In the late 70s, Devin Whitworth made two decisive and providential decisions. In 1977, at the tender age of 26, he started his own advertising and marketing business. And less than a year later, he hired a bright young woman named Maria.

“When I realized what a good hire it was,” Devin says, “I wanted to make it permanent.” He did, and the couple spent the next quarter-century as blissful colleagues in both love and business.

In the course of those 25 years, Maria says she was invited to her share of “curiosity approach” meetings, where hosts sprung hidden agendas once their guests were a suitably captive audience. Maria was not impressed.

“It gave me a distaste for network marketing early on: as far as I could see, it completely lacked integrity.”

Devin agrees: “I went to those same kinds of meetings. Same experience, same response: it felt like a deceptive approach, and didn’t appeal to me.”

 

A New Era

That all changed starting in late 2001, when the couple were asked by a friend to help with his due diligence on a network marketing company that had just opened its doors.

“He said he valued our opinion,” recalls Maria, “and wondered if we’d take a look at it. We did, and told him it seemed like a good product, something we could use and quite a few of our clients could, too.”

The friend then decided to do it as a business; did they want to join him?

“We said, ‘Nah…we’re too busy.’ He kept urging us to look at it, and we kept putting it off.”

Finally, the two agreed to go on a tour of the company. They invited another friend to come along, someone who had been involved in a number of network marketing companies and could help them evaluate the comp plan.

“She was going as our expert witness!” says Devin.

At the last minute, Maria wasn’t able to go. Though he would normally have rescheduled, Devin felt obligated to keep the date, since their friend had already taken the day off from work to accompany them. So, shortly after New Years Day, 2002, Devin dutifully spent the day touring the fledgling company—and came away tremendously impressed.

“By the end of the day, after 25 years of saying ‘No,’ I was ready to say ‘Yes’ and sign up.”

On the way home from the tour he asked his “expert witness” friend, what did she think?

“She said, ‘I like it.’ I said, ‘You think you’d want to do it?’ And she said, ‘I’ve been ready to sign up for over a month! I’ve just been waiting for you two to get in first, so you could sponsor me.’ That’s the definition of a good friend!”

 

Getting Started

Still committed to the business they’d been running together for 25 years, they had no intention of overturning their professional lives. Yet that night, recalls Maria, they grew so excited about the opportunity in front of them and what it represented, they could hardly sleep.

“We knew that in our advertising business,” explains Maria, “the day we stopped selling would be the day we stopped earning money. When the concept of residual income really hit us, we knew we had to go down this path. So we jumped in—we don’t do anything half way.”

“Whatever we do,” Devin agrees, “we like to take a professional point of view.”

The first thing they realized was how important the upline is—and that they didn’t have one.

“We were so close to the top of the genealogy,” says Devin, “that there was nobody between us and the company who was active in the business. We were going to have to be the upline.”

They just weren’t sure what that meant, or how to do it.

“For 25 years, I’d been hiring and training salespeople,” says Devin, “so for the next three months we ran it like a professional sales organization. Pretty soon we hit a wall. We were trying to manage people who didn’t want to be managed; they already had a job!”

That’s when they started in earnest to educate themselves about what is different about network marketing.

“Yes, it’s sales,” says Devin, “but it’s a different kind of sales. It’s even more relationship-building than we were used to doing!”

They found a few people in another organization in the company whose approach they liked, and who courteously agreed to answer the couple’s questions and help them get their feet on the ground.

They also discovered Networking Times, which had just published its first issue.

Networking Times set the pace and the tone for us,” recalls Maria. “It confirmed for us that there was something about this profession that appealed to us. It was a life raft. It would have been a lot tougher for us if we hadn’t had all those philosophies and experiences to read about and learn from.”

 

Endless Opportunities to Stretch

As they plunged into their self-directed course of study, opportunities began presenting themselves to push past their comfort zone and take more of a leadership role.

“One of the leaders we were working with asked us to speak at an event,” says Maria. “They didn't really have a couple doing the business together; it was mostly male leaders at that point. So we got to stand up and speak before a big crowd.”

They had given presentations to bank presidents, large ad agencies, heads of corporations, and all sorts of powerful people—but never anything like this.

“It has always been one-on-one or in small meetings,” says Devin, “and I was amazed at how nervous I was.”

“I was shocked at what butterflies I had,”laughs Maria. “My palms were sweating.”

The opportunities to step up and stretch themselves kept coming.

Says Devin, “A door would open, and even before we'd fully stepped through it we'd see another door opening across the room.”

