I would like to dedicate this blog to Nicholas Muller I became acquainted with Nick through Jim Peters, who was President of Samsonite International until his retirement in 1989. Nick served as Vice President and General Counsel for Samsonite starting in 1972. These two men were not just friends to me, but are heroes of mine in the business world. Like Jim Peters, Nick Muller did not waste his time living someone else's life. He lived out the beauty of his own calling, and let his heart guide him.
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Jacob Petrovic was my friend. I knew him by his Americanized name Jim Peters. He knew his life was limited and didn’t want to waste a single moment living someone else’s dream. He had dreams of his own, courage enough to follow his heart, and sufficient confidence to trust his seasoned intuition. Jim wanted to return to the unstable federation of Yugoslavia, but the civil war in the 1990s, the bloodshed, and the violence made the political climate throughout the Balkans extremely tentative.
American essayist James Baldwin once advised, “Be careful what you set your heart upon, for it will surely be yours.” For more than fifty years, Jim had his heart set upon returning to his birthplace in Belgrade, Serbia. Jim was sitting in the audience where I had just delivered a presentation on my recent trips to North Korea and Iraq.
After the speech, he approached me and said, “You’ve been to Baghdad, Iraq; Havana, Cuba; and Pyongyang, North Korea. Have you ever been to Belgrade, Serbia, in Yugoslavia?”
“No.” was my answer.
“Why not?” was his rapid response.
“Because Project C.U.R.E. only goes where we’re invited,” I answered.
“Then would you go to Belgrade if you were invited?”
Three days later, the two of us met in my office to discuss the possibility of traveling together to Belgrade to arrange the donation of needed medical goods to the hurting people of Yugoslavia. This wasn’t the first time Jim Peters had followed his heart where there was no pathway to lead him. But he had learned early on that wherever you go, it’s necessary to go with all your heart, because the intuition of the heart has reasons that even reason doesn’t necessarily understand. You see, Jim had escaped Yugoslavia in 1944. Germany had wreaked havoc on the Balkans during the First World War; then during World War II, Germany, Italy, and Russia had unleashed their cruelty on the area.
Young Jacob Petrovic and his brother were part of a prominent Belgrade family. They had joined up with the resistance movement to protect their homeland from the Nazis and Communists. When Allied pilots from America or Britain got shot down over Yugoslavia, the resistance group would try to get to the pilots first and, through dangerous and clandestine strategies, eventually deliver the pilots back across enemy lines to the safety of the Allied encampments.
Jim and his friends had been able to save the lives of more than two hundred American and British pilots. But eventually the Gestapo closed in on them, and they had to flee the country without even saying good-bye to their families. Soldiers had surrounded the Petrovic family home and were in the process of breaking down the doors to capture Jim and his brother. The soldiers had orders to bring them in as prisoners or shoot them on the spot if need be. Jim and his brother sought the help of Jim’s school girlfriend, who was also in the resistance movement. She successfully hid them in her house. That night they escaped, slipping from her house, jumping fences, and running into the nearby forested hills. It took more than two years for them to complete their escape by eventually working their way to Switzerland. Yet Jim continued to follow his heart.
While Jim and his brother were in Switzerland, two of the American pilots whose lives they had saved searched for them, miraculously located them, and brought them to America. The brothers landed in New York in 1947.The very first day they arrived, they found jobs and went to work. The pilots whose lives they had saved sponsored Jim and his brother so they could attend Columbia University in New York City. Both graduated with MBAs in 1949.
Jim’s world was becoming as big as the dream in his heart that was guiding him. His talents were quickly recognized, and he was soon hired as an international representative for the Singer sewing-machine company. From there he was able to leapfrog into an international position with RCA, and later he moved to Denver, Colorado, where he became the senior vice president for Samsonite luggage company, in charge of all international business. After fifteen years with Samsonite, he retired and worked as an international consultant for Mattel toys.
Jim and his wife continued to make Denver their home, but the burning desire of his heart was still leading him. He was going to go back to his homeland and, with the help of Project C.U.R.E., take help and hope to his relatives and needy compatriots. During all the years of his absence, Jim had kept up on the events taking place in the Balkans. But as we tried to put the travel plans together, we ran into difficulty. The United States had cut off all diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia. We were then forced into trying to secure the necessary visas for our passports by going through the Yugoslavian embassy in Toronto, Canada. That required working directly with the government officials of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. But eventually we were able to work our way through the international bureaucracy of Canada, NATO, the United States, and the warring factions of the Balkans and receive our proper paperwork.
Only twice had Anna Marie ever cried when she dropped me off at the airport terminal. Once was when I first went to Baghdad, Iraq, and the other time was Sunday, July 16, when she dropped me off at the airport to leave for Belgrade.
“When I see you walk through those airport doors, I never know if I’ll ever see you again.” Then she apologized for crying.
At the airport was where the rubber really met the road. There were no outside pressures making us do what we were doing with Project C.U.R.E. We received no money. It was truly a love gift to God. Anna Marie and I were both totally a part of that gift.
Once Jim and I arrived in Belgrade and had settled into our hotel, Jim wanted to show me some of the history of Belgrade. As we walked through the city, he pointed out where his boyhood friends used to live, where he used to work, and the office buildings where his prominent family members ran their businesses. When we got to one intersection, he stopped and gestured toward an old bank building where his father was once an influential officer. Just across the other street, he pointed out where he spent his last night in the city of Belgrade in 1944.
Jim Peters had followed his heart. He hadn’t let time or inconveniences or the noise and static of others’ opinions drown out the inner voice of his own heart. He had found the seed that had been placed in the citadel of his heart and had nurtured it into a beautiful living flower. That beautiful vision and lofty ideal had now been realized.
Jim and I traveled a couple of different times together to Yugoslavia and spent enough time in Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro to make all the arrangements necessary to send millions of dollars’ worth of donated medical goods to hospitals and clinics all over that part of the Balkans. Jim had followed his heart.
Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life. Live out the beauty of your own calling. Let your heart guide you. Your heart usually whispers . . . so listen carefully!