Bill Morgan: Only in America

Bill Morgan drew inspiration from heartache and loss suffered during WWII to become one of America’s premier developers.

Bill Morgan escaped the horrors of WWII and came to the United States homeless and penniless. Today, the Morgan Group builds high-end multifamily developments — and strong ties to the community through projects like Holocaust Museum Houston. For Bill Morgan, capitalism and patriotism go hand in hand. The lifelong entrepreneur founded one successful business after another, in a variety of industries. Through his career, he says his true partner was “Uncle Sam”; a tribute to the liberty he found in America and that made his success possible.

Here is the full transcript of the video:

Bill Morgan (BM), Founder, Morgan Group: I had an unusual life. I don’t think that anybody else, maybe, had a life like that. It’s not that easy. I was building a business and my life.

Mike Morgan (MM), CEO, Morgan Group: My father was born in Stanislav, Poland, in 1925. He grew up with a really Orthodox Jewish family. It was poor, poverty-stricken—no luxuries at all.

In World War II, the Germans invaded. His whole family were uprooted and moved to the ghetto.

BM: I saw something that no one should see in any world. Starvation, shooting, killing, sickness. I just wanted to survive. I told mother I’m going to run away. My dad gave me his blessing and he said, “If you survive, we’ll meet in Heaven, and tell me all about it.”

MM: When he left the ghetto, he got his Christian friend’s papers and he survived as an alias. When the Russians came in to liberate the Poles, they recruited him by force, sent him to boot camp. He was supposed to go to the front line and he left.

He ended up in Regensburg, Germany and befriended a couple of guys who were smuggling cigars and cigarettes over the Czechoslovakian border. He thought they were Jewish but at this point he wasn’t sure if they were trying to dupe him or not.

One day he just finally kind of gave up, he said, “I’m just gonna go for it and tell them that I’m Jewish,” and he started speaking Yiddish. So once he had that trust with them he realized they were Jewish and all of a sudden he had a little community of survivors.

BM: It was a tough life, but I made it better.

MM: They were all applying for immigration, so he applied to immigrate into the United States. And there was a shoe store owner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that sponsored him.

BM: The second I landed in New York, I looked at the sky, the buildings. I couldn’t believe that people on this Earth lived like that.

MM: I think since he was the only survivor, he made it to the United States of America, he’s going to make a life for himself.
Pretty much penniless, he worked for that shoe store. He was a janitor and used to watch Roy Rogers TV shows to teach himself English. He ended up in Houston, got a job as a shoe salesman. If he made 25 cents, he’d save 20 cents and try to live off 5 cents. He saved up enough money, bought a diner and he was the cook and the cleaner and the whole bit. He sold the diner, bought a refrigerated truck. He would go around selling meat. He didn’t understand anything other than hard work. He saved up enough, sold the truck, and built a packing house.

He noticed some of the other Jewish guys in Houston were building houses and he wanted to learn the building business. He would go to other construction jobs and he watched them build. He sold his packing house and finally he had enough, said, “Okay I’m going to go buy a piece of land,” and he started building duplexes.

My father in his career probably built a thousand units of apartments. And Ronnie, my older brother, and I grew up riding on the back of his pickup truck while he was collecting rent. And the one thing he told us was you need to think bigger. And so as we got involved in it we’ve probably to date built about sixteen thousand units. Probably total capitalization is two and a half billion.

My father came over from—let’s call that Point A. Well he took the company to Point B. My brother and I, our job is to go from B to C. My son now has heard that, he goes, “I want to go from C to Z.”

BM: I’ve done so much without any education, or money, or relatives. But I kept on working, working, working.

MM: Once he secured his family and he had enough, then he started doing for others.

BM: We built the Holocaust Museum. I wanted to get rid of hate from peoples’ heart and replace it with love.

MM: We’re involved in charities across the city.

BM: Every year we do something. It’s to thank this great country for giving me the opportunity to make something out of myself. This year we’re building 21 units for an orphanage. Free.

MM: And that’s one thing about capitalism: the better you do, the better the community does. Entrepreneurialism and capitalism and all the liberties that we have in America is what makes this country great, and my father is just living proof of that.

BM: I did the best I could for a living and shared it with my family and others—and Uncle Sam, I mean he was a good partner.