Frank Maguire has a résumé that reads a bit like the table of contents of a book called “Mileposts of Twentieth-Century Innovation.” The man whom Sam Walton called, “The best motivator I’ve ever heard,” is indeed one of the highest-rated and most sought-after speakers in the world, and he didn’t learn those pearls of wisdom he dispenses (always with his trademark mix of heart and roguish humor) by observing from the sidelines. From the Kennedy White House to Kentucky Fried Chicken, ABC to FedEx, Frank has been in the right famous place at the right famous time more consistently than anyone since Forrest Gump—and unlike Gump, Maguire’s for real. Ted Koppel describes Frank as “Like a gust of fresh air has come bursting through the door.” Charles Osgood calls him “Corporate America’s wake-up call.” And here’s something about Frank that might come as no surprise to our readers: he calls network marketing “the hope of America’s economic future.” — JDM

The theme of “greatness” prompts me to ask, how did you become involved in the JFK administration?

I had worked my way through college with a job at ABC. When I finished school I was invited to come be in charge of program development, which basically meant I would be running the network.

Quite an amazing thing for such a young man!

I don’t believe in things being impossible. You hear it all the time: “If you believe you can, you will,” and I believe this in a very real way. If you have faith in yourself, there is no “impossible.”

Actually, failure’s a very difficult thing to achieve. You can’t be a failure unless you are truly committed to being that.

So I took the job and put together quite a team—I hired [Ted] Koppel and [Charles] Osgood and a whole list of others. Because I was so young, I was written up in the paper. [JFK Press Secretary Pierre] Salinger saw the article and said, “Hey, we’re looking for someone who knows the electronic media.” That's how I ended up at the White House.

Television was still so new and untested, politicians didn’t trust it.

That’s right. You should have seen the cameramen fighting for outlets in the White House press room. The print guys would sit there with their paper and pencil, waiting for us to start, while the TV guys would go scrambling around because we didn’t have enough plugs.

I was very pleased and honored to be part of that team. And I learned a lot as a member of that Kennedy clan. I learned that it’s about believing in yourself.

Here I was, barely out of college, with a job at the White House, playing touch football at the Shrivers’ place on the weekends. Sometimes I’d stop and ask myself, How on earth did I get here?

But that’s my point: stop worrying about what other people think or say or do. Understand that it’s all about believing in yourself.

That is the greatest act of faith anybody will ever be called upon to make.

The people I’ve known who have been successful, from JFK to Colonel Sanders to Fred Smith and many others, have all had one quality in common: they’ve all had total self-confidence—with grace. It’s not about ego or arrogance; it’s about grace and dignity. It’s about feeling good about yourself and believing in who you are and what you can accomplish.

That spirit certainly typifies that era. Aside from putting a man on the moon, which is the one everyone remembers, there were so many achievements with such long-lasting legacies—the Peace Corp, civil rights….

I remember the five-member task force that created the idea of the “war on poverty”: David Gottlieb, Jules Sugarman, Ira Walsh, Harry Miller and me. One day the five of us went down to have a beer after we had put this marketing concept in place so that Congress would buy it.

The real work of the war on poverty was that it was a marketing job. We had to sell our product. That product was that we wanted $300 to 500 million to start this program, which would later become part of the “Great Society.” To sell it, we knew we had to put an unforgettable name to it—so we’d come up with “war on poverty.”

We sat there over our beers, saying, “Boy, we did it, this is fantastic! The President’s going to love it. He’ll take it to the Hill and sell it…”

And all of a sudden, I had a thought.

I said, “Wait a minute, guys—hold on! I don’t think we’re done yet. We have Job Corps, we have Vista,” which is the domestic Peace Corps, “we have all these grant programs—but we’ve left out a significant group of human beings we need to take care of because they can’t help themselves. And since they don’t vote, nobody’s thought about them.”

So we went back upstairs, took off our jackets, rolled up our sleeves, and created a program known as Project Head Start.

For me, that was the greatest success I experienced during those days.

Sarge’s wife Eunice was so impressed that she asked us if we would come out on the weekends to help her create a program for the special kids. In just a few weeks, we created the Special Olympics.

What a legacy!

And here’s the thing: none of that would have happened if we had not put our egos aside and put our focus on what people needed from us.

People are always looking to us for leadership. Everybody does. They’re looking to us for that quality that stops focusing a spotlight on little things and turns a floodlight onto the big picture. They look to us for greatness.

