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Using Failure as Fuel

By Jessica Joy De Jesus

Photo of David Trone lecturing

Credit: Kogod School of Business

Kogod is proud to feature influential people in business. David Trone is one such individual in the business world and the Kogod community. He is the owner and founder of Total Wine & More, which grew from a small store in Delaware to 153 stores nationwide. Trone serves on the Kogod Advisory Council and Board of Trustees, and he came to speak to the Kogod community about how he achieved success through hardship. “Mr. Trone’s example is one of curiosity, philanthropy, and business acumen that is an inspiration to Kogod’s students and faculty,” says Andrew Deal, Kogod staff member who coordinated the event.

Humble Beginnings

It all starts on a farm.

David Trone grew up on a small family farm in Pennsylvania. His father was a fearless entrepreneur, and he was never afraid to start new ventures. Trone ran every shift on their farm, and he put in the effort to be a success. His father’s fearless attitude gave Trone the tools to rise up in the business world. “If you put in the time, and work harder than anyone else, you will succeed,” says Trone.

Learning How to Fail

But success is not without failure. After one of his fathers’ risky ventures, the Trone family filed for bankruptcy and lost their home. “Failure can be catastrophic,” says Trone. However, failure does not equate to defeat. Trone recognizes that failure is disheartening, but this did not deter him from getting back on his feet. After his farm went bankrupt, Trone helped support his mom and younger siblings. He then went on to the Wharton School of Business working as an egg broker on the side. He took something he knew – agriculture -- and used it to his advantage. He went on to work for small business in the spirits industry, which lead him to open Total Wine & More.

Trone says: “You need to embrace and love failure. Because with failure comes learning and respect.” Through failure, Trone learned not to fear risks in business. “At the end of the day, if you play it safe, you’re going to arrive at mediocrity,” he says. “Being a leader in business means to be bold, and respect others when they also take risks.”

Want to be a CEO?

Trone lives and breathes business – he loves his job, and going to work every day. Trone wasn’t always set out to become a businessman, though He studied the liberal arts as an undergraduate. “You don’t need to be an accounting maven to be successful at business. The best people in business are generalists.”

Trones liberal arts background made him a better writer, which is an important skill in any career path. Good thinking builds better teams, which builds a better company. As an employer, Trone looks for people who have different worldviews and experiences. Diversity in thought not only enhances team members, but builds leaders.

“Run to the problem!” Trone believes that in order to be a strong person in business, it’s good to face problems head on. When you run to the problem you bring two things: “your intellect and your experience. When you pair that together, you can turn those problems into opportunity.” Leaders in business may not be experts in one thing, but they use their experiences in life to lead their company. In order to be a CEO, one must be knowledgeable in different areas, and approach problems with a firm hand.

Looking Forward

Trone is involved with non-profit work, donating over 6 million dollars to various organizations and over 12 million dollars through his foundation. Heisn’t complacent with his business. Trone says: “Making money isn’t the end game.”

As Trones’ business continues to grow, and his profits steadily increase, Trone looks forward to a future in another industry: public service. He ran for a house seat in a congressional race last spring, and came in second place out of nine. His loss didn’t turn him away from public service; instead, he reevaluated his campaign and what he can do better for the next race.

From the farm to the office, and now onto public service, Trone does not quit. Trone’s humble beginnings is what made him a success, and he urges the the Kogod community to navigate the world of business with hard work and respect.

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