Napoleon Hill was a true and old-fashioned Southern gentleman. John Solleder’s guests today is Ben Gay III, a mentee of Napoleon Hill himself and the author of The Closers, the book considered the Bible for salespeople. Joining John as a co-host is Ron Henley who is recognized as the world’s foremost expert on network marketing history and is the Founder of the NMHS. Ben shares great stories about being up-close with legendary American figures like Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale, and Zig Ziglar. Sit back, relax, and let this episode entertain your worries away!
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The Last Protégé Of Napoleon Hill With Ben Gay III
It is beyond an honor to interview one of my idols in the direct selling industry, in the sales world, somebody who’s been incredibly successful, inspirational and such a great leader for so long. That’s Mr. Ben Gay III. Ben, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, John. I appreciate it. Hello, Ron.Check a man's fingernails to see if he bites them and the heels of his shoes for income level and pride. Click To Tweet
Mr. Ron Henley from The Network Marketing Historical Society, the curator and our good friend who is the world’s leading authority on The Network Marketing History of this great industry that we’ve been all part of for so long. Some of our readers are in other areas of sales. Many people reading knows our industry. How do you start with somebody who’s had the career you’ve had? I’ll start with where I can start to summarize an amazing life, to say the least. Thank you once again for doing this.
Let’s start at the top. Every organization you’ve been in, you’ve been the number one guy. That alone speaks volumes especially for as long as you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing. At 27, Ben was the President of Holiday Magic, which at that time was the largest direct-selling company in the world. He’s the author of the series of books, The Closers. I first heard you when I was working with a mutual friend of ours, Dale Maloney. Unfortunately, he passed away. Dale used to mention all the time that you were the greatest salesperson he ever knew. Dale wasn’t too bad either.
We were doing his secret selling seminars. He was something else, especially with the RV. He did well in multi-level but he’s a heck of an RV salesman as we all know. I used some of his things. I sold cars for a short time in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and I used some of Dale’s techniques. They worked. It was incredible. To this day, I can’t tell you the difference between a V8 and a V6. I sold a lot of cars because of Dale’s work. It goes back to something fundamental that people like yourself have done, which is to lay out a specific plan of what to do, how to do it and get the job done.
You’ve worked with many of my heroes, many of Ron’s heroes, many of our readers’ heroes to say the least. Here’s a shortlist and I’ll ask you a little bit about each of them. J. Douglas Edwards was considered the grandfather of the modern sales world. Dr. Napoleon Hill was one of your mentors for two years, which is incredible. Earl Nightingale, the greatest voice I’ve ever heard on the radio. William Penn Patrick, Zig Ziglar and many others. Let’s start there and talk a little bit briefly about all of those gentlemen. Let’s start with J. Douglas Edwards.
In my long-running friendship with Ron, my theory is we’ll tell the truth about things and go behind the magic table. A lot of people standing in front of the magic table don’t know what’s going on. First of all, this is a book I wrote for J. Douglas Edwards after he died, Sales Closing Power. He never wrote a book. It’s true to my notes sitting in his seminars and to his recordings so I wrote it. I was the stenographer after the fact. J. Douglas Edwards, on a personal level, is a complete jackass. On stage, he was magnificent. He would look a little old-fashioned because he talked like a Broadway actor instead of the way we talk now, which is more conversational.
There is a lesson I learned. Dr. Napoleon Hill was sitting in my office one day in his Dr. Hill chair that nobody else would sit in. Doug Edwards was in the office that day, that week or something. He walked by and I waved at him. He went on and was out of earshot. I said to Dr. Hill, “I can’t stand him. He is such a jackass.” Dr. Hill said, “Is he good on stage?” I said, “He’s great.” He said, “Does he do what you ask him to do?” I said, “Absolutely, to teach people sales training and so on.” He says, “Keep hiring him on stage and don’t invite him up to the house.” That’s pretty much what I did.
Part of my personal discomfort with Doug came from him being up at the house. You get to know somebody. He was hard to get off-stage. I said, “Doug, how are you feeling?” He said, “I’m often asked that by the 40,000 salespeople I have personally trained one-on-one.” I was like, “I asked if you had a cold or something like that.” I know you want to zip through the list. If you want to double back, I’ve got other Doug Edward stories. He was an interesting character.
Give us one other one. Let’s talk a little bit more about him.
We were sitting I don’t remember where but we had done a seminar. I used to hire him to be in seminars. I forget what we were but the seminar was over. There were 8 or 10 of us in the dining room sitting around the table. I was the youngest. I was the President of Holiday Magic at 25. They’re the number one distributor about 23-ish. Zig, for instance, was eighteen years older than I was. Although I hadn’t met Dr. Hill yet, the day I met him, I was 25 and he was 84. He was old enough biologically to be my great grandfather. That was typical. There was me and the next youngest person generally was about twelve years older and then it went up from there.
Although I had been quite successful at that point, not as long as they had been, my views were probably a little suspect. I was the one who signed the check and hired them. I understand that. Here’s this young kid. I said something about selling and Doug said, “When you’ve been in selling as long as I’ve been in selling.” I was thinking, “You’re working for me and calling to ask where the check is every few minutes.” Remember the deodorant commercial, “Never let them see you sweat.” I could see Doug sweating.
My father always said, “Check a man’s fingernails to see if he bites them. Check the heels of his shoes for income level and pride. See if they’re worn down.” Doug bit his fingernails to the quick to where they bled. That was among the first things I noticed because my dad taught me to look for that. I then backed up and looked at the heels of the shoes and I could see why he was concerned about where the check was. From one end of the table to the other, we go back and forth about my view of whatever the subject matter was. It wasn’t important. Finally, I said, “Doug, here’s what we can do.”
Hal Krause with American Salesmasters was sitting at the table. I said, “ Hal, you know everybody in the sales world. Who in this town do you know that has a product?” He named somebody, it was vacuum cleaners or something. I said, “Doug, here’s the deal. You and I will each go get a vacuum cleaner from his friend. We’ll each get a lead. The first man back here to the table with money, check or whatever wins the debate. Do you want to do it?” He started shaking and the blood drained out of his face. Some other good friend at the table jumped in, eased the moment and said, “We’re not going to do that.” You can see Doug’s shoulders. He was off the hook. We might have both come back with a check or both come back with nothing. He could have won or I could have won. It was a coin toss. It was stupid on my part. What was interesting was the reaction. This person who had been selling and knew every mover and shaker in the sales world and they all checked with him before they got out of the bed in the morning was afraid to be put on the spot and go sell something.
I was young enough and had failed enough already to not be afraid of hearing, “No.” I used to hear no regularly. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t have a reputation to defend. It was less on the line for me,plus youth and arrogance. I shouldn’t have done it. It doesn’t take away from me studying his reaction. He wasn’t doing as well as he says he was. He couldn’t come up with specifics on his great sales career. When challenged, he broke. I thought was going to faint. Part of it was rage. Part of it was fear. There’s probably more than you would ever know about J. Douglas Edwards. On stage, he was fantastic.
In the front of this book, I wrote the story. The first sales contest that I ever won was a Holiday Magic sales contest. What I won was a trip to Miami to see Doug Edwards’ presentation, sit on the front row and have a private dinner with him. I told the story in the book. When we walked into the dining room, the room quieted down because everybody in the dining room was there because of the meeting. It was American Salesmasters. Somebody said, “There’s J. Douglas Edwards.” I could hear the stage whispered. Almost everyone in the room started clapping. I thought, “That’s something.”
We sat down. The waiter came over and said, “How may I help you?” He gave us the menus and Doug handed the menus back and gave him a $100 bill, which now would be roughly $1,000. He gave him a $100 bill and said, “All we’re going to need is water.” This young man tells me he wants to learn how to be a salesman and I’m going to teach him. We talked over the table until the vacuum cleaner was running. Those days, I used to hear the vacuum cleaner frequently in the bar. It’s my go-home signal. The janitor wants us out of here. Jimmy Rucker, the greatest salesman I ever worked with, was my buddy in high school. I didn’t know he was a great salesman. I talk to him or email him almost every day. Much to my chagrin because we were the same age but I was the senior partner, he says that everything he ever needed to know about selling he learned in short order from J. Douglas Edwards. He’s a great guy, great on stage and impressive. He taught me a lot. He created Jimmy Rucker’s career if it would discount me who also helped Jimmy. Despite all that, he was a jackass.
