Michael L. Thompson barely remembers the game that taught him one of his most valuable lessons in business and life.
At 6 feet 9 inches, 200 pounds, he was a forward for Cornell University’s basketball team during his senior year—No. 22. The life-shaping event occurred during the 1976-77 season when Cornell was in a fierce battle against Princeton University, the No. 1 team in the Ivy League Conference. Playing on their home court, Cornell was down by a single point. Cheers filled the arena as a teammate passed Thompson the ball.
With less than a minute left on the clock, he was well aware that making the basket would mean a Cornell victory. He takes the shot. Thompson had visualized the ball going in the hoop. In reality, it bounced along the rim and rolled out at the buzzer. Cornell lost the game by one point. “I remember how depressing [it] was to lose,” Thompson recalls. Back in the locker room, his coach pulled him aside. “You did your best, and you gave it all you had.” Then he slowly said, “But I need you tomorrow. We got another game tomorrow.”
Thompson says his coach’s encouraging jolt some 40 years ago stays with him to this day. As CEO of the Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin-based Fair Oaks Farms L.L.C., [which is not affiliated with Fair Oaks Farms Dairy in Fair Oaks, Indiana], Thompson intimately knows what it means to win and lose but most importantly, the value of constantly being in play. &l