Alfredo Bala is one of the most dynamic and passionate leaders you’ll ever meet. A first-generation immigrant of Portuguese origin, he came to the US looking for the American dream. Starting at the very bottom, he worked a minimum-wage job while learning English and going to school. His plan was to get an education and climb the corporate ladder, but his whole perspective changed the day he discovered network marketing, almost thirty years ago.

Over the years, Al has been serving the network marketing profession in three different capacities: from 1980 till 1991, he was strictly a distributor; in 1991, he partnered with one of the top leaders in his company and became responsible for launching international markets; today he travels the world as Senior VP of Global Sales and International Expansion for a publicly traded wellness company.

After completing his corporate mission of creating a global business that operates seamlessly on every continent, Al may very well return to his first love, which is working in the field, bringing opportunities for health and wealth to those who are ready to lift themselves out of a life of limitations and unfulfilled dreams.

Al’s network marketing story is unique in that he built the business at the ground level—“in the kitchen,” as he likes to say—in sixty-five different countries. One of his greatest joys is to know that he can go back to any of these countries and find friends waiting to welcome him, people whose lives have been turned around thanks to the opportunity Al brought to them.

“No money will buy you that kind of satisfaction,” says Al. “This business is my life’s calling, and I know I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. It makes me feel like a missionary of goodwill who reminds people how to dream and gives them tools to create the lives they were meant to live.”

Discovering Network Marketing

Al Bala was born in Senegal, a West African country where a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Growing up in a middle-class family, Al was a bright but timid boy, so at the age of 12 he decided he was going to be an engineer, since that was a profession that would keep him away from people.

At the age of 17, Al moved to the US with his family to pursue his education, hoping eventually to land a good job. While finishing high school and attending college, he worked at a factory for $2.50 an hour to help support his mom and two brothers.

Al earned his degree in electronic engineering in 1980 and started thinking in terms of a corporate career, until one night he received a call from a friend inviting him to an opportunity meeting. While he had never heard of network marketing, or even considered being in business for himself, he immediately fell in love with the concept.

The presenter of this meeting happened to be the Senior Vice President of Manufacturing at Texas Instruments.

“For a young engineer,” says Al, “the typical dream was one day, if you did all the right things, to work at a company like Texas Instruments as a VP of something, because obviously you could never be the president. Yet his corporate position was not what excited this man. He explained how, in his fifties, he had now found a way to replace a forty-year career plan with a two- to five-year plan—a plan, he told us, that could help you make all your dreams come true.”

This was the first time Al starting thinking about what his dreams might be.

“Network marketing allows you to reconnect with hidden desires that may have lived in the back of your mind for your whole life, but that you just hadn’t thought about,” he says. “That night, I realized I could be in business for myself for just a hundred bucks. I didn’t have to think about it twice.”

Al joined the business and started listening to some tapes. It was the first time he heard a recording of words, not music, but he knew right away that this was where he was going to get his real education.

“I still remember that first talk,” he says. “I learned about the true potential of a human being, the power of a dream, goal-setting, that we are all engineered for greatness, and how we can aspire to it. Despite all my years of schooling, these concepts were not a part of my world. I became a tape addict; I listened to so many tapes my dad would ask, ‘Will you ever make enough money in this business to pay for these tapes?’”

This is how Al started his journey in self-development, which to this day he believes may be the most precious gift the networking profession offers.

“I really came to understand who I was,” he says. “Before, I saw myself as a shy person who was studious and introverted. Network marketing helped me explore a side of me I didn’t even know was there. Today, it’s my life calling to introduce people to the concept of self-development so they can grow and expand, and attract into their lives the means and the people that will allow them to continue that process.”

Rekindling Dreams

Al started building his business part-time, attending two or three meetings a week after work and three to four large functions per year. Thanks to his dedication to the learning process, he became skilled at bringing in new people, and before long, he knew this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He didn’t mind putting in long hours because he understood, from studying Jim Rohn, Denis Waitley, Zig Ziglar and many others, that if you are willing to do what others are not, you will some day live in a way they can’t.

