Patrick Byrne: What have you learned from the martial arts?
Patrick M. Byrne is the CEO of the Internet retailer Overstock.com. Byrne received his B.A. from Dartmouth, studied at Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, and earned a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford University. He co-founded Overstock.com in 1997 and became CEO in 1999. In 2005, Byrne initiated a controversial campaign against "naked short selling" in which he accused a "Sith Lord" and various financial firms of sabotaging Overstock's share price. Byrne also serves as head of First Class Education, an education lobbying group that seeks to require that 65% of all educational spending be spent "in the classroom." A strong proponent of school vouchers, Byrne spent almost four million dollars in advertising for a bill that would have given Utah residents who enroll their children in private schools taxpayer-supported subsidies. The bill lost, 62-38%.
Patrick Byrne: Well boy I learned a lot. I learned a lot from martial arts. I was . . . I’m the youngest of three sons, and both my brothers are bigger than I am. I grew up regularly having my ass whipped. And so the only sports I ever wanted to do were learning to defend myself – wrestling, judo, boxing, jujitsu, karate. Boy you learn a lot of things. First . . . And besides all the disciplines and techniques and such, you learn that size doesn’t matter. It’s often . . . There’s pressure points, there’s vulnerabilities that somebody has that you have to identify. And you have to identify where your own are and really devote your resources so to speak to protecting yourself there. I also . . . I’ll tell you a great boxing story. Did you ever . . . ever hear of the Poppy Rollins story? When I was trying to make it as a boxer, my . . . I was going to be the Great White Dope. I lived out in New Jersey and trained hard, and I . . . I boxed as a teenager, but later in my late 20s I decided I was gonna be a world heavyweight champ. Now I gave it a good shot, got beat up a lot. But the whole time I was trying I was hearing about this guy, this manager, who they used to tell me about named Poppy Rollins. And Poppy Rollins, “He’s a holy terror, Patrick. Oh gosh, you’ll never see this guy as . . . This guy from Puerto Rico. He’s a holy terror.” And he had this incredible knockout record and such. I kept hearing about Poppy Rollins. Well when I . . . when I got beat up the last time and decided I’d had enough – I wasn’t . . . there were easier ways to make a living – I went . . . I was throwing . . . hanging up my gloves. And my coach, this guy called me, Mr. Anton, the last day. And he said, “Hey! Poppy Rollins is fighting in Philadelphia tonight. Let’s go see him.” I said okay, so we drove down and we get there, and the . . . I’ll never forget the . . . The two fighters go into the ring and they take off their robes, and one is a tough looking . . . was a miniature Mr. T – arms like cannon balls – just tough, tough guy. And the other guy was this skinny, light-skinned fellow. A bit of a . . . a bit of a gut, just clearly not in shape or anything. And this other guy . . . It just looked like he was gonna kill him. And I said, “My god. He looks . . . You’re right. He does look like a killer.” And Mr. Anton said, “That’s not Poppy Rollins. That’s Poppy Rollins.” And I said, “Come on. That’s this guy . . . that’s this holy . . .”
“Oh my gosh Patrick. He’s a holy terror! Wait ‘til . . . he’s a holy terror.” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah right.” Well the fight lasted about two minutes, and Poppy Rollins just destroyed this other guy. And so that . . . that was interesting. But what was more interesting was that they left, and it turns out that the father was in the audience. He was actually in the ring. And as they left . . . and the kid won. He won by a knockout in the first round. And as they were leaving the ring, somebody . . . a group of guys were standing there – big guys – and Poppy Rollins’ dad was a little guy as I remember, a little Puerto Rican fellow. And somebody said something like, “Your son’s a bum,” and this guy without even hesitating, without even confronting him just grabbed a chair and smashed it. And it just turned into this rumble. And I got a . . . I got a . . . I got a good idea of what had made Poppy Rollins as tough as he was. So anyway I stick that . . . There are times when my pop has been a little hard on me too, and I think of Poppy Rollins’ dad. And you know you gotta . . . I know what made . . . Poppy Rollins was tough, but I also know what made him that tough.
Recorded on: 10/29/07
Growing up with boxing.