Inventor and entrepreneur, George C. Ballas, Sr. of Houston, TX, died this past week at the age of 85. You may not know his name, but you know his most popular invention – the Weed Eater.
His weed trimming device helped revolutionize lawn care in the 1970s. Ballas first introduced the product in the early 1970s, and by 1976, “he was selling $40 million worth of them annually,” according to the Associated Press. In 1977, he sold the company to the Emerson Electric Company for an undisclosed amount.
Eager to find a way to more quickly trim his three-acre yard, Ballas got the idea for the Weed Eater while sitting in an automatic car wash as he watched the large rotary bristles clean his car. His first version used wire attached to a popcorn can, which was then rigged to a rotary edger. He then worked with an engineer to substitute monofilament line as the lightweight and inexpensive cutting material. Ballas held several patents on the machine.
George Ballas also invented an adjustable table and marketed an early portable phone, but inventing was not his day job. Ballas was a professional dancer who owned and ran several Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire dance studios in the 1960s. He served as President of Fred Astaire Studios from 1960 to 1964. After getting out the service, he married a dancer instructor, Maria Louis Marulanda, who taught Ballas the tango. The couple later performed together.
His son, Corky Ballas, also became a professional dancer, as well as his grandson, Mark Ballas, who has appeared on seven seasons of “Dancing With the Stars.”
Mark Ballas partnered with Bristol Palin in Season 11.
You never know where creativity and ingenuity may come from or where it may take you. How many great ideas, like the Weed Eater, never made it to the production table because of lack of confidence, encouragement, or risk-taking?
The same holds true for creativity and innovation within a company. Make sure your corporate culture embraces the George Ballases within your ranks, even when their ideas may not fit neatly in their day jobs.
It could very well lead to a new patent for your company, an improved service, or a new dance move that’s bound to impress the judges (a.k.a. shareholders).