Dr. Shirley Carmack could easily be called the grandmother of network marketing. She discovered the profession nearly thirty-eight years ago and has been with her current company for over twenty-five years.

We got to know Shirley by answering the phone here at Networking Times as she calls in regularly to order educational tools for her team. Being the type who likes to talk, she gradually started telling us her life story.

Shirley Carmack is a retired nurse-anesthetist who also holds a Ph.D. in psychology. For many years she was Chief of Obstetrical Anesthesia at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1987, she left her career after witnessing an increasing incidence of chronic degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. She became a full-time wellness practitioner and network marketer with a forty-year-old company that promotes plant-based nutrients to support overall health.

Today, in her mid-sixties, Shirley runs an organization spanning four continents and continues to recruit new people into her business. Her mission is to mentor young women and help them overcome limitations in their life due to poverty, low self-esteem and a lack of belief in their ability to rise above all challenges.

Getting Involved

Shirley got started in the business in 1972, on a cold January morning in Chicago. The invitation did not come from anyone she knew directly: she had an old friend who was visiting the city and staying with another friend of hers. Her friend’s friend was in network marketing, and the only way Shirley could meet her old friend was by coming to the presentation that morning.

“At first, it all looked crazy to me,” says Shirley. “I was a practicing anesthetist, and I had a big ego to go along with my practice. I knew nothing about networking. I turned to my friend and said, ‘You could have told me what was going on. I would gladly be a customer, but I’m not interested in joining anything or selling anything. I went to school a long time to specialize in anesthesia. This is my love, and it’s all I want to do.’

“I was talking so loud that all eyes around us were on me, and I felt a little embarrassed for my friend. I figured she didn’t want her friend to see me acting like that, so I decided to settle down and behave.”

Once Shirley took a seat and started listening, a couple of things got her attention. First, a gentleman pointed out that having your own business was a great way to offset some taxes, if you were in a high bracket. This certainly applied to her. Second, a young lady got up and said she had never been in a hotel before she started her business, and now she was earning a couple of thousand dollars a month.

Shirley grew up in a family where education and having a career was a must, not a choice. This lady hadn’t even finished high school, and she seemed happy and successful. More people shared positive testimonials and Shirley wondered, “What is making these people so excited?” She compared the happy ambiance to the seriousness of the operating room where she worked, where everyone is tense, concentrating on monitors, checking pulses and blood pressures.

She went from being negative to being at least curious, and as the presentation progressed, she started taking some notes. At the end she approached the presenter for more information, but her main question was, “Could this be true?”

“The testimonials made an impact on me,” says Shirley, “and I had been thinking about maybe doing something in addition to just anesthesia, where I could have ownership and some of the benefits—tax benefits in particular—of being a business owner.”

Although she didn’t understand exactly what it was she was getting into, she joined the business that morning.

Discovering Personal Growth

Shirley wanted to get a better grasp of what the business was all about, so she looked for trainings and materials to educate herself.

“The first training I attended talked about goals,” she says. “At the time, I thought I had reached most of my goals. I had been in school most of my life and thought I’ was already where I wanted to be.

“I turned to the girl who was my sponsor and said, ‘What are your goals?’ She said, ‘I want to buy a house.’ I said, ‘What do I have to do to help you get your house?’ She looked at me quizzically. I didn’t know until further into the training that I was supposed to work on my own goals.”

Shirley’s sponsor explained that she’d married young and had two children, and she just wanted to raise them in a home of their own.

“This really drove me,” says Shirley. “When I had to work overtime at the hospital and felt too busy to do the business, I thought about her, those two children and the house they wanted. Working to help her with her goal turned out to be a much stronger motivator than if I’d been pursuing a personal goal.”

As Shirley progressed through the trainings, she thoroughly enjoyed the personal growth aspect. She’d always had an interest in psychology and psychiatry. She remembered thinking, when her mother would emphasize the importance of getting a formal education, how circumstances prevented many people she knew from going that route. She now realized that if you learned the keys to success and studied how attitude and habits make all the difference in your outcome, then it didn’t really matter where you came from. Your background didn’t have to impede your ability to achieve your goals.