The company had no retail web site to send potential customers to learn about the product. With Maria's graphic design background (and a web designer daughter), this was a natural for the couple, so they put together a solid, professional site. Soon people from other organizations asked if they could make it a replicating site and sell it.

They created their own conference call, put together a complete marketing plan, and continued creating and innovating every place they found a need. With the field asking for a more solid training, they filled the void (leaning heavily on what they were learning from the “Webinars”offered by the brand-new Networking University). That training eventually became the foundation of the company's formal training program; in 2003 and 2004 Devin and Maria were given the company's Top Trainers award.

This continual procession of new opportunities to help soon thrust Devin and Maria into a central role with their company, to an extent, as spokespeople.

“For example, we gained the reputation of being the people who really knew the product,”explains Devin.

“We were often the first faces new people would see, regardless of what organization they were in,” adds Maria, “so they felt comfortable calling us for advice and asking us for things they wouldn't ask their upline.”


Excellence

All of which leads us to ask the obvious devil’s-advocate question.

There they were, training and fulfilling all sorts of functions for people who were not in their downline, yet had never been employees nor paid as contract service for these duties: all their “extracurricular” roles had been on a strictly volunteer basis. How could they afford to put in all that time and effort for something they weren’t paid for?

“For one thing,”replies Devin, “we believe those things that benefit the company as a whole benefit our organization, too. But I guess the simplest answer is that to us, a great deal of what you gain by being in this business is not necessarily monetary. It’s not simply about cars, houses and boats; it’s also about growth, experience, the relationships you have—”

“It's about becoming a better person,” chimes in Maria.

“…exactly.”

Maria again: “I don't know if there’s any other business out there like this, where you can literally develop and become a better person. You can strengthen yourself, grow, become more capable, more competent, more excellent.”

And the ball goes back to Devin: “Excellence: that's key for us. Excellence isn’t just a measure of performance: it’s an attitude, a philosophy, and if you go forward with that point of view, you have an opportunity to grow in ways that go well beyond the bank account—”

“…Although that comes with it, too!”points out Maria.

“…And we all know what bank account growth does for us,” Devin picks it back up. “It gives us more time to have and do the things we want to have and do. And the things we happen to want most are personal growth, and time for more experiences with our friends and our family.”


Education

One reason network marketing has clicked for the couple is that it so clearly represents the values they have sought to champion throughout their professional lives.

Says Maria, “Back when we were first building our advertising agency, the sales and advertising industries were so full of sleazy hype and fast-talking, pushy salespeople. We wanted to create something different, an approach to selling that was very relationship-based, where our clients didn't feel like they were being 'sold' on anything. Our philosophy was that communication and relationships are everything.”

Adds Devin, “We studied different schools of thought, philosophies and spiritual approaches, and our business became a synthesis of all that. And our experience here in network marketing fits that synthesis perfectly.”

Along with excellence, education is another value that distinguishes their approach—and it’s the antidote to the hype.

“To me,”says Devin, “hype is just intensity and enthusiasm gone wrong. There’s nothing wrong with enthusiasm and excitement, and they may get somebody into the game, to use a sports metaphor. But it's education that will keep them in the game; without that, you'll go nowhere. It’s great to get excited, but you also need to come at it with a professional point of view. Even if you're a part-timer. Maybe, especially if you're a part-timer.”


The Shape of Leadership


Given that the couple are in a rather unique situation—stepping into a brand new company and being centrally involved in designing a great deal of the field’s culture and approach—we ask, what can those of us who are in a more typical situation, part of an established company with plenty of established models and trainings and methodologies already in existence, take from their experience and apply to our own careers?

In a word, leadership: and that's the third value they like to champion.

Says Maria, “One reason we've always had our own business is that we've always questioned authority; we ask if it makes sense for us to do what everyone else is doing. We home birthed and home schooled all three of our daughters. We’re always questioning the status quo—and that's really what we want in our organization. Sure, we want duplication—but we don't want a bunch of people who never question anything. We want people who will step up, who are their own leaders.”

Devin continues: “The whole idea of network marketing is that you're an independent businessperson, the CEO of your own group. You may be 99 levels deep in someone else's organization, but in your organization, you're where it all starts: you have an opportunity to establish an organization in the way you see it.

“Leadership is not about telling people what to do or not to do. Leadership is about assisting people to do what they want to do. If you can approach leadership from that point of view, and the people you work with learn to do the same thing, your organization will grow smoothly and easily, with happy people in it.

“The whole key is to never stop learning, never stop growing, never stop striving, to be more than what you are right now. That makes you feel alive—it’s what keeps you alive.”