Here’s How I did it:
A boy grows up searching for direction:
Man, did I feel lost in my school days. I went from public school, to Baptist school, and then back to public school. I was taught my entire life how to be a good person, but I was so overprotected that I just never found myself (the first time) until I was about 19. I could write a book on parenting that would blow you away. My parents are both loving, awesome people, but there were certainly some opportunities in a few critical areas. As I look back though, my main barriers in understanding success revolve around growing up in a simple middle class family in a simple sort of neighborhood. The difficult thing about growing up in a truly blue collar middle class family where education never ventured above high school level, is that the bar of success is very low compared to the white collar upper class families that consider it a failure to be enrolled in a County College. The middle class are generally controlled by the universe, as opposed to making their mark. It is just a very conservative approach that is built off of fear. My parents always preached that we (my sister and I) had to go to college to get a better job. When I look back, I wish I knew enough to have asked or was in a situation where I could have been told a bit more detail about that very important statement. You see, you can succeed with any level of education, but a great university education can open up doors a lot quicker.
Most people that are reading this, probably could have easily earned straight A’s in high school, but they didn’t apply themselves because they didn’t understand the exact impact that it would have on their future, they didn’t understand the VALUE that they could have created for themselves! There’s affection, respect, money, etc…., but the only thing that will drive you long term is a specific goal that you have 100% belief in. In my case, I was told to get good grades. My parents tried money and rewards, I tasted the sugar cube and felt the whip. However, I wasn’t given a SPECIFIC reason why and in addition to my family, my friends had the same thinking patterns as I was. It’s funny how that happens. At poverty level and country club level, birds of a feather always flock together. So, there was little real direction.
Here’s a great quote illustrating what I’m trying to get at: “Most of the things we do, we do for no better reason than that our fathers have done them or our neighbors do them, and the same is true of a larger part that we suspect of what we think.” -Oliver Wedall Holmes Jr.
Did you ever notice that parents always want their kids to do better than they did? It is very rare and incredibly powerful to hear a parent say they want their kid to be a CHAMPION!!!! My parents tried so hard to figure me out. They just couldn’t relate to a little deal maker that wanted way more than they had. My Mom and Dad are incredibly smart people, they just had it so bad growing up that they became ultra conservative in every sense.
The toughest time in my life:
I graduated high school in 1986 with a middle range GPA, with the hopes of becoming an artist. I enrolled in County College of Morris in an art program. It was okay, but I wanted to get into the work force. I just wasn’t learning enough to keep myself engaged in the program. I dropped out with three B’s and three F’s. High school all over again. How dumb was that? I started working immediately in a high end sign company. I was talented and skilled, but I completely wasted a year of my life working for $6.00 an hour. The only thing I can look back on here, was that I gravitated to the owners / winners as opposed to the bar room wisdom. I was laid off after a year. They knew I didn’t want to be there more than I did. THANK GOD!!!! This is one of my favorite lines of faith, THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
Things start looking better:
I found a sales job selling waterbeds in the fad days of the late eighties. I started at $7.00 an hour and very quickly got promoted and started making more money than anyone I knew that was my age. During this time I went back and finished my associate degree, but this time I switched my major to business. I graduated and tried to find a better job, and it didn’t happen immediately, so I got frustrated and gave up on the white collar dream. Realistically, I wasn’t going to run IBM with an Associate Degree, so I should have been looking for entry level positions. The problem? I was making more than most of those guys were, and I just didn’t have the knowledge to know that I had to pay my dues to grow. This is a huge trap!! I moved next door to a bigger furniture store with more opportunity, and did what the life instruction manual said to do next. I got married, bought a new sports car, rented a beautiful apartment, and then owned my first house at 24. I guess I got caught up in the whole thing, fixing this, buying that, but I really started feeling like I had mortgaged my true potential. Was this what life was about? Why were some people rich? Were they smarter than I was? I was now making almost double what my Dad was making and I just wasn’t satisfied. A few years went by and I was 27 years old, working retail until 9:00 every night for an upper middle class salary. At this point, I had a beautiful baby girl, and dreams of this and that, but I had no idea how it was going to come together. I don’t know exactly why, but I went out and bought my first success book, Donald Trump’s, The Art of the Deal. I realized at this point that the super rich thought differently than I did, but not much. It inspired me. I came up with a plan. I didn’t know the final destination, but I knew I needed a solid foundation. The first part of the plan was to enroll in Montclair State University for my BS in Marketing. Yes, at 30 years old I graduated with a 3.41 GPA. I could have had a higher GPA, a better school, and an 8 year head start if I had only started thinking bigger in high school, but nobody could take away what I had now and I was darn proud of it. I had a four year degree from a very fine school, but I still had no direction, no specialized training, and major responsibilities at home.