Let’s talk about Earl Nightingale a little bit. I love the voice. It’s the greatest voice I’ve ever heard.
I’ll tell you a voice story. 333 North Michigan Avenue is where their office was in Chicago when I was dealing with him. We were Nightingale Conant’s biggest customer, Holiday Magic. William Penn Patrick said to me, “Set up a training program.” I said, “Okay.” I went down to my office and I wondered what a training program is. I had heard Earl Nightingale on the radio. It’s his little five-minute segment. It was called Our Changing World. I heard the voice and I knew he was a philosopher. I thought, “I wonder if he does anything out here.”
I then remembered that the day I joined Holiday Magic, my sponsor, Bill Dempsey gave me two things, The Strangest Secret and Think and Grow Rich. He said, “You’re young and inexperienced. You’re going to need these.” He gave them to me. I got out the record and listened to it again and again. On it was their phone number or address. I found them, I called them and I said, “What have you got? I’m running this company, Holiday Magic.” Whoever I was talking to, either Ron or West Davis, their VPs of Sales said, “You’re calling me. We’ve been plotting and scheming how to get in contact with you.” I said, “You’ve accomplished it.”
We bought The Strangest Secret customized for Holiday Magic. There is also the Lead The Field series. It was Lead the Field with Holiday Magic and Lead the Field with our motor oil additive companies to stay power and Lead the Field with Bob Cummings’ vitamins and so on. Earl would do the leading and the rest of the series stayed the same. All of a sudden, we have a training program that Ben Gay had developed by calling Earl Nightingale.
One day, I’m at 333 North Michigan Avenue talking with Earl and he says, “Let’s go to lunch.” I said, “Okay.” They were right on the river. It was a cold day. Between his office and where we were going to the restaurant went over the little bridge, which went over the river. He said, “We’ll walk over.” I was in a California light or midweight suit. I thought I was going to die before I got to the other side of the bridge. Lake Michigan blew right into that river. I remember thinking about what I’ve seen in the movies. They get cold and they want to lie down and go to sleep. I now understand that. I want to lie down on the bridge in a fetal position and let it go. It was so cold.
We finally made it to the restaurant. We walked in. Earl, being the gentleman, pushed me forward so now I’m walking towards a table and a gentleman stands up. The anticipation of us arriving. I said, “I’m Ben Gay.” He said, “I’m Paul Harvey.” As soon as I heard the voice, I was like, “Another one I know from the radio.” I sit down at the table. I was 25. A few people know this, I was conceived on their conception date. December 7, 1941, my father was home on leave. He got called back because the war had started. They decided to have one last encounter, “We’ll never see each other again and I’ll be killed in the war.” I’m not sure how he’s going to do that. He was a photographer in Rochester, New York but it’s possible. That’s when I was conceived.
On that day, Earl was on the USS Arizona when it was blown out from under it. Had he not been in the superstructure doing something, he was one of the few Marines onboard. When the USS Arizona listed as we say in the Coast Guard, he was able to drop from his position right in the water. Had he stayed upright, to get out of this position, you had to jump to the deck and that would have been the end of Earl Nightingale. Young Ben Gay is sitting between two of the greatest voices in the world, Earl Nightingale and Paul Harvey. Occasionally, Earl would punch me and say, “Join in.” I go in my Minnie Mouse voice, “That’s okay. I’ll listen.” It was fascinating but it was among the longest lunches I’ve ever been through. I was thinking, “Lord, get me out of here before I have to speak and there’s no way out of it.” Do you want a funny Earl Nightingale story?
He was the voice of Holiday Magic in all of our companies. He was also the voice of other companies including Beltone Hearing Aids. He was a sophisticated, almost a stuck-up gentleman. I mean that in the kindest sense. He was Earl Nightingale and he knew he was Earl Nightingale. When Lloyd Conant started out, I was a distributor selling his records. Lloyd brought him a script that Beltone wanted to be done for their Holiday message to all of their Beltone distributors. Earl looked through it and said, “I’m not reading this.” I’m making up words but the gist of it was, “Hi, this is Earl Nightingale and it’s my pleasure to tell you that Beltone loves you and may the snow of the fairies fall on your head.” It’s one of those icky, gooey, Christmas-y things. Earl said, “I’m not reading this.” The manager said to him, “We need the money. We need the account. You’re going to read it.”
You can hand him the phone book and he could make it sound interesting. He didn’t need any rehearsal. As soon as he had the paper in his hand, he could do a cold read, which creates a bad engineer because the bad engineer worked with him for quite some time and moved to Arizona with him when he retired. They spent 40 to 50 years together recording in radio booths. It had got to the point where he didn’t listen anymore. Earl didn’t make mistakes. If he made one that was bad, he caught it and said, “Start over.” The engineer told me that rarely happens.
Mainly, the engineer went to his happy place until he saw Earl stand up. That man stopped recording and sent it to be pressed. He was forced to read the Beltone Hearing Aid happy-dappy Christmas message. Do you remember the Flexi records that were made by Eva-tone that you get out of a magazine? They were trying to talk me into putting several of the Holiday Magic increments in the recruiting system on Flexi records whether it be inexpensive. Distributors who wouldn’t or couldn’t learn the scripts could hand out records and they’d listen to them. I don’t even know what a Flexi record is. I’m in Chicago and I said, “What do they sound like?” They said, “They sound like regular records.”
Ron or Wes Davis, one of them got up and went outside the office and picked up the Beltone Hearing Christmas message. They were stamped labels ready to go. They were sitting in the lobby of their office. He got one out of the pile, brought it in and folded it back because it’s like a magazine. He put it down on the record player and on comes that familiar voice, “Hello, this is Earl Nightingale with Beltone Hearing Aids. In this joyous time of year, icky, gooey, icky, gooey.” I’m thinking, “The recording quality is good.” He said, “Once again, this is Earl Nightingale with Beltone Hearing Aids wishing you and your family the most wonderful of Christmases.” Slight pause. “Jesus Christ, what a crock of crap.” Ron Davis jumped up and threw his body over the record player like that would solve the problem. The problem, may I remind you, is out in the lobby. We’re talking to the post.
We’re laughing about it. They edited out what the engineer should have edited out to start with. They repressed them all. The recordings got to the distributors right a little after Christmas but the heart was still in it. One night at dinner, we’re laughing and talking and Earl said, “Thank God, they got all those records before they went out.” We destroy them here. I said, “They got almost all the records.” He said, “What?” I said, “There was that one they were playing in the meeting room for me and that’s at home in San Rafael, California. I want you to be nice to me, Earl because we too have a duplication studio. This record can come back to life.”I swear to you, it’s here somewhere buried in hundreds of thousands of books. I’m going to be muddling around one day and there it’s going to be. I know what it looks like. It’s white with gold trim, “Earl Nightingale Beltone Hearing Aids The Holiday Message.” When I find it, I’ll be a wealthy man. I got another one. Those of us of a certain age and you two aren’t one of us remember Sky King. You’re probably at the age where you knew Sky King on television.
He flew around in an airplane with his niece, Penny and they solve problems. It’s a light-hearted paladin who has gone world-traveling, except he was happy-dappy, stumbled into things and they solved problems. On the radio, Sky King was Earl Nightingale for the voice. One day, the manager comes in and said, “They want you as Sky King to go out and pose by the airplane.” He said, “I’m not going to do that.” Earl is a tall guy. They said, “I gave your measurements and the suit is ready.” The suit was like a Roy Rogers suit because Sky King was a flying cowboy. Earl says, “I’m not going to do it.” They had to talk again that frequently you had to have with Earl, “We need the money. You’re going to do it.”When you’ve failed enough, you’re not afraid of hearing “no.” Click To Tweet
Fast forward a week, they go out to the airport ahead of the event. Earl gets in the plane dressed like Sky King. He didn’t fly it anywhere but when the little kiddies were all let in, he gets out of the airplane. He said that was a struggle but he got out of it, stood out on the wing, waved to the adoring little children and not knowing behind him on his heels, he had hooked his spurs together. As he went down to get off the wing of the Cessna or whatever it was, his feet were tied together. He fell off the wing and onto his head and his hat was crushed. He wasn’t hurt although he used to laugh and say that the scar on his head was from that fall but the scar on his head was from a brain tumor that he had removed at about that time.
