John Hersey was born and raised on the east coast of the United States. After a stint in the culinary field, John sought work with a collections agency, but was told that he’d be a better fit for their new sales operation. He started on even footing with a group of about a dozen other new hires, but within only a couple of weeks, he was running the entire sales operation. He credits this as the beginning of his successful career in sales.
Since then, his work has taken him across the country. John Hersey has worked in sales and run sales organizations in Iowa, South Carolina, Missouri, Montana, and Minnesota, and he has run the sales division of Identity Protection Group for the last 10 years. He finds excitement not only in the financial benefits of his job, but also in the opportunities afforded to him through his position to teach skills and share information with others.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
The identity theft protection industry is really exciting. Everything is so technologically connected. Everybody uses a smartphone, everybody is always on the computer, and people conduct an incredible amount of their daily tasks online—including banking, and other tasks that involve inputting their sensitive, private information online. As a society, we’ve reached the point where identity theft protection is a lot like car insurance. What I mean by that is, you pay your car insurance, and you don’t think all that much about it. It’s just another one of your bills, like any other utility. Except, when somebody smashes into you in traffic, suddenly the car insurance that you just pay without thinking about it becomes super important. And it’s the same thing with identity protection. You can be living a good life, everything is fine, and suddenly somebody starts using your social security number to apply for a loan or to get a credit card. Maybe next they try using your social security number to grab your tax returns. These things happen all too frequently.
So, providing protection against that sort of thing is almost akin to giving a person insurance on their identity. I think it’s going to become even more important as we keep advancing technologically. We, as a civilization, are ever more connected. You can look up a complete stranger on Google and find out an awful lot of information about them. Major companies get hacked all the time, as well. This further compounds the danger, as many of these are companies that we trust with our personal information every time we sign up for an account or buy a product. It happens. It’s in the news. Bad people are out there, trying to get people’s personal information and use it the wrong way.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Even with all of my talk about how we’re advancing technologically, I’m still old school. My days typically start at 8ish in the morning and often continue well into the evening. I’m a big proponent of planning your work, and working your plan. What I mean by that is, I’m a guy who swears by keeping a to-do list. I start off with the things I really want to get done in the course of that particular day. It keeps me motivated, because as I’m marking things off my to-do list, it feels like I’ve accomplished something. I think people, especially in this day and age of electronics, rush to get things done, whether it’s due to pressure from the boss or whatever the reason. Personally, I’d rather knock a task out correctly the first time around. So, in keeping an updated daily to-do list, I’m able to keep my own pace, and keep on task.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It goes back to planning your work, and working your plan. An idea may start off as a simple notion in my head, but as I think about more, I build on it. I’m a big proponent of building on a strong foundation—build on stone, not on sand. What I mean by that is, if I have an idea that I want to bring to life, I’d rather build it solid from the beginning, as opposed to hurrying to get the idea off the ground, only to later spend time hurrying backwards and putting band-aids on any mistakes that were made because the idea was executed prematurely. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ is something of a mantra for me.
You also need to remember to surround yourself with smart people. You’ll never come up with all the great ideas on your own. And the ideas that you bring to life can come from someone who might look at things from a different angle. An open mind is key.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Many people now, because of the pandemic and all that’s happened over the last year and a half, are working from home. There are things I like about that and things that I don’t. But I think, long term, that trend will only increase in popularity as the world moves forward. It’s going to affect a lot of industries—in fact, it already is affecting a lot of industries.
In embracing the work-from-home movement, companies are giving people more time to live life. Depending on how far they’ve got to drive, they might get an hour or even a few hours back that they’d otherwise spend stuck in traffic. What we have found is that the people working from home are doing just as good a job as those working in an office setting. Now, it’s not all good news, of course. Some people really need the human interaction inherent to an office or a workplace. When you have an in-person job, you make friends at work, and you look forward to seeing people every workday. But many people are fine working at home, with only light and necessary interaction.
