Nurturing the Intelligent Fanatic in our Children

Ian CasselIntelligent Fanatic20 Comments

Meijer, a chain of grocery stores and supercenters, is one of the largest private companies in the United States. Dutch immigrant Hendrik Meijer founded the company in 1934. Hendrik and his son Fred Meijer would open two-dozen stores over the next thirty years before opening the first modern day supercenter in 1962. Fred Meijer is best known for pioneering the supercenter concept later copied by Sam Walton for his Wal-Mart chain.  Today, there are over 235 Meijer stores across Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Fred’s son, Hank Meijer, who is a billionaire, now runs the company.

Fred (left) and Hendrik present a lucky customer with a basket load of groceries at a grand opening (1949)

From my viewpoint, the greatest lesson from the intelligent fanatic story of Hendrik and Fred Meijer isn’t the founding of an empire, but how Hendrik raised, nurtured, and produced an exceptional person in his son Fred Meijer.

Let me give you some background.

Before opening his first grocery store, Hendrik Meijer had always been restless. He wasn’t afraid to try new things. Hendrik would work at a half a dozen trades from selling furnaces, peddling lace, raising chickens, almost opening a furniture store, running a dairy operation, and lastly becoming a barber.

In 1919, Hendrik and Gezina Meijer had a son, Fred Meijer.

In 1923, Hendrik took the family life savings and constructed a building with three storefronts. Hendrik’s plan was to set up his barber operation in the basement, rent out the storefronts to merchants, and the family would live in an apartment on the second floor. The plan worked for several years even though Hendrick always had issues leasing the storefronts.

When the great depression hit, the bad times hit barbers hard. Haircuts quickly became luxuries many could do without. The Great Depression was the defining moment of Fred’s youth.

I used to study as a kid with my feet in a corn flakes box to stay warm. We only heated one room in the house during the days.Fred Meijer

The Great Depression and subsequent decline in Hendrik’s barber business made it even more crucial to fill the vacant storefronts. Hendrik had tried to get A&P and Kroger to rent out one of the storefronts but both said no. He continued to be a barber while thinking of other ways to make money.

Finally in 1934, at the age of 50, Hendrik decided to sell the barber business to his assistant, and open up his own grocery store in the storefront. He sold almost all the families possessions so that he could outfit the store. He even traded away Fred’s violin for plaster services to finish the store.

Fred was 14 years old when his father decided to open the grocery store. Watching his father during his early years would instill a fearless determination in young Fred.

From as early as Fred could remember, his father involved him not only in the labor of whatever project he had embarked upon, but in the decisions relating to that project as well. If he was trading a horse or buying a cow or talking over a loan with banker, he brought Fred along. When a salesman came into the original grocery store and Hendrik was next door in the barbershop, the children were in charge. Fred had been trusted to deal with the bread man or the wholesaler’s truck driver. Even when Hendrik and Fred were together, Hendrik would nudge Fred ahead and let him do the talking.Hank Meijer
By the time Fred was in his early 20’s he had more business experience than men twice his age because his father included him in all business affairs and conversations since he was a kid. Fred would say later in life that his father engaged with him on a variety of subjects that caused him to think deeply about areas that most children and teenagers didn’t. Hendrik would let his teenage son negotiate with salesmen. He would let Fred fail and learn hard lessons. He would let Fred fall, but he would pick him up. This early business and social maturation provided an early confidence and launching pad for his later success.
He [Fred] operated with an innate confidence born of the trust and experience that came from two decades of sharing decisions almost daily with his father.Hank Meijer

I think the lesson learned from Hendrik and Fred Meijer isn’t that you should take your kids to your next annual accountant meeting. It isn’t that you should start a business with your kids. I think the lesson here is we need to engage with our children, and fan the flame of curiosity and conversation.

When parents don’t pay attention, listen, and engage with their kids when they talk it teaches the kids not to respect their own thoughts. When you feel like those closest to you aren’t listening you lose confidence in yourself. It’s hard sometimes to engage with our kids. I know it’s an area I need improve upon. The biggest competitive advantage a child has is having parents that value them.

