[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]
Kevin Kruse: Hello everyone, I'm Kevin Kruse, welcome to the LEADx show. Today, I'm going to talk to the head of sales at 60 year old company that's doing over eight billion dollars in annual sales, in over a hundred different countries. We discuss his advice for new managers, his no-goals career advice, and, our challenge of the day based is interview is for you to go and have an unstructured, one-on-one conversation with a team member of colleague in a way that demonstrates you care. That means use this time not to talk about work, but rather talk about their kids, their interests outside of work, demonstrate that you care about them as a person. And if you want to stand out and to get ahead at work, visit LEADx.org and check out the dozens of courses on leadership, management, productivity, and personal branding, along with over 100 executive book summaries.
Our quote of the day “I'd rather regret the things I've done, than regret the things I haven't done.” – Lucille Ball.
Our guest today joined Amway in 1993, as a distributor relations sales manager, and he quickly advanced through the organization. Today he's chief sales officer for Amway, and is responsible for the company's global sales operations. He is past member of the leadership advisory board for the college of business at Ferris State University. Our guest, is John Parker. Parker, welcome to the show.
John Parker: Thank you Kevin, great to be here.
Kruse: Now John, I sorta have a tradition where all of the guests get the same first question, because I love failure stories. I think failures are just stepping tones to bigger things. Even if they're painful in the moment. So I'm hoping you're gonna share with us, a time when you failed at something, and what did you learn from it?
Parker: Sure, unfortunately, there's a long list for me to choose form here. One that really comes to mind and a story I like to share here at Amway, I spent four and a half years in Japan, leading our business there. When I arrived in Japan, like a lot of ex-pats, going to a different culture, I thought I pretty well understood everything, because I went through my cultural class. And then you get there and you realize it's so much different than you anticipated.
So we had an initiative not long after I go to Japan that involved a product development project, and I was thinking about it, very much from a Western perspective. What I didn't understand was that this product specifically was a cookware product. And we actually have a community of cooking in our business in Japan, that really is one of the lifestyles that our business sis built around. Sort of healthy cooking, it's a great way for women to both expose other women to the Amway business, and develop new skills, and it's really that foundation of our business in Japan and in Asia for many years. So we developed this new cookware product, it was actually a rice cooker, that I didn't have the full understanding of how our ABOs in Japan were actually selling our cookware. I didn't fully, deeply understand the stories they were telling, the experiences they were creating, all I knew was that we were developing, had just finished developing this cooking pot that developed rice that, in our market research, tasted better than rice cooked in other ways.
You know, in Japan, you'd think that's a pretty compelling product. And too late in the process, I took this product, prototypes to a group of our ABOs, and not only did they not like this product, they hated it. And the reason they hated it was because the story that we told with this new product actually contradicted the story they told, and they'd been telling for years, in selling our core cookware line. And the lesson for me was, I waited too long to engage with our ABOs, to understand how this would support what they're doing already, and my Western bias and way of thinking in Japan, was simply wrong.
And so it required me to kind of flip my perspective, and begin future product development processes by being in the market, in the field, with our distributors, what we call our Amway Business Owners, our ABOs, and start the project there. Beginning with an understanding of what they were doing and what they need, instead of starting in the lab, and then figuring out how to retrofit that to what they're already doing.
Kruse: But now, you've got me on pins and needles. What's the ultimate end of that cooker? Were you able to change the story and save it, and move forward? Or did you have to scrap the project?
Parker: We had to scrap the project. You know, I'd love to tell you, you know, “Hey there was the great outcome and it became a success,” it didn't. It truly was a failure from beginning to end. We wrote off that project, and you know, it really required me as a leader to self-reflect on the way in which I was approaching solving problems, both in a different country, but frankly beyond the cultural nuances, it's a lesson that applies around the world. You've got to start with your customer first. You've got to start with that deeper understanding of what the market is looking for, not just something you've created, that you think is better, and now we're going to go force it on the market and convince them that we're smarter than they are.
Kruse: It's a great story, including your personal lesson learned, but I'm also hearing this story, it reflects well on the culture of Amway, when it comes to innovation and creativity. Because, in some organizations, failure is fatal to careers. And that clearly hasn't been the case. So it shows that mistakes can be made, you can try certain things, but it's one way not to have success in project, it's not you know, a fatal error. Speaking of which, John, you've had an amazing career at Amway, starting back in 93, as a district manager, quickly rose up, you know, director of sales, VP sales and marketing, chief marketing officer, president of Amway Japan, as we just talked about, and finally, chief sales officer. So, what career advice would you give to a young professional today, who sees your career story, your career arc, and wants to have similar success?
