Bill McDermott is now the co-CEO of SAP, the software company. His career arc is fascinating one, and a lesson for financial advisors. From a young age, he was precocious…knowing exactly what he wanted. How he entered the professional work-life is a shining example as to how direct communication can be very, very effective.
Bill came from a working-class family. He put himself through Dowling College by owning a delicatessen, which he had bought from the owners when he was 16. He took all of his college classes on Tuesday and Thursday, working the deli in his other waking hours.
At the age of 21 he realized that he wanted more professional training and polish, and sold the deli. He set his sights on Xerox, which at the time was known as the fertile training ground for up-and-coming go-getters.
On the day of the interview, Bill’s father drove him to the Long Island Railroad. As Bill got out of the car he told his dad, “I guarantee you I’m coming home tonight with my employee badge from Xerox in my pocket.” His dad responded, “Bill, don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. Just do your best.”
At Xerox’s hiring center in New York, Bill made it through the gauntlet of interviews to meet the district manager. At the conclusion of a most successful interview, the manager said to Bill, “I really enjoyed our conversation, and the H.R. department will be in touch with you in a few weeks.”
“I don’t think you completely understand the situation, sir. I’ve never broken promise to my dad in 21 years, and I can’t start today. I guaranteed him I’d have my employee badge in my pocket before I got home to Amityville tonight.”
The manager looked at Bill for, what seemed like, an eternity. He said, “Bill McDermott, as long as you haven’t committed any crimes, you’re hired.”
Why was this a genius way to ask for the order?
- Succinct. Three short sentences. Right to the point.
- Respectful. Bill’s response to the manager was very authentic, yet very respectful, including referring to the manager as “sir”…a brilliant way for a 21 year-old young man to command respect from a position of authority.
- Genuine. Every word of Bill’s appeal rang true. No sales ploy. No playing games. Absolute sincerity that resonated loud and clear.
In this day and age, selling and the sales profession do not have the stature and status in our society that it once did. However, Bill McDermott’s story shows us that there are ways to sell ourselves and what we want that are direct and completely honest, and don’t really seem like selling.
[Note: This story is adapted from an article in Adam Bryant’s twice-weekly series in the NY Times, Corner Office, a truly engaging series on leadership and management.]
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