An Icon Moves On

Larry Wilson

Larry Wilson, founder of
Wilson Learning and
Pecos River Learning

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.

About David McNally

David McNally, CEO & President of TransForm Corporation
This entry was posted in Leadership, Thriving and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to An Icon Moves On

  1. Becky Amble says:

    Great story. Larry was a significant contributor to the human potential movement. Glad you had the chance to have so many positive experiences with him.

  2. pat Gallagher says:

    Great article David-I also met him in the 80′s and he became a client of mine. Great guy to kibbitz with and a great organization to do business with-I’m sure several of his old collegues still wear thier Mikey Mouse watches to remind themselves that work should also be enjoyable and fun

  3. Irene Kelly says:

    Beautiful! While I did not know Larry personally, I have been touched by his work, his creativity and folks who worked with him. Thank you, David, for a heartfelt tribute.

  4. Kellie Sites says:

    Hello David ~ I read with interest your story about Larry Wilson… I did not meet him, but in 1990 I applied for a job at Pecos River. Reading about your life and his, and I’m reading your book… I am inspired to really examine how I do what I do and do my life better! Thank you for sharing about Larry’s life… may he be soaring with Eagles… and all that heaven will bring. Kellie Waconia Chamber

  5. Joan Ward says:

    Thank you David for this delightful romp thru your memories of Larry! Brought a big smile to my face esp recalling his oak tree home and meandering speeches!! Since heard of his death, I too have spent much time recalling so many special moments and learnings in my life with Larry… especially w/ Bill as we worked and lived w/ that special force of nature – Larry Wilson!
    Peace now… Love and A Dios , Larry. Joan

  6. John Grau says:

    Beautiful story David. Didn’t know about the house with the tree, but really is “so Larry”. As is his comment about improving your financial future by marrying him. Such a wonderful wonderful generous, kind loving man. I will miss him.

  7. Page Glasgow says:

    David, thank you for sharing your eloquent tribute to Larry. He touchede each of in a profound way and facilitated so many loving friendships inspired by his message. You are a desciple of Larry’s and in your own way carry his message forward.

  8. Peggy steele says:

    Very well said. Thanks for this. Peggy

  9. Tom Bienemann says:

    David, thank you for the wonderful tribute to Larry. He was a great friend and colleague. My days at Wilson Learning and Pecos are among my favorite. I still wear my Mickey Mouse watch from my first year at WLC 28 years ago. Larry would be proud!

  10. Peggy Hesch says:

    Beautiful, thank you for your wonderful tribute to my father. You captured his contribution so eloquently.


    Peggy Hesch

  11. Steve Haskins says:

    Hi David,
    His was the first “sales” course I took in 1972-73. It helped me become salesman of the year in 1973 while in St. Louis. I still remember and use many of his techniques/philosophies. He is a true inspiration to many of us.
    Best Regards,

  12. Roger Wenschlag says:

    Well done David. Each of us who was touched by Larry’s brilliance, generosity and spirit will never forget him. He was a giant. Roger.

  13. David,
    As usual, David, a writing from the heart. Larry was an exceptional visionary. Just last week I was driving from Santa Fe to Denver, passing Pecos River. It brought back many good memories. What a vision for a retreat center! It was where I met Larry for the first time. I remember being invited as a client. There were artists, teachers, futurist, Wilson Learning employees and me-a corporate type. We were going around the room introducing ourselves. When it came to me he said “and why are you here?” And I said, without thinking, ” I want to work for your company some day.” He laughed and said, “let’s make it happen.” And it did! I will always be grateful for that experience and my association with WIlson Learning. Both have helped me personally and professionally throughout the years.

  14. Sheri Ellis says:

    What a moving article David. You were blessed to have such an inspiring guy as a mentor and close friend. I saw Larry speak a few years ago and arranged for a follow-up business lunch. I too felt blessed to be around his wisdom, kindness and significant aura. I was sorry to hear of his passing.

    Thanks for your eloquent words!

  15. John Elliott says:

    Hello David!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with Larry Wilson. He was and will continue to be an inspiration to all of us. HIs zest for life and enthusiasm will live within all of us for many years to come. There have been three people (other than Jesus Christ) who have changed my life and my career; Ziz Ziglar, Larry Wilson and David McNally! Having the opportunity to work with all three of you has not only been rewarding but life changing. I am so thankful that you continue to be so gracious to keep on giving to all of us. Your monthly articles and insights are so inspirational and are a welcome sight when they pop up in my emails. Keep it up! I need it!

    Warm Regards,
    John Elliott

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