Al also found a mentor in his upline, Gary Ayers, with whom he built a twenty-year relationship, and later in Gary’s upline, Bill Britt.

Hanging out with people who knew how to dream allowed Al to reconnect with his own dreams.

“Being a first-generation immigrant, speaking many languages fluently, I connected with the idea of owning a global business. Every night, for my first ten years in network marketing, after showing people our plan in their living rooms I would tell them, ‘One day, I’ll be traveling the world, visiting my businesses.’”

Another one of Al’s dreams was to bring his wife home so they could pass their own values on to their children instead of letting someone else raise them. The day his daughter was born, Al achieved one of the highest levels in the company’s pay plan, which allowed his wife to be a stay-at-home mom for the next twelve years.

Al’s third dream was to be able to retire when he was young. At age 31, he announced his retirement from Bose Corporation in Framingham, Massachusetts, where he had become the youngest plant manager in the history of the company. His boss said, “Are you crazy? Why don’t you hire someone to run your business and stay? Look at the future you have here!”

But Al had different plans: his network marketing company was expanding internationally and had just decided to open the Portuguese market. Al quit his job, took all the money he had and went to Portugal as an associate to build his own business while also working as country manager for the company.

Al’s goal was to build in Portugal for two years, go Diamond and then retire. But it didn’t work out that way. He brought a lot of people into the business, then went home and waited for the checks to arrive—but they didn’t come. He figured out that he needed to create a system that would work worldwide as well as it did in the US.

Al was asked to write a strategic plan that would accomplish that very objective, and in July 1991 he was asked to implement it personally. Before he could catch his breath, he went from Portugal to post-communist Poland in 1992, and from there to Argentina, Chile, Central and Eastern Europe and eventually to China. Over the next eighteen years, Al opened thirty-nine new markets and re-launched twenty-one other markets. He became the COO of International Expansion for his company, while at the same time building his own business in most of these countries. He had realized his dream of having a business on which the sun never sets.

Opening International Markets

Al became an expert at building the business from the ground up in any new territory.

“It was almost like you could parachute me into a country and next thing you knew, I was building my personal business while also creating the system for new associates in that country,” he says. “On our way to open China, for example, we flew into Hong Kong, did a training, then flew to Guangzhou, where we held the first meeting for a Western corporation. We did the same thing in ten more Chinese cities, and the organization we started has close to a million distributors today.”

Al and his team formed a traveling caravan that went from city to city. They would stay in a hotel and run opportunity meetings all week, at the rate of five meetings a day.

“We would start our first meeting at 9:00 in the morning, sign people up, tell them to go out, get some more people and return at 11:00; we’d sign up more people, they’d come back at 3:00; we’d sign up more people, they’d come back at 5:00, then they would come back at 9:00. We did this all day long, for five or six days, before moving on to the next city.”

Al took the same approach in India a few years later and orchestrated the process of his team signing up 50,000 new distributors in the first month of operation.

“By this time, we were becoming experts at this,” he says. “We had meetings going on simultaneously in nineteen different cities. We leveraged the combined referral power from all the distributors we knew around the world. All these people were trained to send their referrals to the meetings, whenever we opened a new market. Consequently, we quickly built a large critical mass.”

Al and his team also developed efficient tools and systems for training people instantly.

“Each new distributor was seeing the plan, signing up, getting trained and duplicating the process within 24 hours or less,” he says, “and we did this with a very large group of people. We learned how to create a sense of urgency, showing people why they had to get signed up right then and there. We would tell them, ‘You are the pioneers, you’re launching this new country—and look where you could be in five to ten years.’”

Al became good at assimilating new cultures and languages quickly, and how to find the hot buttons in each country. In order to do so, he would visit the new country a few weeks before the official opening and immerse himself into the culture at a grassroots level.

“I wasn’t an executive just flying in and showing up to do meetings,” he says. “In order to familiarize myself with the culture, I did meetings in kitchens and living rooms or one-on-ones in coffee shops and intimately got to know people in their everyday lives. This turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Imagine how much you learn about different cultures and what makes people tick. I believe I’m a better human being because of all the people I met.”

