James Jacobson, a self-professed serial entrepreneur, feels many life lessons stem from the lives of his parents, who fled Germany and the Nazis as young children, and eventually made their way to St. Louis, where they found each other and married.
Jacobson, who grew up in Washington, D.C., now runs a production company in Hawaii that produces and publishes audio and print books.
Jacobson says when his father was 7, he was put on a train with his sister in what later became known as the kindertransport.
"When he left Germany at 7, he went from being beat up in Germany for being Jewish to being beat up in England for being a German," Jacobson says. "And he basically got the sense that you can rise up over anything, take the past and put it behind you and move forward and make right decisions and be in control of your own destiny. And that is a certain value that I always got from my father growing up and focusing on 'you can do anything you want to do — you just have to be committed, you have to work hard, and despite whatever's happened in the past, you have the opportunity to create the future.'"
Jacobson says his father considered himself fortunate, but didn't dwell on the tough experiences in his life.
"There are groups, of course, in the United States, where people go and talk about the Holocaust and sort of re-live it over and over and over again. And for him, I think his focus was to give me a childhood and to give me a life where I didn't need to think about that, and to really do whatever I wanted to do," Jacobson says. "And he also, I think, instilled a certain sense of patriotism — that this is a country where you could do that."
Years later, Jacobson says, his parents' attitude had a profound effect on him.
"I've built a number of businesses, and every time I start a new business, there's always the risk that it won't work out," he says. "But knowing that you can turn something bad into something good is very much formative of how I approach business, how I approach my life."
"I think that people who have family that goes back to the Mayflower — they don't necessarily appreciate the uniqueness of the United States the way that first generation, second generation immigrants do," Jacobson says. "I think we have a certain feeling that we are incredibly blessed to be in the United States."