An Act of Generosity.....Almost Denied

There have been random acts of kindness in my life although one shines brighter than most in that it was so unexpected and enjoyable. An act of generosity with good intentions would usually be welcomed yet this one was almost denied.

It occurred in the mid 1980's after another disappointing, non-conference college basketball loss to an Ivy League team. After the game, one of the parents of the opposing team asked our coach if he could take a few of us out for dinner. You would think such a warm gesture would be easily accepted but our coach firmly resisted. Nobody was surprised as our leader was not a good coach or well liked.

Most in the arena that night knew this parent as he was and still is one of the most successful and admired African-American businessmen. Being so accomplished, I'm sure he was not used to NOT getting his way and when our coach rejected his proposal, he was perplexed. A moment I will never forget is when he asked (after being rejected) to talk to our coach in private with a stern look on his face.

I don't know what this prominent individual said but it was clear that he instantly changed the demeanor and prior stance of our coach and we were soon on our way out the door! Over the years, I have known a few people who have worked with this businessman and one clearly was impressed by his negotiating skills and relentless ambition of closing a sale. Whatever he said to our coach was quick, to the point and strong as he would have NEVER allowed us to go out under normal circumstances unless it was with our own parents.

The night began with a bang as four of us got into this man's beautiful Rolls Royce for a short drive to his friends house. When we arrived, there was a nice spread of fantastic food and his son (the star player) along with other friends were there to greet us. We had a wonderful time getting to know them and relaxing! The memory of the loss earlier that evening was far in the back of our minds.

It is not often when an unexpected evening filled with laughter, new friends and quality conversation happens. I never forgot that moment over 20 years ago and have been inspired by it! Last November, I surprised 6 youth in Stockholm with a free dinner at a local sports restaurant. I brought 3 of my business partners and we had a great evening hearing about their dreams and talking about our lives.

While working at Madison Square Garden in the mid 90's, I ran into the aforementioned businessman at a high school basketball game. He didn't remember me but I excitingly told him about the evening 10 years earlier, thinking he might recall some of the details. He said, "George, I can't even remember what I did yesterday", and we both laughed. Being such a busy man, he has probably forgotten more memorable days than most have ever experienced! I thanked him once again for the evening and told him how special his generosity was and how much I appreciated it. We had a warm conversation.

With extremely successful individuals, one doesn't always hear about or experience their generosity or the way in which they positively impact others. That dinner for us may have a been a "little thing" in his life but it was a BIG THING in my eyes and a cherished memory.

My hope is that those in his fortunate position take the time to give in much the same way he touched our lives.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The courtyard view of an English School - Stockholm, Sweden

A Poem for a Girlfriend

I can't remember the exact year I started to dabble in poetry although I do recall what a chore it was to actually complete that first poem. I must have done 20 drafts before I was satisfied!

When I write a poem, I think of my experiences, poets I admire and inspiration of all kinds. What makes it challenging for me is combining all those elements along with the creative process to form a cohesive poem. I have labored tremendously at times yet always battle through the obstacles as best as I can. I have not written many poems (less than 10) but I am determined to do more in the future. The feeling after completing one is completely soothing.

I shared a personal favorite in 2008 called "Don't Fall for the Flesh". It was inspired by a close friend whose actions almost cost him the cool and interesting woman he is now married to. You can find the article and poem on the following link.

The poem below was written for a girlfriend in 2001 who inspired me from the moment we met. My words came to me less than a year after our first encounter. I was a bit nervous reading it to her as I had never been so bold with the written word for any previous girlfriend. I could sense the sweetness, love and integrity inside her soul almost from the beginning of our relationship. It didn't take long for my feelings to be confirmed and I knew this was someone I could share my life with. Fortunately, she is now my wife and we have been married almost 6 years. She is an exceptional woman.

If you've never written a poem, I encourage you to make an attempt as you may have a John Keats (His "A Thing of Beauty" is my favorite) or Langston Hughes (read "Dinner Guest: Me") lingering inside you. If nothing else, your mind will be challenged and your creativity will be forced to rise up and that is usually a positive thing.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

"A Thrill"

Paths Intertwined
On that lovely June night
Little did I know
That a thrill was in sight.

