Larry Wilson: Be the best you can be

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • Updated: April 19, 2013 - 4:16 PM

One day, an entrepreneur took his young sales manager up to a magnificent estate overlooking a beautiful river.

He then took him up on the highest peak on the property, put his arm around him and pointed down and said: “Look at that stunning home and gorgeous swimming pool! How do you like those fabulous tennis courts? Take a look at those beautiful horses in the stable. Now all I want you to do is continue to meet the high standards and goals I’ve set for you and someday, son … someday all this will be mine.”

This is one of my favorite stories, and it came from a close friend, Larry Wilson. I went to Larry when I started my public speaking career to ask for a humorous opening story. He came through with this stellar anecdote.

On several occasions we shared the stage. I was uncomfortable with that because the audience always knew he was the more gifted and polished speaker. One reason was his ability to tell stories. He always told me that content alone won’t make it. You must be a storyteller to drive home your salient points.

Sadly, we lost Larry Wilson on April 6, but I will long remember Larry and his many pearls of wisdom. He was a friend for more than 45 years and a mentor to me.

Larry didn’t set out to build an educational empire that would train more than 1 million people from around the world. He began as a teacher, but realized he had an exceptional talent for sales.

His legacy includes accomplishments such as becoming the then-youngest lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table in the life insurance field at age 29.

His success led to requests to share his selling secrets. He realized he had a real gift, and he wanted to know why. He met with experts from around the world so he could better understand how we can learn to be better in our careers and our personal lives. And that, I believe, is Larry’s greatest gift to all of us.

He started with a sales program called “Sales Sonics” — later called “Counselor Selling” — that promoted a consultative approach to selling, suggesting that successful sales did not require manipulation. That launched his successful company, Wilson Learning, in Minneapolis. His company’s mission statement was “Helping people and organizations become as much as they can be.” With that intent, Wilson Learning grew globally and provided training in eight languages in 20 countries. His client list included hundreds of companies such as IBM, DuPont, Caterpillar and Dow Chemical.

He moved on to his next challenge, creating Pecos River Learning Center in Santa Fe, N.M., which emphasized growth, leadership and change management, a novel concept in the 1980s.

Larry embodied the characteristics that every successful entrepreneur and salesperson must possess: mental toughness, risk taking, generous, creative and innovative. He showed how a “counselor approach” to meeting customer needs produced more effective results. His teaching created a new generation of salespeople who were focused on win-win problem solving.

He taught people that by overcoming fear, individuals can reach their highest levels of performance and fulfillment. Personal growth was the crucial task of a leader. And finally, developing and cultivating trust is fundamental to a successful business. Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do.

He published several books, including “The One-Minute Salesperson,” which he co-authored with Spencer Johnson.

Larry was an indefatigable worker. No one was ever going to outwork Larry Wilson, he once told me. And he wasn’t kidding.

Mackay’s Moral: Don’t avoid risk and be afraid to become as much as you can be.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.

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