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Only Results Count
My own path to success began on my flight to America in October, 1982. In those eleven hours between London and Los Angeles, I discovered the importance of flexible strategizing. When the inevitable roadblock stops forward progress, take a moment, think, and find a clever way around it. Banging against a roadblock again and again simply leads to frustration and inertia.
When I first decided to leave England for America, I thought success would be obtained by using my military skills. My intention was to stop in Los Angeles, then fly down to Central America where I had heard a former SAS (Special Air Service—Britain's equivalent of the Green Berets) operative could offer someone like me a good living as a "military adviser." Central America was a hotbed of intrigue and power ploys at the time. I wasn't told the name of the country where I would be working, but the rumor mill of my elite military unit spoke of salaries in excess of $1000 per week. I would be training Latin military forces. The pay was a fortune compared with what I received as section commander in the British Army Parachute Regiment. I believed that working as a military adviser would help me set some money aside, smooth my transition into civilian life, then move on to some other occupation, which would lead me—hopefully—to success. I was 22 and naïve to the ways of the world (I didn't even know that Hollywood was in the same state as Los Angeles, let alone right next door). As strategies for success went, starting as a military adviser seemed to make sense.
An unlikely roadblock presented itself in the form of my mother. She was a factory worker, laboring in the battery compound next to the Ford Motors plant where my father worked. She always dressed immaculately, never letting her station in life interfere with how she presented herself. Not wanting her to be scared about what I would be doing, I had told her of a "security job" waiting for me in Los Angeles. She accepted the explanation without question. But when we were saying goodbye at Heathrow, she admitted to misgivings. "I've got a bad feeling about that security job in Los Angeles," she told me. "Maybe you should think it over before accepting it."
My mother's intuition had influenced her for as long as I could remember. The interesting thing is that she never voiced such a concern during any of my previous years in the Parachute Regiment—a stint that included dangerous duty in Northern Ireland and combat in the Falkland Islands War. She always "knew" I'd be okay.
The scene at Heathrow mirrored my mother's discomforting words. That airport is the crossroads of the aviation world, and people from all nationalities surged around us, running to planes, saying farewell to loved ones, or just looking jet-lagged after a transoceanic journey. My father was taking the train in from London to meet us at the departure gate, but had been delayed. So not only might I miss the chance to say farewell to my father, but I might have to leave my beloved mother tearful and alone in the harried terminal when I caught my plane. The mental picture of her standing alone, hoping to find my father in that enormous jumble of terminals, tore me apart. But her own comfort was the least of her worries. She was more concerned about me. Wiping away her tears, my mother looked me directly in the eyes and asked me to reconsider my future.
I was an only child, showered with unconditional love. While I was in the Army, my working-class mother had cashed in her retirement fund to surprise me with a new MG Roadster! My mother had also never unfairly criticized my aspirations. In fact, she had encouraged me by telling me that although we were poor and she couldn't afford to give me an expensive education, I could achieve anything I wanted. She used to tell me the story of the owner of the Woolworth's chain of stores who had started by selling from a shopping cart in London's East End (I never checked to see if the story was true, but it made me believe anything was possible). Basically, she had supported every crazy thing I had ever done my whole life, so I knew that what she was telling me came from a genuinely fearful intuition instead of a desire to see me remain in England or compromise my dreams. I had inherited her deep trust in intuition (or "going with my gut," as I like to say), and secretly also felt concern about going to Central America. But I was so eager to come to the United States and chase the American Dream I'd idealized since childhood that I ignored my nagging inner voice. That voice has never once failed me—as long as I heeded it. We've all got that little voice inside of us. It's sometimes scary to follow this voice, but I believe you get in more trouble by not listening to it.
I told my mother I would reconsider the security job. She knew I would. I would never, ever lie to my mother.
On the entire flight to America I pondered my future. I pondered not just the sanity of taking a job in Central America, but the outcome of my life. What outcome did I want? To be a big success. What was my more immediate goal? To find a job and a place to live. By the time I landed and cleared customs, I'd made up my mind: My military days were over. I would stay in Los Angeles and make a new life. My fear of failure would prove the catalyst. I couldn't imagine returning home to East London as anything less than a total success.
In many ways, changing strategies was more of a risk than continuing on to Central America. At least there my military skills would be somewhat marketable. Short of becoming a felon, my knowledge of weapons, explosives, and tactics had no place in the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.
But I was always comfortable with risk—probably more so than with the easy life. My astrological sign is Cancer, the crab, which is often synonymous with tenacity and never letting go. Mere tenacity can overcome enormous odds. When combined with a healthy fear of failure, goals can be achieved instead of dropped by the wayside. Dreams are realized. Failure is never fatal, merely a setback. Tenacity empowers me to do anything (within moral and ethical limits) to succeed. I knew that tenacity, combined with my desire to succeed, would eventually get me where I wanted in America.
