A man who had a significant influence on my life and, without exaggeration, the lives of millions of others passed away on April 6th. His name was Larry Wilson, the founder of Wilson Learning and Pecos River Learning.
Larry was a true visionary in an industry that can best be described as the “human potential movement.” Through his commitment to his own personal growth, Larry developed a passion for helping organizations and individuals soar to new heights of achievement. Along the way, he recruited hundreds of like minded people who, through the programs his company created and the personal inspiration he provided, set out to change the way business did business.
And he succeeded. Whether it was his revolutionary approach to sales training or leadership, Larry began a new conversation about what motivated people to buy and what inspired employees to perform at their best.
I had the privilege to meet Larry in the early eighties. He was an investor in the film I produced – The Power of Purpose. When Larry saw the finished production, he was so moved by the story of Terry Fox that he asked if his company could be the distributor. That was the beginning of an association that changed the trajectory of my career in an incredibly positive way.
At the same time the film was released, a book was published called “The One Minute Salesperson” which Larry had co-authored with Spencer Johnson. Larry asked if I would be willing to join the design team to produce a seminar based on the book and then head up the marketing of the finished product. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.
The book’s success led to Larry being in enormous demand for speeches on the topic of the One Minute Salesperson. This created the opportunity for him to command fees that were at the top of people in his profession. However, many companies did not have the budgets to afford Larry and so I became his stand-in. Those were symbolically big shoes to fill but Larry did not even want me to try. Why? Because he loved the song: “I gotta be me,” and he believed that was true for all of us.
My introduction to the people of Wilson Learning awakened me to the reality that individuals truly are transformed when committed to a purpose they believe in. Sometimes too far ahead of the times, initiatives were underway when the marketplace was clearly not ready. However, embedded in so much of the language of contemporary corporate culture, are the words used by Larry in those early days: openness, empowerment, win-win, contribution and commitment.
Larry was an outstanding speaker. A member of the Speakers Hall of Fame, his colleagues would often be filled with anxiety as he went off on a stream of consciousness that may or may not have had anything to do with what he was hired to speak about. However, he was always extremely entertaining and funny. An early lesson aspiring professional speakers are taught is to leave the audience wanting more. People always wanted more of Larry.
When Larry sold Wilson Learning to the publisher, John Wiley and Sons, in the eighties he started Pecos River Learning in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That is when my relationship with Larry became what you might call more intimate – I bought his house in Minnesota. He gave me a deal I could not refuse.
The house had been difficult for Larry to sell and here’s the reason: in the middle of a newly constructed addition and family room was a huge oak tree which extended through the roof. An environmentalist, Larry just could not bear to have this magnificent tree cut down so he had the builders accommodate it into the design. Our family lived in the house for eighteen years and that tree and its creaking and groaning was a primary conversation for all those who visited us. Few people ever left without being made to “hug” the tree!
My personal favorite story of Larry was when he approached me to see if I had any interest in the house. At that time I did not have the financial capability. In fact I was honest with him about my poor monetary situation and also asked for ideas to work my way out of it. At that time he was getting divorced. Without missing a beat he said: “David the best thing you can do for your financial future is to marry me!”
At this stage in my career I am connected to extraordinary people all over the world. Many of those relationships began because I knew Larry Wilson. His spiritual DNA exists in so many of us who remain deeply grateful for his creativity, courage and commitment. The world is indeed a better place because of Larry Wilson and let that example inspire each of us to leave our own meaningful legacy.