The Early Days and First Big Break

(From the project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things by Julian Moody and Brandy Walker)

BRANDY W: Teaching Carnegie classes was how you got your start. You met many business people that way. How did those classes and the connections you were developing gradually become the start of your consulting? Can you give an example of how that happened?

JULIAN M: As you know, I got a job as a Carnegie instructor starting in late 1954. The job was based in Cleveland, and I was traveling all over Ohio organizing and teaching classes. Cleveland wasn’t working out so well. The Cleveland sponsors, a man and his wife, were more into the money-making end of it, rather than any real interest or passion, so that was disappointing. So I was working more and more with Dale Madden who was the Carnegie sponsor in Detroit. And that was working out well. Meanwhile, Thelma was offered an opportunity to work as a docent at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She worked originally with the Buffalo Museum of Science as a docent and loved the work, loved working with children. And so we talked it over and decided to move from Cleveland to Ann Arbor—since I had so many classes in the Ohio area, we had been living in Cleveland for the time being instead of San Diego. Ann Arbor was a lovely place. She said, “This way I could earn some money, and with what you earn and what I earn maybe we can get a little house.” And so we moved to Ann Arbor and for three years she was docent at the Museum at the University of Michigan. In the meantime, I’m developing more and more of a clientele, and I’m doing it for Dale Madden, who was the sponsor in Detroit. And he was a remarkable guy, and as I’m doing this now, I began to really build connections with all kinds of small businesses throughout southern Michigan, the Detroit area, and northern Indiana, and Ohio. And so soon I had classes going everywhere in these areas, and I was teaching more than I had energy. Through this I met so many people, built relationships, and developed a loyal following of sorts. What I started to do at the end of every class was to tell the students, “If any of you want to stop and shoot the breeze, I’m going to stop and get some tea or coffee.” There would always be a few who would do that. One night, a sales manager of a company in Detroit had coffee with me, and he said, “Would you come out and talk to our salesmen sometime?” And that was basically the beginning of my private consulting. I said to him, “Bill, I would love to, but I need to know more about your salesmen and about your company. Let’s have lunch together.” He asked, “What do you charge for making a talk?” I said, “Fifty bucks,” thinking that was very high. Then he asked, “What do you charge for having lunch?” I said, “Oh nothing. That comes with it.” So we went out to lunch. And that was the beginning. And this brings me back to Socrates. I went into inquiry, and Bill spent two hours unloading totally, talking about his ten salesmen in the company, his boss, and all the problems that they were having. And then he sat back and said to me, “What are you doing all this for? Why are you spending so much time listening to all this.” I said, “So when I give a talk, it would be one that would mean a great deal to you and your ten men.” And he said, “You’re the first guy I’ve hired that’s willing to do that. And you’ve learned a lot about our needs.” So then he suggested I come in on a certain day at 1:00 pm and give a talk for about thirty-five minutes. But after listening to him, I felt I had a pretty good idea for a plan so I laid it out for him, “Bill, from what I’ve learned from you at lunch I think I can help your men a lot more. I think I can run a discussion with all of your ten salesmen there. Would you like a discussion around all of these issues and problems? The discussion will probably run all day.” Bill said, “Oh, sure, my God, yes. How much is this going to cost me?” I said, “How about a hundred bucks?” again thinking that was very high, but he didn’t think so. Right away, he agreed. So we got together with the ten salesmen and it went very well. And they actually remained a client for almost five years. They had me come in once a month and spend the whole day with the salesmen. And in the meantime, through word of mouth and through the classes, similar opportunities came up.

BW: And eventually bigger opportunities. You started with teaching classes, leading discussions, and helping salesmen become better. How did this eventually lead to ferreting out the sources of a major problem, a keystone of your work. Can you describe your first big break with a high profile client solving a problem like this?