I never realized how big Home Depot was getting while I was growing up because he was always there for me.daughter of Arthur Blank, cofounder of Home Depot

If you enjoyed this post, please read:

Some Thoughts on “Cradles of Eminence: Childhoods of More Than 700 Famous Men and Women”

About the Author

Ian Cassel

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Ian is a full-time microcap investor and founder of MicroCapClub and the MicroCap Leadership Summit. Ian started investing as a teenager and learned from losing his money over and over again. Today he is a full-time private investor that supports himself and his family by investing in microcaps. Microcap companies are the smallest public companies that exist, representing 48% of all public companies in North America. Berkshire Hathaway, Wal-Mart, Amgen, Netflix, and many others started as small microcap companies. Ian’s belief is the key to outsized returns is finding great companies early because all great companies started as small companies.

20 Comments on “Nurturing the Intelligent Fanatic in our Children”

  1. Great post Ian. Enjoyed it very much. A lot learned and definitely will have to implement the finer elements with my own kids.

    1. Thanks. It’s too easy to make excuses on not engaging with our kids, and then it’s too easy to blame TV, media, teachers, their environment when we see things develop in them that we don’t like. When in reality, engaging with them on a variety of subjects as they mature, provides those multi-disciplinary building blocks for their minds to develop in a fruitful way.

  2. I love this topic and appreciate where it is coming from, but your daughter is just a toddler, cut yourself a break….for now at least! 😉

    I also look to instill ambition and know how in my children, I have been a volunteer for Junior Achievement in my daughter’s school since her first grade, I try to explain the basics of what I am doing with my investments and what my investments are doing for us, and it looks like we are about ready to launch a dog walking and small pet care business with my soon to be ten year old this spring….wish us luck!

    1. ” your daughter is just a toddler, cut yourself a break….for now at least! ”

      LOL Don’t worry, at this age my engagement is, “Stop that, stop that, no, no, no, stop licking the bottom of your shoes….etc’


  3. Good one Ian. As a parent i am sure i will try to engage my daughters and nurture them into the real business world so that they will be rational. I didn’t get an opportunity to start a lemonade stand in my young years. But i will let my kids involve in similar stuff and learn by experience and have lots of fun.

  4. Very inspiring Ian. I can relate to this . My 17 year old son’s main complaint 2 years back was that my father never lets me fail ( He confided in one of my friends ) . I learnt an important lesson that day . Now I am enjoying the role of a spectator . I have seen him struggle with his ACTs & changing tracks to give SATs . He is doing much better on his own .
    The idea of a parenting best practice is effectively our non-intervention . Well that requires an entirely different level of parenting mettle..

    1. I’m often reminded by this fantastic quote which is such great advice:

      “Kids don’t do what you say. They do what they see. How you live your life is their example.”

      We must not be a dictator. We must be great examples for them on how to live.

  5. Great post Ian, Its always a pleasure reading your posts. As a kid I could relate to this . My always involved me in every business decision. He always took me with him when we went to meet our banker,accounts,Lawyer’s and other professionals . This changed my entire way of thinking, I now think deeply about things and take more rational decisions rather than emotional, I now aspire to become a Intelligent Fanatic . Thank you all for creating this amazing community.

  6. Great post Ian –
    This is probably the most important and thought provoking piece I’ve seen written in quite a while.

    My comments definitely fall into the “not that you asked” category – but here they are anyway. I just think this is a great topic. And now that both of our sons are in college, I can’t help but notice the things that stuck.

    When my kids were toddlers – after an eye opening instance that time was flying by and I was working too much – it became obvious that if I was going to spend time with the kids (in their early years or as adults), that we needed to think longer term and begin to incorporate the kids into my/our work activities when possible – whether that was my business or our investments (the business was the cash flow side, the investments were the “blue sky” – and many times are intertwined).

