It is amazing how meeting one person can change the direction of your entire life.

Almost 50 years ago, I had the good fortune to meet a unique man who has proven to be one of the most positive people I have ever encountered in my life. His name is Octave George Williams. He is one of the 4 influential men who shaped who I am today: My Dad ( Everything Is Sales ); Dan Doherty ( The House of Doherty ); and Alan Schonberg ( An Extraordinary Man ).

When I graduated from college, unemployment was high and there were few openings for recent college grads like me. I took a short-term stint working in a camera store to make money until I could find a more suitable career. I was an avid photographer, so it was easy for me to learn about the different cameras we sold. I was doing my own film developing and printing, so I understood the process and could explain it to the hobbyists who wanted to buy developing equipment and supplies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Octave George Williams Circa 1972

One day Octave walked into my store to call on me. My retail location was one of his customers. He was the District Sales Manager for the company that handled all our photo finishing. I found myself being immediately attracted to his dynamic style and to the passion and enthusiasm he had about his job and his business. I wanted to be part of something like that. He had no openings that he needed to fill when we met, but I convinced him that I would be a good salesperson for his company. He made room for me and hired me. That was my big break.

This was to be my first real career position. I became the New England Sales Representative for a division of a Fortune 500 company – GAF – and was to work for the Photo Service Division – a major photo finisher with nineteen plants in the nation. Prior to the advent of digital cameras and smart phones with cameras, the photo finishing industry was a multi-billion-dollar business. Now it is a shadow of itself.

Octave was (and still is) a great salesman. He had an extremely positive attitude about selling and a wonderful outlook on life in general. Octave taught me about the photo finishing business. I learned about professional selling through him, but he had a background that was not like any other salesperson I have ever met.

He was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands in a town called Frederiksted, on the island of St. Croix. As a child he grew up in a good family and he was incredibly happy. He once told me that he did not have any problems growing up. After all, as he put it, how could anyone have problems living in such an idyllic place where you could swim in the beautiful, clear, blue Caribbean Sea almost every day? When Octave lived in St. Croix, the island was crime free and it seemed as if everyone knew each other. Neighbors became a second family.

At the age of fifteen Octave came to the US mainland. He became interested in business when he was in high school in New York City, but his interest really grew when he started working as a clerk in a drug store after school. He was meeting presidents of large companies who were the customers at the drug store. He watched sales reps selling to his employer. He liked what he saw in these sales reps and he found it very natural to emulate them and to sell anything at the store except for prescription items.

Octave continued to develop his selling skills at the drug store. He also learned, without realizing it at the time, that he was learning how to overcome customer objections. He really liked this aspect of the selling process and he genuinely loved selling because it gave him the opportunity to communicate and interact with different people. He found it to always be a learning experience.

One of the people Octave met at the drug store was Martin Ackerman, chairman of the board for Perfect Photo – a major national photo finisher. The man found Octave to be so charming, so upbeat, so positive, and so eager to get ahead as a professional salesman, that he offered him a job as a Sales Representative for his company. Octave began as a Sales Representative covering NYC and New Jersey.

Knowing the drug store business very well, Octave found it easy to offer the services of amateur film developing to pharmacies within his territory. There were many unique benefits for a retailer offering photo finishing to his customers and Octave knew them all very well: there was no investment in inventory; the finished products were envelopes about 5×7 inches in size and took up very little space under a counter in a shoebox or two; the markup on film processing services was about 40% to 60%; and the customer made three visits to the store – 1st to buy film, 2nd to drop it off for processing, and 3rd to pick up the finished product (prints). There could even be a 4th visit if the customer ordered enlargements of their favorite prints. The important aspect of all these visits is that it allowed the store to sell other products to the customer on each visit. Customers would see sales, promotions by consumer product companies, seasonal goods, etc., and would make other purchases while they were there. Octave would show pharmacists how offering his company’s services could be highly profitable to a pharmacy. He became a real success.

Octave held the NYC/NJ territory position for about 3 years and did such a good job that he was transferred to the Boston district which was badly in need of sales. At that time, Perfect Photo was bought by GAF. He became the GAF Sales Representative covering the 6 New England states and held that position for two years until he was promoted to the District Sales Manager role.

Octave had a winning advantage: he was extremely charismatic and upbeat and always happy. He capitalized on his charming island accent and his big contagious smile and bright white teeth. His smile seemed even larger and brighter in contrast to his very dark skin. Keep in mind that in the late 1960’s it was not at all common to see a black professional salesman in New England, let alone one with an accent. Octave knew how to use his personality to get people to like him and to do business with him.

When Octave hired me, he became my boss and my mentor. But there was also an immediate kinship created and we became fast friends. One of my most enjoyable selling experiences was when Octave and I went out to sell together. We had a lot in common in that we were born close to the same date (although he was ten years my senior), had similar styles of being eternal optimists, both with high energy, confident and self-motivated. We both had a cheerful disposition and relentless determination. We would take turns selling prospects on our services. We called ourselves the dynamic duo. We were unstoppable and we were always getting new business. We challenged each other to land a new client. It made the job fun, but it was a learning experience for me to watch him sell.

