Harold Sosna, founder and CEO of a large healthcare company, volunteered his time to help our efforts to teach and inspire people in prison. We’re using his story as part of the Prison Professors series on personal development.
Personal Development with Harold Sosna
Self-Directed, Self-Help with Journaling 101
- Harold Sosna on Being CEO of Your Life
- Over the course of his career, Harold Sosna built businesses that created more than 10,000 jobs. He talks with us about his pathway from poverty to becoming a CEO.
- In Harold’s story, participants in jail and prison will learn the importance of developing critical-thinking, communication skills, and documenting a record of personal accomplishments.
- Watch video that accompanies the lesson
- Write a definition of each word highlighted in bold and written in italics
- Use ten of the vocabulary words in a sentence
- Respond to a minimum of three of the open-ended questions in accordance with instructions at the end of the lesson.
- Participants will develop vocabulary by at least 10 words.
- Participants will improve writing skills and their ability to contemplate how their responses to open-ended questions relate to their prospects for success upon release.
- Participants will add to their journal, demonstrating a self-directed, self-improvement pathway to prepare for success upon release.
Our entire team at Prison Professors expresses gratitude to Harold Sosna for sharing his wisdom with us. As a man who has built businesses that created jobs for more than 10,000 people, we have a great deal to learn from his acumen.
Harold’s Back Story:
When it comes to overcoming struggle, we see Harold as a master. We could say that adversity ran in his genes. As a result of World War II, his mother and had to endure the inhumanity and the daily killings in Hitler’s concentration camps. Storm troopers arrested both of her parents up when she was only a young teenager. His mother’s entire family perished and witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust left indelible scars in her memory. She could cope, but she never fully recovered. His father was forced to fight in the Soviet Union army, suffering through years of battle in the worst conditions imaginable.
After the war, both his mother and his father immigrated to Canada. As survivors of the holocaust, they lived in tenement housing projects. As a family, they didn’t have much money. His father worked 60 hours each week, though he never got too far ahead. The cancer of anti-Semitism exposed Harold to bullying throughout his difficult childhood. As a young boy, Harold wanted to overcome the abject conditions of his youth. By performing well in school, he hoped to put himself in position for new opportunities. With discipline and commitment, Harold developed an aptitude for mathematics and science. They positioned him to perform well through matriculation exams that qualified him for acceptance into McGill University, the premier university in Canada.
When I began my journey in high-security federal prisons, the prospect of serving a 45-year prison sentenced felt daunting to me. I didn’t know how I would persevere. I remember going to the library, searching for strength. Unlike Harold, I had not been a good student. Rather than paying attention to courses in math or science, I goofed off through elementary school, junior high, and high school. It didn’t occur to me to attend college. Further, unlike Harold’s parents, who suffered through struggle because of injustice, the struggles I endured were from my own making.
I went to prison because I broke the law.
To cope with the problems that I had created for myself, I remember going to the library. I looked for stories that would give me strength. I read about the holocaust and I learned about people that overcome challenges that were far greater than anything I could imagine. A story like Harold’s would have inspired me.
- What kind of struggles consume your life right now?
- What steps can you take to position yourself for new opportunities in the future?
Besides distinguishing himself as a scholar of math and science, Harold developed a strong work ethic. During his adolescence he delivered newspapers, he bagged groceries, he worked in the laundry of a hospital. He took one laborious job in a pasta factory that exhausted him. Rather than complaining, Harold recognized every small, incremental step as another part of the pathway that would lead him from struggle to prosperity.
His 100% commitment to academics made an impression on the admissions officers at McGill University. For four years, he studied through advanced science courses to earn a degree in human genetics.
Rather than advancing his academic journey further, Harold entered the workforce. In the mid-1970s, when he graduated, Harold described the community of Quebec going through a political shift that brought considerable social unrest. English speaking people constituted roughly 10% of the population, but they controlled 90% of the wealth. The French-speaking community wanted to see change, which brought a real impediment to Harold’s prospects for employment.
Rather than being able to work in his field of medical research, or human genetics, Harold accepted employment with a manufacturer of stainless-steel restaurant equipment. The leaders of the company hired him to work on the production side of the business, yet in time, they valued his understanding of mathematics. With skills in math, Harold could bring far more value to the owners of the business than he could offer through strictly labor.
When we’re living in difficult circumstances, we don’t always appreciate the opportunities we have around us. I could always find value in a story like the one that Harold shared with us. Leaders like him leave clues to their success. By listening closely to people like Harold, I could see the relationship between studying basic concepts and prospects to succeed. Employers may have hired him to work as a production hand in a manufacturing company. Yet when they saw that he understood math, they could put him to work in other areas of the company. For example, he could become an estimator. He could perform a cost analysis. He could create a process that may lead to higher levels of efficiency.
