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

larry wilson
Larry Wilson
(Photo Credit: Star Tribune)

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 of mine by the name of 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 of the main reasons was his ability to tell stories.  He always told me that content alone won’t make it.  You must be a story-teller 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 personal friend for over 45 years and a mentor to me.  We both graduated from the University of Minnesota, although some years apart, and started our careers in sales, then built businesses and got into the speaking business.

Larry didn’t set out to build an educational empire that would eventually train more than one million people from around the world.  His daughter Susie said he was just trying, like so many other young men, to support his wife and eight children.  He began as a teacher, but then 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.  A mutual friend told me that Larry once got on an airplane from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, and by the time the plane landed, Larry had sold a life insurance policy to the person sitting next to him.

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” – a program that promoted a consultative approach to selling, suggesting that successful sales did not require manipulation.  That launched his ultra-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, Hewlett-Packard, DuPont, Caterpillar and Dow Chemical.

After he sold Wilson Learning 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.  True entrepreneurs like Larry are always thinking of new ideas. He was a true entrepreneurial visionary.

Larry embodied the characteristics that every successful entrepreneur and salesperson must possess:  mental toughness, risk taker, generous, creative and innovative.  He believed in developing listening skills and practicing visualization long before those were accepted principles.  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.

For those who did not have the opportunity to attend one of Larry’s seminars, he published several books, including “Play to Win! Choosing Growth Over Fear in Work and Life” and “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.

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}