Val Wolfenden and Helen Newham are best friends and business partners who have been living together in Sydney and Gold Coast, Australia, for over thirty years. In 2005 they came out of retirement to start building a new network marketing business. Today, less than six years later, they have a thriving global business and have earned their company's 2011 Top Australian Distributorship of the Year award.
Val and Helen attribute their success to the many lessons they learned in the three decades preceding their current business venture. Val has been involved in direct sales and network marketing since 1975, and Helen joined her in 1981. Together they sold encyclopedias door-to-door, demonstrated vacuum cleaners, trained others in the art of sales, and spent ten years getting their feet wet and building an international team in their first network marketing company.
Helen describes Val as more of an introvert and a perfectionist, while Val describes Helen as the life of the party who brightens the lives of everyone around her. According to their friends, both lead with passion and empathy, and have a gift for instilling trust and ambition in others.
"We have done some amazing things together," says Helen, "We've been to amazing places around the world and formed some amazing friendships, and we continue to complement each other in our working day."
"We have the most wonderful and worthy people in our team," adds Val, "and every day we strive to help them more. Our guiding principle is to offer the network marketing business to men and women of all nationalities and all ages. This is what we want to be doing until we draw our last breath."
Val with four children and six grandchildren in Maui 2011.
Val and Helen with Val's son Anthony, daughter-in-law Megan and grandsons Peter and Sam Wolfenden in 2006.
Val, Helen, Onyx, Megan and Shelley with their Chinese and Malaysian leaders at a conference on the Gold Coast.
Val and Helen with Shelley.
Val, Helen, Megan and some of their Diamond leaders in Maui 2011.
Val had been working in the corporate world as a secretary since she was sixteen, when in 1960, at age twenty-four, she was hired by an American freight company as a personal assistant. Soon thereafter her boss, seeing some untapped talent in Val, gave her the assignment to go visit large corporations in Sydney and Melbourne and show them how they could cut expenses by switching from their current provider over to his company's freight-forwarding services.
"This was my first foray into sales," says Val. "I am not strong in math, so providing comparative quotes was a terrifying prospect. But I thoroughly enjoyed talking about the benefits of using our company's services, so I presented passionately and gradually became quite successful. I thought the corporate world was the place to be, particularly as I started making much more than the average salary for a secretary in Australia."
In 1965 Val left her job to marry Peter, the love of her life, and over the next eight years they had four children. "As an only child of an only child," she says, "I loved raising a growing family."
In 1975, however, Val's life was suddenly turned upside down when Peter died from a heart attack in the kitchen of their home. Overnight she became a single mom with four children under the age of eleven.
"We were living in a large house on the waterfront in Sydney," says Val. "I was asset-rich but cash flow-poor, because our income stopped with Peter's death. He was self-employed as a chartered accountant and his life insurance coverage was only $35,000. I had a mortgage to contend with, so that money didn't go very far, and I quickly had to find a way to make a living."
The only experience Val had was in the corporate world, and she realized right away that with four small children to care for, working as a secretary was not an option. Her friend Susan had shared with her how she had just completed a training for demonstrating and selling encyclopedias, and was making sales and earning good commissions.
"If Susan can do that, so can I," Val thought, so she enrolled in the training too. She learned how to knock on doors and show parents the value of having a reliable set of reference materials to help with their children's education.
Val fully believed in the value of her product and had no trouble doing whatever it took to be successful, including going out at night and learning how to navigate the suburbs of Sydney, long before GPS existed.
"Sometimes it was hot, sometimes cold, many times it was raining," she says. "But I felt blessed, because I could fit this in around my children's needs, and I was able to find trustworthy people to look after them while I was out."
Val loved her new career and took pride in the service she was providing. She delighted in helping her customers' children learn and thrive in school, and built tight and lasting relationships with many families in her area.
Being a distributor of encyclopedias also involved attending trainings and meeting other entrepreneurs.
