The Right Stuff


Tom Wolfe penned a book in the late 1970’s entitled, ‘The Right Stuff’ about American test pilots who were part of the early research efforts leading to NASA’s space program. The pilots flew experimental rocket-powered aircraft. Some returned to Mother Earth safely; others did not. Those who did were said to have the right stuff, meaning they possessed certain character traits, excluding luck, to succeed and thrive. Even with the right stuff, perhaps the best of all test pilots, Chuck Yeager, was not selected as an astronaut. The right stuff proved elusive for him.

The U.S. was well behind the Soviets in the 1960s space race. NASA went on to develop its first manned space program called Project Mercury. The first seven test pilots with the right stuff were called the Mercury Seven, namely Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.

In business, the right stuff is measured every day, every week, every month, every quarter, and every year. Launching a business and running it successfully is not for meek or timid. Neither is defying gravity. Gotta have the right stuff. And maybe a little luck, just like the 60s test pilots who could sense the upper limits of engineering and propulsion as the envelope was pushed.

Attendees at the recent St. Croix EDC’s Business of the Year awards dinner were treated to the business version of the right stuff. Three companies were honored and each award recipient spoke in frank terms of obstacles and achievements and just shoulder-to-the-wheel hard work that brought them into the spotlight for the evening. All three confessed they were not public speakers. That comment did not fool the audience. Their comments came straight from their hearts and included motivational take-aways.

State Senator Patty Schachtner summed it up best with three terms to describe each of the honorees – resiliency, community building, and vision. Add those descriptors to the character traits of test pilots and the resolve of business owners.

It’s still the right stuff.