To Win the Rat Race…Quit!
Warren Nelson:
What Works Today Will
Not Work Tomorrow

By John David Mann

When I ask Warren Nelson what he does to maintain such an exceptional level of leadership and accomplishment in his field, he scratches his head and offers this explanation: "I answer my phone." He explains further: "I don't screen calls. I don't wait to see who's there, or let it go to voice mail. When the phone rings, it's me who answers."

"I know that's not the only way to do it," he's quick to qualify. "Some leaders set certain hours when they're available, and use other hours to work with only their top leaders. There are many ways to approach it. My approach is, when I'm open for business--you call, I'll answer."

It's part of the impeccable, elegantly professional way Warren approaches everything he does--an approach no doubt influenced by his Harvard education and top-flight corporate background. Fresh from a Harvard Business School MBA and two advanced science degrees, Warren threw himself into a highly successful corporate climb, arriving at the pinnacle as head of a large multi-national electronics firm....

At which point--much to even his own surprise--he took a graceful swan dive from the top of the corporate ladder and plunged into the far more serene (and as it turned out, more lucrative) waters of network marketing.

 

Escape From the Rat Race

Warren's first exposure to network marketing was an all-day training he attended with his wife, Mary, a successful full-time realtor.

"I am always grateful to Mary. She'd gone to this little meeting on an impulse and signed up with some starter kit; I didn't know what it was about, and it alarmed me."

Warren had never heard of the concept. "Nobody had ever cornered me and gotten me to a meeting--I was always too busy in meetings and on airplanes! Mary was astonished that I went. The truth is, I was looking into it purely so I could poke holes in it and watch it collapse.

At the meeting, Warren recalls, the presenter went on and on--and then said something that seized Warren's attention: "Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat."

"That stuck in my mind--because it was exactly the truth for me. I had won the rat race. I was up at 5:15 every morning, choking down the coffee, on the brakes all the way into the office, under the fluorescent lights, in the meetings, then off on airplanes, overseas and back, in hotel rooms for weeks at a time...people looked at my big salary, big expense account, travel status, and saw all the appearance of success. Yet there was a powerful void in my life. I was missing my son and daughter growing up; I was missing time with my wife. My life was a success--I just wasn't part of it."

About that time, a copy of Time magazine arrived in Warren's mailbox with a cover story titled, "The Rat Race: How America Is Running Itself Ragged." The cover showed what looked like a bunch of rats running a maze; on closer inspection, it was actually a bunch of tiny commuters, arms outstretched--running for the commuter train.

"I still carry that magazine around with me today, to remind myself of what I escaped and to show others."

At that Saturday training, Warren heard something that caught his attention, then and forever:

"The speaker said, 'My success was entirely dependent on how many people I helped to become successful.' That stunned me. It's just the opposite in the corporate world: everybody in the organization competes for the same scarce positions. If you coach or mentor somebody, you could be creating the monster who will take away your position!"

In fact, this happened once to Warren. One day he was called into the office with a man he worked for who also happened to be a close friend. "Just like that, he was out and I was in--suddenly he was working for me." Warren was shocked.

"The corporate scenario is a win-lose proposition; a zero-sum game. But if what this man was saying was true, the business strategy in network marketing was win-win--based not on scarcity, but on abundance. It was a revelation; right then and there, I was hooked."

 

Absorbing the Intangibles

The Nelsons worked their new enterprise together part-time, each working perhaps 10 hours per week. After a little over a year, the income was looking almost shockingly good, and the business was an unquestionable success. Warren began entertaining thoughts about going full-time.

"When I brought up the idea to Mary, she said--with no hesitation whatsoever, 'Resign, do it, go full-time!' Her utter confidence and support made all the difference. I've never looked back."

Within three years, Warren and Mary had gone to the top of the company's pay plan and were earning a resoundingly good income--a success Warren credits entirely and unhesitatingly to his upline.

"The seven people comprising the line from us to the company are the reason we succeeded. Every one of them exuded the qualities of great leadership: unshakable self-confidence and belief, the kind that comes from deep within. They were great coaches, great mentors and trainers--action-oriented and compassionate at the same time, the kind of people who never promote themselves, because they're too busy listening, contributing, and serving."

More than anything, stresses Warren, it was a range of "inner values" the seven all shared, a matter more of who they were than of what they said.

"Our success came from absorbing all those intangibles, simply from being exposed to them over a period of time."

