Growing up in Belgium, Josephine Van den Bossche says she was always interested in healing and making the world a better place. After considering a career in medicine, she decided instead to go into humanities "to become a more well-rounded person." She focused on Romance philology, which includes literary studies in all the Romance languages, from Latin to modern French, Italian, and Spanish. In her last year of undergraduate work, an American friend invited her to visit California—a visit that ended up changing her life in more ways than one. She pursued doctoral studies at Stanford University and wrote her dissertation on the symbol of the hermaphrodite, a mythical figure that unites the feminine and the masculine. Today she applies her education and findings to her work as cofounder of Networking Times and academic dean of Networking University, where her broader philosophical mission is "to explore and teach business practices based on our awareness of the interconnectedness of all life."— J.D.M.
What was your first reaction when you visited California?
I knew immediately that this wasn't just going to be a visit. I loved it here.
What was it you loved about it?
In a word, space—space in the mind as well as physical space. Europe, and especially Belgium, is quite densely populated, and it has very strong traditions and roots, which has its advantages, but it's hard to think differently there and start something new.
I extended my visitor's visa for six months, and eventually realized that if I wanted to stay longer, I had to go to school.
Presenting at women's event in Newport Beach, 2011.
Visiting the Great Pyramids after presenting in Cairo.
With subscribers from Uruguay.
Relaxing after speaking in Singapore.
Hiking with Gen Y network marketing leaders in the Santa Susanna mountains in California.
On the MLM Cruise with Art Jonak and Caribbean networkers.
Visiting the Magic Castle in Hollywood with Networking University faculty member Dr. Steve Taubman.
Women's panel at Mastermind event 2010.
With Nigerian subscribers at Mastermind event.
After speaking at Chinese Business School.
With Networking University student in Cairo.
With top leaders at company gala in Malaysia.
I was stunned to learn I would actually have to pay to go to school. For a Belgian, that idea is completely novel; education is free for us. What's more, as a foreign student, I had to pay even more.
My friend lived in Menlo Park, close to Palo Alto. "There's a university here with something for you," he said. "It's called a financial aid department."
I received a five-year scholarship to do a Masters and Ph.D. at Stanford University, and I did my doctoral thesis on the hermaphrodite, a theme that continues to be important to me even today.
I believe our purpose is to become whole human beings, and that means uniting opposites on many levels, including both our masculine and feminine aspects. For example, there are more masculine styles of leadership, and more feminine styles, and this goes beyond whether we happen individually to be male or female; we all need to be able to incorporate both aspects.
What did you do once you had your Ph.D.?
A series of jobs in education eventually led me to a project in Japan, where I lived for six months, organizing a seminar for French dignitaries, philosophers, and artists to meet and talk with their Japanese counterparts.
It was a fascinating project, but the thing that touched me most about living in Japan was the Buddhist monks, seeing the joy and light that radiated from them. I had met a lot of very successful and accomplished people by this time, but no one seemed to have found what they were looking for the way these monks had.
When I returned to Paris, I began a Zen Buddhist training with a Zen master there. The first thing she told me was, "Don't read about Zen. You can't get Zen by reading or studying. You have to practice it."
A different track than what you were used to!
Exactly. I was quite experienced with using the academic, intellectual part of my brain. I took up meditation and Koan study, and started translating my teacher's books on Zen from English to French to support myself.
After a few years, I noticed that many people who had dedicated their lives to Zen and meditation were not so accomplished professionally and often struggled financially. This didn't resonate with me and I decided it was time to move on. I still have a deep love and respect for the Zen Buddhist culture; it will always be with me even though I don't formally practice it anymore.
Back in the Bay Area, I was in between jobs and not sure what I'd do next, when a friend sent me a package of brochures for a company with some nutritional products and some sort of business opportunity.
What was your reaction?
I thought, "You have to be kidding me! I have a Ph.D. and she is asking me to sell a product?"
I told my friend, "Listen, I hope you don't believe all the stuff in these brochures. It's just a company promoting its product and what they call an opportunity."
I was, to say the least, extremely skeptical—but there was one thing in the brochure that intrigued me, a short interview with one of the company's successful business builders.
What intrigued me was that she described herself as a leader and educator, "someone who helps people succeed." That was very appealing to me.
This person happened to be my friend's upline, so we both went to her home for lunch. The woman didn't talk to me at all about the products or the opportunity—we just talked about life. I shared my experiences with Zen and why I had left it. She told me she was teaching a workshop about how to overcome your limiting beliefs.