As luck would have it, my friend Nick had arranged to pick me up at the airport. He knew nothing of my Central American connection, just that I needed a place to stay for a few days. Therefore, he needed no explanation for my changing plans. He, too, had come from England, and had gotten a job as a chauffeur. He liked the work, and got to drive around in a Lamborghini. Nick even took advantage of his boss's business travels to act like he owned his boss' car and house.
As we drove from the airport to Nick's apartment, I was amazed at my first glimpse of America, with its giant billboards, huge cars, and 12-lane freeways. Everything was bigger than back home. I even saw my first drive-thru fast food restaurant on that drive. I never knew such a thing existed.
Nick was delighted to hear I wanted to remain in L.A. and told me of a similar live-in job he had heard of through his boss, though as a nanny instead of a chauffeur. The position was in Beverly Hills and the interview was that night.
Despite the humor in going from commando to nanny, I leapt at the opportunity. Driving someone's kids to school and vacuuming the living room carpet wasn't fame and fortune, and it certainly wasn't extreme success, but it was a place to live, a car to drive, food in my stomach, and a few dollars to get by on. But more than all that, it was a start. I've since noticed that people striving for extreme success don't consider any task beneath them; they just do whatever it takes.
I went into the interview determined to get that job. My mind wrapped around the task, creating the persona of a successful nanny. Though never having been a nanny or even a baby-sitter, I envisioned the sorts of things a nanny was required to do. When the time came for the interview, the wealthy couple interviewed me together at their enormous Beverly Hills residence. I was very nervous, but need creates performance, and I rose to the task brilliantly. I had an answer for every question. When they admitted that a male nanny was somewhat unusual and made them uncomfortable, I countered that having a former British Paratrooper in the house was guaranteed security—like hiring a nanny and bodyguard at the same time. When they asked if I knew how to iron a proper crease into a dress shirt, I replied that I could iron more precisely than any dry cleaner—British Army training, of course. When they asked if I could clean the house, I explained the concept of military white glove inspections. Finally, as to the subject of references, I sealed the deal by giving them my Army discharge papers showing Exemplary Service, and my parents' phone number to check my upbringing. The next day they called and gave me the job. Talk about your strategy changes—from Central America military adviser to Beverly Hills baby-sitter in a single day. My short-term goals had been a place to sleep and a job. In less than a day, I had a place to sleep, a job, a car, and even a credit card (a gas card for the family's car—again, it was new to me).
Let the record show that the first job I ever performed in America was unloading a dishwasher. It was the first such contraption I'd ever seen.
Perception Means More than Reality
In retrospect, starting as a nanny was the best thing that ever happened to me. I worked for that first household watching over three-year-old Jeffrey for a year, then came time for a change and I went to work for Burt's family as a nanny in Malibu. In Burt I met a savvy businessman willing to mentor his 23-year-old babysitter about how to achieve success. It was Burt, a year or so later, who arranged for me to get my first "proper" job in America. From being a nanny I went to working in Burt's insurance office. The work was steady and challenging, but I realized it would never make me rich.
My first day at work I was asked to place a call to Kentucky, in the 512 area code. After ten tries, I hadn't been able to get through. I asked a co-worker for help. She looked at me like I was a moron after she got through on the first try. As I watched her dial, I realized why: She was dialing a "1" before "512." Needless to say, I'd never made an interstate call before.
I was in awe of Burt, and curious about how he'd come so far in life. So one day I returned to his house and asked him very frankly, "How can I have what you have?"
Burt started by telling me I was lucky to be an immigrant. I was starting at the bottom. I had no place to go but up. Second, not having a safety net like parents or family would give me a better chance to be wealthy because I would never be expecting someone to bail me out. Third, being new to the country gave me a powerful naiveté that freed me from limited thinking and opened my mind to unconventional ways of doing business. "But to really get anywhere," Burt told me in all seriousness, "you've got to work for yourself, start small, and build."
I don't think he thought I'd take that to heart in the manner that I did. Two years later, Kymberly, my girl friend at the time, and I decided to rent a fence—not the whole fence, actually, just a ten-foot section—at Venice Beach in order to sell T-shirts on the weekends (while working my insurance job during the week). Our goal was to buy T-shirts with minor imperfections from a clothing factory for $2 per shirt, then sell them to the beach crowd for $18. Our display rack was the fence. The guy I rented it from was a brash, direct New Yorker named Howard Gabe. I was nervous that the whopping $1,500 a month I was paying him was too much. I didn't have much money, and blowing it on a fence not only seemed risky, it seemed rather dumb. What had inspired me to rent a fence and sell T-shirts in the first place had been a morning when I walked Venice with Kymberly. I was amazed at the volume of sales by open-air vendors. It was almost manic, the way money changed hands. In that flurry of green, I decided to become an entrepreneur.