It starts to come together:
First of all, I have to give my good friends serious kudos for supporting me throughout my 12 year stay at their furniture store. I developed a lot of confidence, a lot of street smarts, and the freedom to take classes while still supporting my family. I also absorbed a ton of raw sales experience from John, the best salesperson I know to this day. He also strengthened the concrete foundation of values and ethics that my parents had instilled in me. However, it was finally time for me to leave the furniture store. That was a huge step in my life, as I had watched my Dad work for one employer his entire adult life. I was armed with a degree, confidence and some serious victories in terms of life events. I was excited and a little scared at the same time. I found a low level corporate sales position at the Apartment Guide. I met some talented people and I was thrilled to be wearing a tie every day. It was operated a little bit like a grade school, but it was outside sales and I loved it. About four months into this, an old buddy called me about an outside manufacturer rep position back in furniture. He promised six figures so I jumped on it. I was really good. People liked me because I kept it real, and I always did the right thing. I did it for four years and made some good friends and some good money. I really gravitated towards one guy that was a rep that worked for the same company. He was a bit older than I was and saw things similar to me. He was searching for something, but he didn’t know what he was searching for either. We started reading and exploring ideas on franchises and businesses. We just couldn’t pull the trigger on anything. THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON!!
What I dreamed of starts to become reality:
I decided to go to a career counselor. He was awesome!!! We spent two or three days together. He learned everything he could about me, and the verdict was that I should be in sales management. This could be a short book as well. It was the most interesting time in my entire work life. He opened my eyes to everything in a few short days. I asked how I could be a manager. He said I was going to have to give up working as an independent furniture rep, and pursue a position in a corporation as an Account Executive. He said you’ll have to put in a couple of great years before they promote you, but you’ll be happy in the long term. A specific goal was in place and I had 100% conviction in this goal. The value was there.
The next step wasn’t easy:
It is not easy to find a great job, and it’s even tougher to get it. It is imperative that you find the right fit, or you will not be engaged in what you’re doing. The funny thing is now that I’m a manager, I see most of the time a deadbeat is already employed in that perfect job, and their company can’t find their replacement or ignores their poor performance in hopes that they’ll improve. It is absolutely amazing how many people work at a place they absolutely hate going to every day, and how many managers allow this to happen. How similar is this to relationships? This is certainly another book in the making. I just kept researching and practicing my interviewing, and got an interview with RH Donnelley for an outside sales position. I met the two managers up at their office and did a couple of role plays. I prepared very well for them and I knew I did well. I just didn’t see how Yellow Pages was going to be a great business to get into, and I didn’t see the potential for growth. One Manager in particular, sold me on the job. He saw that I was going to be perfect for the role and wanted me in. He said I could make six figures as a sales rep, and be promoted to manager after two years of high performance. I was 100% sold on the value he communicated and it matched my vision perfectly. He was a smooth talking philly guy, about 33, and he had experienced tremendous success, and I wanted to mirror his career. I felt like I was a character in the movie Boiler Room. It took about six months to find the right fit, but I was convinced that this was the right move. I let my furniture lines go, and embarked on my new career.
