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Mega-millionaire, Age 95,  Says, ‘You Can Do It!’

by Ryan E. Smith

March 15, 2012 | 10:18 am

Stanley A. Dashew

Stanley A. Dashew

Mega-millionaire Stanley A. Dashew, 95, has some words of wisdom for anyone trying to make it in today’s tough economy: You can do it.

It’s no secret, he says. In fact, it’s the title of the book, “You Can Do It!: Inspiration & Lessons From an Inventor, Entrepreneur, & Sailor,” written with Josef S. Klus.

Filled with anecdotes and distilled wisdom, the book, by a man who played a key role in the creation of the plastic credit-card system, is the culmination of years of writing in between business projects.

“I spent the better part of the last decade trying to capture in the pages of my book the key events of my life in the hope that what I’ve learned in love and work may provide inspirations—and some guideposts—for others to realize that, yes, they can do it!” Dashew, a resident of Westwood, said in an e-mail interview.

One might not expect such optimism from a Harlem, N.Y., native whose father escaped deadly pogroms in Odessa as an infant. His mother settled in New York after her Orthodox father brought the family from Lithuania.

In some ways, the seeds of Dashew’s success were planted when his family moved from the big city to the country, where his father owned a small legal practice and summer resort. It was there in Pomona, N.Y., that Dashew became an inventor from a young age out of necessity.

“I came across serious problems that could not be solved by stock items,” he said. “For example, I had to figure out a way of getting fish out of a swimming pool. I had to figure out how to clean septic tanks attached to the bungalows of my family’s property.”

An aspiring writer, Dashew’s desired career path changed course with the Great Depression. One day, on the way to interview for a sales job that he was sure he’d turn down because he considered it beneath his talents, something changed his mind.

“I was walking in Manhattan toward Fifth Avenue when I heard a loud noise. I looked across the street to the Empire State Building, where I saw the body of a nicely dressed young man—about my age—on the sidewalk,” Dashew said. “He had just jumped from the world’s tallest building. I proceeded to my meeting somewhat numb, but no longer conflicted about the offer. I accepted the job.”

This sales job with Addressograph-Multigraph Corp., which produced machines that could address envelopes, magazines and more, turned out to be a perfect match. Soon, by adapting the company’s machines to new uses, he was its top salesman and poised for even greater success.

“The knowledge and contacts from my experience there became the foundation for my own company and my first fortune,” Dashew said.

That would come after he and his family—including his 7-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter—pursued the adventure of a lifetime. In 1949, they hopped onto a 76-foot schooner and sailed from Chicago, through the Great Lakes, down the East Coast, through the Panama Canal, and around to Los Angeles.

This would be his home as he created Dashew Business Machines. Its revolutionary imprinters and embossers could handle more than one character at a time and laid the groundwork for the first bank credit card system.

“We could emboss 2,000 plates an hour,” Dashew said. “This gave birth to the plastic credit-card industry.”

The machines, he continued, “enabled Bank of America to mass produce and distribute the BankAmericard, and they enabled merchants to imprint the card when customers made a purchase.”

Other enterprises followed, including work in the offshore oil industry. Over the years, Dashew has received 14 U.S. patents for his contributions to banking, shipping, mining, transportation, water purification and other areas.

This isn’t to say that it was easy. Before it could reach its greatest success, Dashew Business Machines nearly succumbed to financial collapse in the 1950s, and it cost Dashew his first marriage and his beloved boat.

Aside from telling his personal story, “You Can Do It!” includes dozens of tips to help readers overcome life’s modern—yet timeless—challenges. A few examples include:

  • Focus on just one or two ideas at a time. Otherwise, none of your ideas that could be great will get off the ground.

  • Don’t quit just because you don’t have all the skills or resources to implement an idea. Team up with someone who has what you lack.

  • Innovation means not just creating new products or services, but also finding new ways to utilize them.

A spiritual person and cultural Jew, Dashew said he contributes locally to Jewish Vocational Service and is a strong supporter of Israel. Outside the Jewish community, he and his second wife, Rita, who died in 1994, are well known for their involvement in the UCLA Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars, which aims to foster cross-cultural understanding through intellectual exchange.

Today, Dashew remains as busy as ever, developing ideas for new products and services despite the challenges of Parkinson’s disease. And while he calls a 4,000-square-foot penthouse home, he continues to be just as comfortable at sea on his eighth boat, a 72-foot cutter named Deerfoot II. To him, sailing is more than just a passion.

“I tend to see the people, places and events in my life—and the world—through the lens of the boats that I have owned and sailed through the years,” he said.  “My love of boats started when I was 10 years old with a canoe that I would use in the swimming pool of the summer camp that my family owned and managed. … Today, I’m still adventuring.”

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