"The principal of our division was a lady named Rosemary Moore," says Val. "One of the best sales ladies in the company, she became my mentor. She took me out in the field and taught me how to cope with rejection and close the sale. To this day I remember many gems of wisdom she gave me, including, Winners never see the dropped coins because their eyes are always on the stars."
One day Rosemary asked Val what her goals were and, cheekily, she said she wanted to be a millionaire and have enough money to buy a Rolls Royce—even though she never would buy one, she quickly added, because she needed the money to take care of her children.
Today Val has achieved many of her goals and she drives a luxury car.
In 1981 Helen Newham happened to read about Rosemary Moore and her business partner, Diana Rose, being nominated as Businesswomen of the Year. This stirred Helen's imagination and stroked her dreams, so she rang Rosemary to find out what she had to do to earn this title.
One week later, Helen was in class learning how to knock on doors and demonstrate and sell encyclopedias to parents, just as Val had done two years earlier.
"One Sunday after class, Rosemary rang me at home," says Val. "She told me, 'We have a good one here, Val. Would you like to come to the office and meet Helen? Since you both live in the eastern suburbs, we will put Helen in your team.'"
Even though Val was relaxing by the pool when Rosemary called, she had a strong feeling this was an important connection, so she went over to meet Helen. Helen joined her team and they have been in business together ever since.
When Helen was twenty-five, she had done what thousands of young Australians did and still do: she travelled for a year to the UK, Europe, and the United States.
"I reveled in this exciting adventure and met some wonderful people," she says. "In the UK I was invited to the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace; in Europe I took up painting and became a street artist in Montmartre; in the U.S. I received some amazing introductions to major film studios and met many famous actors of the nineteen-fifties.
"Upon my return to Australia I went back to live with my family, but I soon missed my independence. I applied to the Australian Red Cross and started working in a Veteran's Repatriation Hospital as a Welfare Officer. Within six weeks I applied for an overseas posting and was sent to Malaya (today Malaysia) to work with the Aussie and New Zealand troops at the British military base. They were stationed there because of a conflict (not officially a war) between the Communists and the Malays."
It was a two-year contract and Helen loved it.
"It was just my sort of thing," she says, "looking after the lads in the hospital, talking to them, cheering them up, giving them books to read and taking them on outings."
While on leave, Helen was able to travel and spend time in Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Singapore. She enjoyed socializing with the officers and the planters from the various copra, rubber, and oil palm estates. She eventually fell in love with one of the planters and became engaged the day before she was scheduled to take off for a road trip half-way around the world.
"My travelling companion was one of the British Army teachers who lived in the Officers' Mess with me," says Helen. "We set off in her little Morris 1000 car and drove from India to England, 14,000 miles. It was 1961 and it took us four and a half months. We began our journey in India and drove through Pakistan, Baluchistan, Persia (Iran), Turkey, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Italy, and Spain, all the way to England."
Helen came home to Australia via the United States to prepare for her wedding in Malaya to her British husband. She had her first baby in the same hospital she had worked in and stayed in Malaya until her son Greg was seven months old, then returned to Australia to live on a farm she and her husband had bought.
"Three years of drought put a hole in our finances," Helen says. "It was a bumpy marriage. We moved eighteen times in fourteen years. My husband and I eventually parted company and I brought up my three children while working in a hospital in Sydney. Life was tough, but I learned a lot.
"After a few years, I decided I needed to get out of the hospital system. This is when I met Val, who was incredibly supportive of me and the children. She taught me about sales—and I have never looked back."
After a successful period of selling encyclopedias together, Val and Helen looked at starting a vacuum cleaner distributorship in Sydney.
"We saw the machine demonstrated and were mesmerized by its performance and versatility," says Val. "We felt this was our opportunity to combine the art of direct selling with owning our own business. Had we known what we know today about being in business for yourself, with all the risks involved and the never-ending expenses, we might have never gone into that distributorship. But we loved the challenge and wanted to be in control of our destiny."
Helen and Val ran sales meetings six mornings a week for up to thirty salespeople. They won many awards and in 1985 became the top women distributors in the world for their company.
