Author, entrepreneur, Colfax High grad provides inspiration to today’s students

Peter Sims, a Class of 1994 valedictorian, says school provides something special
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Peter Sims has the ear of leading corporate innovators and speaks all over the world on how to find success in the shark-infested world of business and finance. But he’s also a Colfax High kid – a Class of 1994 graduate who captained the school’s tennis team to a section championship and spoke as a valedictorian – who appreciates his small-town and public school roots. Sims, 36, returned to the Colfax campus Friday to speak to about 100 junior and senior advanced placement students about the value of what they are doing at the school and the value of what they can do in the future. A year ago, Sims’ book “Little Bets” won the praise of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz as both practical and powerful. Subtitled “How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries,” and published under the Simon & Schuster imprint, “Little Bets” pulled together a variety of success stories – from Steve Jobs to Chris Rock to Frank Gehry – to show how methodically taking small, experimental steps can lead to big things. Sims has parlayed the success as a writer (“True North,” a book he co-wrote, landed on both Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller lists in 2008) and his own experiences in the business world into speaking engagements that fetch five figures. Friday’s speech was a freebie and a chance to give back to a school that gave so much to the former Christian Valley resident. Now living in the Bay Area, Sims told students that he never defined himself a success until he made his own leap away from his career in the investment industry with a venture capital firm. But Sims observed that the people he felt were successful were not “the smartest people in the room.” Instead, the successful ones were willing to “put themselves out there – to be wrong a lot.” “I was really inspired by entrepreneurs,” Sims said. “The world was telling me I was successful but I was not healthy. I felt successful when I jumped off the cliff with no support structure. Now every day, I am living as Peter Sims.” Sims said that one of the gifts Colfax High School students will come away with besides their education is common sense and an ingrained ability to work hard at a goal. Quoting from advice he received from politician and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Sims said that common sense and being real are two legacies Colfax High School students will carry with them. Moynihan told Sims that a prep-school and Ivy League education only carries people so far. “What they have you can learn,” Sims quoted Moynihan as telling him. “What you have they will never learn.” On Friday, Giles Barrett, 17, described the hour-long talk and question-answer session as a “cool experience.” “Having someone from this high school be so successful and then coming back to share their experience is inspiring,” Barrett said. “And it shows that we have something here.” English teacher Paul Phillips coached Sims on the tennis team and taught him in the classroom. “It’s a great success story of a Colfax grad doing great things today,” Phillips said. “Hopefully kids will get a sense of having great opportunities.”