Inside | Real news, curated by real humans
Inside Sales

Inside Sales (Aug 23rd, 2019)

Hey Inside Sales subscribers,

We're continuing our feature called Flashback Friday, where we look back on a sales story or person from yesteryear. If you have a suggestion for a trip in our Wayback Machine, please hit reply and let us know. What salesperson or event in sales history has inspired you? 



  • Email gray
  • Permalink gray

Before there was Tom Robbins and Zig Ziglar and Eric Thomas there was Dale Carnegie. In the early 1900s in the U.S., most motivational speaking came from the pulpit but Carnegie took his secular preaching to local YMCAs to teach people how to speak in public and make presentations, interview well for jobs and create positive relationships. (source: Biography) The author of one of the most famous sales books of all time --  "How to Win Friends and Influence People" -- would go on to be one of the most influential salespeople ever. 

Like many famous salespeople, Dale Breckenridge Carnegie, born in 1888 in Harmony Church, Missouri, had rather humble beginnings. His family lived on a farm and after experiencing a devastating flood, they fell deep into poverty when Carnegie was a young man. He was very close to his mother and admired her strong Christian faith. (source: She was a member of the Carry Nation temperance movement and would often speak in public about the evils of alcohol which made an impression on her son. In middle school, Carnegie lost a forefinger and was never very good at sports so he turned to his best talent to earn friendships and respect -- his words. While in high school he saw a speaker from the Chautauqua movement, an early form of correspondence education, and decided that speaking to audiences and motivating people was his calling. After a successful stint on the debate team at school, his chosen path was now becoming a reality. 

After high school, Carnegie attended the local State Teachers College where he was too poor for the $1 room and board so he commuted by horseback. During these daily rides, he would practice his self-written speeches and hone his oratory techniques. He often entered speaking competitions and won a majority of them, further solidifying his speaking career. Students at the college would offer to pay him to teach them how to sharpen their oratorical skills. 

After graduation, Carnegie found a job as a traveling salesman for the International Correspondence Schools. He then moved on to another sales position at the Armour and Company-- a meatpacking business. After saving up $500, he moved to New York in 1911 to pursue a career in acting. Although he landed a few good roles, Carnegie decided that being on stage was great but acting wasn't his calling. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War I and after just one year was discharged. He then went back to sales and was successful as a Packard car salesman. Eventually, he gave in to the pull toward public speaking, quitting his car salesman job and convincing a director at the YMCA on 125th street in NYC to allow him to teach public speaking classes there for decent commissions.  

  • Email gray
  • Permalink gray

Over the next several years, Carnegie developed his teaching style and began to see that he was making the most profound impact on business professionals. While technical ability helped his students to be successful, he realized that it was people skills -- social and communication -- that mattered most. He wanted to teach people to think on their feet in a public setting and to gather self-esteem from these teachings. Another revelation came to him around this time: there were no textbooks for these subjects, so he set out to research for what would eventually become his bestseller "How to Win Friends and Influence People". 

“Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face.”

(source: NYT)

The book sold more than 10 million copies and was published in many different languages. This success of the book boosted Carnegie's speaking career and created demand for further self-help, social skills-driven books -- from him and others. (source: Famous Authors)

After the resounding success of his book, Carnegie founded the Dale Carnegie Institute for Effective Speaking and Human Relations, to teach public speaking skills to business professionals. During his lifetime, the institute expanded to 750 cities in American cities and was in 15 countries around the world. By the time of his death, 450,000 people had taken his classes. While lecturing at a prolific rate, he also found time to write several biographies about people he admired, including one on Abraham Lincoln. He also wrote another self-help book to critical acclaim -- "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living", in 1948. (source: Biography

Years after divorcing his first wife, Carnegie went on to marry Dorothy Price Vanderpool in 1944. At the time he jokingly said, "Even after I wrote that book, it took me eight years to influence a woman to marry me." Vanderpool was instrumental in helping him grow the institute and, interestingly, creating classes for an emerging class of young professional women (due, in part, to World War II). She founded the Dorothy Carnegie Course in Personal Development for Women in 1945 which existed until the mid-1960s. The couple had a child in 1951 when Carnegie was 63. Four years later, his health would falter and on November 1, 1955, Carnegie died from uremia. Just before his death, he summed up what he had learned over his storied teaching career: 

"Learning isn't so important, it's what kind of man (or woman) you make out of yourself while you're learning that counts." 

  • Email gray
  • Permalink gray

William Wallace is a sales veteran and journalist with years of experience in such diverse realms as High-Performance Computing, Big Data, education software and SaaS products. When not hunting for the next sales/business opportunity, he is a self-professed foodie and published writer with an abiding passion for all forms of expression.

Editor: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside).

  • Email gray

Subscribe to Inside Sales