Universal Principles

Building personal relationships all over the world also showed Al that human beings, as different as they think they are, in reality are very similar. This realization became so predictable it was almost comical: every time Al arrived in a new country, people would say, “Mister Bala, this may have worked in twenty or thirty other countries, but here in Poland we are different. Polish people are different.”

“I would almost buy it, especially the first few times,” says Al, “until I realized that every human being wants the very same things: live in a nice home, drive a nice car, take care of their children and parents, be loved and respected by their friends, travel to see the world and have complete financial independence.

“Forget about whether you are in communist China, post-communist Poland, socialist Sweden or post-apartheid South Africa. Eventually, when it comes down to individuals, what humans want is universal—which also makes the concept of network marketing so universally appealing.”

Not only did Al recognize the same dreams and desires wherever he went, he was also amazed at how the same success principles worked regardless of the country.

“When we started to institute global training systems, it was funny to see that in different countries people used the same principles to be successful, while others would use the same excuses that kept them broke and unsuccessful. This showed me that success principles are universal, and I developed an ironclad confidence that people who understand and practice these principles always have the same kind of results, regardless of the environment.”

This awareness also gave Al a sense of predictability, which greatly enhanced his ability to train people and instill confidence in them.

“We eventually broke it down into eight core activities, which I call the 8 Habits of Highly Productive Networkers:

1. Be a product of the product. To be successful in your business, you have to be the number one believer in and cheerleader of your products. You demonstrate this by using your products faithfully.

2. Provide world-class customer service. Every business needs to have customers. We build residual income by presenting our opportunity, but some people will be more excited about the products. Your goal should be to take care of at least twenty customers. A satisfied consumer is your best source of referral.

3. Lead by example. Since you get paid on volume, and volume comes from people buying your products, you as a leader, no matter how big you become, need to continue to show the product as well as the plan to new prospects.

4. Work your business five nights a week. Success in this business is about consistent, persistent activity, which eventually leads to “unconscious competence.” We all start a business unconsciously incompetent, then we become consciously incompetent, then consciously competent, and finally we are unconsciously competent. This happens only by applying yourself to a set of daily activities that eventually become second nature. It’s no different than Michael Jordan making free throws before and after every practice. As a network marketer, you need to hone your basic skills every day until they become so ingrained you don’t have to even think about them. That’s the reason you need to show twenty plans a month, minimum, which requires working five nights a week.

5. Read fifteen to thirty minutes a day. I’m a big fan of Networking Times because it provides an incredible wealth of education. Read at least a book a month. You dress your body in the morning, you dress your mind as well. Develop a habit of listening to positive mental attitude materials: every time you’re in a car, cooking or working out, keep feeding your mind with uplifting, empowering messages.

6. Attend all functions. We also call this the power of association: associate with the people who are moving in the direction you want to go. You do this by attending functions—those that you set up yourself plus the ones the company or your upline sets up.

7. Be accountable. Do what you say you’re going to do.

8. Be teachable. We call this the power of submission: you’ve got to be willing to submit yourself to a mentor, to a teacher, to someone who guides you, who lights the path in front of you so you know where you’re going. This also sets an example for your downline to follow you. If you are following somebody and your people are following you, we all stay in alignment and the power of unity kicks in: where there’s unity and harmony, there is productivity.

“These are the eight core activities I’ve seen successful people do all over the world, which is why we teach them to every new distributor. It’s a combination to unlock your dreams: if you miss one of the eight elements, the lock will not open and the door to your dreams will remain shut.”

Building Momentum

During this time of global expansion, Al and his team would set up a full-fledged office in each new market, from where they would work to duplicate their system.

“Our system consisted of three parts,” says Al. “It started with personal activity: you need to create personal momentum in order to gain group momentum. I called this Business Activity Rhythm, and new distributors accomplished this by applying the eight core activities and mastering four basic skills:

1) make a list;

2) contact and invite;

3) show the plan or present;

4) follow-up and get somebody started right.

“The second concept I taught was Dynamic Partnership, meaning that you work with your upline to build the four skills until the point where you can teach them to your downline, and only then will the circle of duplication be complete. Your upline will walk with you and hold your hand through the process, but they never do anything for you that you can do for yourself, because that promotes weakness instead of strength.