    I recall a somewhat comical and early attempt at broadening their thinking…. At a very early age, while watching TV (their shows or mine), I would encourage them to pay attention to the commercials and we would play the “what are they trying to sell you” game. Then we would discuss what is being “sold” and how it is being portrayed, various roles, that there’s a higher ratio of redheads in commercials than in real life, etc. Of course we didn’t play the game all the time, but I like to tell myself that it helped them to foster their own powers of observation and was effective. My wife thought I was nuts and my mom thought I was raising cynics. I felt there was absolutely no downside because they/we were going to be sitting there watching TV anyway (in addition to their shows, we watched a lot of the History Channel, NGC, Discovery, Etc).

    Anyway, thanks for the topic and letting me ponder a bit.


    1. Thanks John for sharing that story. We are giving our children a big advantage if we can teach them to look at things through a different perspective than how they’ve been taught to see things at school, etc.

  7. Thanks Ian, great post and follow up comments, this is definitely a very fascinating topic indeed (I am also a father…).

    Recently I have started an interesting book, which was initially published in 1964, but was updated multiple times until the early 2000s. The book is titled “Cradles of Eminence: Childhoods of More Than 700 Famous Men and Women” and as the name suggests it is an incredible collection of insights into the childhoods of individuals, who became famous (not necessarily good people, even Hitler is included) during their life in very different domains including business, politics, art, science, etc.. .
    Furthermore these “children who eventually became famous” came from very different geographies, cultures, and lived in different periods of time from one another, which offers a better understanding of how much parenting can be interpreted in different ways and, maybe more importantly, how early education has a long term impact on the development of any individual.

    The book is not very easy to read, but offers a lot of details also about the relationship of these children with the many people who influenced their childhoods, so not just their parents.

    These are some of the findings from the book:
    – Most of these children had at least one ambitious parent who was striving and driving.
    – Their parents were highly opinionated
    – Their parents often held unconventional opinions that were shocking, even antagonistic, to others.
    – Many of the parents–especially mothers–dominated their children’s lives.
    – As children, few liked school, and still fewer liked their teachers.
    – Nearly all showed the characteristics used today to identify gifted children.
    – Many of them grew up surrounded by books and an intellectually stimulating environment.

    Another book about education, which I think could be interesting (I have not read), is probably “Ordinary Children, Extraordinary Teachers” by the famous primary school teacher Marva Collins. On YouTube there is a 60 Minutes episode on her accomplishments as a teacher. Very interesting episode because 60 minutes was able to interview the same kids after many years when they became adults.

  8. I am a tour operator based in Kerala, India. Whenever I meet my guests I made it a point to take my 5 year old daughter along with me if possible. I am sure this will have a huge impact on early stage learning which many of us missed.

    I always read your blog post. It always give me something new to learn.

    Greetings all the way from Kerala, India.

  9. Amazing , as you pointed out we need to create the opportunity to engage with them on several topics. This enhances there understanding and they learn quick lessons.

    I told my daughter about running a Lemonade business and she took my words seriously and started one right at our door step. She setup the shop in Winter and at our door step .Our neighborhood does not have much traffic. After 3 hours and no customers she was disappointed but learnt a good lesson that people don’t what lemonade in winter and that she needs to be where the customers are.

    Now she is planning to set this up near a park in the summer.

    What is amazing is that they have great energy and we need to be able to havest them by talking about possibilities and introducing them to new things. They will pick up their lessons. Even simple things as tell them that a toy which she likes is expensive gets the message across. As a 2 year old she would not ask me for a toy if there were 3 digit in the pricing sticker! They get the message of being prudent on costing in their own.

  10. I sincerely feel that children are a reflection of their parents. If we lead by example, they will learn and follow our example.
    Ofcourse, what this kind of training is very valuable but eventually you need to lead by example and be there for your children. Rest takes care of itself.

    Good work Ian.

  11. Great stuff Ian. Resonates. Over the last five years we have consciously worked on getting our teen-aged son involved in all decisions and final arbiter. Everything. Car purchase. He came up with research and analysis and the best-fit. Gadgets – he is our go to man. Laptops, tablets, smartphones – you get the drift 🙂 .

    Good advice on engaging – note to self – work on it.

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