But there was something else I learned and observed when working with Octave. It was not something you would find in a book, or in a course about selling or salesmanship. It was something I could never really experience unless I was in Octave’s skin. It was a combination of some very subtle things: the odd, quizzical look on a prospective customer’s face when he saw Octave enter his establishment; a mild tensing of the shoulders; a healthy dose of in-bred bias upon seeing Octave approaching him; and a sort of anticipated skepticism towards anything he was about to hear from Octave. All of that melted away very quickly the moment the prospect saw Octave’s broad smile, heard his enchanting island accent, and observed his cheerful professional demeanor. Once Octave began speaking, his charm and enthusiasm completely disarmed people, and they were drawn to him. Enough so, that they wanted to hear more from him. I am sure Octave saw what I observed as we walked in, and I am sure he felt it more than I could ever understand. Octave never said a word about it. We never discussed it.

Octave told me that he made me his “project” to get me promoted. He said it took him 3 years to get promoted to sales manager and that he thought I could do it in less. He taught me what I needed to know. Sure enough, I became a top salesperson in the company, and I got promoted to Pittsburgh to be the District Sales Manager in just under two years, thanks to him. I was twenty-six at the time.

After I became the District Sales Manager, GAF transferred Octave to Los Angeles, where once again, he provided a positive injection of new sales to the local finishing plant. He became well-known on the west coast and he was recruited by Berkey Photo, another national photo finisher. He was successful with Berkey up through the time they were sold to Kodak. He was recruited by TruColor Photo, worked in sales with them, and then recruited again by another company, Qualex/Kodak. Octave never went looking for a job. The jobs came to him because the photo finishing industry was a who-knows-who business, and a great salesman was hard to find. They ALL benefitted from the skills and talents of my good friend, Octave.

Octave is still on the west coast, is retired, plays golf a few times a week, and is still the happy, enthusiastic, positive person I have always known. We speak, email, and FaceTime with one another often.

Some things I remember Octave telling me many years ago:

“Enthusiasm sells. If you are an enthusiastic person and you are enthusiastic about what you are selling, people will want to buy from you.”

“Qualify your buyer. Find out what problems or issues he has and sell a solution to those problems or issues, as it pertains to what you are selling.”

“If a customer is unhappy with his present vendor, find out why and then offer your service in the best light to show him he’d be happy with you as his vendor.”

“Pay attention to the details.”

“If you do not have the answer to a customer question, tell him you will get the answer and then get back to him. ALWAYS get back to the customer. That is key.”

“Remember, you are a professional. And Professionals are obsessed with getting better. They are lifelong students who know they will never graduate because there’s always more to learn.”

“Don’t be on time. Be five minutes early.”

“Do what you say you’ll do. Period.”

“Follow the steps involved in the photo finishing process from retail customer pick-up through the plant and back to the retailer (there were 13 major steps with about 20 people handling every roll of film to be developed). Anticipate and solve problems along the way before they happen and correct them.” This one has especially served me well as a recruiter, knowing all the steps in the recruiting process and how to anticipate issues before they arise.

Recently, I asked Octave several questions to put into this post:

Me: Why did you enjoy the profession of selling?
OW: Selling puts you in a position of meeting many new people. Selling gives you the chance to enjoy success every day. Selling is exciting and challenging. Selling puts each person in a position to show off his selling skills. Selling gives you an arena where you can work for more money without waiting for your employer to increase your earnings. Depending on your territory, there is an opportunity to see many new places. Selling helps to form new friendships and some may last a lifetime. Hey, if I were not in sales, I would not have met you!

Me: What do you remember about your photo finishing sales career that was significant?
OW: I never had to look for a job. I was known in the industry of doing a good job. So good, that I was taking customers away from my competitors. When they got tired of losing accounts, they recruited me to work for them for more money in an even better territory. I really do not remember bad things or experiences, because I did not have many. I may not have said it before but thank you for your desire to join my company. Thank you for expressing a desire to be on my team. Thank you for your faith and confidence in me. After all, you had a secure position and were willing to give it up to work with someone you only just recently met back then.

Me: Why do you think our friendship endured the last 48 years?
OW: Firstly, we are two quality individuals with special personalities. We share great values. We have incredible respect for all people. We both grew up in loving and healthy families. We did not have to discuss it, but we understand what is required to be good men and good human beings. We treated each other the right way. We also worked well together. I do not remember ever having a problem when we were on the same team. I can still remember the first time I met you and we hit it off quite well. Had no idea we would develop the friendship that we have. I said it before, you gave me reasons to like you and have confidence in you. I believe that it is important to reach out and do something for another person. Many people did that for me. In turn, I hired you.

Me: Anything else you would want to tell me about yourself, your life, your beliefs, your philosophy?
OW: I love playing golf. It is challenging and you do it outdoors. Plus, it is another way to meet new people. There are people in my life because of our mutual interest in golf. My philosophy is that you must give yourself another reason for living another day. My approach to life is to see more positives than negatives. I also believe we must work at being our best in all areas for a healthy body and a chance for high quality of life. Although I encountered many instances of racism during my career, I prefer to leave them in the past. Holding onto those negative things does no good for me and would affect my ability to be the positive person I am.

One more thing. Another reason why your whole life can change after meeting someone. Because of Octave I got promoted. And because I got promoted, I met my wife (a Kodak sales rep). We were married within months of meeting, we left our jobs and moved to Rhode Island to start our recruiting business in 1977. I have been recruiting sales, sales management, and marketing talent for client companies for more than 43 years. If I never met Octave, I would not be writing this blog post which appears on my recruiting business website.

Octave, at 82, doing the thing he loves most of all.