Epilogue By Tony J Hughes: The Reason for The Story

The book, The Joshua Principle - Leadership Secrets of Selling, is fiction and not autobiographical but I am often asked which character is based on me. Am I Joshua or Mark or Damien? In truth, there is part of me in all three characters. 

Many have commented on the effectiveness of the book in blending fiction with teaching, but I am sometimes asked why I delivered such an emotional ending to the narrative. We retain information through repetition and emotional impact but people learn best through stories that resonate. Most business books are high on repetition but I sought to make a difference by engaging through a story familiar to most of us - the desire to help those we love and the ageless dilemma faced by parents whose children don’t want to listen. All of us yearn to make a difference but can be frustrated by the challenges of communicating our intentions to those who matter most.

There have been many compliments for the book but the most powerful for me is not in the promotional material; it is from a senior manager within a multinational corporation, and his father is renowned in the advertising industry. He was on a flight reading the last chapter, constantly wiping tears away and the air crew kept asking him if he was okay. He was embarrassed but couldn’t stop reading. He buys a copy of the book for every new person who works for him but the very first copy he purchased was for his father. The emotional ending means the reader is unlikely to forget the story or the simple concepts woven into the narrative. 

Another senior executive telephoned me from Malaysia a few weeks after reading the book. “You’re definitely onto something. I just left a two hour coffee meeting with my most senior sales person in Asia. Afterwards, I was walking down the street and realized I had used all of the RSVP concepts to discuss an opportunity he seemed to think he was going to win - it was brilliant! The amazing thing is that I didn’t realize I was using RSVP until later.”

None of the principles in this book are theoretical; they are proven. I knew the real power of thinking RSVP when I developed and used it in 2005 whilst the Managing Director of the Australian operation of a multinational software corporation. Our Sydney-based office had thirty staff out of the 1,600 employees globally, and the principles enabled our small team to win and deliver three of the four biggest contracts globally for the corporation over a two year period. We were the most profitable and highest performing office worldwide. It was an extremely gratifying moment to hand a sales executive a single commission cheque for over half a million dollars, and also watch him hand the entire sales support (pre-sales) team commission cheques equivalent to their annual salaries!

But what experiences have I drawn upon to create RSVPselling™ and the concepts in the book? Allow me to tell you a true personal story which illustrates the importance of changing the way we think and how my definitions of ‘confidence’ and ‘success’ saved my life.

 

Confidence and The Crash

Tony Hughes Biplane

I had a passion for flying and owned a small aerobatic biplane. I always maintained a healthy respect for the dangers of flying and knew that deaths in sport aviation were most often attributed to ‘pilot error’; which is usually a polite way of explaining over-confidence that leads to catastrophe. 

It was a calm and sunny Saturday and I was enjoying the trip, cruising at 2000 feet above a huge plantation pine forest. Then it happened. The engine suddenly screamed to maximum revs and the needle on the tachometer swung wildly beyond the red-line. I immediately urged the nose down to maintain airspeed while reducing the throttle. The engine idled and I slowly reintroduced power but it raced toward the red-line again with little throttle input. The propeller was simply free-wheeling in the air-stream and it was obvious that something in the drive system had failed. 

The twisting narrow dirt roads below were telltales that the terrain was treacherous but in the distance ahead, the forest ended and semi-cleared scrub took over. A little further to the left of the shortest route out of the forest was a cleared semi-rural area that looked viable. I should be able to make it to the clearing, but if I can’t I’ll adjust my glide-path to the right and land in the scrub, I thought. 

My father’s words echoed in my head: “Any landing you walk away from is a good one.” Don’t try to save the plane; stay calm and you’ll live, I thought. For a brief moment I toyed with the idea of deploying the ballistic parachute which was connected to the aircraft in the event of structural failure. But the vision of an uncontrolled spiral decent, with the aerodynamics of the wings fighting the parachute, had no appeal. I killed the engine, switched-off the electrics, turned-off the fuel, tightened my seat belt, fastened the chinstrap under my helmet and offered a distracted prayer while I focused on managing the glide.

I had lost about 500 feet since the drive system failure and was heading for the clearing just beyond the edge of the forest. Keep it flying, maintain airspeed, don’t stall, stay focused and relaxed. All I could hear was the haunting sound of wind whistling through the rigging wires but I was steadfastly calm. I had made dozens of practice forced landings in previous ultralight aircraft and on two occasions had real emergencies during takeoff. On both occasions I had managed to walk away and I believed I could do it again; if I maintained control.

Now at 1000 feet, I was feeling decidedly nervous about my ability to make it to the clearing on my current glide path. At 500 feet it became apparent that I wasn’t going to make it. I made the decision to abort the clearing and moved the stick to the right and headed for the nearest exit point from the forest where there was a small dam in semi-cleared scrub. The tops of the pine trees were looming and on my current glide path I was going to be 70 feet short of escaping the forest, but I still had good airspeed. I focused on the tip of the trees, 50 feet in from the boundary.

