Westmeath man, Michael O’Leary is arguably Ireland’s greatest ever businessman. This column is not privy to knowing who his close friends are, but we are willing to bet that when Michael was starting off, at least four of his five best friends went on to be successful in their chosen field.

That’s how it works, folks; if you wish to be successful you stick with the winners. It’s as if achievement is a contagious condition which is determined by the expectations of your peer group.

It has been said that your income is destined to become the average of the five people you knock around with the most. (O’Leary sure pushed up the average for his buddies!)

There is an old saying; “show me your company and I’ll tell you what you are”. We are talking here about the power of association: George Washington once said; “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for tis better to be alone than in bad company”

It isn’t necessarily money which is the only way of measuring success by the power of association. Take ‘Sun Records’, a small recording company which lasted little more than a decade in the 1950’s and 60’s, yet it became the stable for a variety of stars from the music scene, the likes of which was never seen before, or will again.

These guys all met at ‘Sun’; Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis (Oh, I’ve just thrown my leg up on the keyboard here!) Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins … and more.

Can you imagine all that talent meeting up in a small recording studio? Another imponderable: Isn’t it unlikely that either Bill Gates or Paul Allen would have been as individually successful had they not met while in college? I wonder how many of those above geniuses would not have made it all the way if it weren’t for the association of the others.

There was no great tradition of hurling in Wexford when Nicky Rackard came on the scene. Dublin tried to entice him to play hurling and football for them – where he would almost certainly have won medals at both.

Nicky turned down the offer because he believed he could win an All-Ireland hurling medal with his native county. His brothers, by association then believed; then his friends; then the parish, followed by the county and as they say, the rest is history.

‘Tuam Stars’ is one of the most famous Gaelic Football clubs in the country, with two players, Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell being named on most people’s greatest teams of all time. They were known as “The terrible twins”.

Not only did Purcell and Stockwell, come from the same county, the same school, the same club; but they grew up on the same street only a couple of doors from each other. Surely their association with each other and their fellow players pushed these two sporting icons to greater heights also? Our own “Jobber” McGrath was as great a hurler as graced any county.

Some schools seem to have the genius touch and I wonder how much of this is by association with greatness through the school. St. Columba’s College in Derry has produced two Nobel winners in John Hume and Seamus Heaney, as well as well known musicians Phil Coulter and Paul Brady.

Dublin’s Synge Street has given us a president in Cearbhall ó Dalaig and a Taoiseach in Liam Cosgrave – as well as broadcasters Eamonn Andrews and Gay Byrne and actors Noel Purcell and David Kelly.

The ‘Cambridge Footlight Club’ produced an amazing bunch of comedians and media talent at the same time, led of course by John Cleese, David Frost, Clive James and Hugh Laurie.

The king of boxing promotion in America, namely Don King – not renowned for his modesty, once told an interviewer that he was going to be the first black billionaire in America. When asked how he intended to achieve his stated objective, Don replied; “By hanging around with other billionaires!”

Success by association can also apply to a family unit: How often we see kids who may have been economically and educationally disadvantaged starting off and yet all the siblings make their mark in different endeavours. In order to get what you want, or learn what you need to know, you must go to the source – by sticking with the winners.

I heard a story one time which originated in a totally different culture, but a very similar lesson: A young warrior of an Indian tribe found an eagle egg one day when he was out hunting. He took the egg back to the Indian Village and placed it in a hen’s nest. The little eagle was hatched out by the hen and took his place among the chickens.

He pecked in the ground for seeds and worms and when he flew, it was just a few feet above the ground like the other chickens in the yard. Life was easy and without much of a challenge, as the days turned into months and then to years. The eagle matured and eventually grew old.

One day, as he scratched the ground, something overhead caught the eagle’s eye. There, soaring in the clouds was the most splendid bird he had ever seen. He couldn’t take his eyes away from the big bird’s gorgeous, strong golden wings and the majesty with which he commanded the sky. He raced to find the wise old rooster and asked; “What is that stunning, noble creature navigating above the treetops?” “That? Oh, that is the Eagle, Chief of Birds,” he replied: “But he is far above you: Keep scratching.” The eagle kept on scratching and died never realising his true potential.

Don’t Forget.

We rate ability in people by what they finish, not what they attempt.