 

Starting Over...and Over

The Nelsons would soon have ample opportunity to put those "intangibles" to the test. Soon after reaching the company's top title, Warren and Mary found they had also reached the limits of that particular growth strategy.

"The exciting growth of those early years was built on promotional volume: volume people bought when they joined the business, but didn't continue buying month in and month out. That tremendous growth curve could be sustained only by a continuous influx of new people."

As business leveled off and plateaued in the States, the company began to focus on growth in foreign markets. With young kids at home, Warren chose not to launch an overseas career.

For the next few years, Warren carefully studied the profession, even presenting generic seminars on network marketing around the country--a "specialty" in his networking career that brought him immense satisfaction.

Eventually, he chose a company to join--and before long, although none of his former upline had joined him (nor had the rest of his previous organization), he'd once again risen to the top.

"I served on the corporate board of directors of that company and learned the business from the inside, so to speak." He also became their #1 Crown Director.

After several years, the company went through an odyssey that resulted in a merger with another company; Warren decided to sell his distributorship and, once again, to move on. After another round of painstaking research, he chose his third and current company.

When that company first published a tabulation of distributor earnings, several years later, Warren was listed as their number one earner.

 

The Two Hands of Mastery

What is it, we ask, that has so consistently allowed him to achieve excellence in his new chosen field?

"It's really two things," he replies after a moment's careful thought. "There are two aspects to mastering this business; the first is timeless and never changes, while the second is in constant flux."

The "timeless" aspect, says Warren, is the foundation of enduring principles that drive networking success, a set of how-to information the couple learned in their first company.

"This includes the communication skills, the presentation skills, the business of how to elicit people's goals and what drives them personally and keep that alive for them, the relationship-building and coaching skills....

"You need to make sure your people are trained, and then provide ongoing coaching, mentoring, and support." Then there is that which constantly changes: the evolving, ever-shifting promotional environment.

"I've used newspaper ads, local and national 60-second radio spots costing up to several thousand dollars per, hour-long radio infomercials, TV infomercials... I've worked with postcard mail-outs, card decks and direct mail campaigns,
the video pass-out, the audio pass-out--you name it, I've done it. And here's the fascinating thing: the effectiveness of any particular promotional strategy waxes and wanes through the years, like the tides."

The requirement itself, he explains, is a constant: networkers need to find new people to talk to. Finding the most effective way to accomplish that today requires flexibility, a forward-looking creativity, and the willingness to learn and apply basic marketing skills.

"As a leader, you've got to stay up on it, continually reading publications like this one, watching what others are doing. You have to stay leading-edge with technology, communications and presentation media. What works today will not work tomorrow."

For example, he and Mary cut their teeth in the business on one-on-ones, living room and hotel room meetings; in those "friends and family" days, the idea of approaching the "cold market" was terrifying for most people.

"Today the pendulum has swung the other way: hardly anyone wants to talk to their warm list. The Holy Grail for most people today is high-quality Internet-generated leads. But that pendulum will always swing again: in the near future, people will become hungry for what is today called 'face time.'"

Actually, admits Warren, there is a third dimension to the business, too: the human context.

"I like to keep the organization working within a team environment, one where we know each other and champion each other, pulling for each other to succeed. That way, there's a sense of community. That way, it's more fun--and more inspiring.

"When you bring together a lot of different talents, you get synergy. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You've got skills that people can contribute to each other. That's a necessity: you can't be a one-man show."

Which may be why, when you call Warren's phone, he answers.

 

No Longer a Rat

Every so often, Warren says, he grabs that Time magazine with the "Rat Race" cover, tosses it in his suitcase and takes it along to use it when he tells his story. It's a cautionary-tale image he never wants to forget.

"I often think of a friend from the corporate days. I saw him one day at a wedding shortly after he retired; he was distraught. He said, 'You know, I had this whole career with this company...and I missed out on my family's life!' It was heart-breaking--and that is what I've been able to avoid.

"One of my greatest joys is that my son is in the business--in fact, it's financed most of his and my daughter's college tuitions. Network marketing has allowed me to work with my wife, instead of being on the road, and it's allowed our kids to be in our lives.

"I so appreciate this lifestyle. I wake up every day and say, 'Life is great!' I was a success in my corporate career, but I was missing out. Now, I'm a different kind of success. I'm not just making a good living; I've made a good life."