patents.  But for practical purposes, he has only one: the Pink Panther.  That's right folks, Russell is the man who provided the Pink.  He was employed by a big chemical company: he conjured up just the color they wanted.  

American companies, of course, barely thank you for that kind of thing: you get a pat on the  head, maybe a crisp new dollar bill.  Russell had the good sense to work for a European firm, where the practice was to cut the inventor in for 10 percent of the take.  The project occupied, Russell admits, only a moment in his long professional life. The checks kept coming for about 17 years.  "I've always said," says Russell, saying, "I only worked about two weeks in my entire career."

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