Other ministers told funnier jokes or did a better job of illustrating Bible passages and organizing sermons than Bill Graham did, but no one was more effective than Graham in getting people to step forward in front of the congregation and make a commitment.

Translated from evangelism, that is what I call closing the sale. It’s no wonder, since he started his career as a Fuller Brush salesman.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), which was headquartered in Minneapolis, was instrumental in helping me get started in the envelope manufacturing business in the 1960s. No one I’ve ever done business with has cared about me the way the Billy Graham organization did. And I’m Jewish. It was one of the largest envelope users in the country and one of my biggest customers until it moved its headquarters to North Carolina 40 years later.

The BGEA earned loyalty that no amount of money could buy. Its members recognized a bedrock business principle: If you expect the other person to care about you, show that you care about them. It’s the Golden Rule of business. Because of this relationship, the BGEA got the best quality, the best delivery and the best prices. It paid promptly, many times before I even shipped the product — absolutely unheard of in the envelope business. I was proud to call Billy Graham a friend.

Graham’s personal qualities set him far apart from other evangelists. He was a man of utmost integrity and concern for people. He was always quick to point out that he was just one member of a team.

How true! Billy was the quintessential Mr. Outside. He embodied the image of the organization, both to the outside world and to the people who work at BGEA. The late George Wilson was Mr. Inside at the organization. George passed away in 1999, and I was privileged to be asked to eulogize George, along with Billy. While Billy provided the inspiration for the BGEA, George kept the place humming. As Mr. Inside, George was low-profile, low-key and tireless, with an eye for talent and detail.

Most organizations need both these talents — the salesperson who brings in the business and the manager who knows what to do with it. Surprisingly, many businesses don’t understand this — and they also fail to realize those two talents seldom are found in the same person.

For decades, Billy Graham was on a list of the 10 most respected Americans. He maintained his status and high visibility by sticking to the qualities that got him there — sincerity and moral integrity. While others in his profession succumbed to the “holy wars,” Graham kept getting stronger because he was a class act.

One of the stories that I think illustrates the real Billy Graham involved an incident that occurred while he was at a dinner with staff. When the server recognized Billy, she dropped her tray, scattering dishes all over the place. Graham immediately leaped up and helped her clean up the mess.

This was a perfect example of the humanity for which he was so famous. How many of us would reach out to another person and help her through such an embarrassing moment? Billy Graham’s act defined good manners and consideration for the feelings of others.

Networking is one of my passions, and there were few better at networking than Billy Graham. Networking is not necessarily a numbers game. The idea is not to see how many people you can meet; the idea is to compile a list of people you can count on.

When you encountered Billy, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. He made eye contact and kept it. He smiled. He listened. He asked questions that showed he was interested in what you had to say.

Whether or not you agreed with his message, there was no question that Billy Graham was an icon for all that is good and right in this world.

Mackay’s Moral: Billy Graham was a master communicator, but more than that, a master of humanity.


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