“As an upline, your job is to provide and protect: you provide information and protect new people from what could end up becoming a negative experience. ‘Protect them from the birds,’ Jim Rohn used to say. Your new people are your seeds, so you make sure the birds don’t eat them. Make the first ninety days the most pleasant experience you possibly can, by being the shock absorber between your new recruit and the skeptical world out there. Don’t say, ‘You go make a list, call some people, and when you get them to your house I’ll show up.’ Because when you show up, it will be a no-show. Why? Because your new person called three people, experienced rejection and stopped calling. She now thinks she’s a failure and she’ll never try again. To be a good upline is to provide people with a proven pathway to success.

“Dynamic Partnership also included what we called a System of Meetings, which meant that everyone regularly attended different functions: one-on-ones and home meetings on a daily basis; local trainings on a weekly basis; regional trainings on a monthly basis and company events on a quarterly or yearly basis. Today, some of these meetings can be done through webinars or conference calls, but face-to-face meetings remain important because that’s where the power of association kicks in.

“The third and last part of the system was what I called a Customer Care Program: teaching people how to provide their customers with world-class service.

“These were the three parts of a system we repeated wherever we went, without ever deviating from it. Since we taught the same system around the world, it was easy to move the leaders from one country to another. Everybody brought their own perspective to the business, but the consistency in activities created incredible productivity over the years in all the countries we opened.”

From the Living Room to the Boardroom

Then, about three years ago, Al received a phone call from the founder of a wellness company that was looking for the right person to lead its international expansion. What appealed to Al was the idea that he could take all the skills and know-how he had developed over a twenty-eight-year period in sixty-five countries, and apply them to a company that offered an exceptional line of health products, which was something new for him.

“I saw this as an opportunity to do it all again,” he says, “but this time with a product that added another level of significance to my life: I felt I could really make a difference in people’s health and wellness, and I was in a perfect position to help spread a message that needed to get out.”

Al left his existing business behind and joined the executive team of this new company. He took everything he had learned over the previous decades and applied the tools he had developed to creating a company-wide system.

“We created a new MAP for the company, a Momentum Action Plan,” he says. “How do you create momentum in the field? You raise the BAR—Business Activity Rhythm, or people’s personal activities. You accomplish this by teaching the 8 Habits of Highly Productive Networkers and the four basic skills. You create a System of Meetings and truly support it as a company. You build a Customer Care Program that makes it easy for distributors to acquire and take care of new customers.”

As a company leader, Al makes sure all these systems are in place, nationally as well as globally. He knows the importance of creating a consistent message and a unified language that everyone uses.

“Unity creates confidence,” he says, “and confidence leads to productivity.”

One of the key factors that led Al to accept a corporate position with his new company was his past experience in building a unified culture around the world, which, to some degree, would also influence the existing culture in the US.

“My current company has very strong product culture,” he says, “which I find refreshing and noble in the world of network marketing today. My goal is to equip this culture with solid business principles. It’s taking a little longer than I expected, but we’re getting there: our distributors are starting to understand and embrace the concept that you can be passionate about a product, all the while using time-tested principles and techniques to expand your business.”

Al’s experiences, from being a field representative, to leading an organization, to being a global upline for people in sixty-five countries, to then bringing all this to a corporate position where he can drive change from the inside out, have added up to an extraordinary journey.

“It has taken me from being a first-generation immigrant, starting at the very bottom, to the boardrooms of corporate America,” he muses.

Al’s dream for the future is to continue building the kind of company he would be proud for his children and family to be part of, a company that empowers people to take charge of their health and finances.

Although Al may retire some day from his corporate position, he doesn’t plan to ever retire from network marketing.

“I’ll never retire, because I get my true fulfillment and sense of significance from helping people achieve the greatness God endowed them with at birth. I believe it’s what I was put on this earth to do. I truly feel this is my assignment, and I’m grateful God equipped me with the skills, the vitality and the endurance to travel millions of miles around the world and be an ambassador for the unlimited good our business has to offer.”