Smith: Selling the idea of opportunity

My first real job out of college was at a wholesale hardware company.

I started out as the sales manager, though at 25 I knew nothing about sales or managing. The scuttlebutt around the office was that the owner hired me because he thought I was a good match for his daughter of the same age.

When I finally met her, it took me about 10 seconds to realize that I had better learn sales and managing fast because there were no sparks flying at all.

I started out hating that job. I was smart and well-educated and had more in mind for myself than a career in sales. But once I began my on-the-job education, my mind changed. I realized that those people we love to hate — the salespeople who try to sell us things we don't need — are responsible for fueling much of America's economic engine. When they sell something, the order goes to the office, where someone cranks out a work order for the warehouse or factory, which is fulfilled by one more people. Then it may be put on a truck to be shipped to a store, where someone stocks it on the shelf. There, it may be sold by another salesperson — a sales "associate" — who advises his customer on the product. All of the people involved get paychecks that are indirectly related to the success of the salesperson who got the initial order.

As Arthur "Red" Motley once said, "Nothing happens until somebody sells something." That doesn't excuse the pushy salespeople who often come to mind, but it may help understand their importance. Motley said that in 1930 and it is true today.

Though I started out hating that job, I knew that it had benefits, the best of which was the brain of the owner, Len Pritikin. Pritikin was the best businessman I've ever known and the time I worked with him provided me with more business education than in all of the years since.

Today, I juggle two careers. I write, and I also act as a business development consultant for health-care providers, mainly doctors and dentists. My work may seem like a long way from the hardware business, but I am still using Len's teachings to this day.

With the physicians and dentists, I do a lot of customer service training and telephone skills training. Most of the time, I am dealing with people who would rather be somewhere else. Thanks in part to Len, I approach these coaching sessions by helping the staff understand that the job they have at that office is probably not going to be the last job they'll ever have. For that reason, they need to think of their job as school and learn as much as they can as fast as they can. And they also need to get along with everyone so that when their next prospective employer calls for a reference, he is told that the person in question is eligible for rehire.

Yes, I started out hating that first job, but I stayed there five years. That job was also instrumental in meeting my now late wife, Cay, and my fiancée, Laura, whom I met many years ago when she was Cay's co-worker.

All of these job thoughts came to mind as I read some statistics on the job market for graduating college students. It occurred to me that this may be a good time to let local high school and college seniors know that regardless of where they wind up working, there is opportunity.

I have no shortage of advice for this year's graduates. But if I had to boil it down to just one piece, I'd quote author Ray Bradbury, who said, "Love what you do and do what you love. Don't listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life."

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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