A job at the 1960s’ White House must have been a hard act to follow. Where did you go from there?

I was fired by Nixon when he took office, and took a job as head of marketing and public relations at American Airlines. While I was there, I got a call from John Y. Brown, Jr., who was the CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He had bought the company from Harlan Sanders in ’64, and he wanted me to come take a position as Senior Vice President of Kentucky Fried.

I said, “John, you’ll excuse me, nothing personal, but I’m the head of marketing at American Airlines. I have a home on Park Avenue and another home on the water in Old Lyme, Connecticut. I just don’t see myself getting too excited about moving to Louisville, Kentucky.”

But he kept after me and finally got the Colonel on my case. They invited me down to a Christmas party about a year later, and while I was there the Colonel offered me some equity.

For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to own a piece of the action; that changes things. My father worked for the phone company: they gave him a salary and fifty years later, a watch.

Much as I hated to leave American, I moved to Kentucky and became the Senior Marketing Officer for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I stayed around there for a few years, and then we got acquired by Heubline and went public. Two things happened when we went public: one, my equity became quite valuable, which was great. And two, as a senior officer, I of course got fired.

Just like when Nixon took office.

Right—fired again! It seemed pretty depressing at the time—but as I said, you have to have faith in yourself, and I did.

So I’m sitting there in Louisville, Kentucky, out of work, and someone writes about me in the Wall Street Journal—and soon I got a call from someone who had read the article. He said his name was Fred Smith.

“I see you just got fired?” says Fred.

I say, “Yeah, thanks for pointing that out. Appreciate your reminding me.”

And he says, “I’m thinking about starting a little company. You want to come down to Memphis?”

I tell him, “Fred, when you’re out of work, you’ll go anywhere, even Memphis.”

So I get down to Memphis and Fred tells me about this hub and spoke concept he had.

I say, “Fred, let me get this straight: you want to pick up tiny little packages from all over the country and bring them to Memphis in the middle of the night? And then sort them all and send them all out again by dawn?”

He’s beaming at me and says, “You got it!”

I said, “Fred, that’s the dumbest, craziest idea I’ve ever heard.”

And he looks at me and says, “Any dumber than selling chicken in a cardboard box?”

He had me there. He might just as well have said, “Any crazier than putting a man on the moon? Or waging war on poverty?”

If you’re looking for elements of greatness, here’s one: you’ve got to have an attitude. JFK, Harlan Sanders and Fred Smith all had attitude: they came up with ideas everyone else would have thought were crazy, and ran with them.

I realized I had a real leader in Fred, and I joined up.

And the rest is history.

The story of FedEx: we changed the way the world does business. And it’s amazing that we succeeded, because we lost a million dollars a month for the first thirty-six months or so.

And this is before the days it was fashionable to lose that kind of money.

I was there for ten years or so, at which point it was time for a bunch of us original senior officers to move on. We were the pioneers who staked out the territory, now it was time for the settlers to come in and take over.

Now I go around the world with Tom Peters and Jack Welsh, Rudy Giuliani and Alvin Toffler, General Schwartzkopf and General Powell, talking to people about what it is to realize greatness.

Of all the things I’ve done, I’m loving this the most. I’ve been very blessed with the career path I’ve had; now I get to use that credibility, that résumé, as an opportunity to reach other people, especially young folks. I can help them recognize that we all have greatness within us. That greatness is an inside job.

Greatness is not something far away and only for the few. Greatness is right here, in each of us. And if you can make it by selling chicken in a cardboard box, then it’s pretty clear that we’re not talking the Hubble telescope here.

I don’t think there’s an entrepreneur in the world who hasn’t heard the story about Fred Smith submitting his business plan for FedEx as an assignment in business school and getting a C minus. But that’s part of the fascination of your story: There’s something in you that’s somehow honing in on extraordinary opportunity before it’s obvious to everyone else.

I’ll tell you the truth: I took the job Fred offered because I hated the bureaucracy of the corporate world. The bureaucracy of the corporate world means that you’ve got to do what you’re told, and nobody has permission to be creative and to take action.

I believe the best way to be successful in any professional organization is to surround yourself with people who know more about their job than you ever will, and then get out of the way.

Sounds like you’re defining “entrepreneur.”

You talk with any of these men I work with now, Jack Welsh or Giuliani or Toffler, they’ll all say the same thing: the whole thing of greatness—great achievement, great accomplishment, great impact on the world—is no mystery whatsoever. It’s so ridiculously simple. It’s about people, and getting out of the way.