Sky King, also known as Earl Nightingale, was in a heap on the runway in front of 200 adoring children. I said, “Earl, I’m going to follow you around for the rest of my life and wait for the next Sky King moment, the next Beltone Hearing Aid moment because you are a funny guy.” We’re on the boat one day on the cabin cruiser on San Francisco Bay. Dr. Hill is behind me in a folding chair, which wasn’t smart. I’m in the Coast Guard Reserve and was stationed at that time on San Francisco Bay. This is home territory for me. I’m fine. I gave them a tour.
Earl is standing up on the bow with his ever-present double bourbon and looking out at the sky. A swell goes up. This was concave like a trough. It probably has something to do with a freighter that had gone by or something and I didn’t see it. I wasn’t paying attention. We’re going along and all of a sudden, there’s no water on your wrist and we’re headed down into this trough. We then come up the other side like a surfer in a 45-foot boat and we land on the water. It was an uncomfortable, awkward moment. I was standing behind the wheel. I went down on one knee. More importantly, I thought about Dr. Hill and I look around. His chair was askew but he hadn’t fallen out of it. I thought, “That’s good.”
I then look up to make sure Earl is okay. There’s no Earl. He’s gone. He had fallen off the front of the bow of the boat but as he went off, his knee or leg wrapped around one of the stanchions that held up the railing. He was there. He was out of sight hanging upside down with his head in San Francisco Bay. I stopped the engines, ran out and we pull him up. Up he comes with his glass. The ice was gone but there was still enough brown in it to know it was bourbon or something. He hadn’t dumped it. He got up and looked around. I said, “Earl, I am sorry.” He said, “Let me tell you something. If the Japanese couldn’t get me at Pearl Harbor, Ben Gay, you’re going to get me in San Francisco Bay.”
Let’s talk a little bit about Zig.
I met Zig on September 15, 1965, Wednesday at noon. Why was that memorable? I answered a little ad in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that said, “If you know anything about marketing plans or want to make more money, call this number.” I went into the phone booth and called. I began interviewing Bill Dempsey to see if he was worthy of hiring me. About five minutes into the conversation, he said, “Mr. Gay, I’m not the man standing on a phone booth answering one ad. Where are you?” I told him and he said, “You’re only about two blocks from where I am, 1447 West Peachtree Street Suite 300. Stand in front of my desk in ten minutes or never dial this number again.” He slammed down the phone. Your younger readers don’t understand slamming down the phone because they wouldn’t do that with their cell phones. In the old days, you slammed down the phone if you were mad.
Jimmy Rucker said, “Where are we going?” I said, “I didn’t know what it was but we’re going to be rich.” We got there with about a minute to spare once getting in the office. I said to the receptionist, “My name is Ben Gay.” She said, “We’ve been waiting for you.” Behind me, a guy sitting in the lobby said, “Ben Gay.” I’ve heard a few Ben Gay jokes in my life so that wasn’t the first time for me. I turned around said, “I’m Ben Gay.” I put up my hand, “What’s your name?” He said, “Zig Ziglar.” I said, “With a name like Zig Ziglar, you’re laughing at Ben Gay? You’ve got to be kidding me.” He had answered the same ad. Zig was eighteen years older and had done a lot of church speaking but he’d never had a big hit. This was about to be his first big grand slam, home run.
We went in and listened to Bill Dempsey do the thing. We all joined and paid $91.42 to get a little box of cosmetics and off we went. Zig took off faster than we did, Jim and I. He was more experienced and was clever enough to learn the scripts that they gave us. I thought that was beneath my dignity. For the first six months, we didn’t make anything. In the last six months, there was a year-long contest. In that year-long contest, now that we were up and running, Jimmy Rucker and I beat Zig and his partner, who was a great salesman, by the way. Zig was the frontman. When he sits down in front of you, you might as well get out your checkbook meaning it’s over.
We went through a year-long contest and I knew we were doing well because I looked at my checkbook but I didn’t know where we were in the standings. My father raised me to do the best I can every day. If that makes you the winner, fine. If not, screw it. At the end of the contest, I got a call from California and we had won by not a whole lot, a few thousand dollars in gross volume. It turned out that Zig had been keeping track. He knew he was near the top. I didn’t know if they told him where we were. He was having a celebratory victory party that night in Columbia, South Carolina. Jimmy Rucker and I were doing an opportunity meeting. The sales we sold in that opportunity meeting were the difference between us and Zig and Mill. We never celebrate too soon. It might be the message there.
Zig and I became good friends. I admired him. The way I started getting reasonably good at speaking was I saw how good he was. I was a class clown or voted wittiest and so on. That gives you about five minutes of material. Zig got hours of material and I quickly figured out, “I probably ought to get good at this.” The way I started getting good was I said to Zig, “You carry around that big pump.” He used that to do biscuit flees and pump handles. Those are three separate stories. The pump handles were one of those old farm pumps. Later, he got an aluminum one that was all shiny, fancy-looking and easier to carry. When I met him, it was a pump off somebody’s farm. It was an attention-getter once you pick it up.
I saw him struggling to come into the hotel one night with his pump. I thought, “If he’s the star of the show, it’s like Elvis shouldn’t be seen unpacking the instrument van. Even if he does, you shouldn’t see it.” I said, “Zig, I got an idea. Whenever we’re in the same area, I’ll carry your pump. Here’s what I want in return. I want to have dinner or lunch before or after the meeting. I want to sit in the front row and I want to study you. Is it okay if I could cost you any money and I’ll carry the pump?” He said, “You’re on.” Probably the first 50 times, I sat in an audience and studied the star. It was Zig and my price was carrying that pump around.
You got a workout and an education at the same time. That’s a smart salesman right there.
He was a great guy. Zig wasn’t technically a great salesman. You bought it from Zig because you love Zig. It wasn’t because he gave you an alternate choice close, a double down or wrap around.
He was a great storyteller.
The best. In my public speaking classes, I tell people, “You’re not going to be Zig Ziglar. He came out of his mother’s womb, laughing, giggling and telling stories. He did it until the day he died. He was the best at that.” He was a wonderful gentleman. I got nothing but fond memories of him.
The only time I ever met him was when I moved to Dallas. This was 1993 or 1994. I was working at a little private gym. Somebody had told me that Zig used to bring the redhead, his wife, to the salon next door. It was a Saturday morning. I’m all sweaty. I’m lifting weights and everything. All of a sudden, I see Zig Ziglar get out of the car, walk to the other side, open the door, take his wife by the elbow and walk her into the salon. He then went back to the car and he disappeared probably to look for a cup of coffee or something when she was getting her hair done. A couple of hours later, I’m waiting. I’m like, “It’s Zig Zigler. I can’t wait.”
You try not to look creepy.
I’m like, “That’s Zig Ziglar. I’m not missing this opportunity. I’m not going to go home.” He comes back probably 1.5 hours later. I finished my workout at that point. I only have one shirt with me. Ever since that, by the way, I’ve always had an extra shirt in the car just in case. Here comes Zig back and I was like, “Mr. Ziglar, I want to say hello to you. I’m a big fan. I heard you speak many times.” We spent about twenty minutes standing in the parking lot and chatting to the point where I could tell his wife was trying to get a little aggravated. She’s like, “Time to go home.” I was like, “I’ll let you go.”
She was used to it.
We did have cell phones in those days but you couldn’t take a picture. Unfortunately, I don’t have the photographic evidence. You’re right, he was such a gentleman. He was such a good man. Let me ask you about William Penn Patrick before we get to Dr. Hill.
Bill Patrick was the owner of the company that I joined. It started in 1964. I joined in 1965. I met him earlier in my career than I should have. In other words, I hadn’t earned the right to be hanging out with the chairman of the board yet. He was going to go on a 25-cities and 25-days speaking tour. He wanted somebody to introduce him to each of those things. The president of the company at that time, Fred Pape, Bill said, “Who do we have that would be good at doing that?” He said, “We got this kid in Atlanta, Ben Gay. I’m sure he would do it with us for everyone on the trip.”