But when it came to fork out the cash to rent the fence, I felt foolish. I'd scrimped and saved, watching my money carefully. Giving it away to rent a fence made me feel like I was being taken. I'd already experienced the danger of being gullible in America a year earlier when I gave a man in downtown Los Angeles $50 for a box containing a $500 TV. When I unpacked the box, it was full of telephone books.
I told Howard that I thought he was ripping me off. "Let me see your product," he demanded.
I showed him a few shirts. He appraised them, rubbing the fabric between thumb and forefinger, studying the silk screen designs. "This is good stuff," he said curtly. "Good stuff always sells. How much you charging?"
"What're you buying it for?"
"You're making sixteen dollars a shirt. You'll do fine. Believe me, you'll be glad you rented this fence."
I was reassured, but only a little. I had heard about New Yorkers. I still saw myself as the immigrant boy trying to make good. That self-perception was limiting me, blinding me to other talents I might possess. Salesmanship, for instance. Subconsciously, I must have known I would make a good salesman or I would never have shelled out the initial month's payment on the fence. But I'd never worked as a salesman, never attended any kind of sales seminar, never read a book on sales techniques. My whole sales technique for those T-shirts was to stand back and hope passers-by liked what they saw. Not much of a technique, really. Why wasn't I taking a more aggressive approach? Because I was scared of rejection and didn't perceive myself as a salesman. It's hard to believe now, because selling is the linchpin holding my business together, but back then I had absolutely no clue I could sell at all.
When the first Saturday of our fence lease came, I went to the beach early with Kymberly and set up a display, hanging shirts on the fence. Venice is a trendy, seedy, funky corner of the universe where street people and movie stars rub shoulders. Inline skaters weave through the crowd, risking life and limb. Music from street performers and boom boxes punctuates the carnival-like atmosphere. On a warm Saturday morning, when Los Angeles heads to the beach, Venice is where they go.
So I knew I wouldn't lack for traffic. Still, my financial investment and perceived lack of salesmanship skills made me nervous. I stood against the fence with Kymberly as the first wave of Saturday morning beach-goers wandered past, My T-shirts told the world I was a salesman, but I stood there with my mouth shut, speaking only when spoken to and nodding politely at all who looked my way.
Kymberly, on the other hand, was California-born and -bred, from a well-to-do business family. She had all the flair and confidence in the world. It was still early, and mostly only joggers and roller skaters were out. After a while, realizing that the shopping crowd came later, she walked off to get coffee for both of us.
As fate would have it, almost as soon as Kymberly left, a young woman roller-skated over to look at the display. I wished Kym were there to deal with her, but standing alone, I mustered up my courage and said hello. She returned the greeting and stared with interest at one of the shirts. "How much?" she asked.
"Uh ... er ..." I was embarrassed to tell her the price, fearing she would laugh in my face. "Eighteen dollars."
"Okay," she said quickly, pulling a $20 bill from her purse. I gave her the shirt and her change in a state of shock. As she skated away, another person came over. Same thing. Kym returned with coffee, shocked to see me holding $36. I was overjoyed, and she laughed at my exuberance. She had always known it would work out.
Without my even knowing it, I became a salesman over the course of the next month, as we sold shirt after shirt. My fears vanquished by success, I learned to chat with everyone who passed by, calling out for people to step over and take a look at the shirts. When people asked the price, I no longer worried it would be too steep. As I relaxed over the next few months and discovered my natural talent for salesmanship, I discovered that even the best salesmen need to use strategies with their clients in order to increase the chances of success. Dealing with people at the street level was the best sales course I could have ever taken. I learned the art of selling on Venice Beach. The same strategies that applied to selling T-shirts apply to selling TV shows. I still use them today.
The first strategy I learned was how to turn a no into a yes. No never means no. It needs to be looked at as merely an objection to overcome. Next I learned the importance of reading people. Customers buy from people they're most comfortable with, people they consider to be their friends. I found that by adjusting my personality to mirror theirs, I could win their confidence and broker a sale. Different personalities respond to different sales techniques, and I broke them into four groups: analytical, emotional, passive, and motivated. Analytical people are engineers, doctors, rocket scientists. These individuals are able to be convinced, and sold, by facts—not hyperbole. When selling something to an analytical person, I provide rational, practical, research-laden reasons for them to buy a product. My delivery is no-nonsense, to the point, and devoid of emotion.
Emotional people, on the other hand, respond to a delivery that drives to the very core of their being. They want feeling. They want passion. Facts make their eyes glaze over. When selling to an emotional person, I would play to that part of the ego driving his or her personality. I might tell a woman how a T-shirt flattered her figure. Or I might tell a man how all the coolest people were wearing this style. In theater, this would be called playing to the audience. In sales, it's giving the customers emotionally what they want. It's just common sense.
