The power of persistence realized in a lifelong dream completed

It was 1937. Headlines told of hard times and breadlines. I had just graduated Evander Childs High School in the Bronx. My plan was to work days to help my family weather the recession while attending City College of New York (CCNY) evenings. Jobs were hard to come by. I trod Manhattan’s streets day after day without so much as a bite.

By Ray Dreyfack August 15, 2007

It was 1937. Headlines told of hard times and breadlines. I had just graduated Evander Childs High School in the Bronx. My plan was to work days to help my family weather the recession while attending City College of New York (CCNY) evenings.

Jobs were hard to come by. I trod Manhattan’s streets day after day without so much as a bite. A friend had found work with a textile importer. It was a great company, he said — $16 a week and no Saturdays; as opposed to $14 and a six-day week at most other companies. “Mr. Fermery’s, the guy to see,” my friend said. “He was the general manager and did the hiring.” Would he see me?

He did. Grumpy and hard-bitten, Mr. Fermery looked more like a prizefighter than an executive. “No openings,” he scowled, and turned heel.

“Looks good,” my dad said when I told him. “My advice is to keep going there, again and again, no matter how long it takes. Odds are he’ll eventually hire you.”

I did, and he did. I was hired as a stock boy. That was my first lesson in the power of persistence — a lesson that persisted throughout my life and its various careers.

Famed communicator and tycoon David Sarnoff said, “The will to persevere is often the difference between failure and success.”

Another CEO said, “Stopping at third base adds no more to the score than striking out.”

It makes no difference what you set out to do. You’re competing with someone to win your would-be spouse’s hand. You’re shooting for a higher-level job in your company. You’re striving to master a complex engineering problem. You’re trying to win the friendship of a person you feel dislikes you. Whatever your problem or goal, persistence wins the grand prize every time.

Finding A Place To Begin

Early on, I had no idea what career to pursue. School guidance was scant in those days. Most pressing was the need to help my family through a tough period. I was determined to learn what kind of work was most in demand. The New York Times was my information source. Studying the help-wanted ads, I saw that most of them were for accountants and related jobs. Become an accountant and you’re set, I convinced myself. Great idea, right?

Wrong. I signed up as an accounting major at CCNY. It took me two years to realize accounting was not for me. I could no sooner succeed as an accountant than pull an alligator’s tooth. In high school my best subject was English. My compositions drew consistent ‘A’s. The reality that I was destined to become an author didn’t occur to me until years later. When it did, the power of persistence kicked in.

I had learned data processing in the Army. When discharged I was hired as IBM supervisor for Henry Kelly Liquor company. The experience of supervising 30 people would prove invaluable in years to come.

I had set up a ‘tub file’ installation for Kelly that drew widespread attention. One day I was contacted by Gene Murphy, a well known editor in the field.

“Would you consider doing an article for Data Processing magazine?” I would receive a $50 ‘honorarium.’ (I hate that word; it means underpayment.) Still, an editor had contacted me! A minor miracle.

“Sure,” I replied. A deadline for the article was set.

I hung up with worry lines etched on my forehead. What had I committed myself to? What did I know about writing? My high school experience was confined to compositions. Nonetheless, with a little editing, the piece came out well.

So began my writing career. I started sending articles to business and data processing magazines and received honorariums of $50 or $60.

My new goal was to hit important magazines like Nation’s Business, Fortune, Harvard Business Review and Dun’s Review. I busted my gut persistently to achieve this goal. I purchased books on writing, attended lectures, enrolled in evening courses at Columbia. Then I placed an article with Nation’s Business, and then another, and then another, followed by articles in other major publications for a PR agency. It was a turning point in my career.

It struck me early on that I would rather earn a living writing than supervising people.

Armed with a portfolio of published articles and samples, I ventured forth to do battle. I answered ads for copywriters, publicity writers, technical writers. Freelance writing is a tough field. The response was universal: “Sorry, not enough experience.”

Still, I refused to give up.

One day I was interviewed by a publicity firm. The head honcho looked over my stuff and frowned. “You need experience, kid. But I like your passion. I’ll give you a crack at the job.”

I gave my boss three weeks notice and became a publicity writer, junior grade. My study and research persisted and in time I achieved a degree of competence.

I was a ‘writer,’ but had a long way to go.