They had a Cessna 310. I’m not a big airplane guy although I ran an airport and we have a mini-Airforce with over 40 airplanes in it. Cessna 310 is a twin-engine. Art Stagg, the corporate pilot who became a dear friend of mine, Bill Patrick and I did 25 cities in 25 days. Now, with a corporate jet, it would be nothing. I’ve done 33 cities in 11 days. Wintertime in a Cessna, that’s a bit of a challenge. It gives you lots of time in the air talking because you’re not zipping around all that fast. I got to spend 25 days with Bill Patrick up close and personal. Somewhere along in the middle of that, we became friends.
He didn’t move anything out of the way to help me but when I won the mystery prize in the year-long sales contest, the mystery prize being the presidency of the company, he didn’t do anything to help me. He didn’t juggle any numbers. He told me, “I’m happy you won.” I said, “Why did you make it a mystery prize?” He said, “In case whoever won it was somebody I didn’t like then I would have changed the prize.” I won the presidency of the company. Zig got a Rolls Royce. A guy named Jim Hearn got a Lincoln. Bill Dempsey, my sponsor, won a Thunderbird.
On bad days, I would be talking to Zig wherever he was or if he was in the office, I would say, “Zig, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. You bring me the keys to the Rolls Royce and I will give you the keys to the front door of the Holiday Magic office.” Zig would say, “You won that fair and square.” He knew that I had stepped into a bear trap. I had only seen the executives of the company walking into rooms with spotlights on them and the crowds cheering. I didn’t realize that meanwhile, back at the office, they had jobs and decisions to make. It wasn’t all glamour.
My father was my first and most important mentor, tied for the second would be William Penn Patrick. Unfortunately, he had some personal financial problems and he got greedy, desperate or whatever. He came into my office one day and he said, “Ben, we need to make more money.” By that time, we were taking in $1 million a day. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $3.5 billion. I said, “Bill, I don’t know how to make any more than this without lying, cheating or stealing.” I don’t mean we were done but there’s a natural momentum and he was talking about doubling the momentum.
At times, the reason we had run out from our financial hat was we bought him a 3,500-acre ranch up in Clear Lake, California, next door to Bill Bailey’s ranch. He used to be with Holiday Magic. He started his own company, Bestline, after they had a breakup. We’re getting closer to where I met Jim Rohn. He was at Bestline. I was at Holiday Magic. We were friendly rivals although I never considered it that way. They were in a different type of business. Like us, the way you got into Holiday Magic, how we put a mirror on my desk but we all carried little pocket hand mirrors. It’s about the size of a deck of playing cards in our pocket. People said, “I don’t know if I’m qualified to join the business.” We’d take out the mirror, put it under their nose and if you got vapor, you’re in.
I know that trick. It came from you.
I don’t know where it came from but I learned it or picked it up or something. The ranch and the huge house we built up there, which is now side Rolls headquarters, there were lights we’re Holiday Magic’s distributors and a 110-foot yacht in Sausalito, The Principia, tied up next door in the next slip to The Electro. It was almost a twin yacht owned by Bestline. While competing with Bill Bailey, who has the biggest yacht, ranch, house, Ben Gay is back at the ranch, churning out the money to make all this possible. He said to me, “If you won’t lie, cheat and steal, I’ll find somebody who will.” I didn’t take it seriously. I thought he was mad.Never celebrate too soon. Click To Tweet
Fast forward a few weeks, I look out the front door at my home and here comes Abe Solomon who owned a local bank but the biggest local bank. I didn’t know he knew where I lived. We weren’t social friends but I knew who he was. He was on the board of one of our companies. He would sit in as a banker, occasionally. I opened the door and I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I need to talk to you.” He came in. I said, “What’s up?” He said, “You and Bill are at odds.” I’d almost forgotten the conversation. I said, “What odds?” He said, “You said you were making all the money that you could make without lying, cheating and stealing.” I said, “That’s true, although I’m trying even harder now.” He said, “Bill has decided that if you won’t lie, cheat and steal, he’ll get somebody who will.”
Shortly thereafter, Bill and I parted ways and he brought in a guy who would lie, cheat and steal, Roland Nocera. I’m not up for libel because he’s dead. He brought in Roland Nocera from Chicago. He was a wannabe-mafia type of guy. They lied, cheated and stole for the next couple of years and the company went bankrupt as Bill flew into a hillside in a P-51 and killed himself. I don’t mean kill himself like suicide. He was being Bill. I had been up to the ranch with him numerous times to see where my money was going. On one of them, he came down and got me at our airport. In the P-51, we went up to the ranch. He flew upside down at the tree top level. I could see pine cones out of the canopy. The P-51 was probably the fastest prop plane ever made, a legendary airplane. We landed, hung around and participated in the construction of the house.
When the weekend was over, he said, “I’ll fly you back down.” I said, “I called Art Stagg and he’s coming to pick me up.” He said, “We’ve got three airplanes here. I’ll take you back.” I said, “I’ve ridden with you in an airplane and you as the pilot for the last time. If you continue flying upside down through these mountains at 450 miles an hour, you’re going to die up here. I’ve got a young son and a wife. I can’t do it. I love you.” We used to get in the Stearman and fly aerobatics out over the ocean and our houses. We flew under the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s frowned on, which caused the Stearman to be put in the hangar with blankets over for about a month to make sure that no one had got the tag number off of it or the tail number.
I was guilty, too. We were out over Peacock Country Club. I climbed out on the wing of the Stearman one day and I said, “I’m going to jump.” You’re sitting on a big parachute. It didn’t dawn on me that I hadn’t been trained. There was a ring, I assume, that you pulled. Stearman wasn’t that high in the air at 3,000 feet. Although if your parachute doesn’t open, 3,000 feet is about enough. I walk down the wing a couple of steps. The pilot sits in the back cockpit. I was in the front. I yelled at Bill, “Will these chutes work?” It’s a World War II training plane. He says, “I don’t know. They came with a plane.” I turned around, climbed back to my cockpit and didn’t jump. Two of us would have had aviation accidents.
I wouldn’t get in the Stearman. Considering jumping would not be one of my options. It was my fault we flew under the Golden Gate Bridge because as we approached, coming in, I pointed down at the bridge. Bill goes, “Okay.” We went under it. He was a great guy but got greedy and desperate towards the end and died. He would have gone to prison if he’d live long enough. His successors did, Bill Dempsey and Roland Nocera, for a brief period of time. It’s one of those things where you do on weekends and you promise not to do bad things during the week.
He was closer to broke than we realized. I talked to his only daughter. I’ve stayed in touch with various members of the family. His wife was killed in a car crash, Marie Patrick. I talked to the daughter and we were talking about those days. Fast forward a little bit, his house was repossessed. It’s one of the biggest and finest homes in Moran County I’ve seen. It’s worth millions of dollars. It’s probably worth a couple of million when he bought it. He had all that going for him. He had 40 some odd airplanes, five companies that were churning out money like you wouldn’t believe. He then dies. The daughter is living with relatives close to Roper, North Carolina where Bill came from, penniless. The old saying that Bill was probably the first one who told me when we’re going through some rough time, “This too shall pass.” I’ve lived long enough now to know that’s good and bad. He has 40 airplanes, $42 million, a huge house and so on. Your daughter, not five generations away, can wind up penniless.
That’s a lot of good and bad on what not to do with money with that story. Let’s talk about somebody who had another major influence on you. What an opportunity to be 27 and to be mentored by Dr. Napoleon Hill himself. That’s got to be, “Wow.” I don’t even know what to say to that besides wow. I’ll turn it to you and you can tell us more.
I was 25. I had been the president of the company for not so long. We used to have famous people wander up down the halls regularly. Ronald Reagan was there. Richard Nixon was there because Bill ran for Governor of California and had money so people were always hanging around. We then had our own superstars, the Napoleon Hills of the world. That started that day but Zig, Og Mandino and some people say, “How’d you meet all these people?” I said, “Usually, I got up out of my chair and was heading to the bathroom. I bumped into them in the hallway.” It wasn’t some lightning bolt, rainbow situation. I had to go to the bathroom.
