Arun George is a young network marketing superstar heading up an organization of more than 500,000 distributors. Founded in 2002, they call themselves the Titans (Team In Trust And Spirit), and they pride themselves on having built thriving business partnerships in thirty-five countries across racial, cultural, and religious divides.
Arun grew up in Kerala, a small state in the south of India, and for the first eighteen years of his life, he never traveled more than 200 miles away from home. Today he visits a dozen countries a year to meet with his leaders throughout the Indian subcontinent, in the Middle East and in Africa.
Yet Arun also spends half his time running his business from his home in Chicago, where he lives with his wife Mary, daughter Trisha and son Tristen. He says it was a family decision to reside in the United States, and today's technologies make it easy to stay in touch with his teams.
What Arun likes the most about his business is how it continuously requires him to stretch and grow. He reads a lot of books on self-development, business and technology, and a variety of publications including Networking Times and the Harvard Business Review, because, as he puts it, "you can't get hooked on one stream of knowledge if you want to be a well-rounded leader of a global team."
Joining the Business
After graduating from college with a degree in hospitality management in 1998, Arun worked for a few hotel chains but soon realized it wasn't something he wanted to do long term.
"Hotel work is stressful and draining," he says. "You work holidays and weekends when everyone else is enjoying time off. It was okay as long as I was single, but I didn't see myself doing this while being married and having a family, so I started looking for a career change."
Many Indians who graduate from college look for opportunities abroad, and this is how Arun landed in Bahrain, about 2,000 miles from where he grew up. He was working for a multinational as a sales executive, when one Friday afternoon in June 2000, his colleague Mahendra Kumar (featured in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Networking Times) called him to ask if he had plans for the evening.
"Friday is a weekend day in the Middle East," says Arun, "so I was home and didn't have much going on. Mahendra asked me to meet him at a hotel. I asked him why and he simply said we would meet someone who would show me how to make some money."
It sounded appealing, so Arun went to the hotel at eight that evening. About fifteen other people were present and Arun was told that someone was coming from Dubai to present a business opportunity. At 8:30, the meeting started.
"The presenter explained the business for two hours," says Arun, "but the only thing I gathered was that I needed to pay a sum of money to get in and then go out and do a few things. It didn't really excite me."
The next day, Arun told Mahendra, "I don't think it's for me." Mahendra didn't try to convince him otherwise, but two weeks later he called Arun again and said, "Why don't you come over. Let's talk about it some more." Mahendra was a good friend who had helped Arun many times, so Arun agreed to go.
At the United Nations.
With Networking Times's Editor in Chief, Josephine Gross in Kuala Lumpur, at his anual convention.
With wife Mary.
Mary with Trisha and Tristen.
With son Tristen.
Addressing an audience of 10,000 people at his company's annual convention.
Signing autographs at his company convention in 2011.
As a new immigrant in Bahrain, Arun had hardly any local friends, but with a little effort he was able to come up with a list of about twenty people, whom he approached one by one about the business.
"Three of my good friends and one of my cousins signed up within the first two weeks," he says. "Everyone else on that list said no, so I got to work with just these four. Since that was the extent of my local warm market, I helped these people work their contacts. My focus during those first days was to spend time with each new person, help them make their contact list and sign up their first distributors."
Sometimes Arun called prospects on his new distributors' behalf, or else he made them call and then pass the phone over to him so he could take it from there. He knew this was the only way he would be able to build his business, other than talking to strangers in the street.
Working with referrals, his business slowly grew and gained momentum. Prospects got excited, signed up and bought products. Yet neither Arun nor Mahendra, who was also new in the business, knew what to do with them next.
"In the beginning, we didn't understand what networking marketing was," says Arun. "We didn't know how to train new recruits or lead a team, and within a few months people started leaving our business at a faster rate than they were coming in. This deeply discouraged me and affected the morale of our group."
