Which Counts More: Luck or Determination?

Combining baby bananas and chocolate into a frozen treat was just the start of Bob Carmody's business venture.

For all that is commonly said about hard work paying off, being in the right place at the right time helps, too.

Bob Carmody and his late wife didn’t plan to launch a frozen treat business, but stumbled on the opportunity at the Taste of Chicago 25 years ago. A worker happened to bring a bunch of bananas for a snack and Carmody’s father-in-law, who was selling chocolate-covered strawberries, experimented by putting a banana on dry ice, then dipping it in chocolate.

“We instantly recognized it as something great,”   said Carmody, owner of Chicago-based Diana’s Bananas, which makes frozen chocolate-covered bananas sold in Dominick’s, Jewel and other area supermarkets. Consumers liked the treats, too. The first bunch of chocolate-covered frozen bananas sold quickly, so Carmody bought 25,000 bananas at   Chicago food stores and sold them all at the Taste of Chicago that year, he said.

Today, the company now produces 1.5 million frozen Banana Babies each month in its Chicago facility, which are sold at supermarkets throughout the nation, he said.

While many entrepreneurs point to luck or serendipity as part of their breakthroughs, it’s what they do with the opportunity that ultimately determines success or failure. “It’s seizing the opportunity, but it’s more than that, too,” said Barry Merkin, clinical professor of management and strategy and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It’s perceiving   the opportunity.”

“People everyday see the same thing, but some people see it as an opportunity and others see it as a problem,” Merkin said. Entrepreneurs are the ones who act on it.

An opportunity by itself won’t make you successful, Merkin said. “I don’t buy luck. I think people who have bad luck are using it as a crutch for not working hard enough, not being passionate enough, not being in enough places at the right time.”

The initial Taste of Chicago experiment wasn’t the only “aha” moment for the Carmodys. At another summer festival, a repeat customer asked if he could buy a cooler-full   of the frozen bananas and put them in his freezer for later. That’s when the Carmodys saw the opportunity to sell the frozen treats at retail.

Today, Banana Babies, which are covered in dark or milk chocolate from Chicago-based Blommer Chocolate Co., sell for about $5 for a box of five in more than 12,000 stores throughout the United States and internationally,   Carmody said. To keep up with growing demand, the company plans to move to a larger, 30,000-square-foot facility in Chicago this fall and likely will hire more workers, he said.

Reflecting on the company’s success, Carmody said, “The genesis was just one hundred percent luck, but after that, it was one hundred percent hard work and determination.”

— Ann Meyer