Imagine multiplying your annual income by six times or more. That is what Gary Highfield did, with no sales experience and no finance degree.
The Chattanooga business executive went from making slightly more than $13,000 a year to more than $100,000 a year, overcoming a limited education, a disadvantaged environment and horrific family experiences.
At the invitation of the Tennessee Small Business Development Centers, Highfield will share his secrets to success as special guest speaker at the George R. Johnson Cultural Heritage Center Theater at Cleveland State Community College on Feb. 18, at 6:30 p.m.
The author of “When ‘Want To’ Becomes ‘Have to!’ — Breaking the Chains That Are Holding You Back,” (his speaking theme) said he is excited to be returning to Cleveland to speak on a subject he is passionate about and possibly help others to succeed. His autobiographical book is not only riveting to read, but works well as a self-help book in turning one’s life around and inspiring change by incorporating his specific “Action Steps.”
In his introduction, Highfield, a former Cleveland resident, explained, “This book is about breaking chains — the chains that were holding me back from using the talents I’d been given.”
He admitted the chains holding him back were “fear of the unknown, no experience, limited education and no people skills,” adding that he had “never even heard the word ‘resumé’ and did not know how to “dress for success.”
But all of that changed, according to Highfield, who, at the age of 30, realized, “The possibilities for a much different life for my family changed when I learned the difference between cotton and polyester. Thirty years of not knowing the difference definitely hurt us,” he said.
The entrepreneur admitted he had gotten to a point where he wanted to improve himself, appear successful and change the perception people had of him.
“We usually get what we deserve,” he said. “And I decided it was time I started looking like I deserved a shot at bettering my lot in life.”
That’s when Highfield said he learned “one of the secrets of the mystifying puzzle of success,” which he details in his book. More than that, he characterized his total transformation as “a revolution,” and explained why he describes it as such.
In chapter 22, “Being Named Salesman of the Year,” Highfield shares a defining moment for him as a salesman going head-to-head against the top salesman at Cellular One for the year-end prize of a brand new BMW 325i. Still tied with two weeks to go, Highfield described what made the difference in winning and losing — a lesson he would never forget.
“The day the keys to the BMW were given to me was a great moment in my life,” Highfield wrote. “I will never be able to convey what it felt like. I was the underdog, the person with no commercial sales experience. We had to leave the office, walk into a place of business, and work through all kinds of questions to convince someone to buy a cellular phone. That’s what it took to be the winner of the grand prize. But I don’t mean the BMW. The BMW was not the prize. The prize was a new life for my family.”
From there Highfield went on to become one of the eight top salesmen nationally for Cellular one. His prize included two tickets for him and his wife, Kimberly, to attend Super Bowl XXII in San Diego.
“In just 18 months I had engaged in an incredible journey,” he said. “I had gone from fumbling in my pocket for enough change to buy a single lemonade to share with my family and applying for food stamps, to sitting only a few yards from some great professional athletes that had the rest of the world watching.”
After eight months in corporate sales, Highfield was promoted to East Tennessee Agent Manager for Cellular One, his first promotion in the corporate world. By the end of 1991, his sales team was No. 1 in the country. They also ended 1992 as the No. 1 sales team in the country.
In July 1999, Highfield opened his own retail store called Talk Wireless Inc., as an independent sales agent in the wireless industry. By 2004, he and his family had opened 30 retail stores in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky, selling more than a thousand phones some months.
“Within 48 months it was producing $3.7 million in annual revenue,” he said.
But for Highfield, this was not the end game. He and his wife sold their thriving business and he embarked on another venture — the banking business.
“When I started yet another career, I had no banking experience, no finance degree,” Highfield wrote. “In fact, even after I had been in the field for about six months, a senior commercial banker insisted that customers would never bank with me because I had no experience.”
Again, Highfield proved his critics wrong. Time and time again, the author and motivational speaker has demonstrated that his secrets to success are effective, practical ways to break the chains that hold people back.
“How is it possible to break into a new career like banking with no experience, no banking degree, and an economy in its worst condition in more than 30 years?” Highfield asked. In his book he gives his answer, as well as a series of Action Steps throughout — steps that made the difference in his life and his family’s over the past four decades.
“I’m sharing my story with you so you can understand and evaluate the effort I made,” Highfield wrote in the introduction. “I want you to see the changes I undertook in my own life that propelled me forward, toward a new career, a new outlook on life and a brighter future for my family.”
There will be a presentation, Q&A and book signing at the Feb. 18 event. Books will be available for purchase. For further information call Jennie DeCook at 423-478-6247 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a copy of Gary Highfield’s book, visit www.garyhighfield.com.