John David Mann

A Two-Generation Team

The Karlens: Russ and Eric

By Uma Outka

Eric Karlen lives in Las Vegas, a few miles from a 17,000-square-foot mansion that borders a golf course. People frequently mistake the place for a country club; it’s not. It is a private home, and it’s where Eric goes to “work”—making calls, holding presentations, and meeting potential partners, either inside or out on the green. Eric has an office inside; so does his partner, Russ Karlen, the house’s owner—and Eric’s dad.

“My father is a living testimonial to the networking lifestyle,” says Eric. “It’s nice to show people that the business really does work—and to have that synergy and motivation from the guy making calls in the next room.”

A Matter of Timing

Prior to networking, Russ ran a large landscape contracting business in Orange County; Linda was a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. With $100,000 weekly payroll and 50 employees, Russ was living the outline of the American Dream—but the high stress and heavy schedule had him looking for something else. He and Linda started a real estate company, but after five years and the birth of their daughter Brittany in 1984, their eyes were open for an alternative. That’s when network marketing showed up.

“Russ is a fabulous salesperson,” says Linda; “we thought he was just going to sell a product. Then we found out about building an organization.” Linda focused on one-on-one training while Russ increasingly took to the stage—and together, the two began creating an empire. For the past decade now, more than 50 people in their organization have earned at least a million dollars annually.

Through high school, Eric had lived with his mother, visiting Russ and his wife Linda only a few times a year. He’d traveled with them, even attended a few meetings but didn’t really understand the business.

In college, Eric lived closer to his father; the two got to know each other better. After graduating, Eric became a stockbroker, but he soon saw that the it was only a matter of time before the profession would become obsolete, thanks to the Internet. Russ felt the timing was right to invite his son to consider network marketing.

His company was about to expand into Thailand; he sat Eric down to discuss opening the country as a team. They would do everything together so Eric would get hands-on learning at his dad’s side. It scarcely took persuasion: Eric was sold.

Third Time’s A Charm

The two spent several months building in Thailand, but a recession there caused the enterprise to falter. Discouraged but not defeated, Eric returned to the States and turned his attention to a new division the company was starting. He experienced some success, but his attention was soon drawn by the introduction of a new product elsewhere in the company—where he faced still further obstacles. Refusing to quit, he returned his focus to the new division. This time, his efforts proved out, and his organization launched into momentum.

If there is one thing Eric’s learned from Russ, he says, it’s persistence. “People used to call him Russell Rhino,” he laughs, “and I wasn’t going to give up.” Russ watched the transformation, visibly proud of his son.

“Before, I could see Eric was hoping and praying it was going to work. Now he knows it works, you can tell by watching him smile on stage.”

At 27, Eric is wealthy, confident, and feels as comfortable talking about the business to a 50-year-old business executive as he does to a college student. His dad helped him build this posture by elevating him and believing in his abilities, even before he saw great results. Eric values the opportunity to learn with Russ and is glad that he’s been able to offer something back in return.

“He taught me network marketing while I taught him technology,” he says. “We both had something to bring to the table.” Russ points out that changes in technology since he and Linda started in the 80’s have not only yielded new ways to build the business but have also redefined how personal networks are shaped and maintained. When he left college, he comments, most people lost track of their friends. By contrast, he sees Eric’s generation staying in touch: through the Net, they communicate easily and regularly, keeping the network active.

Eric’s thrilled by his success, but the numbers tell only part of the story. “Working with my dad has been great for our relationship,” he says, “and you can’t put a price tag on that.”

Finding Your Own Style

“I had put my dad on a pedestal,” says Eric. “He was so good in front of a crowd. He was a master salesperson—there was no way I could do that!” With his father’s achievements came the pressure of high expectations. It was a friend, Laura Kall, who helped him to find his own way to success.

Like Eric, Laura was a second-generation networker: her father Richard was a top earner and she had also struggled to find her own style in the business. “Laura helped me see that I didn’t have to be Russ Karlen, just as she didn’t have to be Richard Kall.”

Eric says his style has emerged as more personalized than his dad’s, and listening is a trademark of his approach. “The best advice Linda ever gave me was that this business gives you a Ph.D. in psychology. I had no idea what she meant at the time, but when I really started working with people, I found out.”

Unlike Eric, says Russ, nearly-18-year-old Brittany has experienced network marketing “by immersion.” Only time will tell whether she will find a business-building style of her own and continue the family tradition.