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The Brothel's Janitor

An exceptional story about the opportunities life gives us and what we can make of them

There was no worse job in town than being the doorman of a brothel. But what else could this man do? The fact is that he had never learned to read or write; he had no alternatives.

One day, a creative and enterprising young man full of innovative ideas on how to improve processes came in as manager of the brothel. He immediately modernized the place. He made changes and called the employees to give the, their new instructions. He instructed the doorman: -From today, you, in addition to being at the entrance, will prepare a weekly report where you will record the number of people who enter and their comments and complaints about the services. “I'd love to do that, sir,” he stammered. – “But I can't read or write”, said the anguished doorman. “Ah! I'm so sorry! If that is so, you can no longer work here.” – “But sir, you can't fire me, I've worked on this my whole life, I don't know how to do anything else.” – “Look, I understand, but I can't do anything for you.” Retorted the young manager. “We will give you a good severance package and I hope you find something to do. Good luck”.

With that said, he turned around and left. The janitor felt as if the world was collapsing around him. What to do next? He remembered that in the brothel, when a chair or table broke, he fixed them with care. He thought this might be a good occupation to get a job. But he only had a few rusty nails and a poorly maintained pliers. He used the severance money to buy a complete toolbox. In the town there was no hardware store, so he traveled for two days by mule to go to the nearest town to buy the toolbox.

Upon his return, a neighbor knocked on his door: “I have come to ask if you have a hammer to lend me.” – “Yes, I just bought it, but I need it to work”, said the doorman. – “Well, I'll give it back to you very early tomorrow”. – The next morning, as he had promised, the neighbor knocked on the door and said, “Look, I still need the hammer. Why do not you sell it to me?” -The doorman replied, “No, I need it to work and besides, the closest hardware store is a two-day trip, by mule.” "Let's make a deal," said the neighbor. – “I will pay you for the roundtrip, plus the price of the hammer, as you are out of work right now. What do you think?” This would give him work for two more days, the ex-janitor thought and accepted.

He remounted his mule, traveled to the next town, and bought some additional tools. Upon his return, another neighbor was waiting for him at the door of his home and said, “Hi, neighbor. You sold a hammer to our friend. I need some tools, I am willing to pay you for the tools I need, because I don't have the time to travel to go buy them. What do you think?” The former janitor opened the toolbox, and his neighbor chose some pliers, a screwdriver, a hammer, and a chisel. He paid and left.

In his mind, our friend repeated the words he had heard: “I do not have time to travel to go buy them” If this was so, many more would require him to travel and buy tools to sell at a profit. On the next trip, he risked a little more money, bringing more tools. In fact, he could save quite a bit of time on travel.

The news began to spread through the town and many, wanting to save the trip, placed orders from the ex-janitor. Now, as a tool salesman, he traveled once a week and brought what his clients needed. Eventually, he rented a warehouse to store the tools and a few months later, he added a showroom and transformed the warehouse into the first hardware store in town.

Everyone was happy and bought there.

He no longer needed to travel; manufacturers sent him his orders. He was a good reseller. Over time, people in nearby towns would rather shop at his hardware store than spend days traveling. One day the newly minted salesman remembered he had a friend who was a and blacksmith and he proposed that he could make hammer heads for him. And then why not? Screwdrivers, pliers, cutters, etc. And then there were the nails and the screws ...

Fast forward, and in a few years the humble janitor had become a wealthy and prosperous manufacturer aside from being the owner of his hardware store. He decided to donate a school to the town. In it, in addition to reading and writing, children learned would learn trades. On the opening day of the school, the mayor handed him the keys to the city, hugged him and said, “It is with great pride and gratitude that we ask you to honor us with affixing your signature to the first page of the minute book of this new school.” “The honor would be mine”, said the businessman. “I would be very happy to sign that book, but I cannot read or write, I am illiterate.” “You?” asked the incredulous mayor, “Don’t tell me you built an industrial empire without knowing how to read or write? This is incredible!” And then he mused, “What would have happened to you if you could read and write?” “I could answer that,” the man said calmly: “If I knew how to read and write ... I would still be the JANITOR OF THE TOWN’S BROTHEL!”

This is the alleged story of Brazilian industrialist Valentín Tramontina (Brazil 1893-1939), founder of Industrias Tramontina, which operates ten factories, employs 5,500 people, produces twenty-four million units of tools per month, and exports to more than 120 countries under its own brand. The company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011. The town where this story happened is Carlos Barbosa, located in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.

It is very possible that this anonymously written story is a legend or even “fake news”, and that the origin of Industrias Tramontina’s founder was not as humble as depicted.

However, what is important is the message of the story: that any adversity opens the door to great opportunities. It’s up to us to take them. Carpe Diem!

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