Account Executive at RH Donnelley:
My first challenge was learning a seven page script verbatim in just five days. It’s funny what you can do when you’re faced with a challenge that you know hundreds of people have accomplished, but the day before, you would have said it was impossible. After I passed this task, I went to training for six weeks. Three weeks were in a classroom in Raleigh, and three weeks in the field in Orlando. Craig was the Trainer. He was an Ohio State man, about 30 and he was the real deal. You could feel his love for RH Donnelley and his passion for his students. He was talented, skilled, soft spoken and just oozing confidence. I learned so much from him in three weeks that I seriously will never forget the experience or the impact he had on my life. I knew I wanted to start climbing the corporate ladder as quickly as I possibly could. There were trips, bonuses, and promotions available purely based on performance. I was almost 36 years old, and I was not about to let this opportunity slip by. I graduated the classroom portion and set my sights on the Pacesetter Award in the Field Sales part of the Training. There was huge recognition involved in this and I wanted to get my name out there as quickly as I could. There was serious competition, but I wanted it more than they did. I went back to my home office in Flemington with my award and wanted to make an immediate impact. I set a two year goal of management or I’d quit. Yes, I’m serious, and another thing; I never bluff. I didn’t want to be a rep, but I knew that was the path to management. The first company trip that I would be eligible for was Hawaii and I knew I needed to win it to move up the ladder. I gravitated towards the players; the people that had won the trip before. I ignored the office politics and let my performance speak for itself. I wasn’t there to make friends. I went to work everyday to make an impact, and I needed to know exactly how to do it from the masters. There were two reps that stuck out as being the best in the office, and they both got me rolling. I watched how they handled their daily interactions with their clients and quickly identified their strengths and weaknesses. I studied on the weekends as much as I could on sales, and success. I became the best in the office within six months. I didn’t stop there. I kept pressing forward. The key was Value. Value on the preparation, Value on the initial call to set up the appointment, Value in the questions I asked and Value behind my proposal. I won the DSA Trip to Hawaii my first year and pressed onward into the training department. I actually walked away from my second DSA to the Atlantis after a sensational second year, to be a Field Sales Training Manager. I was 3/10th’s of a percent away from goal with 5 months left in the selling cycle. I knew exactly what I wanted. Remember, I took this job to be a manager and I was also willing to take about a 50% pay cut to do it. Don’t ever sacrifice long term goals for short term gain. Read any Success Book. It was a salary position at the time, and it was the only way into management. I worked three times harder for half the money and it was literally the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done to this day. As a trainer I learned how to really manage a sales team. I was a manager in a furniture store, but I didn’t have experience managing a sales team. I was given a new Telephone Sales Team, and I made it very special for all of us. I led by example and took ownership of the situation immediately. We broke several performance records and the top executives started taking notice. The next class was a Premise Team in Fort Myers. Now I was getting this down, and this was an absolute blast. We ripped the cover off the ball, and had the most fun you can imagine. After this I was assigned to assist in Las Vegas for a few weeks and got the call I was looking for. My boss was on the phone. He said that he had something come open in Tennessee. A new Division Manager had stepped in and was building a team of Winners. I flew across the country and met one of the most powerful women I’ve ever met to this day. Not in terms of stature, or money, but purely in terms of presence. She was a born leader and a winner. It was perfect. I wanted in. A lot of executives pushed the issue hard. It was a premise management position, and I was supposed to start as a telephone manager. I was only in the training department for six months and I was supposed to be in there for over a year. The executives got their way. I started the following Monday. I was finally a District Sales Manager. Two and a half years of blood, sweat, and tears, but I had arrived. There was no better feeling.
District Sales Manager at RH Donnelley:
I felt like I started a new career with another company. Yes, it was that different. My New Jersey attitude walked into the Mideast Division in East Tennessee with a team of all-star managers on February 5th, 2007. I was far from seasoned, but I thought I was. Sales came easy to me, and training came easy to me, so when I started climbing the corporate ladder so quickly, I thought I’d be running the place in a couple of years. What happened over the next four years would define who I was as a person.