Dr. Hill was in the office, I wasn’t aware of it, to present Bill with an award and the first signed copy of a book he had written. I forgot which one it was. In the book, he said that William Penn Patrick was one of the five greatest living Americans or something like that. It’s one of those types of puff awards. Ron, this might surprise you that I’ll tell other people now because I told you in private a long time ago and I said I’ve never said this. Enough time has passed. Bill accepted the award. The next day, I signed a check to Dr. Hill for $50,000, which is how you get to be 1 of the 5 greatest people in America, I discovered. If I’d had $50,000 for a vanity project, I could have been the sixth greatest. That’s the reason I was in the building, to present a plaque, a signed book and pick up this check.
My office is upfront and Bill was on the way back. On the way back, walking towards the front door, Bill had an idea and he said to Dr. Hill, “I’ve got this young guy. He’s the president of the company. He’s doing a great job.” It’s the way I heard the story, “He’s young and inexperienced. I’ll bet you there are days where he’s afraid to come down the hall and tell me that he’s in over his head or doesn’t know what to do about this.” We use mentor now regularly. I’m not sure that was the word but he said, “I would like for you to be his friend.”
I was like Rodney Dangerfield, the old comedian. He used to say that the family tied a pork chop around his neck so the dog would play with him. Bill tied a $50,000 check around my neck so Dr. Hill would play with me and be my friend. I’m sitting in the office. Most people had to go through my assistant secretary boss. Bill was always knocking on the door to open. He didn’t wait for a response. All of a sudden, he’s standing there and I said, “Bill, how are you?” This little man is standing next to him and on a cane. Being a Southerner, I jumped up to run around to meet his uncle or whoever it was and praying. He used to bring old friends and then say, “Ben, build a company around him.” Stay Power motor oil additives were based around a guy who had a little concoction he’d made in his garage. Bill Patrick said, “Build a company around him.”
We set up Stay Power, same marketing plan, same everything but a different product. It was quite successful. Bob Cummings vitamins and so on. As I’m rounding the table, I’m thinking, “Multi-level marketing wheelchairs, that’s what I’m going to have to do next.” I stuck out my hand and I said, “I’m Ben Gay.” Bill Patrick said, “Ben, That’s Dr. Napoleon Hill.” I’ve never seen him at that age. Do you remember the pictures in his books? He was with a tall collar and looking uncomfortable. He said he hated those shirts. That’s who I thought Dr. Napoleon Hill was and didn’t realize time had marched on and fashions change.
He said, “Ben, I’ve hired Dr. Hill to work with you. The deal is you can tell him anything you want to tell him. It’ll never get to me. If he can be of help to you, he will. He’s at your beck and call. He was in Columbia, South Carolina. He flew him out here. He loved the Learjet. He would make up excuses to come out. He loves being picked up in the Learjet and flown across the country. He’ll be at your beck and call and tell him anything and get the answers. I’ve hired a grandfather for you.” We started working together but I didn’t trust the concept. Bill can be quite devious. Believing there might be a little bit of a spy system built into this relationship, I tested him. The way I tested him was Ron’s story. I’m sure you’re familiar with this. This is much more about the business in those days than I do.
Bill Bailey, who later was Bestline and I thought Jim Rohn’s mentor until I started hearing of for the show. Bill Bailey was a big factor in Jim Rohn’s life. Bobby DePew and Richard Michaels, the three of them walked into Bill’s office one day and announced that since they were doing the hard work, the heavy lifting, they each want to have 25% of the company and Bill Patrick keeps 25% of the company. Long story somewhat shorter, Bill said, “Let me think about it. Come up to the house tonight for dinner.” They left probably high-fiving each other or whatever you did in those days. Bill is going to turn over 75% of the company to them.
They go up to the big house I was talking about a moment ago that got repoed, foreclosed on and the big double doors open. Now you’re standing up on about a three-step riser looking down on the living room where a dining room table had been set up and there sits Bill at the far end of the dining room table. All the seats were filled and probably 40 or 50 people. All the employees of Holiday Magic were standing around. Bill Patrick said, “Gentlemen, welcome to the Last Supper.” There were cars were waiting outside. They all went to the airport. One went to Canada. That was Bobby Depew. One went to Mexico. One was sent on a worldwide tour to see if there are opportunities to open Holiday Magic that existed elsewhere. They went from that room to the airport. Anything they need, it was shipped to them later. It was that quick a break.
Bill Patrick hated that so much. He felt betrayed, although he and Bill Bailey became friends later. Telling the story, he would turn red in the face and the neck muscles would tighten up. I had an idea. I wrote a letter to Bill Patrick. I’m paraphrasing but the gist of it was, “Dear Bill, I appreciate the opportunity to work with Dr. Hill. I’m a little uncomfortable with this I-can-tell-him-anything thing. He’s going to probably come to you and tell you that I am plotting to take over the company because I want to test the system.” I had it sealed up in the Art Department with a wax seal, gave it to Marian McGinnis, his secretary. I said, “Put that in your desk drawer. If Dr. Hill ever comes in here and you hear Bill explode and my name comes up, hand him this letter because it will show him.” I didn’t tell her what was in it.
Within a day or two, I told Dr. Hill that a group of us who were making the money in the company while Bill was getting all the credit, we had decided to demand 75%. I laid out the same scenario that Bill Bailey and the gang had put on Bill Patrick. We decided to take 75% of the company and give him 25%. He walked to the ranch and retire if he wants. Whatever he wants to do, fly around the world. I laid it all out for him. Dr. Hill listens for a minute. It went on a bit. Dr. Hill was succinct. He wrote The Law of Succes, which looks like a big old phone book. In-person, 2 or 3 words would usually do it, “Focus, Ben. Take action, Ben.”
He said, “Don’t do it.” I said, “This would be good.” He’s like, “Don’t do it.” We ended this thing and it might have come up with the house that night or dinner or something again but every time it did if it did, it was, “Don’t do it.” Now, I’m waiting for the explosion. I left the company. The company ran for another two years when it finally bankrupted and they hauled away the furniture. Bill Patrick and I became friends again. We’re having secret lunches and stuff. To the best of my knowledge, in Marian McGinnis, his top drawer there set the letter with a wax seal on it. Dr. Hill never broke the silence. The letter was never necessary. He was a true man, an old-fashioned southern gentleman, who taught me a whole lot. People have heard that we have a company called The Last Protégé. It’s a mentoring company and I am by that title, the last protégé and my partner in that Mark Ayres asked me one day, “Did he give you assignments?”
Dr. Hill would come in and give me reams of paper to fill out. I said, “It wasn’t that relationship at all. He was my older friend and my wise advisor.” That was it and most of what I learned was over lunch. He would sit in a meeting for hours and never say a word. He always had a legal pad that he made me carry around and still do. He would be writing on his legal pad. I don’t know if he was writing the next book or notes to a friend. I don’t know what he was doing but he wouldn’t say a word. He would never criticize me or question me unless asked a direct question by me until the room was clear. When the door locked, I could still hear the click. If his head came up, I’d think, “Here it comes.” He would tell me what he thought about that situation but only to me, probably the most trusted person I’ve ever worked with including my father because anything my father knew, he told my mother. Dr. Hill didn’t know my mother. It was even more sacred than that.
If you had to say, of all the things you learn from Dr. Hill, if there was one thing, what would it be?
I’ll give you three things because I was asked that in a seminar not too long ago in Las Vegas. I hate questions that because he taught me 500 things. At the moment, each one was the most important thing because I need to hear it right then. I was asked, “What are the three things Dr. Hill taught you?” I thought, “Tongue, don’t fail me now.” I let go. I heard it when they heard it and I said, “Number one, absolute integrity in all things. Two, focus.” I’m that crow that sees the shiny bracelet and his head spins around and he’s gone. I have a tendency to do that. Right now, I’m talking to you guys. I’m intently staring at your faces and/or in the camera. Off-screen, I’m a news junkie. There’s a television on. In my peripheral vision Bulletin.
I wanted to turn my head and see what the Bulletin was. I heard Dr. Hill in my ear saying, “Focus. Benjamin, focus,” so I stayed right here. When we get off, I’ll find out what the Bulletin was. Also, take action. One time we were planning a whole new product line and we had meetings and by coincidence, he was in town for several of them. We’d had 5 or 6 weekly meetings on whether to enter and this is rakish on our part of the men’s cosmetic line. That doesn’t sound quite as daring as it was in 1967 but it was.