In all my years in academics, I had never heard of such a thing. I realized that, although I had a Ph.D. from Stanford, I had a huge lack of life skills, leadership skills, and business skills. I wanted to learn from these people!
So I plunked down my credit card and bought a starter kit for $1,000.
That night I thought, "What the heck have I done?" I didn't know anything about the product, and I couldn't see myself building a business. I was between jobs and certainly didn't have an extra thousand dollars to spend. But I felt somehow that my life was about to completely change.
When I told my upline I was eager to learn, she recommended I read Being the Best You Can Be in MLM by John Kalench and The Greatest Networker in the World by John Milton Fogg, which I devoured. She also suggested I subscribe to the professional journal for network marketers, Upline, so I immediately called the 800 number to subscribe.
With my starter kit came a ticket for an All-Start training, in Sacramento, where I decided to volunteer at a Train the Trainer event before the training. My job was to run around with the mike during the Q&A sessions.
After spending the whole day with leaders in network marketing, I was totally impressed by how they interacted, by how empowering and supportive of each other they were, and also how happy they were. It was such a contrast with my experience of the academic world.
At the end of the day, I walked over to the exhibitor area and went to the Upline booth to check on my subscription; the person in charge of the booth was a man named Chris Gross.
Chris took one look at my nametag and said, "Van den Bossche?" (That's my maiden name.) "You must be either Dutch or Flemish. Which is it?"
I was quite impressed. Most Americans don't even know where Belgium is! It turned out his mother was from Antwerp. We got talking; I told him I'd gone to Stanford, which intrigued him, and we started talking about Buddhism.
After a few minutes, he had pretty much decided that he wanted to marry me.
Did he tell you that right then and there?
No, but I figured it out.
Over the next few days it became clear that I was not there to become a network marketer. However, I developed a love of and deep admiration for network marketing—the people, the model, and the teaching and education that goes with it.
It turned out Chris was CEO of MLM Publishing, Inc., the publishers of Upline, and the work he did was very exciting to me. I moved to Los Angeles, where he was based, and started working with him right away.
Things went pretty quickly. We met the first weekend of October, decided to get married in November, looked for a home over the Thanksgiving holiday, and moved in mid-December.
That is fast!
He had two daughters who were then three and seven. So all at once, I had a job, a house, a husband, and kids!
It's a good thing you had steeped yourself in Zen.
Everything worked out well. It was a huge change, but it was also in a way very natural.
So in this huge change, were you thrown into being part of the business right away?
I went to some events with Chris, and he trained me how to work the booth and talk about the publication. I immersed myself in the network marketing culture.
Soon we started another publication, called Network Marketing Lifestyles, and I became circulation director.
Over the next few years, MLM Publishing was acquired by another company, and through an unfortunate series of events, we lost control of the business and it was more or less driven into the ground. It was a very difficult few years for us.
By 2001 we were no longer part of the company, and it was on its last legs. We wanted to find a way to continue its tradition and mission of Upline. That fall we launched Gabriel Media Group, and published the first edition of Networking Times in early 2002.
At the time neither of us was employed, and we decided at least one of us should get on a stable income. I sent out some job applications and was hired by a wonderful private school in Los Angeles, Harvard-Westlake, where I started teaching French and Latin.
Eventually I got a little bored teaching languages and started also teaching a course in personal development and life skills for eighth graders—the school called it human development, because that sounded a little more academic.
That was a lot of fun, because I got to design my own curriculum and continue my passion for human growth.
Eighth graders, too, what a great age.
It was a great experience for me. I taught there for five years while we developed Networking Times.
Another turning point came in 2006, when our editor in chief gave us notice and let us know he needed to move on so he could devote himself full time to writing books.
Ah yes, I remember!
You promised you would stay on until we found the right person, and would help make sure that person was fully trained. . [The "editor in chief" Josephine is talking about here was John David Mann, who also happens to be the person conducting this interview—Ed.]
We interviewed a number of candidates, but we hadn't found the right person. One night I was lying in bed, and I suddenly thought, "Maybe I could do this."
English is not my first language; it isn't even my second language. But I had done quite a bit of writing, and writing is writing.
We talked to you about it, and you thought it was a great idea. You offered to stay on as senior editor and be my mentor, and that's exactly what we did. I finished up my school year and then left Harvard-Westlake to become editor in chief of Networking Times, which I've been now for over six years.
As editor in chief, what have been your biggest challenges and your biggest surprises?