"We won one of the first mobile phones in Australia," Val recalls. "It was the size of a brick, and you could only use it in the car's phone holder, so it wasn't exactly portable." They also won a car, a boat, and several overseas trips, and learned many lessons.
"We learned that to be a winner, you have to be persistent and consistent," says Helen. "You have to work harder than others are prepared to work and take risks others are not willing to take."
In 1991 an old friend introduced Val and Helen to a well established American network marketing company. They first said, "No thanks," but the friend was persistent and persuaded them to attend a large opportunity meeting in the Sydney Convention Centre.
"We didn't want to be there, didn't like what we heard, and sat with our arms crossed the whole time," says Val. "We got out of the auditorium to have lunch as soon as we could."
Interestingly, as she walked out, Val saw her dentist Ernie standing on the steps waiting for someone. His shock and amazement at seeing her there were palpable. Val had been Ernie's patient for thirty years and had been in his dental chair probably sixty or more times during that time. He asked what she was doing there, and she told him she was there for the opportunity meeting.
He said, "I never thought of asking you to join because you live in a big house and are a successful businesswoman."
"Ernie made a big mistake," says Val, "because even though I looked successful, I did have a need. I was cash flow–poor in spite of owning a business. The cost of running the business ate most of the turnover. The lesson my dentist taught us that day is that we must never presume to know what other people are going through. No matter how apparently successful they are, they may have their own challenges, needs, and goals, or they just may want something more in life.
"Ever since that day, I stopped judging others and thinking they don't need what we have to offer, and I'm thankful to Ernie for teaching me this valuable lesson."
After talking to Ernie, Val and Helen went back into the meeting. A week later they became distributors for that network marketing company.
"We realized the training and leadership were excellent," says Helen. "The people obviously believed in what they were doing and their enthusiasm was contagious. We also realized that in network marketing, you could be in business for yourself without all the risks and the overhead. Having been in direct sales for ten years, we were ready to move on and accept a new challenge."
Learning the Trade
To launch their new business right, Val and Helen attended all meetings, large and small. They took copious notes and recorded presentations, which they transcribed and studied.
"We began to talk to people we knew from our past endeavors and those who trusted us," says Val. "I believe trust is your most important asset. People need to know your integrity, your honesty, your persistence, and your courage. They also need to know that you care about them. Knowledge is good, but not as important as the empathy you have for others' challenges, goals, and dreams.
"A native American proverb communicates clearly the meaning of empathy: to understand a man, you must walk a mile in his moccasins."
Val and Helen looked for leaders whose qualities they admired. They learned from their successes and weaved others' successful traits into their own activities. They transferred their newfound knowledge to their own people in one-on-one and home meetings. They learned to master the compensation plan and taught it to their team.
"We travelled often to Melbourne to do home presentations and trainings," says Val. "We sometimes visited Perth and Tasmania as guest speakers to share our story and train others."
During the ten years Val and Helen built their network with this company, it opened over thirteen new overseas markets.
"Our Australian team included distributors of many different nationalities," says Helen. "We encouraged them to talk to and sponsor their relatives and friends here in Australia, so that when each country opened we had distributors who wanted to go back to their home country for the opening and offer their local relatives the same opportunity of residual income by starting a network marketing business."
Separately or together, Helen and Val participated in thirteen different overseas market openings.
"We enjoyed seeing new places and meeting new people," says Val. "We gained so much valuable experience during this period of our lives. We learned about losing and winning, and above all, about getting the job done.
"I was reminded of Rosemary Moore's words: There is no such thing as a natural winner or a born loser; there is only winning action, losing action, or lack of action. Winning is something you do, not something you are."
Val and Helen worked hard and built a large network, but never quite reached the top in this company as they had hoped for. In 2000 Helen had a hip replacement and Val sold her big house on the waterfront, and together they decided to retire and move into a small apartment.