I think what’ll end up happening, as a compromise, is that companies will arrange a monthly or semi-monthly get-together, where all the employees congregate to have lunch or have a power meeting and bounce stuff off each other. The one thing you do miss working from home are opportunities for collaboration in real time and for group idea sessions. Anyhow, it’s a sea change in employment and an interesting trend to keep an eye on.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Aside from my to-do lists, I have the ability to anticipate changing events prior to them happening. I’m a big believer in reading indicators to envision and predict what’s going to happen three or four steps down the line. In business, it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Slow down. Don’t try to accomplish everything overnight. Slow and steady wins the race. People are so often in a big rush, but that’s not always the best way to accomplish anything lasting. That’s not to say that there won’t be times where you have to hurry up and get things done quickly, but as I get older, I find it’s more valuable to develop a plan and get the job done in steps.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. What I mean by that is, in the sales industry in particular, there are ups and downs. The thing that I preach to people, whether you’re in sales or customer service or any other similar field, is that there will be ups and downs, peaks and valleys. The key to living a balanced life is to not get too wrapped up in the good days, because the tough days are always right around the corner. Don’t get wrapped up in thinking that the good days will continue forever, because you will inevitably be disappointed. Just enjoy them while they’re around. And on the tough days, don’t get too low. Examine what happened, see if there are any adjustments you can make to improve things, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s just one of those bad days. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. Tomorrow might be better.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
As a leader, you really have to hone your instincts to anticipate events and how they’ll play out, hopefully before they’re right in front of you. Also, as a leader, you’ll be managing people under you who you’ll need to inspire and motivate. Sooner or later, you’ll have to learn that every employee, associate, customer, consultant, and vendor is motivated by different things. The key is figuring out what motivates them. Figure out what makes them feel good and then act accordingly, because when you’re surrounded by people who feel good, it makes your job a whole lot easier.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I am a huge believer in surrounding myself with people who don’t drive me nuts. That’s a little bit of me trying to be funny with the phrasing, but the principle behind it is all too true —you might spend 8, 12, even 14-hours at work on a given day, and that’s hard enough on its own. There are always obstacles you have to overcome, there are always things you need to get done, there are always tasks you need to complete. If you surround yourself with people that make getting through the workdays even harder, it makes the job doubly difficult. So, I concentrate on surrounding myself with people who I enjoy being around. Now, that doesn’t mean there won’t ever be any disagreements or differences of opinion, of course, but working with people whose company you enjoy makes the job so much more manageable. Hire well, hire smart, and hire people you enjoy being around.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I can’t give you one particular failure. This line of work has little failures every day. It’s endemic. A lot of industries are that way. But the way to overcome those little failures is to not dwell on them and to learn from them. We all make mistakes. We’re all going to have failures—some small, some large. You can let those failures destroy you, or you can dust yourself off, evaluate what happened, and try not to make the same mistake over and over again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I don’t have one specific idea per se, but whatever great idea that you come up with, build it on stone, not on sand. Start with a good foundation. Start with a plan. Build on that plan. That way, you don’t find yourself backtracking to fix mistakes you could’ve easily avoided early on. You’re impeding yourself if you have to backtrack to fix mistakes all the time.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I spend a lot of money on golf. That might seem like a silly answer, but getting out allows me to separate and disconnect from the everyday grind. I make a concerted effort while I’m out there to not think about business. It’s 3 or 4 hours of disconnect—I shut my phone off, and I don’t think about work. That’s important. Once you get to a point where you’re balancing people and ideas from all directions, it’s important to have a disconnect. Maybe it’s not golf. Maybe it’s going to the beach, or going to a picnic. The key is to disconnect from work, recreate, and give your brain a break.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I’d say Outlook. It enables me to cut down on a lot of communication time via email. That said, if I see an email thread that’s just going on and on, I’ll pick up the phone and call the person, because there’s only so many emails I can send before it’s easier to just spend five minutes on the phone communicating what needs to be done. It’s not like we’re going to revert to the ’80s or the ’90s or anything, but I do think that one thing we miss out on in this modern world is person-to-person communication. The art of the conversation, of looking somebody in the eye or making a phone call, is being lost. When you send a text or an email, you lose the emotion. A lot is communicated through emotion and verbal cues over the telephone or during an in-person conversation, and emails and text messages just can’t convey that. Don’t get me wrong—I like email. It’s a great tool for getting things done quickly and easily. But it’s still important to understand and recognize when it’s better to just pick up the phone.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The title says it all. I’m a big believer in being able to communicate with people. I’m really into the psychology of what it takes to motivate people and create situations where everybody can thrive.
What is your favorite quote?
How about two?
1. “If you know how to communicate one-on-one, you’re way ahead of the game.” I don’t know who said that initially, and it may, in fact, be unattributed.
2. “Don’t let the fear of striking out get in your way.” — Babe Ruth
- Maintain to-do lists. Structure your day.
- Build your ideas on stone, not on sand.
- It’s often better to take your time in order to get the job done right the first time, instead of rushing to meet a deadline.
- If you’re leaving behind mistakes that you’ll have to fix later, you’re only sabotaging yourself.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.