Flustered by an unknown force,
Dropping things unusually
Something in the air
A thrill,
Not plain to see.

Weekends on the road
Full of good friends and fun
Caressing each others spirit
Like the warmth of New Hampshire sun.

Fabulous times in city
Sometimes walking endlessly...
Breakfast on 25th
Soothing as a summer breeze.

Your soul, Your sweetness
Eloquently touching my heart
Your passion for music
Inspiring thrills from the start.

The Thrill is Gone
Baker's chilling song to some,
My soul sings a different tune
Full of thrills yet to come.

What lies ahead
Will unravel in due time
Since late August
Has been one hell of a ride.

Stay just as you are
You have so much to give
The thrill inside you
Is the spirit you live.

Paris, France - The moment after Gswede proposed to his then girlfriend (now wife)

Are the Republicans "Bringing SEXY Back"?

Maybe you didn't notice the latest move by the Republican Party: a party that has been dragged through the dirt by a combination of the last 8 years in Washington and its own incompetence. Their brand is extremely tarnished.

With a brand in the gutter and no place to go but up, they rose in style by choosing a black man as their National Party Chairman. His name is Michael Steele, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland who lost a 2006 senate race. He's smooth, energetic and shines in the media spotlight. If the Republicans wanted a little spark, they got at least that in Mr. Steele. (Below are a few paragraphs along with the link from the New York Times article)

"It's time for something completely different, and we're going to bring it to them," Mr. Steele said. "We're going to bring this party to every corner, to every boardroom, to every neighborhood, to every community. And we're going to say to friend and foe alike: 'We want you to be a part of us. We want you to be with us, and for those of you who are going to obstruct, get ready to be knocked over.' "

Offering a hint of the tone he would take as his party's spokesman, Mr. Steele said the Republican Party had been unfairly caricatured by Democrats "and the media" as racist and insensitive to the needs of ordinary Americans.

"We have an image problem," he said. "I think how we begin to correct that image problem is defining ourselves to the people of this country."

"We've been misidentified as a party that doesn't care, a party that is insensitive, a party that is unconcerned about minorities," he said, adding, "Nothing can be further from the truth."

In deliberations that stretched over nearly five hours and six ballots, Republicans suggested that they saw selecting an African-American chairman as helpful in redefining the party's image.

In a final ballot fraught with racial and political symbolism, Mr. Steele faced as his only remaining opponent Katon Dawson, the chairman of the South Carolina party, who had been criticized for belonging to a whites-only country club, a membership he resigned before this election began.

Why did the Republican party make this bold move?

Simple answer. President Barack Obama.

An interesting dynamic about the election of our new President is:

A) There were people who DIDN'T vote for Obama because of the color of his skin. Most know this fact but if there was ever a doubt, one only needs to google some of the uneducated, hateful or racist comments about the candidacy of our new President. A black man running the United States was disheartening or frightening to some American citizens.

B) There were also those who DID vote for Obama mainly because of his color. President Obama received "Elvis" like worship from some supporters who embraced him because he was young, good looking and black. If you don't understand this point, talk to some of your well-rounded or worldly friends about the complex image of the black man in America, Europe and around the globe.

To illustrate my point on a surface level, below are a few (of numerous) unsolicited comments told to me or heard in America and Sweden over the years:

-- Being Black is hip (prevalent for decades in Sweden a person recently told me)

-- You're are so lucky to be black

-- As a Black man, you can get any woman you want

-- The Black man is really popular now

It is quite intriguing when a black man can be so despised (A above) and at the same time given high praise (B above).

In my opinion, the Republicans paid close attention to point B, along with the flowery media attention and vast worship that Obama enjoyed (often unconditionally) from millions. They wanted a piece of that Obama SIZZLE in order to battle the Democrats for the next four years. Now they can begin the rehabilitation process of making conservative cool again!