Five years later Val was having a lot of trouble with her hands. Pain and swelling made them almost useless and she could no longer enjoy retirement. She also had the desire to do something significant and leave a legacy of wealth and achievement.
"For some reason, losing the use of my hands caused me the greatest grief," she says. "Because I had been a mother and a substitute father for so many years, I was used to being able to do everything—lift things, garden, play sports, cook, drive, and be independent. When I realized that this was no longer going to be, I became despondent. My daily life was beginning to change and pain became a constant companion.
"Never liking to take medical drugs or pain killers, I read a lot about arthritis and resorted to any natural method I could find to reduce pain and increase mobility. Eventually I had to visit doctors and take anti-inflammatory drugs. One doctor built hand braces for me to stabilize my thumbs and wrists and possibly stop further deterioration of the joints, but the braces didn't stop the pain."
Right around that time, Val's daughter-in-law, Megan Wolfenden, happened to meet Onyx Coale (featured in the March/April 2011 issue of Networking Times) at a Robert Kiyosaki event in the United States. Onyx told Megan about her new company and its revolutionary health product.
Megan liked Onyx, checked out the company—the founders and the science behind the product—and wanted to find out whether the product really worked. Based in California at the time, she sent a box of product to Val and Helen in Australia.
"Reluctantly, I began to use the product," says Val, "and very quickly a miracle took place. The pain began to diminish and the inflammation subsided. I was able to take off the hand braces, and once again I could cook, drive without pain, play sports, garden, and hold my grandchildren. At the age of seventy, my life turned around. The pain was gone, and I was mobile and active again."
At the time Megan and her husband Anthony were about to move back to Australia with their two little boys. When Megan heard the news about Val's dramatic health improvement, she invited Onyx over to meet her in California. Onyx made two presentations for Megan in a friend's home, because Megan and Anthony had sold their place and were staying in a hotel. Val had planned to fly over to California as a surprise to go to Anthony and Megan's farewell party, so she was able to be present at these two meetings and met Onyx for the first time.
Soon thereafter Val and Helen enrolled in the business and began to share Val's recovery story with their friends. They also told them about the compensation plan that could give them wealth and ongoing weekly passive income. In seven months, Val and Helen reached a top level in the compensation plan, which earned them a considerable and growing weekly bonus check.
"What really got us going was a special promotion the company had put on," says Helen. "Any distributor who reached a certain rank by a certain date would receive stock options in the company. Val really wanted to win these options and when Val sets a goal, it seems to happen."
"It is this last network marketing company that has finally enabled me to reach the goals and achieve the dreams I told Rosemary Moore about back in 1979," says Val. "Today we have an organization of over 25,000 people in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Germany, Poland, Israel, the UK, Thailand, and the emerging market of India."
Because of their age, Val and Helen don't travel as much as they would like to, so they use technology—instant-messaging, web conferences, email, Skype, the telephone, and Facebook—to communicate with their teams in Australia and overseas.
At age seventy-five, Val travels regularly to Thailand to help her daughter Kim, who lives with her family in Bangkok and is just starting to build the business in Thailand. Val also hopes to travel to and get involved in building the Indian market.
At age seventy-nine, Helen finds it difficult to set goals, so she leaves that up to Val. Meanwhile she goes all out to achieve these goals. Being in a wheelchair, which she calls her electric buggy, she doesn't get out much but dedicates her days to helping the team remotely, as well as presenting the opportunity locally and counseling people who visit her in her home office.
"My phone is running hot most of the time," she says. "At the moment I am putting my energy into finding Indian prospects, because we are about to open the Indian market. We would really love to have a big Indian business, God willing.
"We are constantly being mentored by Anthony and Megan. They are a tower of strength and never tire of helping us. It's a real family business and we love working together. My three children are only a tiny bit interested in what we do for the moment, but I keep hoping. My youngest son will be the one, I think, who will follow our lead."
MUSINGS FROM THE SUPER GRANNIES
Working with the Chinese
Respect for Age
Talking to Strangers
Leaving a Legacy
Books We Love
The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
—Val and Helen