Lawyers were there, the production guy, the purchasing guy, the advertising marketing guy and the chemist, Marty Scott who created all of our products. We’ve met 5 or 6 times. One of the meetings turned out to be the last one Dr. Hill was sitting at his seat at the end of the table writing on something. I said, “We’ll meet back here next Wednesday or Thursday at noon.” They all got up and left. After that click on the door, Dr. Hill’s head came up and I thought, “This is not good.” He said, “What are you going to know next week that you don’t know now?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Ben, you are dithering. Take action.”
I buzzed Marty and I said, “Marty, regathered the team.” Everybody came back and I said, “What do you need to know now that you need to launch this thing if I pull the trigger?” Everyone said, “Nothing.” I probably could have asked that same question four meetings before. They said nothing. I said, “If I say go, does everybody know what they’re supposed to do?” They said, “Yeah.” I said, “Go.” Two months later, high tides, the men’s line was on the street and a huge success. Integrity in all things, focus and action. Those are the three things that when I think of when Dr. Hill pops up in my head,
I have written them down because that is sage advice from the best of the best. Ben, I know Ron’s got a number of questions for you, too. Ron Henley is the Curator and Founder of The Network Marketing Historical Society based in beautiful Atlanta, Georgia. I know you’re an Atlanta guy. You were born in Atlanta.
He’s a heavy Atlanta guy.
It’s one of my favorite cities. Ron, you’re up.
I’m blown away. I was telling John earlier, that Napoleon Hill kept wanting you to call him Nappy and you refused.
It was a running battle for 2.5 years. I said, “My name is Ben Gay.” Bill said, “That’s Dr. Napoleon Hill.” I said, “Dr. Hill, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He said, “Call me Nappy.” I said, “I’m not going to do that. I’m a southerner. If somebody is old enough for your great-grandfather, you don’t call them that. They don’t even have a first name. It’s sir.” He said, “No. All my friends call me Nappy.” I said, “I hope to become your friend but I’m not going to call you Nappy.” I’ve told Ron that I would have entire discussions with Dr. Hill about what it’s like writing a book and there’s a word you don’t use often and people don’t understand that so you have to write an extra page to get around using that word. Dr. Hill and I had several conversations that were much longer than they needed to be while I was avoiding Nappy or calling Dr. Hill which would always start a battle but I won. I never call him Nappy. Pardon me, I never even said the word out loud until he was dead.
That’s like Neil Armstrong. Every time when he would land on the moon, he would think of some guy and he would never tell the story until the guy had passed on and it was his next-door neighbor. Neil, when he was a young boy, had knocked the ball under their window. As he leaned down to pick up the ball, he heard the husband and wife and they’re fighting and they said, “You’ve got about as much chance of pulling that off as the kid next door has to go into the moon.” Neil Armstrong was the first guy on the moon so every time he would in his speeches, he would give thanks to this Mr. Whatever His Name Was. Until he died, he didn’t tell the story. That was interesting about that.
It’s like Jimmy Durante, the old comedian. He ended every show with, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” She was the one who would look out the window of the speakeasy where he was appearing with Clayton, Jackson and Durante. She could tell by the way a person was had or whatever if he was a cop. If he was a cop, Mrs. Calabash spotted it. Shut down the place and the drinks disappeared. If he wasn’t it, she’d let him in. He said, “If it weren’t for Mrs. Calabash, I would have been in prison and you never would have heard me.”
It such incredible stuff. I’m trying to pick up some of the highlights. I loved all the comments you had to say about everybody. The stories of you and Jim Rohn sitting on the tail fins of your boat side by side having conversations and stuff like that. He’s always calling you, Benjamin. He would never call you Ben.
I can’t do it and I won’t attempt to do it because everybody knows what Jim Rohn sounds like. We all know that unique way of talking. That baritone voice that draws things out. Why does somebody do that? I don’t know.
I can hear that voice.
That’s it.Three things you can learn from Dr. Hill: absolute integrity, focus, and action. Click To Tweet
We kept it simple. That’s for sure. What can we talk about here? Let’s talk about a few of the people that were legends back in the day that you had firsthand experience with and I will leave it up to you as to how much you want to tell because you and I have had in-depth discussions about these guys. Let’s talk about Glenn W. Turner. What do you want to share about him?
I had a feeling that’s the one you’d come up with. Glenn was one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever met. I had the unpleasant duty of having to fire him because he probably was who Bill Patrick was looking for. Lie, cheat and steal when I knew him. I know many people who put their play onto his star and so on. Bill Patrick was not without his faults. Napoleon Hill was not without his but Glenn Turner managed to bring down the Attorney General of 2 or 3 states, in particular, I remember North Carolina, on us.
We had to do a legal battle because they went into meetings. It’s one of the reasons I’m the biggest believer in scripts ever. When they’re written right, they’re effective to keep you out of jail. Glenn wouldn’t follow the scripts and he gets up and goes off on whatever. It finally got to the point where my legal team had a law firm in-house. Most companies don’t need a law firm in-house but in the most level marketing days, back in those early wild west days, you did.
Dorothy Vaughn Belding came to me and she said, “I don’t know this Glenn Turner guy. I never met him but he’s going to bring this business down.” She started showing me letters and transcripts. They’ve gone in and recorded his meetings and so on. He’s got to go. Long story, he was a top producer. He was our top producer but he was making us and himself a lot of money. Finally, a couple of conversations and a warning letter didn’t work. I called him or wrote to him or something and I said, “I’ll be in Atlanta on such and such a day. I need to meet with you.” I flew back and went into my old office and I still had it. I went to my old office and Glenn came in. I do a pretty good Glenn Turner imitation but it’s not politically correct nowadays. Glenn had a cleft palate but he was a great speaker.
He’d say, “What do you think? When I get home at night, I take it out and put it on the dresser.” It would have been better if he then started talking normally but he didn’t because he couldn’t. I called him in and we met for a little meeting. He probably knew that it wasn’t to discuss a promotion but still. I said, “Glenn, we’ve got to let you go.” He said, “Why?” I said, “It’s the lying, cheating and stealing,” which is funny since that’s later how Bill and I parted ways. I said, “Lying, cheating and stealing. We can’t do it. We’ve terminated your distributorship. Whatever the legal thing was, you’ll still get your overrides but you won’t be allowed in any meetings and so on.” Instead of breaking down, crying, getting mad or screaming, all he said was, “If I can’t lie, cheat and steal here, I’ll start a company where I can.”
I don’t know how long we counted or when we stopped counting but I remember the figure. We’d had 125 spin-off companies. People decide they could do it better or whatever went off and started their own company. Bestline was one that succeeded. The other 123 didn’t make it. Werner Erhard’s est was a spin-off from Leadership Dynamics and Mind Dynamics, the two training companies I started at Holiday Magic. He tried a Bill Bailey move. “Give me half of Leadership Dynamics, Mind Dynamics or I’m leaving.” Bill Patrick put his hand over his shoulder and walked into the door. When they got to the front door, he said, “Werner, give me your key.” He pushed him out in the street and said, “I wish you the best.” That’s how est started and later The Forum.
When Glenn said he was going to start a company, I figured, “There’s that 126. He won’t make it.” He’s been riding a well-honed machine and that’s how we made it in spite of his speech impediments and lack of education and so on. He went off and started Disney’s Koscot Interplanetary, world of tomorrow or whatever. He named it after that. It was based right there. Later, Dare to be Great which was Leadership Dynamics, Mind Dynamics and a combination of how to be effective and successful and so on.
I didn’t have access to his books although he stole our top executive person, Jen Gillespie, away from us. I didn’t know he knew her. She moved to Orlando and worked for him. If I’d been bright enough, I could have asked her since she knew our books and his books but he probably got near us at some point. I don’t know but he built a large successful company after I tubed him. When he died and Ron, you may have been the one who told me he died. I remember we talked within 24 hours. He asked me, “How do you feel about that?” I said, “Our relationship ended poorly. I had to fire him.” While we were working together and afterward, he’s one of those fascinating people I ever met. Absolutely nothing would keep him down. We weren’t hanging out together before. Most of the time I spent with him. It was interesting. Back in those days in corporate, generally speaking, there may have been a model around or something that couldn’t fly all the way across the country.