I had 55 knots of airspeed but was down to 100 feet above the tree-tops and 150 feet short of the last of the pine trees. I eased the stick back, decreasing my rate of decent, but I was now sacrificing airspeed. Stall was always preceded by sluggish controls and would occur at 32 knots; the point at which the wings failed to produce adequate lift. Stall-induced spins were always fatal.

My air-speed was down to 40 knots and I was holding a reasonable sink-rate with 25 feet to go. The controls were beginning to feel mushy; 35 knots! I pushed forward on the stick to improve airspeed and in doing so gently brushed the top of the last pine tree. Airspeed! I must get more airspeed. I only had 60 feet of height with a small dam in front of me and light bush beyond it. I pushed the stick forward and dove for the dam. I wasn’t watching my instruments, I was obsessed with the small dam and sparse bush beyond which was rapidly coming up at me. Pull back!

The relative silence of flight was shattered. My tail wheel snapped off with the impact of my heavy three-point landing and the suspension was hammered. After careering only fifteen feet, my main wheels dropped into one of the deep bulldozer ruts that had been formed at right-angles during dam construction and the whole under-cart was torn away. The fuselage skidded forward on its belly and lower wings. The propeller and right engine bearer snapped causing the engine to collapse, destroying the firewall which partially lodged against my right leg. The journey was abruptly halted when the lower left wing collided into a hidden tree stump. The wing-spar was snapped, close to the fuselage, and my landing had come to an end only forty feet beyond the dam.

The silence was eerie but I could hear my heart pounding with adrenalin. I wondered if I was okay and wiggled my toes, successfully confirming that I had feeling. The splintered fire-wall and engine, however, was pressing against my right ankle. I tried to bend my knees but my lower right leg was jammed. I removed my helmet and dropped it to the ground. I noticed helmet paint on the instrument panel and could smell fuel. I focused on how to extricate myself but removing my right leg required the agility of a contortionist.

As I looked back at the pine forest from in front of the aircraft, I remember feeling euphoric. I’m alive and uninjured, I thought. I then walked toward the forest and stood on the dam, surveying my makeshift runway. It was not a pretty sight, seeing the wrecked plane from behind. Five feet either side of my chosen path were enormous half-buried trees covered by light re-growth, making them invisible. I surely would have shattered my legs if I had impacted any of these head on.

To y Hughes Plane Crash

Right: The crashed plane with the pine forest in the background. The engine has been torn from its mounts, the lower left wing spar (right in photo) has been snapped, and the landing gear has been ripped away.

This was the era before mobile phones, and I walked for about forty minutes to a remote farm-house to be greeted with suspicion before being allowed to use the phone to call for assistance.

I attribute my survival to a number of things. One of them was my definition of success when it came to forced landings. My father’s humorous wisdom went a long way to helping me think and react correctly. “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.” But there was another definition that also helped save my life.

 

Successful Thinking

My flying school instructor once told me: “Confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the situation.” This definition of confidence had kept me safe because I constantly thought about what could go wrong and sought to be vigilant and prepared. My father first taught me to fly and emphasized both knowledge and experience. He educated me about engine failures by encouraging me to experience them in controlled circumstances. Practice, experience, correct thinking, and a positive attitude, all played a role in my successful landing. I’ve come to understand that the outcomes we experience in our lives are largely determined by the way we think, feel and act. 

The way we feel about ourselves and our purpose in life largely determines how we respond to opportunity and adversity. We need to be positively expectant, yet our confidence can be misplaced. Years later I reflected on what I had learned from flying, and how my flying instructor’s definition could apply to business and all aspects of life.

Eighteen months after my forced landing, I moved to The USA to establish a new company after selling our successful Australian business. I was young and full of confidence and my dreams inspired bold action, but the confidence I felt turned out to be misplaced.

 

Shattered Dreams

Two years later my life was devastated. My step-father rang from Sydney on my twenty-fifth birthday to tell me that my mother was gravely ill. Two weeks later I left my business in Los Angeles and arrived in Sydney to help nurse my terminally ill mother. She died with us at home seven short weeks later on the seventeenth of May, 1987. Watching the person I loved most in the world suffer was hard to accept.

In the next four weeks things got worse. My sister couldn’t cope and became extremely depressed and was admitted to hospital. My step-father had raised me like his own son since I was age ten, until I moved north to Queensland to re-establish contact with my father. My step-father loved my mother passionately and became very depressed and angry after losing her. On his first social outing, two weeks after her death, he went to the club where they had always gone on Friday nights together; hours later he was arrested by the police and charged with the death of a man with whom he had been in a fight earlier that night. Four days later I received word from America that I had lost my business due to our Joint Venture partner filing for bankruptcy.

Externally I was staying strong but I cut-off emotionally and my wife of four years who had been fantastic in helping nurse my mother left me; I did nothing to stop her. I was numb from the irreversible events which were now taking my life in a different direction. Just when I thought that things could not get any worse, they did. I would never be the same person again, but I hoped to heal with time. I struggled with lots of things inside but I knew I had to get on with life and avoid becoming a victim of circumstance.