The Republicans are taking a page from Justin Timberlake's playbook and trying to "Bring SEXY Back" to a time like the 1980's when:

a) Ronald Reagan enchanted America
b) Conservative was King
c) Reagan Democrats were abundant

Will Michael Steele make a difference? Yes, particularly in remaking the brand, delivering a coherent message and inspiring potential new voters.

Will the difference by significant? No, not in the near future. It will take years to undo the bad taste and anger that the majority of Americans have about the party and the previous administration. In addition, blacks vote around 90% Democratic and that will be difficult to change.

I give them a lot of credit for moving quickly, having courage and showing a bit of competence; something the party has sorely lacked. This is a good first step.

I am confident that most Americans who voted for Obama, did so for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with his color and everything to do with his message, stance on issues, intellect or character.

Let's not forget that the color of one's skin in America mattered before the election, it matters today and it will matter in the future. Having a black President is helpful for America in many respects but doesn't change that fact. We can only hope that in future years, the color of one's skin is less of a factor than the more important "content of one's character". This election proved that most of us can look beyond color although that occurs less frequently in mainstream America.

Two things are clear:

1) President Obama's historic election shows that America is heading in the right direction in regards to dwindling the damaging effects of racism.

2) The Republican Party took quick notice of the Obama factor and added some color (Mr. Steele) to a party in desperate need of a change.

These are very good things.

Happy Gswede Sunday!
Friends from NYC below

Friends from NYC above

2 Salesmen - Simply the Best

Being in sales most of my career, I often think of two unforgettable salesmen. As Tina Turner would say, they were "Simply the Best, Better than all the Rest".

I was fortunate to work with and learn from both during the 1990's in New York City (NYC). They worked for separate companies yet were similar in that they sold "high end" sports sponsorships (print, TV, radio, arena, signage) to major companies like American Express.

Each consistently performed at the top and brought in millions of dollars each year. I cannot imagine a salesperson better than either of these men. Since they sold in the same industry, I witnessed many similarities of success. Watching them perform on a daily basis made me a better salesman.

Below are common elements they shared that helped them produce tremendous results:

-- Appearance - Both were attractive and that helps immensely in life. First impressions can make or break a potential deal especially in sales. I frequently talked with one about how important it is to have quality suits, shirts, shoes and ties. He often conveyed to me that even if one lacked the advantage of good looks, dressing properly and caring about one's image were essential. A great lesson!

-- No Small Talk or Wasting Time - From the moment they walked into the office, it was ALL business, ALL the time. One would occasionally talk to someone while the other NEVER talked to anyone other than customers or those who could help him with a sale. I admired their discipline and wondered how they were able to act that way day after day. Personally, I like a little down time during the day and most people do but I respected their style.

-- No Paperwork - Both did very little paperwork, leaving most to their assistants. Their day was spent selling. I learned a valuable lesson from this because I shared the same assistant with one and followed his lead. Many of our colleagues were spending 1-2 days per week doing administrative work that was wasteful to the selling process. At first, top management thought our way wasn't ideal although they soon realized our efforts were producing improved results. Needless to say, the department started working in this manner. We often talked about and agreed that a salesperson should sell, not do paperwork. Unfortunately, many organizations haven't figured this out and suffer lower profits because of it.

-- Focus and Discipline - They went after the sale aggressively, particularly if they knew the potential was there for closing the sale. They were focused on business they could obtain not in business that never had a chance to blossom. Their discipline in staying on the proper course of a potential sale was impressive. One was so focused that he was able to work shorter hours than everyone and go to the gym every day yet still perform better than his colleagues. He proved that working smart is sometimes better than working long hours.

-- Relentless and Tenacious - They kept great prospects in their pipeline which meant they were always focusing on new business. In addition, their existing clients were cared for brilliantly with the aim of selling more advertising to them. Dogged in this pursuit would be an understatement.