The Vice President of Sales was one of the few guys in the company that I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting. He was one of the most respected and talented sales executives in the company. I knew very early that I wanted his job. There was my five year goal. He and I have only had about 7 or 8 serious, one on one conversations, but they have had a very powerful impact on me. He’s very tough to describe. He’s got a heart the size of Texas, but his world revolves around a company first mantra. He will accept a mistake or two if you hold yourself accountable, but I guess the one thing that sticks in my mind that I will never forget is his view on excuses. There are NONE!!!!! Remember what Ben Franklin said? “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
I took on a team of seven sales reps. There were four guys and three girls ranging in age from 24-53. We hit the ground running. I managed each marketing consultant differently. I had team meetings that focused on team goals and sales trainings, and individual meetings that focused on targeted motivation. It was very obvious that one of the seven reps didn’t share the same work ethic as I did. She made it clear that she didn’t want to be there and quickly ended a four year career within a month of my arrival. Her replacement was a superstar telephone rep that just got promoted to premise. She was young, but she quickly took the team lead and her work ethic was exemplary. I learned very quickly how important it was to have people that shared the same value and vision as I did. We won everything under the sun in the 2007 Sales Year. I had a total of four reps write objective and three of my reps won Distinguished Sales Awards. The company stock was at an all-time high and things were going great. I was making ridiculous money, had a ridiculous house and a membership to the best country club in the area. Life is just great, but it’s also unpredictable. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
The next two years would be the most challenging in my career. Mental toughness would be the key to survival. Adversity truly defines an individual. Anyone can excel when things are going great, but how you handle the challenges life throws at you is how successful you’ll be in the long term. RH Donnelley as well as most business models during the recession of 2008 and 2009 were hit hard. The once unstoppable powerhouse was in financial trouble, and so were some of their loyal employees. It was real tough. On December 31, 2008 the stock was suspended on the New York Stock Exchange because the value of the company had fallen below $25 million for 30 days. In June 2009 RH Donnelley filed for bankruptcy. It was almost like watching a microcosm of what was going on globally. I hung on to the rope. It wasn’t easy, but very honestly, options during a recession were also few and far between. I also felt a strong sense of loyalty to RH Donnelley. I had a lot of friends there and still do, and I just love the company.
“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.”-Vince Lombardi
RH Donnelley got back up and emerged from bankruptcy in February of 2010 as Dex One. It was strange at first. The RH Donnelley name had grown to mean a lot to me. We had made it through the tough times and I was 100% ready to taste greatness again. I set my goals for 2010. A lot of people fall short here. I was going to make sure everyone on the team won DSA. I was also going to make the most money I had ever made, and I desperately needed to win my third DSA. These were lofty goals as we were just emerging from bankruptcy, but there was no way I was going to fail. I started rebuilding my team’s attitude and had them buy in to our climb back to glory. We started pushing hard. I had built a team of winners and I exuded confidence in our success. We finished number eight in the East Region out of 44 teams and handled almost double the amount of revenue of any team in the top ten. We had five out of six reps attend DSA, and I earned my third DSA Award as well. It was great celebrating success with the team in Costa Rica. There’s just nothing like that feeling of winning after working that hard.
I spoke with my Manager after the 2010 sales cycle and she suggested that I take over the Hickory Office. It was a small division sized district in North Carolina that was severely underperforming. My team in the Tri-Cities knew everything I knew at this point and I didn’t want it to become stale after four years of high performance together. I loved those guys and they loved me, but you have to know when to leave. The challenge was irresistible to me and my confidence was at an all time high.
The Hickory Team moved all the way up to the top quartile and we had two of the four 2011 DSA winners from our Division. There have been so many things to celebrate. The main triumph has been that my core group of three each made the most money in 2011 than they’ve ever made in their combined 40 years with the company. All three exceeded their highest income by at least $15,000. Success really does start by helping others reach their goals. I rebuilt the two other teams, and had the right people in place to accomplish our goals.
RH Donnelley / Dex One had been a roller coaster ride that I will never forget. The company allowed me to taste greatness and it has allowed my family the luxury of enjoying the finer things in life. I forever thank the leadership for their commitment to excellence over the years.
Tom Peters has a wonderful book on Leadership and it has a section on the Leadership 50. Number 48 is “Leaders know when to leave.” In February 2012, it was time to leave. I lost some of my passion, and that just doesn’t work when you’re in a sales arena.
I was having a conversation with the guy that installed my AT&T Internet service in March about leaving, and he empathized with my situation. He said to check out this clip. I had never seen it before. I’m sharing it because change and product life cycles are real….Click Here. Interesting opinion from a guy outside of the industry. Perception can become reality in the blink of an eye. Who knows what the future holds, but as I said, it was my time to move on.
So after almost eight award winning years with RH Donnelley / Dex One, I made the difficult decision to leave the company. I left at the very top of my game. I was looking for growth and stability. Cintas was, and is that company. They took me on as a partner in February 2012. Cintas is currently positioning me for success by showing me the value of their industry leading products and services, as well as their corporate strategies that have allowed them to grow into a $5 Billion company. Their values and vision are congruent with mine, and I’m very excited about the short and long term possibilities.
Life is about timing!!