I needed to start again, and one major lesson I learned in America was the importance of being able to sell. As much as I abhorred the idea, I knew that I needed the skills of selling. I settled on a career in professional corporate sales. You would be right in thinking that pursuing a sales career was an ill-conceived decision for someone who exhibited few of the necessary attributes required of a successful sales person. I was in a negative frame of mind, I had no real sales experience, I had lots of hang-ups and negative stereotypes, and it was very difficult for me to adapt and change. There were however two qualities I possessed which enabled me to begin my new journey of personal growth and success; I was very willing to learn and very determined not to fail. I soon transformed this into a determination to succeed.

 

The Journey Back: Success in Selling

My first job in sales was with an Australian telecommunications network service provider owned by BellSouth Corporation. There were more than a hundred field sales professionals nationally and I worked hard to succeed. What I lacked in skill I made up with hard work. I was soon the top performing sales person in the region and then the top performer nationally. The following year I became the most successful sales person in the company’s history, breaking all records and landing the largest ever contract in the industry, by selling to IBM. This contract was won at 70% higher revenue than what was being paid to the incumbent competitor; and they still use the service at the time of writing this book, more than twenty years later. I qualified for the prestigious President’s Council globally, and later accepted a promotion into sales management. After a few years of successfully doing this I decided I wanted to go back into personal selling but at a higher level, so I moved into the computer industry. Over the years I worked for a number of multinationals, including Digital Equipment Corporation where I earned Asia-Pacific Account Manager of the Year. I also work for Fujitsu where delivered their largest ever OEM contract in the region.

I consistently performed in the top 5% everywhere I worked and in 1999 I moved into the software industry, eventually becoming Managing Director of Hummingbird’s Australian operation (today part of Open Text). They were a global corporation operating around the world from forty offices and with 1,600 employees. In 2005, the principles in this book were responsible for delivering three of the four biggest contracts world-wide from our relatively small office. RSVPselling™ had been instrumental in the Australian operation being the highest performing and most profitable office globally. I registered RSVPselling™ as a trade mark and began to write this book. Later, the oldest university in Australia — The University of Sydney — invited me to deliver my training materials and course as part of their extended curriculum program. The course received outstanding feedback but I chose to continue in real world sales leadership positions rather than become a trainer or lecturer.

I have experienced the timeless truth that what doesn’t kill us can truly make us stronger. I’ve learned that success, happiness and contentment come from within, and that what happens externally need not control us. Our beliefs, attitudes and values define who we really are and determine how we act, and these together result in what we achieve materially and in our relationships. There is great healing power in having a sense of humor and a grateful heart, but what matters most is who we become in our pursuits.

 

A Career of Value

To those already actively engaged in selling. My goal for the book was to capture the essence of what it takes to be a leader and succeed in the essential business function of delivering profitable revenue. My fervent hope is that the story and teaching enables you to benefit from decades of experience, thousands of hours at the ‘pointy-end’ and the powerful simplicity of thinking RSVP in all that you do, both professionally and personally.

The selling profession can be a career of genuine value and high integrity focused on solving problems for individuals and organizations. In complex enterprise selling, knowing why you are doing something is just as important as knowing what to do and how to do it. Strategy and execution are critical differentiators, and this is why there is a picture of a chess game on the front cover of the book. Today’s buyers are empowered with access to enormous amounts of information; neither charisma nor product and service strength is enough to ensure success. Instead, complex selling demands strategic thinking, politically powerful relationships, process alignment and excellence in execution.

I once had an amusing computer program that displays a black screen and an icon which reads, for the meaning of life click this button. Whenever you move the mouse pointer to the icon it quickly moves to another part of the screen and no matter how fast or persistent you are in trying to click on the icon, it just keeps moving away. Life can be like that too; just when you think you’ve got the answer or understand the rules, they seem to change or slip beyond your grasp. Success need not be mysterious or elusive and the book seeks to convey the simple principles of prospering in business and professional selling.

Nobody likes being lectured or criticized; yet we are naturally blind to our own defects and weaknesses. We all need help if we are to improve and succeed in the things that really matter. I hope this book makes a difference for you as you face the struggles of influencing and leading. Make no mistake, the selling profession demands personal leadership and all leaders need to masterfully sell themselves and their message. We can all be successful because we can individually define success for our own lives and we have the capacity to change.

When it comes to managing relationships and the fundamentals of business, there is no such thing as new truth. Much of what you have read in the book is the wisdom of others that I absorbed over the years, but packaged in my own way. The fundamental truths of life have been with us for thousands of years but we own our own truth when knowledge combines with experience, and often failure or pain to ram home the lessons. Success can breed arrogance but failure can give birth to wisdom.

Thank you for reading the book, but the challenge for you now is to decide what you will do differently and how you will improve. I too struggle to practice the things I know. I encourage you to select a few ideas and memorize the RSVP concepts. Constantly use the Opportunity Qualification Tool. Apply what you intellectually accept as being right until it becomes instinctive; this is the beginning of mastery. Being aware of something is very different to truly knowing it; you have only really learned something when you live it successfully.

To be a good sales person, or manager, or business leader; we must first be a good human being.