-- Athletic and Competitive - One played college basketball in the Ivy League and the other hockey at a level below professional. That athleticism and teamwork gave them fierce confidence not to mention the discipline and focus it takes to succeed at high level sports. Both were competitive in that Tiger Woods sort of way. I played basketball with the hockey player during a client outing and even though it wasn't his sport, his work ethic was inspiring.

-- Customer Service - They were exemplary in providing customer service to their existing clients and were steadfast in giving the same passion of service to those customers they were aiming to close. They would do whatever it took to please their customers as long as it was ethical.

-- Charm - Both had this characteristic and I don't think it is something that can be taught. Their charm was invaluable as they often had to sell to women responsible for advertising decisions and meet new people in various settings. Charm goes a LONG way in sales and networking (invaluable in selling). If you have it, use it.

-- Knowledgeable and Great Presentation Skills - They would welcome the task of doing any presentation as long as it meant moving a sale forward or closing a deal. Both had wonderful presentation skills and usually had the audience eating out of their hand. One was a fantastic orator and effective in selling his clients on why it was important to advertise. It was a thrill watching him perform. Their knowledge of the product was never lacking as they knew their business inside and out! In sales, knowing your product thoroughly is a must.

-- Thrill of Going after the Sale - With sales, no day is typical and it usually involves a variety of people which has always been exciting to me. If one doesn't enjoy the thrill of going after business and building relationships with people, sales will be a bumpy road. Both embraced being in sales and their enthusiasm was infectious. They had fun everyday.

-- Listening - Even though it was tough for them to do at times, they listened intently to their prospective customers in order to uncover ALL their needs. If one asks good questions, needs usually come to the surface. Without uncovering needs, it is difficult to sell effectively.

-- Enthusiasm and Passion - High levels of enthusiasm and consistent passion were their trademarks. I never saw them deficient in these areas. Sometimes their passion worked against them as they could be curt with people that presented an unnecessary obstacle to their performance. During a long meeting, one showed obvious displeasure to a superior who was wasting our time with endless talking. This boss asked, "what is your problem"? The swift response was "I want to sell not talk". Another salesman might not have been so bold but he could afford to act in that manner as he was the best salesman in the company.

-- Closing a Sale - The hardest part in sales is the last, closing the sale. Sometimes customers will make you work or not know what they want and it is a good salesman's job to figure out the NEEDS and jump over any roadblocks to close the deal! Not only were both great closers, they were often quick to the close which meant that they had more time to chase new business.

People tend to buy for one of 4 reasons.

A) To keep or save their job
B) To advance their career
C) To save time or money for their organization
D) To make the company more competitive

If a person had a need to advertise, my former colleagues quickly found it and closed it.

-- Results - In NYC, results are usually the most important element for a company and both sizzled in their annual sales figures. They were top performers every year, sometimes outselling their colleagues by $500,000 dollars. Their main concern was producing results and they were paid quite handsomely for their efforts. Every good salesperson should be concerned with results first and foremost.

I am grateful to have met and worked with these men. They have impacted my life significantly in the way I approach sales, utilize time management, deal with customers and go after results.

If you want to be a great salesperson, focusing on many or all of the aforementioned areas will help you to be successful. You may never become as good as these super salesmen but a step below will make you competitive in any industry. In addition, we all sell (some not so good) daily with wives, boyfriend's, parents, jobs, siblings,etc so brushing up on your selling skills can be beneficial in accomplishing your goals and/or dreams.

Remember, the most important element in sales is to CLOSE THE SALE. I have seen many salespeople who were very talented yet never seemed to produce quality results. Why? They couldn't or wouldn't do the hard or sometimes uncomfortable work of closing the sale. If one doesn't close effectively, success will remain elusive.

Legendary American football coach, Vince Lombardi once said the following; a line which has some good insight although it is a bit harsh in my opinion:

"Winning isn't's the only thing"

Let's change those words slightly to make it more sales friendly so that it reads like this:

"Closing the deal isn't everything in sales, it's the only thing".

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The American Club of Sweden's ( Third Thursday networking event - Successful salespeople master the art of "Networking Effectively". There will be an article on this topic in the coming weeks.