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Harvey Mackay's Life Lessons
Help People Worldwide Sell Their Ideas

Harvey Mackay's life is an ode to achievement. A successful businessman, New York Times best-selling author, world renowned speaker and civic leader, his impact is global. With the release of his latest books, The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World, and Use Your Head To Get Your Foot In The Door — Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You, Toastmasters’ Craig Harrison sat down with the mercurial master of influence for a wide-ranging interview to learn how his secrets of success can help us all succeed


"Every day of your life you are selling ideas. Whether you're talking to one person or delivering a keynote there is no difference."

Confidence is essential. Mackay continues: "Salespeople must have self-assurance to be successful, coupled with being able to exhibit composure under pressure."

Harvey knows. He is chairman of MackayMitchell Envelope Company, a $100 million company he founded at age 26. Today they employ 500 employees and manufacture 25 million envelopes a day.

I asked Mackay about common mistakes he sees in today's salespeople: "If you want to triple your success ratio, you have to triple your failure rate."


Regarding the common mistakes Mackay sees today's leaders making: "Young people make mistakes by having a philosophy that they want to start at the top and work their way up. For budding leaders, you can’t have followers without understanding leadership. And you can’t be a good leader without being a good listener."

As for leaders at any level: "Good leaders inspire others with confidence in them. Great leaders inspire them with confidence in themselves."

Regarding veteran leaders' biggest mistakes, Mackay states: "When they take over a new company or department, they do too much…too soon…too fast. Their biggest mistake: that they do not realize that they must first spend three-six months gaining the confidence of the people they are leading."


Harvey is adamant that every successful person has written goals that guided them: "You must have goals and they must be written down. Pale ink is better than the most retentive memory, which means your short-term and long-range goals must be written down."

"My closest friend, (American College Football Hall of Fame coach) Lou Holtz, told me when he was a kid, he had 107 goals in life: he wanted to be on The Late Show with Johnny Carson, win the National Championship in college football, meet the Pope, jump out of an airplane, and many more goals. He wrote them all down. What do you think happened when he accomplished all these goals? He set new ones! He wrote down another list. Your Toastmasters goals must be in writing."


Dealing with the "No" word is paramount, when selling to reluctant prospects in these tough economic times.

Harvey relates a wonderful story to illustrate this point: "When I graduated University of Minnesota I was kind of cocky, and thought I knew it all. Yet I was having a hard time selling at my job at the Quality Park Envelope Company. My father encouraged me to seek out an "old grizzly" at the company — a hardened veteran, for advice. I introduced myself to Mr. Carpenter one morning and asked him the same question: "When do you stop calling on a prospect who hasn't bought from you?" His answer: "It depends which one of you dies first!" That's the principle of persistence!"

Everybody in sales hears the word NO one heck of a lot. The key is establishing a relationship, even if they aren't buying from you yet. Hence the importance of knowing all about your prospect and keeping in touch. "


Mackay is an expert on networking. While many people attend events and collect stacks of business cards, he asserts there is more too it.

"What happens when you're gathering information? It's the same with any endeavor: all the phone calls, all the networking, what good does it do making all those contacts if you don't follow-up on them! You must build and nurture relationships."

Over the years Mackay has created marvelous tools in the form of lists to help job seekers, employees, salespeople, managers and others to gain and apply knowledge for competitive advantage.

"People like lists because they help them organize their thoughts, make sure their bases are covered and assess their needs.  Lists give people a sense of accomplishment, especially when they can cross things off."

His extensive questionnaires (see sidebar) help individuals sharpen their interviewing, networking, performance, relationship building, negotiating, leadership, public speaking and publishing skills. But they don't mean a thing if you don't do anything with the information. Mackay asserts that "Knowledge does not become power until you use it!"


"If you are out of work, Getting a job is a job. You should be spending more than 40 hours a week doing things that will help you get a job. It is hard work."

"Jobs are out there, so you can’t give up. Three-fourths of all jobs are found through networking, so whatever you can do to get yourself in front of more people is beneficial."

"The #1 issue in the United States is jobs. The average person will have at least three to five career changes in their lifetime. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics indicate the average American worker will have 10-14 different jobs by age thirty-eight."

"In this age of downsizing and outsourcing, you can never be sure your job will still exist in five years—or five weeks. So you’d better think of your career as a perpetual job search, which requires a passion for lifetime learning and the skills for relentless and effective networking."