There were no established network marketing companies in Bahrain at the time, and Arun and Mahendra had no local upline to work with. "We had to figure out a lot by trial and error," he says, "which was pretty costly."
Yet Arun's upline made sure he had access to training materials. Arun always liked reading and education, so he made it a point to listen to a training program and read a few pages every day. Mahendra bought these tools from Amazon.com and had them shipped to Bahrain, and they would listen to them together while driving. "That's what kept me motivated," says Arun. "I gradually realized that network marketing was much bigger than I had imagined. When I signed up, I didn't have a strong belief in the company or the profession. I just thought it was a decent opportunity to make some money. I had no idea for how long that money would come in or how much it would be. As I listened to the trainings, I started seeing a bigger picture."
Arun's growing sense of possibility made him want to explore even further. He spent time online and slowly grew his belief in the business. About the fourth month into it, he thought, "If I really focus, this can be huge."
A New Career
Arun had never pictured himself doing any one job for any length of time. The very thought of it filled him with fear. In the three years since graduating from college, he had continuously changed jobs.
"Each time I'd be all gung-ho and excited, but within a week or two, the job would become routine and office politics would kick in. I'd think, 'I just can't do this for the next forty years,' and move on to another company—where the same thing would happen.
"I didn't know what else to do. My parents never owned a business, we all just worked our jobs. But by my fifth month in network marketing, I began to see how this could be a long-term option for me."
Arun says this new outlook came about as a result of three factors.
"First, there was the personal growth aspect and the education I received from listening to the CDs Mahendra was giving me. Second was my growing belief in the company, and third was
the idea that if I could do this, I might be able to get out of being employed altogether and do whatever I want to do. Those were the three pillars on which I built my new commitment."
Arun's company was young at the time and didn't have many training programs of its own, so he also sought out generic tools. Two books in particular changed his life: Rich Dad Poor Dad and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
"I remember the first time I picked up Rich Dad Poor Dad," he says. "I started reading it after dinner and couldn't put it down. I finished it at three in the morning, and even though I had to go to work in a few hours, I was so excited I couldn't sleep. I called a friend who I knew would be awake and told him the ideas I had read about. That book, followed by Cashflow Quadrant, changed my whole outlook on finance.
"The 7 Habits I did not finish in a day or two. I remember reading some of those chapters two or three times before I could fully understand them. Even today, my philosophy of work and life is totally shaped by this book."
It took Arun about eight months to build his business to the point where it was earning him three or four times his salary, and at that point, he decided to quit his job.
"I gave my letter of resignation but had to stay on two more months because, as an expatriate, I needed a visa to stay in the country and the visa was dependent on the employer. That was one reason I made sure to build the business to a solid income level first: once I quit, there was no going back."
Lessons and Milestones
After achieving the goal of resigning from his job, Arun says he made the major mistake of not replacing that goal with another. For three months, he just enjoyed life instead of working the business.
"I'd wake up at 7:30 in the morning, call my ex-colleagues and ask them what they were doing. They'd say, 'I'm driving to work' or 'I'm at the office,' and I'd say, 'Good for you, I'm going back to sleep.' I'd go to the gym in the afternoon, and in the evening go meet people and talk to my leaders. This new lifestyle was a major dream come true, so I was enjoying it.
"Within about two months I saw how this was affecting my business. My checks were going down and so were my distributors' checks. Fortunately I caught myself before a major disaster happened. That's when I realized how important dreams are, and why they are a cornerstone of our business—not just theoretically, but in a very practical sense. That lesson really got etched into my heart, and ever since then, I've never spent a day in this business without knowing exactly why I'm doing what I am doing."
Arun's biggest milestone was the establishment of the Titans. Even though he had been working closely with his frontline leaders, Dr. Anil Philip, Balajee Kumar, Manoj Kumar, and Cherian Mathew, it was not until their second year in the business that they formed a team and ran it as a professional organization.
