It was the summer of 1984, and I had just retired from hockey. I was playing in a celebrity charity golf tournament at the Connecticut Golf Club in Easton, CT.
I was participating in the tournament on the invite of Jim McManus, a co-founder of the integrated marketing giant, Marketing Corporation of America, the lead tournament sponsor.
MCA had divisions that provided consulting, advertising, sales promotion, coupon .. and other sales and marketing services.
In addition to playing a round of golf that day with people from companies that had paid good money to support the benefit, Jim McManus had asked me to give a short inspirational speech at the reception and dinner that closed out the event.
It was fun and most worthwhile day of golf, and socializing. My speech that evening went over well with the audience.
In fact, before I left the Connecticut Golf Club, Jim McManus asked me to deliver a talk to members of MCA management, in a couple weeks, at the company’s headquarters in Westport, CT. I happily and thankfully agreed.
I was still relatively new to the public speaking thing, but I had some innate ability, and a good deal of confidence. I prepared and practiced hard for the speech.
My preparation and practice paid off, and the speech I presented seemed to have hit the mark; at least this is what I gleaned from the strong round of clapping and applause when I finished, and from the comments I received from MCA people right after the speech.
Among those who personally gave me strong reviews that day were two men I had met at the golf event earlier in the month. They were Dan Pratt, co-founder and president of MCA, and Paul Haley, a senior vice president and chief lieutenant at the firm.
These two men would change my life, and steward and guide me in my post-hockey early professional career – and beyond.
That day, following receipt of their encouraging comments, Dan and Paul and I sat down to talk. They knew I was planning for the next chapter in my life, and they told they thought they had a place for me at MCA, and asked if I would be interested.
I was interested and thankful, but I also knew I needed time off. Time to relax, recuperate, and to think.
I told Dan and Paul that I very much appreciated there consideration, and that, yes, what they were suggesting was something which I thought was an exceptional opportunity – but that I really needed to be on vacation and holiday until after Labor Day.
I explained that if they and MCA Could wait for six weeks, then I would very much like to talk in early September.
They said sure, and that they looked forward to talking with me later that summer.
I called Dan Pratt the day after Labor Day 1984.
Within a week or so, I was in Westport and speaking again with the two.
What was explained to me … what they presented to me … was that they thought I had the talent and potential to be a successful salesperson for MCA. They had in mind, they told me, the coupon division of their business; specifically selling to businesses in the Boston area, where MCA held only five percent market share in coupons.
Dan and Paul made apparent that they were well aware that I didn’t have precise and orthodox experience in marketing-sales – but that they could work with me to develop necessary tools and skills to succeed.
A little background on the coupons – or couponing. This is the area of marketing in which companies promote and sell their products via coupon inserts in newspapers, or through coupons that the newspapers would print on their own pages.
Coupons are big.
That day, in Westport, I also interviewed with three other members of MCA management – all vice presidents. These VPs all interviewed and talked with me with the understanding that I was being evaluated and considered for the coupon job in Boston.
When talks and interviews were up, Dan and Paul believed more strongly than before our discussions with me that day that I could be a highly productive and winning sales person for MCA.
The other three MCA execs, though, said no – that I didn’t have requisite experience.
Those VPs also pointed out that I didn’t have a college degree. (You see, today, I have my bachelor’s degree from Boston University. Not so in 1984. This was because prior to the start of my final semester at BU, I left school to play for the U.S. national team in the World Championships in Moscow; it was then on to try out for the U.S. Olympic team; next up was the Olympics, followed by the NHL.)
Dan and Paul, who held seniority, made the decision that MCA was going to take a chance on me anyway. I was offered a job. I graciously accepted this new chapter in reinventing myself.
And, here, immediately, with this decision, the men taught me much – and provided me with valuable mentoring and tutelage.
For, first off, I learned from Paul and Dan the value of looking beyond experience, and conventional credentials – even while valuing both – and according strong merit to positive personality traits, competitive desire, and willingness to learn and work within a corporate culture.
I learned the necessity of training and thorough preparation.
Prior to being put full-time in the field in Boston, I studied and practiced and trained for five months – a regimen that included classroom learning and shadow selling.
Dan and Paul told me – and this reinforced in me what I already knew – that my work ethic, desire to succeed, and integrity would be the foundation on which I would build and solidify personal and professional achievement.
As well, of course, I learned through these gentleman, skills and elements that, properly and smartly applied to the art of selling, result in winning and successful selling.
I learned to listen. I learned to never make a sales call without having a smart and strategic idea that will help the person and company on which you are calling. I learned to always … always … deliver on what you promise.
I learned that people want to buy from someone in whom they have confidence; for this dynamic is far preferable to someone believing that he or she is being sold. I learned that a winning salesperson has to anticipate questions, and have responses to those questions that provide accurate and helpful information.
I learned a lot from Dan Pratt and Paul Haley. I was inspired by the men.
After my apprenticeship, I started setting up meetings and making calls, and following up on leads, in my region, metropolitan Boston (which included parts of Rhode Island).
I worked hard and smart – and enlisted what Dan and Paul, and other MCA management taught me.
Things were soon going well for MCA and for Jim Craig.
I was making calls, and advising companies on the ways they could improve their businesses through coupons. I closed sales, and forged strong and cooperative relationships between MCA and its clients. I grew business.
I owed Dan and Paul and MCA a lot, and I repaid what was invested in me … the chance that was taken on me … in the best way possible.
Over a three year period – one in which, when I started with MCA, the company held five percent of the coupon market in the Boston area – I stewarded and led an effort which resulted in MCA holding 90 percent of the coupon market in the same region.
Dan Pratt and Paul Haley are both retired, and doing well – enjoying the comfort and security they built and established with their families.
Through the years, I stayed in touch with the Dan and Paul.
And through the years, always, I have benefited from and been advised by, the profound and and powerful influence and mentoring and especially friendship of Dan Pratt and Paul Haley. Thanks for believing in me.