- What lessons are you working to master right now?
- In what ways will the lessons you’re working to master open new opportunities for your future?
- What impression will your adjustment strategy make on the people that eventually hire you?
Introduction to Business:
Harold didn’t anticipate that he would build a long-term career in the company that manufactured restaurant equipment. He aspired to something more, but he had to contend with the injustices of prejudice. Nevertheless, by applying himself to the job, Harold said that he gained invaluable experience that would translate into other opportunities.
That opportunity opened when he married Faye. Like Harold, both of Faye’s parents had also survived the Holocaust. After being released, Faye’s parents immigrated to North America and they settled in the Cincinnati area. Her father built and operated a successful nursing home. When his father-in-law told Harold about a second nursing home that he intended to open, they began having conversations of how Harold could contribute. Those conversations led Harold to immigrate to the United States from Canada, where he began a new career in the healthcare sector.
Prior to his father-in-law inviting Harold to join the family business, the thought of working with senior citizens never occurred to him. Yet as was characteristic of his entire journey, Harold gave 100% of his effort to the opportunity.
Given the preparations he had made since childhood, there were many ways that Harold could bring value. He could use drills and hammers; he could sweep floors and mops. Harold did not consider any task beneath him. Rather than trying to rise in the company through nepotism, Harold insisted on bringing value and earning his place. Over the next several years, he worked on maintenance tasks, environmental tasks, healthcare tasks, and administrative tasks, learning new skills every day.
Wanting to bring more value to the company, Harold searched for new opportunities. Since he had learned the business from the ground up, he understood all aspects of the business. With approximately 500 beds between the two facilities, Harold’s father-in-law became a leading provider of services for the sick and elderly. Wanting to leverage upon that success, Harold scoutedarea for locations where he might expand. His independent research led him to find three opportunities.
When Harold presented the expansion idea, an opportunity opened. Harold’s father-in-law not only agreed to fund the new business, but he agreed to make Harold a partner in the venture; Harold earned an equity stake in the new enterprise, leading to his partial ownership of three new nursing homes.
Approximately 20 years after starting in the nursing home business, Harold launched his own company, Premier Healthcare Management. He grew that business to into a total of approximately 1,000 beds, with nine nursing homes under management. With the expertise that he developed, Harold understood how to acquire nursing homes with decrepit conditions and convert them into pristine facilities.
Rather than setting out to create wealth, Harold set out to build the best possible business he could create. He wanted all stakeholders in his business to recognize the company’s commitment to excellence. That meant the customers had to get the best care possible, the staff had to feel appreciated, and the company had to serve as a good corporate citizen.
To build a successful venture, Harold understood that he would need to work hard to develop a great team. The key, he said, would be to help those people develop a positive attitude, showing that they didn’t have to do something, but rather, that they got to do something. By helping people to develop the right attitude, he could help them reach their highest potential. Harold made it his practice to always give credit to his team when things went right, and when problems surfaced, he would take full responsibility.
On his pathway to becoming a successful CEO, Harold learned many lessons. Primarily, the more a person would be willing to invest in personal development, the more opportunities would open. By developing strong critical-thinking skills, he could climb through difficult circumstances. Despite having a degree in the lofty science of human genetics, he did not develop a sense of entitlement. If jobs did not open in his chosen career, he did not think himself above the call of working in a factory of manufacturing facility. When he married into the family of a successful businessman, he did not expect a free ride. Instead, he would contribute by doing any job necessary.
By developing strong communication skills, he could help to build a great team. Those communication skills allowed him to motivate people and to help them feel great about the services they offered.
While I served decades in prison, I would have listened and learned from Harold’s story. His humility would have helped me understand and appreciate the importance of sowing seeds for success. Although I may not have been able to attend a university, that didn’t mean that I could not work hard to develop better communication skills. And if I developed better communication skills, I may emulate his success and create opportunities out of the record of small, incremental accomplishments that I documented.
Critical Thinking Questions:
- Write at least three paragraphs, with a minimum of three sentences each, for each of the following questions.
- What does Harold’s life story tell us about the values that define his life?
- In what ways does Harold’s response to facing struggle resemble the adjustment you’re making?
- What goals would you say Harold set at various stages of his journey to success?
- How would you say the goals Harold set along the way influenced the opportunities that opened for him?
- How would you define Harold’s commitment to success?
- In what ways would you say Harold put himself in a position to prosper?
- In what ways did Harold’s journey influence his father-in-law’s decision to make him a partner?
- What role does the story we create influence prospects for success?
- How can journaling influence new opportunities?
- In what ways would developing stronger communication skills influence the people you meet in the future?