"I was inspired to do so after a week-long training I attended in Malaysia," Arun says, "where we did some intense exercises, including a firewalk. I began to understand our true potential and how our limiting beliefs sabotage us. I also realized that making decisions based on the excitement and emotion of a training was one thing, but that what mattered was following through on those decisions. I knew I could not depend just on my will power to accomplish this. As soon as I got back to Bahrain, I shared what I learned with my frontline leaders, who teamed up with me to form the Titans."
The Titans is a leadership organization that establishes standards for performance, attitudes, and character traits, which its members have to reach and exceed. Arun says this performance-based culture rooted in strong relationships is the core aspect of the team's growth.
|My Teachers or the People Who Influenced Me the Most
The spiritual lessons my father and mother taught me and my brother very early in life, and to which they hold us accountable even today, have been the guiding light in everything I do.
Above and Below: Next to my parents, Dato' Dr. Vijay Eswaran, Pathman Senathirajah, and my Titans co-founders have been the most influential people in my life and are greatly responsible for who I am today.
My frontline leaders and Titans co-founders, (from left to right) Dr. Anil Philip, Balajee Kumar, Manoj Kumar, and Cherian Mathew.
At first, no one imagined the Titans as a global organization, but this soon changed.
"We went through some bad press in Bahrain," Arun says, "and business was getting a bit tough because of the huge propaganda against network marketing. We felt the need to start looking at outside markets, so I made my first visit to Dubai, Qatar, and Kuwait.
"Traveling and building internationally was a huge paradigm shift for me. Ever since that first trip, we continued to do this proactively with our leaders. When we get together to do our strategic planning for the year, we look into the status of our existing markets and decide which are the next markets to explore. We have made this an important part of our operating procedure within the organization."
When evaluating a new market, Arun and his team look into the economic situation, the languages, and the visa requirements of that country.
"For our first visit, we usually find people we know," says Arun. "We have a huge network, so if we tell our team we're opening a new country, we definitely get a few contacts from that country. Once we go there, we also do a lot of cold calling and talk to new people we meet.
"This usually happens pretty easily, because we look like foreigners, so people ask us what we're doing there and where we're from. We tell them we're there on business and their next question is, 'What kind of business?'
"You don't just stop people on the street to ask them if they're interested in doing business—that would be rude and out of place—but when you're in a mall or at a restaurant, it's okay to strike up a conversation with others."
Reserved by nature, Arun says he always had at least one or two other people with whom he would go out and initiate conversations.
"Doing it with two or three people is much easier than doing it by yourself," he says. "There is power in numbers. When people see a group of two or three traveling and spending money, it inspires credibility. Not everyone we speak with signs up, but it does make them listen and think. In most new markets, the first people we sign up rarely become the biggest leaders in that market. It is almost always somebody in that person's circle of influence."
When asked if there is a secret to identifying leaders, Arun says it's more of a sorting process.
"People who are ambitious and want to make things happen rise to the top over time. As their activity increases, they start to face challenges, and those who are not in it for the long run start giving excuses and slowly dropping off. That's one thing I've never understood, why people drop off after one or two years in the business."
After opening up the Middle East, Arun's team expanded into the Indian subcontinent, and the third major growth spurt came from Africa. Working in such diverse markets, Arun learned to have an eye for how different nationalities conduct business.
"There are a lot of differences in the way people exhibit their values and behave in society," he says. "The way we do things here in the United States is a lot more professional and straightforward than in most places. Doing things that way in Asia may be considered rude. For instance, if you don't like something a very close friend tells you about, you can't say, 'I don't like it. I'm out of here.' That might be okay in other places, but in Asia, you have to give the other person a way to save face.
"With globalization and mass media, these differences are becoming less, but they are still very real, especially if you're dealing with elderly people, in whom cultural traditions are more ingrained. The Middle East, for instance, is a culture where you can't rush people. If you do, it's considered rude. You have to be patient and accept that most Middle Easterners don't make quick decisions. Without an understanding of these aspects of each society, we tend to do things that might not sit well with the locals."