How do we—and I mean the larger “we,” America, modern culture, humanity in general—how do we so often miss it? How do we get trapped by mediocrity?

It’s fear of failure. If you’re afraid you’re going to fail, you’re going to fail. Here’s what we need to do: transform the word “fear” to “faith.” Take that fear and turn it into faith.

If you’re living in fear professionally, what safer place than a job with a time clock and time card? You can’t fail if you’re just on a salary.

You walk into your office, sit down at your desk and you can hear the umpire go, “Safe!” You’ve fooled them for another day.

After FedEx, how did you become part of this speakers’ circle?

I was working with a speakers’ bureau, and there was an opening in Buenos Aires. They decided to take a long shot and stick me in the program. My talk went so well that they kept booking me. I asked them, “Listen, you’ve already got all these famous speakers. Why do you keep inviting me back?”

They said, “The others sell tickets—you deliver the message.”

What’s the message?

I just tell people the truth. I tell them, “Don’t give up, you’re going to be fine.” I’m not a motivational speaker, I’m a validational speaker.

Tell me the difference.

The motivational speaker will get you excited for a little while, then it wears off. I went to a meeting like this last week. Who was the speaker? I can’t remember! But I have people calling me years after hearing me speak, telling me I changed their lives. Of course, I didn’t do that: they did. I just validated their greatness.

A validational speaker is someone who will get you not just excited but believing in yourself. It’s not that you believe in what he said, it’s that you believe what he told you that you had inside.

Most people think the best policy is never to expect much out of life. “If you expect too much you’ll always be disappointed.” That’s the worst thing you can tell anybody, that they might as well give up seeking.

In a networking business, that transfer of belief—what you call “validation”—is a huge part of the job description. How do we do that effectively?

In order to communicate effectively within our organizations, we need to create a culture based upon shared vision, shared information and shared responsibility. And these things only stay shared when you keep sharing them.

The biggest mistake you can make in communication is to assume it’s done. You know the old story of Maggie and Pat—Maggie says to Pat, “You never tell me you love me.” And Pat says, “Maggie, I told you I loved you thirty years ago when we married. If I change my mind, you’ll be the first to know.”

You can’t assume these things. Communication is something you have to water and feed, like a plant. Why do you think so many people fail to build a downline that really works and generates revenue for the entire group? Because there’s no effective communication.

Don’t tell them how much money you made last month or how great the company is; validate them, what they can do. It has nothing to do with dollars and cents; it’s about people. It’s about passion, attitudes and relationships.

What you call “the Maguire absolutes.”

That’s right. Fred Smith never addresses a group without first saying, “Before I begin, Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for that warm introduction.” And he’ll go on: “On behalf of the thirty people at the company….”—only today it’s 300,000 instead of thirty!

He always points out that they are the company. The people in your downline organization are not manual laborers.

It’s not simply about the number of calls you’re willing to make. It’s how you make people feel about themselves.

You look at the group as a shared enterprise, and apply that sense of belief in yourself to the larger “you.”

That’s it. We each represent all of us. We need to have faith in ourselves, get in there and be proud of what we do—because when we do something great, we’re like a rising tide that raises all the other ships, too.

Frank, what’s your take on this maverick profession of ours that for a few decades has been struggling to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up? Where do you see network marketing going in the larger business world?

If you can create the kind of culture I’ve been talking about, I think it’s potentially the greatest economic opportunity that has ever existed.

I believe America’s economic future, the health of its commerce and service, is rooted in effective network marketing. People are sick and tired of the deprivation of human dignity they experience at the hands of so many of today’s corporations, which in the past ten years have scooped up all the quid for the guys on top, leaving behind some very talented people without a future.

I think it’s only a matter of time before people realize that the greatness they seek is within them. True greatness has nothing to do with Enron or MCI. It’s all inside ourselves.

Network marketing is turning off the spotlight of working for a corporation, and turning on the floodlight of the greatness that we all have within us. We have unlimited potential. The only thing that gets in our way is our own underestimation of our full potential. We’re too ready to accept other people’s expectations and opinions about how far we can go or how high we can fly. But that’s all b.s.

I love what you’re doing in network marketing, because you’re creating an opportunity to affect the self-esteem of many, many people. That’s the essence of what you’re doing: you’re giving people hope and providing a launching pad for people to discover their own greatness. You are the future.