This realization hooked her. She started to see personal growth as the answer to all the ills of society, starting with poverty. “If people only understood,” she thought, and it became her mission to help them understand.

“Sometimes people were so programmed that it was hard for them to comprehend what I was saying,” she says, “or that they could do it. So I would pull out pictures I had taken at company events of similar people telling their stories. I would put a little note under each picture and say to the new person, ‘You think because you’re a single parent, you’re stuck. Look at this single parent, this is what she did!’

“My core drive was to partner with people to help them get over the limitations in their minds. Sometimes I’d be successful. And when I wasn’t, I became too serious and took that as a personal failure. I gradually learned that not everyone is ready to deprogram and reprogram their mind; people need to have the desire to change before they are going to be open and listen.”

Early Years in the Business

Shirley started networking part-time in her first company, and nine months later she had earned $100,000.

“My part-time involvement would probably be considered full-time for most,” she says. “I was single at the time and didn’t have any family responsibilities. The next year, my company went out of business. But I was grateful for the experience and I was sold on the business model.

“I relocated from Chicago to Atlanta and took a break from anesthesia. I spent time exploring other companies, trying out different products to see which one might fit me. I realized that nutritional products were close to my heart, but I also tried jewelry, glassware, insurance and many others.

“The first thing I would look at was the company mission. I wanted to see how the owners treated their distributors. I never got excited by the so-called heavy hitters. I wanted to make sure that the average person could come aboard and be successful.

“Others actually saw me as a heavy hitter, but I knew that my success came from my love for people and for the profession. I was willing to take on people no one else believed would have success in the business. That didn’t matter to me. I was looking for desire and a willingness to learn and grow.

“Sometimes people complained that they didn’t have enough time to attend a training, or they didn’t see the need for personal growth. They would ask, ‘What’s that got to do with selling a product?’

“I’d say, ‘You can’t go out and be anything unless you’re willing to learn the trade. You can’t be a mechanic unless you understand how a car is put together. In this business, we work with people. So, you have to study their emotions and how they relate to the business, why they first get involved, why they stay and why they quit.’

“There are different kinds of distributors. Everybody looks for career builders, but they account for only 10 or at most 20 percent of the field. So what are you going to do with the other 80 percent? To me, they’re all important.”

When Shirley started building an organization, she first approached her warm market.

“I didn’t have a lot of success, because there were a lot of egotistical people in my life, people who felt they were already on the right path and didn’t understand why I was deviating from that path. One doctor said, ‘Shirley’s just peddling soap as a stress-buster.’

“But this wasn’t a problem, because I’m social. With my first company, I lived in a high-rise and invited a lot of neighbors to parties at my home. People didn’t always show up, and I learned to not let that bother me and just keep going. My rule was to talk to at least five people a day. Sometimes I would go to a mall and start conversations with people who looked friendly. I would not necessarily offer them the opportunity, but I would always exchange phone numbers so I could follow up.

“I was able to sign up a lot of the hospital staff I work with. I used to tell the managers, ‘You’re paying your employees minimum wage. They need to supplement their income.’ No one seemed to mind me prospecting, as long as everyone did their job.”

Finding Her Company

When Shirley joined her current company, she didn’t think she was going to build a business. She was busy working in anesthesia and ready to get married. This was the thirteenth company she had joined; some she had joined simply to check out the products, others to experience their trainings. She liked the networking environment and was always keen on being an advocate for the profession.

But it so happened that her new company had a nutritional product that helped her lose weight. Friends, colleagues and neighbors began noticing, and she told them she’d found a new company she really liked. By now, they all knew her feelings about network marketing, whether they agreed or not. This was in the mid-eighties and by now, most people understood that poor health could often be traced back to nutrition and lifestyle.

“It didn’t take me long to start building,” says Shirley. “When I decided I was going to do it, I wanted to set an example of someone building a unique group of professional networkers, and that’s what I set out to do. We came up with a dress code and rules of conduct for our meetings. I wanted everyone in my group to represent what we stood for, no matter where they were located. I gave out copies of our mission statement, and it became something we all strove to live by.