The passive customer likes to be dominated, though he would never admit as much. Passive people want to be taken by the hand and told how to behave, told what they like and dislike. They don't like to be bullied, because that preys on the side of their personality that already imagines them a victim. But they do like to be led. Typically, if you lead them to water and remind them they're thirsty, they'll drink. But if you over-aggressively force them to buy they will rebel against you. Passive customers have to be dealt with in a sensitive manner.
The motivated-aggressive customer, on the other hand, is a leader. He or she wants the salesman to be passive. With that sort of situation I put my ego in my pocket and let the customer be the boss. Did it feel insulting to have someone treat me like their servant? Yes, but I was looking to make a sale, not find intellectual validation. If the motivated-aggressive customer wanted to think he had all the answers, then that was fine with me. These customers want to prove they are right. They're especially easy to sell when they're with a group because they want to show how very smart they are, and what a great financial deal they're getting—even when they can't afford the product. When it comes to making a sale, perception means more than reality.
I made so much money selling T-shirts that I wanted to quit my insurance job. I was making more in a weekend on Venice Beach than in a month at the office. Since Burr had gotten me the insurance job, I owed him the courtesy of asking his permission to leave. However, I was sheepish.
"I hope I haven't let you down by wanting to leave," I told him.
Far from it. Burt was ecstatic. I was making money selling shirts and I was my own boss. "I'm very happy for you. You're on the right track, Mark," Burt told me. "Let me know if I can help you in any way. Let's brainstorm some retail ideas." This reaction reminded me that Burt's way of being positive and seriously happy for the success of others was how I wanted to be. He's been my mentor ever since.
He was right about me being on the right track. I leveraged the money from T-shirt sales into a real estate deal where I made $75,000 in 30 days, then used that money to start my own credit card marketing business. I had become successful. My gut, however, told me there was something missing in my life, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I had a home, a nice car, a huge office, and a sizeable bank account. I'd been able to fly home to the East End of London to visit often, the very picture of success. I tried to ignore my nagging inner voice about something missing from the picture, but it wouldn't go away. What, then, was missing?
After attending a dinner party one night I got my answer. I noticed that when I told people I was in the credit card marketing business, they got a bored look in their eyes. This was discouraging, but I felt content in the knowledge that I made plenty of money.
Meanwhile, I overheard a man answering the same question. His job, he told people casually, was movie producer. He had an office over at Columbia Pictures. Now, it's important to note that this guy was no one famous or especially powerful. He hadn't ever produced a movie, and I doubt he had much money to his name. In fact, he got the office and a small stipend for "developing ideas."
But the people at that party couldn't get enough of him and his wonderful job. Men, women, they fell all over this guy. I was unbelievably jealous. The perception that his job was better than mine—despite the reality that I actually produced results and certainly made more money—gave him greater status. I imagined it gave him a greater sense of self-worth, too.
What was it that caused this? It was Hollywood—exciting, glamorous, and the most creative place on earth.
And that's what I was missing: creativity. On the surface, I was jealous of that producer because he was getting more attention. But really, that envy was me thinking I should be doing something in entertainment. He may not actually have been producing, but day in and day out that producer was trying to be creative. He was having an adventure.
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest, once wrote of a similar epiphany after seeing two men who'd just returned from summiting Mount Cook in New Zealand: "I retreated to a corner of the lounge filled with a sense of the futility of the dull, mundane nature of my existence. Those chaps, now, were really getting a bit of excitement out of life. I decided then and there to take up mountaineering. Tomorrow I'd climb something!"
Or, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry exhorted others to heed the call of adventure before it was too late: "Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning."
The clay of my being had not hardened. Somewhere deep inside me still beat the heart of an adventurer and I needed to bring it forth before it was too late. Shortly after the dinner party that changed my life, I began looking for ways to leave the credit card business for something a little more stimulating.
Know the Results of Each Day Before It Begins
The screen saver on my laptop reads "Know What Today's Results Will Be." I believe a person can predict results through behavior and should plan their days accordingly. Before going on vacation, for instance, all of our goals are to have a good time. So naturally, we all plan every day of a vacation around doing fun things. At the end of a day we can collapse into bed fulfilled by all the great activities we've done.
Excerpted from DARE TO SUCCEED by Mark Burnett. Copyright © 2001 by Mark Burnett. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted November 5, 2001
Mark Burnett's book proves his ability to think outside the box while working within it. His enthusiasm is contagious, and this book gives the entertaining details of Burnett's rise to Survivor fame. His stories serve as lessons to his more general philosophy of success. It also gives insight into the television producer as a marriage between a creative mind and a business savvy executive. Burnett achieved his success through goal setting and risk taking, but make to mistake - he had a load of fun along the way.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.