“One of the most sensational American success story” –Kansas City Star
“I have never seen him when he was not inwardly communing with God” – Paramahamsa Yogananda.
Yet this story had a humble beginning. James Lynn was born into poverty on May 5 1892 in Louisiana. His family had lost everything in the civil war and his parents were tenant farmers barely eking out a living. From early days James showed signs that he was a prodigy. His schooling was sporadic but he excelled in it whenever given a chance. Even while he studied he also worked at the local railway station at $2 per month. His earliest memories are that of working besides his parents on the farm. “There was always work to do,” he later recalled. This habit of working hard and working honestly were ingrained into him, and combined with his prodigious talents, set the stage for a phenomenal career.
At the age of 14 he ended schooling and started working full time. He had already established his reputation while working as a student and he was always in demand. This was unusual as times were hard and jobs were not easy to come by. His salary varied between $35 per month to a remarkable $65 per month.
Finally at the age of 17 he arrived in Kansas City. This was the place where he would see his career rise beyond his wildest imagination. Soon after arriving he got a job as the assistant to the chief clerk. Promotions came fast and soon he found himself in the position of an assistant auditor. In less than a month his boss was transferred and a frightened 17-year-old James Lynn found himself being given the post of an auditor. James found that he could learn the job by doing it and this built in him the lifelong confidence of taking on challenging assignments.
Somebody planted the idea in his head that he should pursue a law degree. He somehow managed to convince the authorities to allow him to take on the full course load for a law degree even though he had not yet finished schooling. He was allowed to do so with the provision that he would get his high school degree before he graduated law school So he took on high-school subjects in addition to studying for law.
So while he was working full time during the day, James Lynn was carrying the full load of studying for law and completing his high school diploma. However this was not challenging enough for this remarkable man. Within a year he added the pursuit of an accounting degree to the load. He studied accounting in a night school, but did most of the work on his own.
At the age of 21 he was offered a job as assistant in a prestigious accounting firm. And even though he had not yet finished his law degree he was nevertheless admitted to the bar. It was during this time that he met and married Miss Freda Josephine Prill.
His accounting firm assigned him the task of doing accounting work for the U. S. Epperson underwriting company. It was here that he met Mr. U. S. Epperson and thoroughly impressed him with his work. Soon the right hand man of Epperson passed away and James Lynn was offered the job of treasurer to fill this vacancy. James refused as he was considered a rising star in the accounting firm where he worked.
In 1916 at the age of 24 when he got his CPA James found that there was a bidding war to hire him. Epperson offered him an unprecedented $12,000 salary for the post of General Manager. The salary was so unprecedented that he was sworn to secrecy not to reveal it to anyone. This time James accepted the offer.
In 1921 Epperson decided to sell his business. A frantic James offered to buy it but Epperson was quite blunt, “You do not have the money!” He told him.
James had known E. F. Swinney, the richest man in Kansas City, and also a prominent banker. James approached him for a loan. Swinney agreed, but because this was so unprecedented he had to give the loan on his personal guarantee. It was a remarkable risk that Swinney was taking because he was convinced of the ability and honesty of James Lynn.
When James presented the check to Epperson, he was completely dumbfounded that James was able to raise such a large sum of money. (Reported to be in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars.)
At the age of 29 James Lynn found himself as the owner of U. S. Epperson underwriting company. He also was in considerable debt and it was now up to him to grow this business and repay the debt. Within three years of buying the business James had made U. S. Epperson the world’s largest insurance exchange for lumber companies and also repaid his debt in full. He had also expanded into the fast growing automobile insurance sector. Soon he had multiplied this many-fold to become one of the largest insurance underwriters for automobile dealers in the country.
By 1931 James Lynn had surpassed E. F. Swinney as the wealthiest man in Kansas City. He as 39 years old and a self-made millionaire (A net worth in the hundreds of millions by today’s standards), but he was not happy. “My life was business,” he later said, “but my soul was sick and I was so nervous I couldn’t sit still.”
Then something happened that turned James life around. In January of 1932 he met Paramahamsa Yogananda. There were immediate fireworks when these two remarkable men met. Yogananda found James so receptive that in the first meeting itself he was able to give James a taste of Cosmic Consciousness. James was so awestruck that he meditated for six hours with Yogananda in the first meeting itself.
Note: The story of James Lynn continues here. This is the first part of a two part series.