Parker: It's a good question Kevin, I think, let me start off by saying, everybody's journey is unique. You know, my perspective is based on my personal experience, and understanding that this next generation thinks about their careers differently, and approaches work differently, I recognize that my lessons and my advice are sort of just that, based on my experience. My advice is, maybe counter to what a lot of people say, I know that there are so many people that you know, rally focus on goals, and timelines, and you know, really being clear about where you want to go, and how you're going to get there, and communicating that to your boss, and developing yourself in that way.
I took very much a different approach. My perspective has always been very much to stay in the moment, and do the best job that I can on the work that I'm being assigned at the moment.
I decided early on in my career that Amway would take good care of me. If I worked hard, and I produced results, and I was able to contribute in a way that made our business in some way better, I trusted that over time my career would take care of itself. And so, I really never had specific goals or objectives around achieving a certain level by a certain time. I really look at business very much as being a team sport. You know, I think if we collaborate in a way that makes those around us better, you know, leadership sort of happens. And so, my view on things might be different than many, but I think it's easy for us if we focus too much on what's next, to not be in the moment in a way that we're going to have the impact we could have.
Kruse: Yeah, and the way you just phrased that, now in a sense, I want to underscore this for the LEADx listeners, you know, I went through a big change in my own life. I, in my twenties, and early thirties, I was very goal-driven, I mean, just, and it was all that SMART goals, it was time-bound, and I knew the dollar amounts, and all of that. And, goals are powerful, it does direct your focus, but exactly what you just said, it kept me from being present in the moment. It kept me from being aware of other opportunities, other avenues. And quite frankly, it didn't make me a real good husband or father, when I was so goal-directed. And I've had some more recent mentors, that have said, who have been very successful just like you, said, no, I never really had specific goals, it was about surrounding myself with great people, being in a great organization, you know, working hard and trusting that good things would come, and just being aware and present. And I think there's no one right way to achieve that career success.
And I think this is great advice for, we were talking before the show about our teen children, that you don't have to think you have it all figured out or have that career ladder mapped to a certain year. You know, explore, and find something you love doing, work hard, and good things will come. And similarly, because, not just career success, but as a leader, you've been a leader all throughout your career, what advice would you give to sort of a new first-time manager? A younger, first-time manager who wants to thrive as a leader?
Parker: Good question Kevin. Two thoughts come to mind. First is, I think the most effective leaders are the ones that really focus themselves on their team, and not personally on themselves. I think that, in any leadership environment, whether it's in business or community, or sports, or whatever it is, when your team really, genuinely believes that your priority is their success, and the common goal, they'll buy in in a way that you're not going to get just because you have the title. I think that's really foundational and really critical.
The second comment I would have is, I think to be successful as a leader, you have to find and deeply engage with mentors that are going to push you and stretch you. And it's not on your company to do that for you. It's on you to identify who those mentors are that you want to connect with, and really sort of go after them. You know, build that connection, make it worth their time, figure out a way you can add value to them, and then when you're with them, as much as you can, keep your mouth shut and your ears open and learn.
Kruse: Yeah, that's great advice. I'm curious, I've been thinking about leaders, more tactical things for leadership and management, you know, on this topic. And I know I became a much, well it was much better for my team, much better for the business, when I started doing regular one-on-ones, one-on-one meetings with my directs. And I'm curious, do you do regular one-on-ones with your team members, or what is your rhythm of communication look like?
Parker: I do. I do regular one-on-ones, both because I think it's a valuable tactic as you said, in terms of ensuring that the dialogue is consistent. It also demonstrates to them that you do care. Other dynamic I would add to this is that the idea of sort of informal one-on-ones, you know, dropping by, and engaging with your team when its not on a specific project or task, I think that can create a foundation under your relationship and a trust where, you when they hear you're interested in them, and their development beyond the work of the moment, I think that goes a long ways towards establishing the type of team dynamic that every leader is trying to achieve.
Kruse: Yeah, reminds me of now, the old advice of Tom Peters, about management by walking around, and there seems to be some magic about no agenda. But showing up, and whether it's following up on a project, or following up on their kids soccer game over the weekend, whatever that might be, goes a long way.
Parker: Absolutely. And you know, I think people recognize quickly what you're in it for. And if they think all you care about is the work, and you getting ahead, it's gonna really be hard to develop followership. But once they sense that you really do care about them and their development, and their success, beyond what's the task and initiative of the moment, it really changes the tone of the relationship. I think it changes what can be accomplished by a team.