We would land at Grand Island, Nebraska because it was roughly halfway across the country and the corporate pilots love to go to Grand Island, Nebraska because they were treated like royalty. Depending on the size of your plane, when we landed and pulled up, a golf cart or two filled with gorgeous girls in Dallas cowgirl type outfits and they would have for the non-pilots wine, beer snacks and escorted us to over to Butler Aviation, where we would sit while the planes got refueled. I spent more fun time with Glenn in Grand Island, Nebraska than I ever did before or since. Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel from Amway, frequently and sometimes our corporate pilots planned it would land at Grand Island so we would all be in the same room laughing and giggling.
I’ve often said, “If anybody, if the Attorney Generals wanted to wipe out the MLM industry, which they did from time to time, if they dropped a bomb on that building, they would have gotten the Amway executives, the Holiday Magic executives and Glenn Turner’s executives.” Meanwhile, when we went outside, we had to act as if we hated each other because each company had the thing, you’re either in Holiday Magic or you’re nothing. There are only two types of people in the world those in Holiday Magic, those outside of Holiday Magic. Koscot taught the same thing and so did Amway.
Behind the scenes, we were all buddies. Jim Rohn, Bill Bailey, Bill Patrick and I spent most of the time baling Patrick up at the ranch has a lot too. We spend our time together on the back on the fantails of either the electric or the principia tied up side by side because with the bows in, a casual passerby on the dock would never see us because most people know who we were anyway but we didn’t want any distributors to see us hanging out laughing and giggling.
It will destroy the illusion.
How can you hate somebody that you seem to like? Glenn was a funny character. Laughs at self-deprecating humor. I laugh at almost every funny thing I’ve ever heard come out of him. He didn’t put down anybody else. It always puts him down.
The thing that I always point out to the people and all the studying I’ve done over all the years of the entire profession since it started with Carl Randburg, Meininger, Castleberry and for what it is now. Everything that happened with Holiday Magic, Koscot and Dare to Be Great, all these guys, even some with the best line and few of the others, wasn’t that you guys were doing anything illegal at the time. People report all these lawsuits and everything that happened in the FTC. I’m like, “You don’t have to understand at the time when you say it was the Wild Wild West, that’s accurate but it’s not that you guys are out there to pillage and destroy everything. You were trying to figure out different ways to do good business.” You guys came along. You got regulated out of business because they didn’t like you.
They don’t like little people having the opportunity to make a lot of money. I don’t know if they’re against that or they’re against the fact that you’ve inflated the expectations of someone who then gets disappointed. The trick is and most companies are now doing is start with so little money that if they don’t make it and drop out, nobody cares. When I say the Wild Wild West of MLM, I don’t mean the companies. It wasn’t an integrity thing about the company at all. What I was referring to was the type of people who came into the business. Generally speaking, they were hustlers. I stepped into a swamp on the day I joined or the first time I went to a meeting. I thought, “I didn’t know that these types of people existed.” I was raised two blocks out the front gate of East Lake Country Club. I was allowed to hang out with my father whose friends were Ted Turner’s father, whoever the Chairman of the Board of Coca-Cola was at the time, the founders of Home Depot and so on. It’s successful people and classy.
All of a sudden, I’m in with this group of people that were in shiny suits. They’re all former Arthur Murray dance instructors, Big Lincoln’s and things that people of class didn’t do. My first blow-up, I was in California going through some training and they announced that we were all going into San Francisco and we’re going to get diamond pinky rings and alligator shoes. I said, “I’m going to be studying the script so I’ll see you when you get back.” Bill Patrick wasn’t part of this but Fred Pape, who was president before I was, said, “This is a job requirement. We’re all going to wear pinky rings and alligator shoes.” I said, “I’m not. I have some alligator shoes but they have golf cleats in the bottom of them. I wouldn’t wear them anywhere else nor am I going to wear a pinky ring. I’m not a pimp. I’m a distributor trying to build a business.”
It was that element that was there. Ron as you know, Fred Pape, the former president of the company, when he got word that I was going to be the president of the company. Bill didn’t tell him what the mystery gift or mystery prize was either. He came to the office with a gun and was going to kill me. Bill Patrick and John Hart wrestled him. I went into the office. I was told to stay in mind. I’m sitting there going, “What’s going on?” I hear, “Boom,” as the pistol he brought in went off. I don’t know if he did it deliberately during the tussle. It went off into his ceiling, which is no harm, no foul, except our accounting department was on the next floor right over his office. He could have killed some people.
Another night, when it appeared, I perhaps was a threat to him, I’m working late one night and the guy who ran all of our physical stuff came to me and he said, “Ben, stay here until I tell you to come out.” I said, “Okay.” The gunshot was the last incident. This is the first incident. A half-hour later he comes in, his name is Harold Combs. Harold says, “Ben, you can go home.” I cut through the mailroom where his office was to go out the front door where Bill and I park with our noses up against the building. As I walk past Harold Combs’ desk, I’ve never been a minor or anything but I’ve seen enough movies to know what dynamite looks liked. There were three sticks of dynamite with wires sticking off of them taped together sitting on his desk.
It was 11:00 PM and he heard the hood of my car go down since he was in charge of my car and knew that I didn’t know how to raise the hood. It was me. On a hunch, he said, “Freeze. Open the gate.” The shooting was one day and this is after I left Holiday Magic but they were a little bitter because they were still having to pay me a lot of money to stay home. I’m sitting up in the office on top of our home looking out over San Francisco Bay and I see black smoke coming up from a shopping center that was within eyesight by a yacht harbor. I got up to see what it was. I got out my trusty binoculars and it was my Cadillac sitting in the parking lot with black smoke pouring out of it. My wife had gone to Safeway to pick up something and somebody threw railroad flares in the front and back seats in an attempt to burn it to the ground.
This makes me sound a little squirrely but if I had to run to the bank and make a deposit or something, I started carrying a .357 Magnum in a holster visible so I didn’t need a permit to do it on the theory that before I get home, I may have a gun battle. I got a knock at the door one night, looking out through the peephole. As I go to open the door, there are 2 or 3 guys standing there looking like they were in hazmat suits and a sheriff’s car in my driveway. I said, “Can I help you?” I knew my wife wasn’t out robbing banks or anything and I wasn’t so I figured. They said, “Mr. Gay you need to get your family out of the house. We have reason to believe that there’s a bomb in here.” They got a bomb threat from somebody. I got Marsh, my first wife.
I got them out of the house and they said, “Do you want to go on?” I said no because down at the bottom of the driveway was a private road. At the bottom of the driveway, there’s somebody down there looking to see if they’ve run me out of the house so I’m not going. That would be a bad precedent. I helped the bomb squad then give me a suit. I help the bomb squad go through all the cubicles and so on. They brought a dog in. Apparently, it was a random call that they had made to somebody. It was not happy-dappy put-on-the-cold-cream and draw circles. Behind the scenes, it was a little rougher than that.
The ugly side that most people don’t know about.
I’ve got to say this is amazing. What I’d love to do is do another one with you down the road with yourself, also Larry Thompson and maybe Ron. There’s even a third person we can come up with as far as the legends of our industry. The reason our industry is here. I have to thank you Ben on behalf of the thousands of people that are reading. Without people like you going through this stuff, I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff. The craziest thing I ever did was painting a warehouse because health and welfare Canada was going to close down and company I was with and they said, “You guys get this painted by Monday and you’ll be okay.” I spent the weekend painting the warehouse but I never had to carry a gun. I have but not for business purposes.
Not because they were hunting you.
There were a lot of things that Jim Rohn never talked about publicly. In this context of what Ben is talking about, it’s apropos. When NutraBio got shut down illegally I might add, Rich Schnackenberg and Earl Shoaff was completely out of the supplement business. He had it. He saw the hoops he had to jump through. Do you want anything to do with it? He started Ovation Cosmetics which is still in business nowadays but Rich Schnackenberg and Jim Rohn decided to open another nutrition company.
They had a Nutrilite and NutraBio so they took bio and lite and came up with Bio-Lite. That was going to be the name of the new company. They had put all their money into it and they had all this product printed and ready to go warehouses full of stuff. Rich Schnackenberg gets a knock on the door from someone who had identified himself as an official but wouldn’t say where he was from telling him that he would not be allowed to open another company because of all the stuff.