I don't see myself as a businessperson—and the biggest surprise is that people love that fact. When I go to events, people come up to me and say, "I love your writing because it's not all business."
At heart I'm a philosopher and educator, and I've always had an ambivalent relationship with the idea of being a business person—unlike Chris, who really is a businessman and entrepreneur.
One day Chris said, "You're used to contemplating the oneness of all life and the interconnectedness of all things—what you have to remember is that a lot of the threads that connect us are commercial."
It dawned on me that this is quite true. No matter what you do, once you are in your twenties, you are a businessperson. If you have income and you have expenses, then you have a business.
This is something we learn in network marketing, and it's such an important shift in consciousness, especially for people who come from an academic or artistic or other non-business backgrounds.
This goes back to the theme of the hermaphrodite and uniting the opposites: it's about both. We're all businesspeople, and at the same time, we're all these other things.
At the same time, we are all also educators. Every human relationship is a teaching relationship. It's not about being a teacher or a business person, or being an entrepreneur or an educator—it's both.
How did Networking University come to be? And what is your role in that aspect of the enterprise?
Networking University was started by Chris Gross and Glenn Head in 2003, when webinars were still a new technology, as an online learning institution for network marketers. Chris and Glenn developed an incredible model where anyone in the world could dial in to a free live webinar.
We compensated our faculty members by giving them a few minutes at the end of each webinar to offer a training product of their own to the participants.
The model was extremely successful. In the beginning we had three webinars a week. Now there is such a huge offering of webinars available that we decided to scale ours back to one a week.
To this day, we have a core group of people who are on them every week, not only across the U.S. but from around the world—in India, Europe, everywhere. Some people set their alarm for three in the morning so they can wake up in time to catch the live webinar.
If they miss it, they can view it on replay, yes?
Yes, recordings are free for registered students and there is a small charge for everyone else. This is because we encourage people to be on the live webinar, where they can ask questions and interact. It's a different energy.
I work at the University as Dean of Faculty. When trainers approach us about teaching a course, I discuss what would work well for our community, work with them to fine tune it, and slot them into our webinar schedule. I also moderate the live webinars.
What does the University offer network marketers that their company or upline doesn't already provide?
Some companies do a great job of providing community and training, and some less so. Some people get excellent training from their uplines, some don't. Essentially, we serve as a "generic upline" for network marketing professionals.
Being part of the University community and reading Networking Times also helps people realize that this business is not just about them or their company. This is a worldwide movement that is expanding over the planet.
As people from different companies connect and see that they are really all about the same values, it creates unshakeable belief in what they're doing and makes them feel they are part of something larger than themselves.
Some company and upline trainings teach product information and specific business-building steps. But network marketing training also has to go beyond that, and help us grow as human beings. It has to be a combination of personal, professional, and business development.
I think we all know deep inside that this life on Earth is not about the things we acquire, because all of these we eventually have to let go of; it's about the person we become in the process and the difference we make in the lives of others.
How do you see Networking University unfolding over the next ten years?
Ten years ago, this might not have been that relevant, because most people were building their businesses in their own region or country. Now we live in a truly global world, and everybody's business is global.
Lately the University has elicited a good deal of interest abroad, especially the certification program. Here in the United States, fewer people are interested in this, but in foreign countries, especially Asia, people love the credibility of having a certificate and title.
People in other countries also seem to place a higher value on education than many do here. We've had some companies in Asia ask us to develop a customized curriculum for them, and we're in the process of doing that. It's been fascinating to see the different needs and challenges people have in new markets in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
This is something I am passionate about. I am a U.S. citizen now, but having lived the first part of my life in Europe and the second part in the U.S., I feel just as much at home everywhere as I do here. I feel I am a global citizen—and more and more, that is becoming the typical network marketing experience.
This is an aspect of network marketing that I love to support—how it unites people from different parts of the globe and makes us aware that we really are one, and that the only way to build a sustainable world is to realize our interconnectedness.
Network marketing is an incredible vehicle for global prosperity, especially in regions where people don't have as much opportunity, because it comes with built-in training and support systems, as well as an empowerment community.
This is life-changing especially for women in countries where they normally don't have these opportunities, and that is something I am really passionate about.
Network marketing is also a powerful vehicle for expanded thinking. I'd go as far as to say it moves us one step closer to world peace.
We have wars because we don't know each other, so we are afraid and we attack. When you get to know other cultures and build a business in other regions, you're not going to go to war with these people. You discover that we all want the same things, and once we recognize how similar we are, we can celebrate and be enriched by our cultural differences.