Best Advice Ever

Best AdviceThis is one of those posts that has been hanging around unfinished for a while. Might be because it is too good to die, or because it is too bad to publish….

The Best Advice I Ever Got

I was a brand new Life Insurance agent, freshly qualified for my state license, when I went to work for the largest corporation on earth, Mutual Benefit Life. Life Insurance was a tough nut to crack then, it is tough now. When I went to work for MBL I had a 1 year contract with an advance against commissions. Means that they cut me a check every month whether or not I earned that amount in commission. This was well before Yota uttered his epic line “Do or do not. There is no try.” but let me tell you, MBL expected results. Soon.

In exchange for that contract, MBL agreed to give me extensive sales training and assign me to a ‘General Agent’ who had been there, done that, gotten the T shirt and written the book. They also agreed to provide me an office at the most prestigious address in Spokane, Wa. I became what is known as a ‘house agent’. Which meant they paid the rent, they paid for the coffee, and provided the Wall Street Journal. I also had access to a ‘pool secretary’ but since I was so junior, that was not too much:) I learned to do stuff on my own, including the Wang Mini, my first real exposure to computers. I learned how to run the Wang so well that my fellow agents would ask me to do stuff for them on a rush basis. They got to know, like and trust me.

Wild Bill Huestead

Bill was my General Agent. He was from Montana, and had grown up in the rough and tumble just like I had. He knew everything about everything and some stuff that that he didn’t even know. He was a relentless task master on the training, did it all himself. He wasn’t too fond of jackets, so was ordinarily in shirt sleeves, which meant that I could be in shirt sleeves too.

He did stuff by the book. His book. He never varied, never changed. You knew early on what Wild Bill wanted from you, and when. I just loved him, even when he was not so happy with me. One of the requirements in Bills book was that everything had to be written. You could have the brain flash of the century and before you could tell Bill, you had to write it up. No exceptions.

We had a small problem in the office about the distribution of resources. I’m not talking pencils and paperclips but the company leads. In my opinion it was pretty haphazzard, and I never got my share.

So. I wrote a half a page (I had an IBM Selectric RIGHT IN MY OFFICE) detailing the problem and my concerns for staff and personal moral. I screwed up my nerve, called Bill’s secretary to see if I could see him, and walked into the temple of the office. I sat, and slid my sheet of paper across the 4 feet of clear cedar between he and I. He picked it up, read it, UhHm’d a couple of times and turned it over to look at the blank side. Looked at his desk carefully (there was absolutely nothing on it except highly polished wood) and said:
“You must have dropped the other sheet on the way into the office. The one with the solution that you have come up with. A bright guy like you knows that I have plenty of problems, and don’t need you or anyone else to find me more. What I need from you is a solution. Why don’t you go find that other sheet?”

I went back to my teeny office with the steel desk and wrote up a solution to the problem. Took about an hour, and took it to Bill. He looked at it, smiled and said ‘Looks good. We’ll do that.’.

It’s my job to find solutions, not problems.

Postscript

I said in the beginning that I went to work for the largest corporation on earth (IBM was number 2) Mutual Benefit Life. Yet most of you have never heard of it. Why? Because extreme poor management and the junk bond king Jeffery Milken brought MBL down in 2 years. From the largest on earth to a fire sale for their physical assets in 2 years.

It really doesn’t matter how big you get.

I’m just sayin’

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