Kruse: And the last sort of advice question I have, is you mentioned your ABOs, which I'm glad you defined for us, Amway Business Owners, you know I've got friends who are in the direct selling industry, and they spend a few hours a week as sort of like a, these days they call it a side hustle, you know, some side income, or to save some money. And I've known some people who have really turned it into a full-time career, where they're making well into six figures. And I'm sure there's everything in between, so you know, what's the secret? If you had a new ABO, who really wanted to build a big business, what advice would you give to her?
Parker: You know, that's a great question Kevin, and I don't think that the secret in direct selling frankly is much different than the secret in any other part of life. I think it's hard work and persistence over time, and many of the leadership lessons that we're describing here translate into great relationships with customers, as well. And I think applying the same lessons in direct selling and in the Amway business, I think they all hold true.
You know, what we found in our experience at Amway, is that the more time people invest, the more persistent they are, over longer periods of time, the more likely they are to be successful. What makes direct selling at Amway, I think, a great business opportunity, is that it's truly up to the individual. As you said, are your goals sort of smaller and short-term? Or are they bigger and longer-term? And based on that, you know, the effort you put in will largely dictate the rewards that you get out of it.
And I think for many in direct selling, having the low cost, low risk way to start a business of your own, you called it a side hustle, which is a great way to describe it, there's a point in direct selling where that side hustle truly transitions in to, you know, micro entrepreneurship, and can become bigger entrepreneurship over time as well. And I think given the changes that we've seen, in how people think about work, and they way in which people desire you know, to be in a business of their own, it really creates big opportunity I think for our industry and for Amway as a company.
Kruse: I hadn't actually thought about that before, but yeah. For the industry, I mean, this is really wind in your sails, as more and more people, you know, the millennials, and whatever the younger than millennials are called, I don't know, whenever they're surveyed, they, like a big group of them say they want to own their own business. They want to work for themselves, I mean, a higher percentage than ever before. So that's a really good sign.
Parker: Absolutely. Amway actually sponsors a very large study globally, we do it over 40 countries with over 50,000 respondents, and it's called the Amway global entrepreneurship report. And we're really teasing out that topic that you just referenced. How interested is that next generation in entrepreneurship, and why. And we see it around the world, across countries and cultures, and economic development, that entrepreneurship is something that motivates millions of people around the world, because of the freedom and flexibility that it offers.
What Amway offers is a flavor of entrepreneurship. That, as you said, could be a side hustle or could be something bigger. And so as we think about you know, the impact that we're going to have as a business, you know, inside of economies around the world, we're very passionate about the role that entrepreneurship can play in developing societies and economies, and we also see the impact it has on individual lives. And I think that's our case, it's really what motivates us as business and as individual employees, being a part of that entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial engine that can be such a powerful force in economies.
Kruse: Yeah, I always say, I mean, the world needs more entrepreneurs. I mean, we've got, you know, a lot of big problems in the world, but entrepreneurs are a key to solving them. And you were so eloquent John, and spoke with passion in that last answer, you might have already answered this, but final question, I mean, when it comes to Amway, what are you most excited about? What do you have going on that's getting you excited, even at this point in your career, that the best days are still ahead?
Parker: Yeah, you know, I think one of the real significant changes in our business is the way in which sort of the digital revolution is allowing us to provide better support to our Amway Business Owners around the world. So, 30 years ago in direct selling, it was very much about having you know, great product, and a compensation structure that rewarded, you know, your best business owners for their success.
Now today we can bring so much more to the business, in terms of digital tools and support, data and analytics, to help our ABOs understand how they can be more effective, you know, leveraging technology in our supply chain, and creating a better customer experience, both for our ABOs and their customers.
What really excites me about the future, is that we’re able to take the core entrepreneurial opportunity that we offer, add to that the technology and digital tools and support, and as we continue to introduce and develop great new products for our ABOs, we can bring to them as well support that allows them to be more efficient with their time, identify where the best opportunities are for them to succeed, and provide them an experience that allows them to focus on the most impactful areas of their businesses, which are developing other sales leaders and developing customers. And we can provide a digitally enabled back-end for them, that they can have on their phone, that allows them to operate a business with so much more efficiency than they ever could in the past.
Kruse: I get excited hearing you talk about that. I mean, to be an entrepreneur, that you can first of all, choose your own hours, and lla of that stuff, but you literally can run your business from your smartphone. I mean that's amazing.
John, where's the best way for our listeners to find out more about you and Amway?
Parker: Yeah. I'd say, amway.com and check out our social feeds as well. You know, we're active on twitter, and you know, all the social platforms, in the US and around the world. And uh, you know, we're excited about the mission that we have in terms of supporting entrepreneurs and bringing great products to them and customers around the world. And we look forward to helping a lot more people achieve their dreams and goals, and be successful in their Amway businesses.
Kruse: It sounds great. And we will put the links everywhere, in the show notes, and articles.