Diverse Experiences Pay Off

One beauty of freelancing is its diversification. In following decades, I was exposed to the workings of industry from the plant floor to the salesroom; to the warehouse and office. One day I got a call from a management consultant I had done some work for.

“Ray, I just got a call from the editor of PLANT ENGINEERING magazine. He needs someone to write a column on labor relations. I’m too busy to do it myself. Are you interested?”

“I certainly am.”

Coincidentally, my close friend and personal guru was Leonard J. Smith, who cofounded The Society of Human Resource Managers. Len is the most knowledgeable person I know about management in general and labor relations in particular.

So was conceived The Human Side of Engineering, and a lovely relationship with PLANT ENGINEERING ’s great editorial staff and myself that ran more than four decades.

Considering my own supervisory and management experience, along with Len Smith as personal guru and a couple of labor lawyers as acquaintances, I felt ideally qualified to write this column. Still, it would be hard to quantify the amount of study and research required to fully qualify myself to deal with the endless problems, disputes and hassles that erupt in every workplace.

How does a writer cope with this challenge? Simple. He keeps the ultimate goal in mind and trusts in the power of persistence — an unbeatable formula!

Now, A Novel Idea

Almost every nonfiction writer I know yearns to get a novel published. I’m a member of this club. But unless one is already a best selling author, nothing is more difficult to sell than a novel.

These days publishers only bet on sure things. A novel must be okayed by, not only an editor, but by a battery of lawyers, accountants and marketing experts. My shot at glory, Vow Of Vengeance, a medical suspense novel, was written in collaboration with my primary doctor. It reveals how a corrupt HMO operates, gets away with patient care denial and worse, and what it takes to bring the operation down.

I started marketing the novel more than seven years ago. The rejection slips I received could decorate my living room.

Seven years is a long time. The urge to quit was strong but so was my determination to get the book published.

Thanks to the power of persistence, Vow of Vengence by Ray Dreyfack and Dr. Harold Mellin, hit the market in June. It has been described by Robert E. Levinson, vice president of corporate development for Lynn University, as “not only a thrilling read, but an educational experience as well.”

Failing persistence, in a profit and greed centered market it would have died like thousands of other worthwhile books, with years of hard effort and work down the drain.

Ray Dreyfack wrote The Human Side column for Plant Engineering for almost 40 years before retiring in 2005. His first novel, Vow of Vengeance, co-authored with Dr. Harold Mellin can be ordered from (800-288-4677, Ext. 501) or Barnes & Noble.

One more slice of The Human Side

Ray Dreyfack’s work on The Human Side of Engineering was both popular and insightful. We offer this example of The Human Side from 2005 both for those readers who enjoy the column and for those new readers who might gain some knowledge from this example:

Showing veteran workers you care

Does loyalty pay off in your company? Is the ship-jumping of qualified employees a problem?

“Retention,” says Lynn University’s Robert E. Levinson, “is usually much less of a problem if you show your people that you care about them.”

A policy clause cited in an Ohio-based company comes to mind: “Vacations are not cumulative. They must be taken or paid for within a 12-month period of being credited.”

One day plant engineer Bradford Deming, having lunch with human resources manager Emil Hoffman, referred to that clause.

“For some reason it bothers me.”


“I’m not sure. It sounds kind of harsh. Cold.”

Hoffman shrugged. “There’s a good reason behind it.”

“I know. It makes sense for the main body of workers. But what about our longtime senior employees, like the experienced guy who’s pushing 60 and might be thinking of early retirement, or moving to a less demanding job. A guy like that could have a different mindset from younger coworkers.”

“That’s true. So what would you suggest?”

“Well, a buddy of mine told me that in his plant older longtime employees are permitted to defer their vacation time another year.”

“Hmmn. That’s an interesting idea.” Hoffman said. “Let’s discuss it with Dave.”

QUESTION: Does this special bending over backwards for senior employees make sense to you?

KRAMER’S RESPONSE: General manager Dave Kramer liked the idea. “It’s no big deal, but could serve to motivate some seniors.”

The following statement was added to the vacation clause: “Employees past age 55 with service of 10 years or more, upon submitting a written application, will henceforth have the option to defer all or part of their vacation time for one year beyond the 12-month period normally permitted.”