When “It’s a Wonderful Life” debuted in theaters in 1946, it didn’t exactly pack the same box office punch as say, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
In fact, while not a flop, it didn’t measure up at the box office. It garnered five Oscar nominations, but didn’t come close to breaking even financially in its initial run.
Looking back across more than 70 years, that may come as a shock, given the film featured heavyweight stars Jimmy Stewart, Lionel Barrymore and Donna Reed and one of cinema’s greatest directors, Frank Capra.
But it financially flopped, falling short of the $6.3 million it cost to make the movie.
Appreciation for greatness, however, takes time. Today, “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a holiday classic, bringing joy to generations, considered one of the top 100 films ever made by the American Film Institute.
Recognizing greatness sometimes takes time.
And sometimes, if we dig a little deeper, there are lessons George Bailey and the folks in Bedford Falls can teach, for life and for business.
Here are five to consider:
- Never lose sight of what’s important. When George Bailey (played by Stewart) tells his father he wants to leave Bedford Falls and the Bailey Building and Loan to “do something important,” his Dad (played by Samuel S. Hinds) offers sage advice:
“You know George; I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It’s deep in the (human) race for a man to want his own roof and walls and a fireplace and helping him get those things in our shabby little office.”
Pa Bailey knew his calling and mission. Does your financial institution know its mission? Do you know yours?
- Keep an eye on the details. Young George Bailey lands a job as a drug store delivery boy. He returns from a delivery to find the druggist, Mr. Gower, shattered by the unexpected death of his son. Young George discovers that Gower made a mistake in a prescription, filling it with poison. Later in the film, when the angel Clarence gives George a glimpse of what life would have been without him, he finds Bedford Falls awash in bars, casinos and slums and Mr. Gower as a shattered man, who went to prison because of the death caused by the prescription George wasn’t there to intercept. The lesson? Details matter.
- Every decision packs consequence. This may be the overarching theme of “It’s A Wonderful Life”. George Bailey’s request to have never been born meant not only Mr. Gower’s troubles, but that Bailey would have not been around to save his younger brother Harry, after Harry fell through the ice. As a result, Harry wouldn’t have been alive to win the Medal of Honor and save hundreds of servicemen in World War II. You get the picture.
The late, great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar made famous the “Rule of 250.” By Ziglar’s count, every person has relationships with at least 250 people — family, friends co-workers and parishioners. Largely a sales tool, Ziglar believed that providing one person with a negative experience has the potential to negatively impact 250 people – and that’s only in the first wave. Imagine of each of those 250 tell one of their 250 friends, and so on, snowballing into a marketing nightmare.
Making good decisions from a bank marketing perspective, begins at the front door, on to the teller window and to every aspect, online, in traditional advertising, even in how we address personnel issues. Decisions pack a punch. The Angel 2nd Class Clarence taught George Bailey a pivotal lesson that turned out to be the difference between success and failure.
- Success means more than money. Young George Bailey had visions of traveling the world, building grand skyscrapers, with wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But the lesson learned from his angelic encounter with Clarence that the good name built by him and his family through the Bailey Building & Loan, was priceless. The Baileys were more than bankers, they were friends. George Bailey was loved and respected by his community, his customers, his friends.
- And last, relationships are priceless. After seeing what life in Bedford Falls would have been without him, a repentant George Bailey returns home to find bank examiners and the police on his doorstep, ready to drop the hammer after George’s Uncle Billy lost $8,000 of the bank’s cash. But first in a trickle, then in a flood, the people George Bailey had helped, along with his brother Harry and old friends, come to his rescue, bringing cash and jewelry to help their friend. The examiners and the police rip up their complaints and George Bailey’s family and his business are saved.
The Angel 2nd Class Clarence even provided a gift, a first addition copy of Mark Train’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” bearing a simple inscription:
“Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends,” the note reads.
No bank or credit union will be a failure if it builds and treasures its relationships, internal and external. And like the 1946 film that was a bottom-line flop, success – like relationships – takes time.
It’s a gift worth giving.
Merry Christmas and a blessed 2016.