In 8th grade, while my friends were enjoying their summer, I was walking the neighborhood selling lawn mowing services. Immediately after graduating college I joined the army, went into OCS, achieved the rank of Captain, and then chose to return to civilian life. For a kid from a middle-class family, serving my country was a source of pride and a learning experience that shaped who I became later on as a disciplined business owner.
My first job was working for the State of New York; it was boring and lacked purpose or vision. I don’t remember how, but I wound up getting a junior sales position with Dial Soap. Although the title was sales, the position was more about detailing stores than sales. I do not recall liking or disliking the position that much. It was more of detailing stores than selling. I had the drive to take on more than just route sales, and after a year plus I took a true sales position with GAF selling cameras and film. My territory was Upstate New York and I realized, for the first time, that selling was my true calling. I loved being a salesman and was able to do quite well for a young man. My approach to sales was different even back then; it was about creating sales not taking orders.
I was a productive salesman which got the attention of upper management. I was offered the opportunity to become a regional manager for New York State, I would have three district managers and fifteen reps reporting to me. My interviewing process was moving along until I got to the District Vice President for what should have been an official sign-off. When he asked me how old I was I replied, “I am almost twenty-seven” to which he replied, “You’re too young for this position.”
I was offered the District Manager first followed by a National Sales Manager position for a catalog showroom. I was married, owned a new home with a second child on the way when I was called to the corporate office and informed that the division was shut down and they needed my help to transition and terminate over seventy-five employees. It was a sobering and painful experience and another valuable lesson for a father of two who was building his life - do I continue to play corporate musical chairs or take charge of my own destiny?
In January 1978, with the support of my darling wife, I went into business as an independent sales rep selling to national catalog showrooms. From a salaried employee to a commission-only rep, I took the plunge and was all-in and in charge of my own destiny. Even though I was quite good as a salesman, I realized that in order to be successful on my own I had to go above-and-beyond my current skill set and truly differentiate myself. I immersed myself in sales training and education, read every book on the subject and committed to being an expert on anything I sold.
My business grew and I had to expand my team by hiring additional salespeople. Hiring was not a skill I had, but my business growth necessitated that I learn quickly how to recruit and hire additional reps. What saved me was realizing that I was looking for people who shared my discipline, focus and drive to succeed. Realizing that hiring the wrong sales rep had dire consequences on my business, I had to get good at it and fast. I was guided by my own principles and what I saw work (or not) during my corporate career, namely, that not all salespeople are created equal, that honesty and integrity in sales are crucial, and that there is a big difference between inside and outside sales.
My four decades’ journey in sales was successful. It wasn’t an overnight success but a lifelong learning experience. I have learned from my mistakes as a business owner and shared them with numerous clients both from a sales perspective as well as management and leadership lessons. When you manage a sales team, you lead not sell. It is a challenging distinction for those who spent their entire life selling, but I learned that regardless of what you do, for who and with whom you do it, we’re all human beings and the key to success is driven by a sense of humility, the ability to accept our faults and to strive to improve upon them on the basis of integrity and hard work.
I am married to my high school sweetheart and we have two children. My son is in law enforcement and my daughter is a special ed teacher. We love to travel as a family and we support St. Jude Hospital, Wounded Warriors and the American Heart Association.