A long time ago, when I was a student, I used to spend my Summers working on campsites in France.
One of them – right on the northwest tip of Brittany – was run by a lovely old man called Pierre le Cuff. He had thick white hair, twinkling eyes and, in the three months I knew him, the only time I saw him without a broad smile on his face was when he was playing boules.
Every morning around 10, M. le Cuff used to stop at my tent. He’d pull up a chair, I’d make him a coffee and we’d chat for 20 minutes. Often about his wife, who he adored. Or about the weather, which was terrible that year.
At one point, it rained solidly for four weeks: the wind got so strong that three of his tents blew into the sea. Bookings took a hammering: the campsite was barely half-full at what ought to have been the busiest time of year – he must have been losing money hand over fist.
And still he’d show up every morning at my tent with a cheery grin and a bag of croissants.
Then he’d wander round the campsite doing the same with all his customers. Laughing about the weather, making a fuss of the kids, offering suggestions for day trips and restaurants to visit.
No wonder most of them came back year after year. Especially the British campers, of whom M. le Cuff was particularly fond.
When I asked him why, he laughed and said:
‘Because the British broke my leg.’
In 1940, at the start of the war, M. le Cuff was in a French cavalry regiment. He broke his leg during a football match with the neighbouring British artillery. It was a bad break and he was still in hospital four days later, when his regiment went into action against the invading German Panzers. All his friends were killed – as he would have been, if not for a clumsy tackle by a burly geordie.
One of the perks of my job is that I get to meet a lot of different leaders in a lot of different businesses.
They’re a fascinating mix of personalities. But, without exception, the one characteristic all the most successful ones share is a positive outlook.
They don’t waste time worrying about things they can’t control (like the weather or a broken leg). Instead, they focus all their energy on what they can control, because that’s where the opportunity is.
Whenever I used to grumble about the rain, M. le Cuff would make me stop and look at the scenery around us. It was beautiful, even through the drizzle: windswept dunes, turquoise water, a white sand beach with nobody on it.
He’d sweep his arm from one horizon to the other and say:
‘I’m the luckiest man in the world.’
You know what? I think he was right.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, the campsite is still there – and thriving (these days, it’s run by M. le Cuff’s son, Hubert). Camping des Abers in Landeda. One of my favourite places in the world.