Arun grows his awareness of cultural differences mainly through observation and listening.
"The first time I go into a country, I'll use referrals from people already in my network. Because of this connection, they are a little bit more tolerant of how I do things. They understand I'm a foreigner, and sometimes they'll correct me when I come across as a bit too aggressive or do things that are not considered polite in their culture. I also pick up a lot of information from watching how they behave.
"It's really in the beginning that you need to exercise most caution. After the first few months, the local team takes over and starts spearheading our activities in that market."
Moving into Africa, Arun was struck by people's hunger for opportunity.
"Many foreigners come to Africa trying to scam people, so the Africans are skeptical, but if we can get past that initial skepticism and help them understand that we are a genuine business and a trustworthy company, there is huge potential growth."
In some African countries, the average monthly income is as little as $100 or $200. New distributors often can't afford to buy products on a consistent basis, so they work the business in any way their financial situation allows them to.
"As soon as they receive a first check, it's no longer a problem," says Arun, "but in the beginning they often have to pool resources in order to get their business off the ground. When they see something they believe in, they just do whatever it takes."
Most East Africans speak English, but in Central and North Africa, the common languages are French or Arabic. Fortunately, Arun's company has materials in those languages.
Looking at gender ratios, Arun says his organization is mostly male, however, many of his African leaders are female and doing quite well, such as Doreen Katto from Uganda (featured in the Mar/Apr 2011 issue of Networking Times).
If you wonder how it is possible to lead such a diverse team of a half a million people, Arun says you don't do it as a one-man show.
"There are many others in my organization who are more on the ground and in control of the growth than me. Yet we do have a centralized, systematic approach for developing the business. We begin each year with a global strategy meeting, where thirty or forty top leaders from across the globe get together for a week and make plans. We look back at how we did last year and how we can make improvements going forward."
Arun and his top leaders come together at least two more times throughout the year, and they also hold regular conference calls.
"That is how we keep the organization together and growing," he says. "Yet the only way I have found to overcome the challenge of working with people whose cultures may clash is by applying the teachings of our company founder, Dato' Dr. Vijay Eswaran. I have studied many business gurus and I have never seen any of them come close to Dato' Vijay's ability to build and empower teams.
"His golden rule is 'confront before conflict' and he teaches ground rules for how to confront people. Until I heard him explain confrontation, I always thought it was about arguing or fighting. He says that is how confrontations usually happen, but that's because you've waited too long, and in reality, by that point you're already in conflict.
"The more people work together, the more issues come up. Upline or downline, there will always be differences in how we see things, yet cultures from Asia, the Middle East, or Africa don't allow you to just lash out with your opinion. The challenge has been in creating a supportive environment for people to express strong feelings instead of keeping them inside. Bottling up disagreements creates resentment, which invariably ends in conflict and can spoil relationships beyond repair."
To avoid this, Arun and his team get together at least once a month in a structured way to air out any unresolved issues in a setting where people can listen to each other without getting defensive.
"You can take it even deeper," he says, "and try to understand why someone else thinks this or that way about you, which brings us to another teaching I received from Dato' Vijay: you have to take ownership of the perception you create. Perception may not be a reality, but how people perceive you determines what happens in your business, so you better take responsibility for it."
Arun's dream is to help as many people on his team as possible to duplicate what he has achieved and become in the past ten years.
"I want to fine tune our ways of doing things so people coming up the ladder can achieve more than what I have achieved much faster. That's why we're designing our online training program, to take what we have learned and put that in a simple and practical system so others can internalize and implement it without having to go through the same hardships."
Another dream Arun has is to help make network marketing more acceptable in those countries where it's still considered a shady business.
"That is a huge part of what I'm working on today with my company," he says. "I'm helping to legally establish this business in Central Asia and African countries. I don't personally work with government officials—our company has a legal team for that—but I talk to influential people who can help us get the right message across to the right people. I really want to see this profession accepted by the government and by society, especially in countries where it is needed the most."