JM: One day, one of the men during the coffee afterward came up to me and said, “I’m working for Detroit Edison. We have tried to get help for our people in the right-of-way department. We’ve had people from University of Michigan put on courses, we’ve had Wayne State, we’ve had Chicago, we’ve had private companies, but nobody has been able to help us. It’s very complicated, difficult work, but being around you, I think you can do it.” And I said, “I don’t know a damn thing about right-of-way. What is it?” So he explained, “Well, when we started out years ago, Detroit was small, so most of our electrical lines was through farms. Now to get electricity to all the houses, we have to run lines through neighborhoods. We just want to put a line at the back of a property, but we’re running into homeowners who are resisting our going through the back of their property. Our court costs are running from a million up to about six million, and there are more and more cases going to court, and it’s getting more and more expensive for Detroit Edison. So what about you coming out and building us a program?” Once again I said, “I don’t have a clue, but let me meet with the director of the right-of-way department.” So I had lunch with the right-of-way guy—his name was Dick. And Dick said to me, “You keep saying you don’t know anything about right-of-way, but I have a feeling that you could help.” And I said, “Well, maybe I could.” We had a long discussion for a couple hours and he asked, “Could you propose a program?” At this point I said, “Well, Dick, I think I have a pretty good picture, but I think I also need to meet with your twenty-seven men.” He was surprised. I explained, “I have to see what they’re like, what their personalities are like. How can I go about meeting them?” He asked, “You want to meet them all at once?” And I said, “Sure.” And he said, “Well, at this big hotel in Detroit, they have a room there, and we can put them all in a big horseshoe, and you and I can be up at the front, and we could have a three hour discussion.” So that’s what we did. During those three hours, I got them all talking about whatever issues they were running into with the property owners. Afterwards, many of the men came up to me and said, “You’re really interested in us.” And I said, “I can’t help you unless I really know you.” So Dick turned to me and said, “Well Julian, can you design a program that will run for maybe six months?” And I said, “I’ve got to think. I’ve learned a lot today, an awful lot. Let me go home and kind of soak all of this in, and maybe I’ll come up with an idea.” So I went home and now I have all this stuff from the three hour meeting swarming in my head. I sat quietly for probably days, going over all my thoughts and notes, and I finally realized, “They think they are struggling with right-of-way, but what they’re struggling with is people. They need a lot of help learning how to work with people. Let me see—all the things they talked about the other day. Property owners are frightened and they’re angry. The property owners are so scared, they won’t sign anything, so it goes to court and it’s costing millions.” So I decided I could put together a program to help them learn how to work with people. I don’t know anything about right-of-way, but somehow I had this basic confidence. So I sat at my little typewriter and typed up a proposal. It was pages long because I was thinking, “Gosh, this is my first chance with a big company. They’ve got big needs. Maybe I can earn a little more than what I’ve been earning. I have a family, three kids. The extra money would help.” And so as I worked it all out, I came up with the idea that I should meet with the group every week for five hours for six months. I thought, well, they won’t let me do that, but I went ahead and typed it anyways based on what I thought they needed. I laid out very thoroughly what I would be doing with them and tied it into all the issues, circumstances, and situations they were dealing with. When Dick read it, he said, “My gosh, you understand what this is really about. We have not been able to find anybody who understands.” And I said, “You know where I got it Dick, is from your men.” He said, “I know.” Incidentally, I finally decided that I was going to charge eleven thousand, and I was scared to death, because I had never been paid very much. I expressed my concern to Dick and he said, “Let me take this to the president of the company and see if I can sell it.” So he went and came back and said, “Julian, we bought it. And by the way, the Vice President of Training and Education is angry at me because I’m hiring you.” Dick told me that this VP went stomping into his office and said, “Why the hell are you spending that kind of money when we’re right here to do this for you at no cost?” And Dick sat back in his chair and said, “There’s just one reason—Julian helped me understand what I needed.” So the VP stormed out of his office, went to the president to try to stop it, and the president said to him, “Back off, we finally found the guy.” So we started meeting weekly and I really in a sense didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m realizing now I was situation-oriented which was good because every time I met with them, I did not have a thick, tight agenda. I would ask, “OK, during the past week, what are the situations you have faced where they would not let you through?” And I would let them take their time in describing them. Then I would ask, “What do you think you can do to try to help them with their anger, fear, and their resentment?” And so we would then begin to work on techniques and methods. I found the men were responding very well—they had some good insights and realizations. I also began to meet with them individually and help them on especially tough situations. So after six months, Dick came to me and said, “Julian, you have reduced our court costs from six million to five.” I said, “No, not me.” He said, “Yes, it is.” And I said, “No, it’s your men. It really is.” He said, “Well, okay, but we want you to run for another six months.” Anyway, they kept asking me back and I ended up doing this for three years.

BW: You mentioned techniques and methods. What were they and how did they help these men?

JM: One of the important areas I focused on with the twenty-seven men was getting them to talk extensively and specifically about homeowners that they had been trying to work with that week. They needed to describe specifically what was going on, what the homeowners were like—if they were angry, how did they express their anger? If the men had trouble describing that, I would ask questions about each of the homeowners to draw out what happened with them. I was getting them to describe the daily reality of the work. And as they described it more and more, I went into more inquiry: “Ok, let’s take two or three of these property owners that were very difficult for some of you and why don’t you talk about how you were dealing with their anger and their resentment. What were you doing?” So I was taking a close look at what they were doing, how they were handling the situations. A lot of it was helping them understand what they were in the middle of. It may sound kind of funny, but when you have a person sitting there talking about a family that they were working with that day or the day before, trying to get a “right-of-way” through the back of their property with the electric lines, and that family was very angry, very resentful, and so forth—having the person describe to me and the rest what was going on was part of their learning process because, in the first place, they could not understand why the family would be angry. But the more they talked about it, the more they realized it was very natural. And then they began to find out that the way they were dealing with the anger wasn’t helping the situation. They would shut down or they would act in some other way that was increasing the conflict or resistance. In other words, they didn’t know what to do. So a lot of what I was doing with them was not my giving them the tools and the methods entirely. It was a process of helping them to look at the reality of the situation, see how they’re handling it, and asking, “Did it work, did it not work?” and then asking if they are open to looking at some improved methods of handling the situation. And handling the situation means helping them learn a great deal about relationships with people, about verbal communications, and about language. Helping them identify what was wrong with their attitude, stance, approach, style of communication. But every situation is unique and has to be treated as such. Every person you’re dealing with is different. So it’s a very complicated process. It’s not a simple one like we had about ten techniques that they could use. That’s why they had failed before. The company had all sorts of outside people come in—from universities, two or three private training organizations—none of it worked. So my approach was different. We had a little, I guess you could call it a graduation ceremony, and at the ceremony the men were saying that I was the first person that was really interested in what they were facing everyday on the job. And they learned a lot by just examining what they were facing. Which is different than a technique. So I probably should have worded that differently.

BW: And a big part of it was helping them to understand why these homeowners were so scared, angry, and resentful. And that was the beginning point in helping them to communicate better so it wasn’t escalating the conflict and leading to court cases.

JM: In many cases, you might say that one of the most important methods or techniques was to help the men understand the power of listening. Because in many cases, what the homeowners needed was somebody listening to them.

BW: Just like in your situation with the angry customer at Four Winds Nursery.

JM: Yes.