“We became one big family. We talked about not being competitive with each other and about the importance of personal growth. We took advantage of group discounts and went to see a lot of great speakers together. We set personal and team goals, and when someone put a goal in writing, I would say, ‘Are you willing to do what’s necessary to obtain that?’ If they answer was yes, I would say, ‘If I don’t see you at the next training, if you’re making excuses, we’re going to have to revisit your goals!’ Because that meant that they just liked them, but they didn’t really intend to accomplish them.”

Looking back, Shirley says she was a little strict, but she helped a lot of women turn their lives around.

Two years after she joined that company, she went full-time. She was reluctant to abandon anesthesia, but maintaining two careers put too great a demand on her time. Something had to give, and it was clear that her passion for network marketing had taken over.

Providing Leadership

While Shirley believes in tough love, she also warns against pushing people in a direction they don’t want to go.

“I always ask new distributors if they want to be a career builder, and if the answer is no, or not yet, I support them at the level they want to work.

“Over the years, my philosophy towards working with others has evolved. In the beginning, I was focused on taking off and ‘flying with the eagles.’ Later I adopted the philosophy of the geese, who fly in a V formation and leaders takes turns being up front because that position takes the most energy. If something happens to one of the geese, the others will hang in until that goose is able to catch up. Today, my business philosophy is this: By flying together and taking care of each other we all go further.”

Shirley also believes that to succeed in the business, we need to take care of our emotions.

“Feelings are very important,” she says. “If a person doesn’t feel good, then it’s hard for them to attract others. I teach people the mirror technique: look in the mirror, see how you smile. Tell yourself you love yourself. If you’re going to call a customer, act like you’re talking to a customer. Make sure you let the person know you care about them, you’re not just there for the sale.”

Shirley teaches her team to help people with whatever they need—from weight loss, changing eating habits and understanding the role of supplementation, to creating alternatives to the hustle and bustle of taking kids to daycare and still showing up at work on time.

“This is the perfect business for young couples who are juggling schedules,” she says. “If they do it right and put in the labor, they truly can build an income working from home with time flexibility. But they need to be patient. As with any other business, it takes time to grow. Sometimes it takes a year or even longer to find your own beat in the business.”

Shirley encourages people to experiment with different ways of prospecting, then focus on what they like best—whether that’s home parties, one-on-one presentations, hotel meetings or using the Internet. For herself, she has a center where she holds weekly opportunity meetings for small groups. She does most of her trainings over the phone and delivers daily helpful tidbits over email.

“The beauty is, there is no set way a person has to do this business. We provide a basic training according to the Carmack system, but everyone is free to prospect and build their team the way they like.”

Continuing the Journey

As a result of her friendly yet structured approach to the business, Shirley just celebrated her twenty-fifth year with the same company—and her very first distributor is still with her.

“I feel so blessed,” she says. “I do have cases where leaders have quit and even joined other companies. But I let them know, ‘You don’t owe me anything, and you’re always welcome to come back.’

“Personally, I’m not the type to jump, because I’ve learned that companies go through cycles. I’ve developed staying power, as long as I believe in the products and the founders. As companies grow, they often hire different managers who may not necessarily act according to the founding philosophy, and it’s not always easy for the founders to keep up with what goes on in the field. Yet as long as the founder is there, I will ride out the ups and downs.

“I remind people, everything goes in cycles. We know this today, with what’s happening in the housing sector and the stock market. If we give up hope and believe that things are not coming back, then we’re all going to be in bad shape. But if we realize that it’s just a cycle, we simply say, ‘This, too, shall pass.’”

One of Shirley’s goals is to write a book on the profession. She’s also setting up a foundation to help women in all aspects of their lives, from developing self-esteem, working on their health and wellness, to becoming successful entrepreneurs.

“I believe corporate jobs, as we know them, are a thing of the past,” she says. “People have to learn to be entrepreneurs. As I teach some, I want them to teach others.

“I’m at a point in my life where my goals are not material. You won’t see me fly around in a private jet. My calling is to help people overcome their limitations and their inability to accomplish what they feel is their purpose.

“I’m really into the question, ‘Why am I here?’ It takes years and sometimes a lifetime to figure out the answer. But when it all boils down, I think my purpose here is to give. The Bible says, ‘To whom much is given, much will be required.’ My goal is to pass on the gifts I’ve received to all those who are ready to take their lives to the next level.”