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The only thing these men had to fear was fear itself

Published on Friday, 04 May 2012
KFC’s Colonel Harland Sanders with his margarine bust.
Photo: SCMP

The list of stunningly successful individuals who triumphed over fear, dread, adversity and earlier-life failure or mediocrity is a long one. Here are some of the most notable.

He's an instantly recognisable big-screen bad-guy, but Alan Rickman only nabbed his first significant film role at age 42. He had become a struggling theatre actor after abandoning his graphic design business in his late 20s. Then he appeared in the blockbuster Die Hard, and later, in the Harry Potter movies. Today, he looks like he's been a movie anti-hero all his life.

The novelist Joseph Conrad was an itinerant nervous wreck most of his life. He was a drifter and small-time arms smuggler who grappled with clinical depression and huge debts, until he decided to have a stab at writing. His creativity was swiftly rewarded. His first novel was published when he was 37. By the time of his death in 1924, he was considered one of the first literary geniuses of the 20th century.

Another late starter was "Colonel Sanders". Harland Sanders didn't become the white-haired fast food mogul we know and love until he was 65. In his early 60s, Sanders' restaurant and motel business was collapsing. Rather than start considering filing for bankruptcy, he began to working on perfecting his spice blend and quick-cooking technique for making fried chicken.

He then toured the country selling Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises and by the time he sold the business for a tidy sum in 1964, there were over 900 of them.

Japan is a land of many marvels, and also a famously strict social rigidity - and the sense of fear, inadequacy and their dreaded tribe thrive in such societies. However, they were no match for the fearless Takichiro Mori, who had been an economics professor until he left academia at the age of 55 in order to become a real estate investor.

Mori jumped headfirst into Tokyo's real estate scene when he boldly started his second career. Within a matter of years, he was presiding over Japan's real estate boom of the 1980s. When he died in 1993, he was on Forbes magazine's list of world's richest people - twice.

Mori never seemed totally comfortable with the fame and fortune his second career gave him.

A teetotaller and a man of remarkable moderation, he dressed in the traditional Japanese manner and never projected the hubris of the archetypal property titan.

How did he execute this remarkable career change?

Mori did not fear failure or the disapproval of his scholarly peers. He saw an opportunity and approached it with the kind of verve not usually associated with old professors. In short, he was fearless.

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