All I Need to Know about Business, I Learned from Russian History

Article by:
Chris Coutinho, EO Charlotte
Chris Coutinho
EO Charlotte

Chris Coutinho of EO Charlotte is the CEO/President of Paystar Logistics Inc., a travel and transportation logistics firm based in Huntersville, North Carolina, USA. Chris has served as the President, Sponsorship Chair and Education Chair of his chapter. His business goal is to reach the US$100 million mark by 2011 while maintaining the fun factor.

I have no training as an entrepreneur. (Can we really train for that?) My story, or "training," is a bit of a comedy, as are most twists and turns in my life.

I graduated from the University of Victoria (UVIC) in British Columbia, Canada, with a major in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. I was going to go to law school until I actually cracked open my first legal text book. Unfortunately, I waited until my third year to check out the legal books, so when I finally realized I could not possibly read them, I found myself closing in on the end of my college life with a sudden lack of a path.

Enter Political Science 430: Russian Political History.

Mid-way through the semester, my professor attempted to describe Karl Marx’s theory of "Surplus Value in Labor." The next 30 minutes was the shortest (and only) business class of my life.

The professor drew a table on the chalk board and said, "Imagine if a person wanted to get this table painted." He then drew a stick figure, named it "Capitalist" and said, "Now along comes this Capitalist who offers to paint the table for $100." Next, he drew another stick figure, named it "Proletariat Painter" and said, "The Capitalist then offers the Proletariat Painter $60 to paint the table."

From this cast of characters, my professor moved on, drawing a store and naming it "Paint Store." "The Capitalist then buys some paint for $15," he says. He wrote on: "$100 Revenue - $60 Labor - $15 Paint = $25." Finally, he pointed at the $25 and said, "THAT is the surplus value in labor!"

I sat there and stared at the black board in total wonderment, and I raised my hand.

CHRIS (STANDING): "Professor, isn’t it true that the Proletariat Painter would never have received the $60 unless the Capitalist came along in the first place?"

PROFESSOR: "That’s irrelevant to this theory, Mr. Coutinho. Now, please sit down."

CHRIS (STILL STANDING): "Yes, but also the paint store guy sold $15 in paint because of the Capitalist!"

PROFESSOR: "Mr. Coutinho. Please sit down! This has nothing to do with the theory I am trying to teach!"

So I sat down, thoroughly confused by his reaction but more motivated than ever before. What Marx saw as oppression, I saw as an opportunity— the beauty of business where it seemed everyone was winning.

The next day, while still going to school, I started a painting company. I found some great partners, funding, systems, processes, and, over the next six years, we grew our little house painting company to more than 4,000 painters nationwide. It was called Triple A Student Painters, and, at its peak, we were knocking out more than US$20 million in paint jobs each summer all across Canada and the United States.

Today, I am running my third company— a logistics firm that I absolutely love and that is growing by leaps and bounds. I am benefiting myself, my clients, my community and the entire world because of my decision to start a business. We all are, as we live out our dreams.

Funny what you can learn from Russian political history.

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