His 2010 book, Use Your Head to Get Your Foot In The Job, shows you how to be at your best when things are at their worst. And these strategies apply in every country. The book teaches:

  • How to beat rejection before it beats you;
  • Warning signals that you might be losing your job;
  • Knowing where to start your next job search;
  • How to beat rejection before it beats you;
  • Knowing where to start your next job search;
  • How to "ace" your interviews;
  • Negotiating the job you want, not the job they offer;
  • Taking advantage of the way bosses make hiring decisions;
  • Blending the latest tools with old-fashioned face-to-face networking.


Despite economic forecasts full of doom and gloom, Mackay sees a silver lining to the hard times we're currently experiencing globally.

"I have never yet met a successful person who hasn’t had to overcome a little or lot of adversity in his or her life. Life is not always fair when it passes out the natural gifts like looks and talent. But no one was ever born with determination and character.  You have to develop those yourself.  And if you do, all the rewards life has to offer can be yours."

"Trying times are no time to quit trying. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it; so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it. How many people have thrown up their hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience would have achieved success?"

"In business, prospects may seem darkest when really they are about to turn. A little more perseverance, a little more effort, and what seemed a hopeless failure may turn into a glorious success. There is no failure except in no longer trying."


When not speaking to clients worldwide, Mackay currently blogs, tweets and podcasts to spread his wisdom. I asked him for his thoughts on today's social media and its value in business.

"Technology is stupendous because of the advantage it gives you in time management. Your research ability is stupendous. Does it have a downside? Yes! Interpersonal communications gets lost when you’re looking at a screen all day or sending e-mails or tweeting. There is no replacement for face-to-face contact."

"Our world is changing, and you have to change with it if you want to be successful. The way people communicate has changed dramatically, so I’ve had to learn about e-mail blasts, blogging, podcasts, webinars. They are all valuable tools. I Tweet most days and I post to my Facebook page. And yet the basics don't change. The concepts of being successful, of entrepreneurship remain the same worldwide. And that's the secret to my popularity in China, India and everywhere I speak."

"I still value and use hand-written notes. The power of the personal note cannot be underestimated. In my first book, Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, Lesson 10 is about how “Short Notes Yield Long Results.” In sales, never underestimate the importance of the personal gesture, and at the top of the list: the handwritten note."


"At 21 I joined King Boreas Toastmasters (club #208-06) in St. Paul, Minnesota, and without question it was one of the most important decisions of my life and career."

Having just graduated from the University of Minnesota, Harvey's father sat him down and insisted he join! The dutiful son did, but with no regrets.

"Once you've been in Toastmasters and become an accomplished speaker, over a lifetime you become a better leader, a better communicator; a better manager and a better salesperson. These skills are continuously improved through Toastmasters."

Mackay, a nationally syndicated columnist for United Feature Syndicate, is now one of the word's most popular and entertaining business speakers domestically and internationally.


"I became civic minded when my father sat me down right after I graduated from the University of Minnesota, and laid down an ultimatum that I spend 25% of my life as a volunteer, as he did in his life."  (His father Jack won many civic and humanitarian awards for volunteerism.)

Harvey explains: "The volunteer need now is greater than ever, due to the economic tsunami the last two years.  People who do volunteer work and help other people on a regular basis have a healthier outlook on life. They are more inclined to be go-getters and consistently report being happier. Volunteering is good for everyone. I like to say: "Life is like a game of tennis — The player who serves well seldom loses." "

Mackay walks his talk. He is active on twenty boards of directors, volunteering a great deal of time and energy to help others in his city, state and nation. And he feels others should be too.


"Summing up the 420,000 words I've written in 20 years from all of my books: Pushing the Envelope, Get Fired!, Beware the Naked Man who Sells You His Shirt, Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty and Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, and the thousands of speeches I've given in the worldwide, It all comes down to three words: PREPARE TO WIN!"

Bonus Tools from Harvey:

The following lists of questions are free and downloadable from www.harveymackay.com/tools/index.cfm

  • Publish or Bust (on writing a book)
  • Mackay's 35 To Stay Alive (for public speaking)
  • The Mackay 66 (customer profile for sales)
  • The Mackay 33 (for employers and managers
  • The Mackay 22 (post-interview homework)
  • The Mackay sweet 16 (for job-seekers before the first interview)
  • What is important to him/her? WHY is that important?
  • What benefits do you offer that would make his/her situation or life better?

Professional speaker Craig Harrison DTM, PDG, a member of Toastmasters' Leadership Club (910103-57) in Oakland CA, is the author of three new books for Toastmasters members on how to go from Good to Better to Best! For more information visit www.SpeakAndLeadWithConfidence.com.

NOTE: A truncated version of this interview, focusing on sales, appears in the March 2012 edition of  Toastmaster magazine. Click the PDF icon to download the shorter article.

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