When he and John both refused to give in, they started getting death threats. They would call a house, strangers would show up at school around Jim’s daughters and things like that. It was crazy. Finally, they decided to back off and not launch the company. I don’t tell that story a lot but considering what Ben shared, I thought it’d be an interesting wrinkle to add to that thread. One thing I did want to talk to you, I don’t know how long you want to go, John but once one story that I always love and always blows my mind is I want Ben to talk about that day when he was sixteen years old. Do you know what I’m asking about? Tell us a story about how you met Earl Shoaff in a NutraBio meeting here in Atlanta.
Probably most of the people we’ve talked about because I’ve thought about that a lot since you and I discussed it. It was a big regional meeting. Not just an opportunity meeting for locals. My theory is that Jim Rohn, Bill Patrick, Bill Bailey and Bobby Depew were there. The whole gang was probably in that room. It was the Grand Ballroom of the Georgian Terrace Hotel on the corner of Ponce De Leon Avenue and Peachtree Street in Atlanta. I wound up living right across the street in Ponce. When we were holding meetings there, I could walk to work. We’d take the elevator down, walk across the street into the ballroom and there would be a few hundred or a few thousand people.
I’d been in that room earlier at age sixteen. I didn’t log it but I had to borrow my father’s car to go to the meeting. Our next-door neighbor, Sonny Snipes, was older than I was but not by much, 4, 5 or 6 years had joined NutraBio. He said, “You can get rich with this.” When you’re sixteen and everybody you know is successful, my father and his friends, the thought of joining them was intriguing. He showed me a few products and so on. I almost didn’t care Rich was what I was focused on. I borrowed dad’s Buick and drove down to the Georgian Terrace Hotel and walked in. Sonny said, “I’ll meet you in the lobby.” I walk in. I grew up next door to him. I know what he looks like and he wasn’t there. I’m looking behind potted plants. Sonny Snipes, a typical distributor, invited me to an opportunity meeting and didn’t come himself.
That’s a typical distributor and, “I didn’t make it in business.” “Here’s an idea, when you get somebody to go to the meeting, go meet him.” Probably I was a little early to be successful there but I point out the same marketing plan, virtually, same meeting room and the same opportunity. They showed a film. It had Bob Cummings in it and so on. I’m standing there in my cheap little Robert Hall sport coat and I probably had all my reversible vests, red on one side and black on the other. I’m 142 pounds with a flat top and probably acne since I was about that age. I probably didn’t look at everybody’s dream prospect. I’ll spot you that and Sonny Snipes isn’t there.
I’m standing in the lobby and I wandered into the back of the meeting room since I could tell that’s the reason people were there. Nobody approached me. Nobody asked me anything. I’m still looking for Sonny Snipes. A nice gentleman, considerably older than I was, came up and introduced himself, Earl Shoaff. He was the only person in the room who cared that there was a kid there who was uncomfortable and out of his depth. He came over and he said, “How may I help you?” I said, “I have a distributor. You probably know him, Sonny Snipes.” Earl Shoaff never heard of Sonny Snipes or any other local distributor in Atlanta.
He said, “Something must have held him up but you’re welcome to stay for the meeting. If you have any questions and so on.” I said, “Fine,” and I sat down in the back and watched all the stuff. I really wanted to join. I don’t know what I would have done with my boxes of stuff. Earl got on to other things and Sonny never showed up. I went home and the moment passed. Seven years later, I was ready. The scene repeated itself and I joined.
I’m walking into the same one Jimmy Rucker and I walked into the first meeting, Georgian Terrace Hotel, I said, “Rucker, I’ve been here.” The product was different but I’ve been here. This time we were in and after a little bit of a slow start, I took off like a rocket. When I walked into the phone booth and dial down, in those days, the phone number, it was putting in a rocket launch code and but I didn’t know it. It was not a phone booth. It was a rocket. When that answered the phone, the rocket took off. I was there. I could have been president of NutraBio bio at eighteen if they signed me up.
You and I talked about that a lot and it blows my mind to think about you. Here you are, this young teenager in the back of the room and the guys that created this thing and made it go are there in the room with you. Zig, you’ll meet seven years later, he was probably there. You’ve got Bailey and Patrick, who would become a major part of your life and working so closely with Zig later. Those are the moments that you wish somebody had been in there with a camera snapping pictures all over the place. I always loved that story. I’m glad you shared it.
Maybe God could have said in my ear, “Pay attention to these people.”
It brings up a great point and we can stop here. Your original sponsor quit the business. My original sponsor quit the business. Ron, How about yours?
When I got started on May 1, 1981, I was working at a gas station, she came over and asked the owner if she could set up over in the corner and sell this stuff. I went over at the lunch break and I bought a canister of stuff. She said, “If you join us as a distributor, you get 25% off,” and she started talking about the training that we’re going to have then. This was on a Friday and Saturday they were having this big training and you can learn more about the products is what she was pitching but I knew what she was trying to do. Her name was either Marge or Marjorie, Marg, Margaret or something like that. She had come from Dallas, Texas, to visit family and decided to try and do a little business while she was here. She went back to Dallas and I’ve never seen her again. There you go.
Still to this day, I can’t figure out who she was or what her name was because it was crazy the way that happened. Speaking of Earl Shoaff, he lived next to a guy named Marvin Wendt who had joined AbundaVita and every 3 or 4 days, he would be knocking on Earl’s door saying, “You’ve got to come to the meeting. You got to at least check it out.” Marvin Wendt was working 60 to 70 hours a week as a pants presser and Desmond’s in Long Beach, California and one day he forgot to call Marvin and tell him, “No, we’re not going wow.” Marvin comes knocking on the door and he finally tells his wife, “Look.”
He saw Dr. Jones. He heard that Napoleon Hill was a success. He stayed for the AbundaVita meeting. He loved it, joined and the rest is history but the thing is Marvin Wendt quit three weeks later. It’s a classic network marketing story. Either they invite you and don’t show up themselves or they get you and they drop you off. It’s the same thing that happened with Dale Calvert who started with Shaklee. A few weeks later, he was sponsored and the guy became a multimillionaire in the professional. It’s crazy.
It happens so much.
We could go on all day out and we will because Ron we need to do another one. If we could get you again. I would love to get you and Larry. Ron, maybe a third person we can add to that. First of all, thank you, Ben for your time. Second of all, you have amazing leadership because this industry may not be here now without your leadership, quite frankly. Thank you on behalf of the thousands of people that read.
Ron, thank you for all the great stuff you’re doing here with the Network Marketing and Historical Society. This is John Solleder. The name of the show is Leaving Nothing to Chance. Every single Tuesday. We’re up on Spotify, Apple iTunes and a host of other podcast stations around the world. Thank you both for your time, gentlemen. Thank you, readers. It’s been an amazing interview. I know I learned a lot. I’ve got a lot of pages of notes here. Thank you so much.
- Ben Gay III
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About Ben Gay III
Ben Gay III has been called a living legend in the sales world. In his 40+ years of professional selling and sales training, he has been the #1 salesperson in every organization in which he has ever worked . . . and he’s a powerful speaker/sales trainer/author to boot!
Having started his first business at 14, by age 25 he was the president/CEO of what was then the world’s largest Direct Sales/MLM/Network Marketing company. And he was personally trained by fellow sales legends J. Douglas Edwards, Dr. Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale, William Penn Patrick, Zig Ziglar, Merle Fraser, Fred Herman, James H. Rucker Jr. and many many other sales giants.
Now one of the most famous, popular and powerful sales trainers in the world, Ben accepts and conducts just 24 live “The Closers Sales Training” seminars a year and writes/publishes/produces “The Closers” series of books, audios, videos, newsletters, and teletrainings . . . a series that is considered “The Foundation of Professional Selling.” Visit WWW.BFG3.COM for more information.
He was the founder and is the current Executive Director of The National Association of Professional Salespeople.
Ben and his lovely wife Gigi live in the little Northern California town of Placerville (about halfway between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento – in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains) . . . 8 miles from the very spot where California’s gold was first discovered, starting the world-famous California Gold Rush!
To discuss having Ben Gay III work with you and your sales organization, call him personally at  248-3555, or at (530) 622-7777 (outside the USA: 00-1-530-622-7777), or on his personal cellphone at (530) 409-0080 (outside the USA: 00-1-530-409-0080).
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