This is my certificate

If you graduate from law school and pass the bar, you get a certificate. It tells you and the world who you are. That’s not true with “salesman.” There is no certificate, no title – just years of experience & performance to judge who is and who isn’t a real salesman.

I was born in a house my father built. Dad was an engineer, a purpose-driven efficiency expert who believed every son should have goals. My father’s purpose was to make his employer more efficient. When he succeeded in one city, Rayonier Pulp and Paper Company would move him and his family to another. That happened often.
As I progressed through 5 grade schools in 5 different towns in my first six years, I was often asked “What are you going to do with your life?” I wasn’t anywhere long enough to have an answer.

At 14 in Portland, Oregon I had my answer - architecture. I had my eye on an all-male polytechnic high school which had a pre-collegiate architecture program. With my father’s blessing, I enrolled. By my sophomore year however, it was abundantly clear my superpower was less mathematic. Introducing myself to a new grade school every year has given me a confidence to talk with strangers. I liked telling stories and change my class focus to journalism.
This kind of radical change disturbed my father. How could someone change like that? He needed answers. At 15, I was introduced to a psychologist and for a week, a city bus took me downtown to endure a stack of ink blots, a raft of “what if” questions, multiple-choice tests and lots of role playing. The results was every pre-pubescent’s dream – I’m a salesman.

“To be good” my father would say, “you must start young”. So, in the summer of his 16th year, I went to work for Kirby Vacuum Cleaner selling face-to-face, door-to-door, one-on-one. I was taught “persistence” by hardened peddlers whose lessons were learned from countless rejection. From introduction to demonstration, from negotiation to signatures, I still find myself thinking of the venerable “phone close.”

Graduation from a “technical” high school seemed to be ill-suited for my assigned avocation. I had earned both a high school diploma and a journeymanship in the Printer’s Union but my curriculum was absent history, art, and English. One afternoon, after being accepted to Northwestern, I applied for a scholarship to a small liberal arts college in Switzerland. I only got a half-ride but while my friends were finishing high school, I was in Lugano, Switzerland seeing Europe 25 years after “V-Day” and unable to get a hamburger anywhere in 16 countries.

I returned to do seven years at the University of Oregon to get a BA in Advertising and Marketing. I now knew how to sell to the masses. These seven years also included jobs selling radio advertising, bartending and managing a stereo store.

Interestingly, Paul Brainerd, my boss and Editor of the Eugene Emerald in 1970 later founded Aldus and coined the term “desktop publishing” but more on that later. With a degree from the John Crawford School of Advertising, I graduated without either my father’s help or any college debt.

My next stop was L.A.’s Gray and Associates Advertising, a Wilshire Boulevard agency who needed a junior copywriter to sell California oranges and Mitsubishi stereos. I had spent seven years studying demographics and psychographics, design and positioning, messaging, and branding only to discover the ad business was a terrible environment of backstabbers and manipulators. Standing on busy Wilshire Boulevard just months after I had arrived, my office in a cardboard box, my career in advertising had taken its course and I returned to retail management.

You meet a lot of interesting people in retailing. In 1982, I met Len and Myrna Simon whose goal was to sell computers. Together with three other guys, we started Computer City – the number 2 computer retailer in the country behind Sears. This is my only job that appears in Wikipedia. By the end of my stay, I had become the Apple Product Manager, selling Paul Brainard’s desktop publishing solutions to newspapers, Penny Savers, and magazines. (See, I told you we would get back to desktop publishing.)

It is said Samson killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass and that many sales are killed every day with the same weapon. I had learned to listen to my clients however both Computer City and Sears are still out of business. Computers had become an appliance in Southern California and the computer consultant had turned extinct. There was however a place in 1985 where this hadn’t happened yet – Seattle. My new bride and I traveled north to nail the coffin closed on computer retailing.

The day I interviewed with Aldus was the day in 1994 when they were bought by Adobe. Video networking was taking off and I liked the idea of having my own company. A noted switch manufacturer Dynacom needed representation and we struck a partnership that became InData Group. Focused mainly on video solutions for federal, state, and local education, I was now selling to government. For a decade, I negotiated million-dollar institutional projects from Washington and Oregon to Wyoming with some of the toughest buyers in the world. The sales cycle was three years and you could see the future coming in a technology-centric industry or at least I thought.

InData ended abruptly. Thanks to Osama bin Laden on 9/11, government funding was “re-allocated” to war, Bechtel, and Halliburton. Cancelation of millions in contracts happened within a week to businesses like mine across the country – a process government call “Force Majeure”. Dynacom too went out of business and with several hundred thousand dollars of inventory and no one to sell it to, I pondered the future.

At this point, you should know I don’t believe in bankruptcy. Having taxpayers bail out risky endeavors like InData was not an option. I had started selling face-to-face, then to the masses. I’d gone through retailing, wholesaling, industrial sales and then to government but now, we lived on a Mason County beach where there is no industry. The only thing for sale here is real estate.

Now, I’m back to selling face-to-face. Like Kirby, I’m still knocking on doors and don’t get paid unless something gets sold. Yes Dad, I’m a salesman. I’m working hard because I still can. I enjoy the work and the people I meet because being a Realtor connects my wife and I to our community and makes us feel at home. Windermere has been my home now for 15 years and with my parents gone, my office is my family. And why am I telling you this story?

It’s my certificate.

noun, plural sales·men.
pronounced Mike Mostyn