“When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When I met Brian — about eight years ago — he was a practicing CPA working for a big accounting firm. His fiancee at the time, a family friend, wanted me to meet him. She thought, perhaps, that I’d see him the same way she did — as a guy with a sweet disposition and wads of potential.

Sweet he was. But that didn’t impress me. To me, his pleasant demeanor was a sign that he was unassertive — even diffident. And in my eyes, that limited his potential.

Yes, he’d make a great husband in a New Age, sensitive, caring sort of way. But I had doubts about whether he could succeed in the rugged, small-business environment I had access to.

“So . . . what did you think of him?” Brandi asked me soon after our first meeting.

“He’s great!” I said. “I’d like to talk to him about going into business.”

I’d like to say that this was the only time in my career that I went into business with someone for personal reasons. But, in fact, a good number of the business relationships I’ve gotten involved in were similarly “misguided.”

What happened to Brian? Was he afraid to even meet with me? Did he try and fail? Or did he go on to become everything Brandi thought he could be?

Judge for yourself:

We met, today, to talk about the business I’d put him in five years ago. The only thing we had to go on at the time was an idea (backed up by a modest investment on my part). For several years, the business foundered, waiting for Brian’s entrepreneurial skills to mature and the business plan to take root.

Then, about three years ago, I noticed a change in Brian’s approach to his work. Instead of simply taking my ideas and dutifully carrying them out, he was testing his own ideas too — changing and correcting policies and practices based on his own experiences.

We didn’t meet every day. He was intimidated by my sometimes crusty manner. There were moments, in fact, when, after having ridden him for some mistake or unanticipated problem, I thought he’d walk out of my office and never come back.

But he didn’t. He accepted all my criticisms with grace and focused his energies on one of his natural strengths: developing good relationships with his clients. Gradually, he also acquired a competent knowledge of the sales and marketing side of his business. The one-time accountant was now flying all over the world making speeches and sales presentations.

As his performance improved, he got positive feedback — from me and from the other people he worked with. Eventually, he developed a reputation for being reliable — someone who could do what he promised.

Today, his business is entirely transformed. He has three full-time employees and is hiring a fourth as I write this. His personal income went from $40,000 or $50,000 a year when he was a CPA to more than $200,000 today. He has a beautiful home that must be worth at least $750,000, a couple of luxury cars, plenty of money in the bank, and a wife who reminds me now and then that she was right about his potential.

He is also a very confident businessman with a very positive view of the future. I asked him how he’d trained himself to become such a good salesman. “It was difficult at first,” he admitted. “I figured I’d be talking to people who were smarter than me, more skillful in business — totally intimidating. But not one of them was as tough as you are,” he added, smiling. “And now I can see right through them. I know what they want. And I am confident I can give it to them.”

Brian ended the meeting by telling me he expects to put a very large number to the bottom line this year. Needless to say, I sighed happily as he left the office.

Brian is proof of several important things:

  • You can become a successful businessperson even if you are naturally timid and have no apparent inclination to do so.
  • You can become a very good salesperson or marketer if you put in the time and attach yourself to a willing mentor.
  • You can change the material circumstances of your life in a relatively short period of time — much less than the 30 or so years financial planners say it takes.

There is one more thing Brian’s experience proves — and this is something I was happy to learn. You can become successful in business without becoming a tight-fisted, ornery, son of a bitch. Brian’s original sweetness, the thing that I found so suspicious when I met him, has never evaporated. He’s still as sensitive and good-natured as he ever was — and yet his business judgment is clear and bottom-line oriented.