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Author John Reid: “Speak up; When you’re a white man, other white men can say ignorant and racist things around you. I wish I had challenged every one of them.”

Speak up. When you’re a white man, other white men can say ignorant and racist things around you. I wish I had challenged every one of them. I had the pleasure of interviewing John Reid, Founder and President of JMReid Group, whose clients have included EY (Ernst & Young), ProAmpac, GHX (Global Healthcare Exchange), Ryerson, and […]


Speak up. When you’re a white man, other white men can say ignorant and racist things around you. I wish I had challenged every one of them.

I had the pleasure of interviewing John Reid, Founder and President of JMReid Group, whose clients have included EY (Ernst & Young), ProAmpac, GHX (Global Healthcare Exchange), Ryerson, and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. As a unique presence in the training and development space, John has spent a significant part of his career within the industry in various sales, marketing, and strategy roles. In 2015, Training’s Top 10 Hall of Fame Outstanding Training Initiatives featured JMReid Group’s work. John was previously named a Rising Star in the Chemical Industry by Chemical Week and earned Forum’s 1999 Rookie of the Year and 2000 Salesperson of the Year titles. Within the training and development space, his passion is relevance and design. Most people in the space believe that their model or methodology is the answer. John believes that being relevant and engaging the participants should be the focus.


Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?

During my work in the industry, which consisted of nearly half of my career, I contracted a rare type of cancer. When you get cancer the first question you ask yourself is, “What do I want to do with my life and why am I here?” After pondering on that a bit, I discovered that I had a real passion around this belief that people could do better and wanted to do better — but were poorly served by traditional training and development. So, there I was, with a family (a wife and four children), and a desire to change industries, from sales to training and development. I took a risk. I began working for a variety of training firms and discovered that it only strengthened my belief that a different approach to training was needed.

So, I created JMReid Group with a couple of driving principles. First, context — not content — is key. Second, learning design matters — it should engage the whole learner and be tuned for medium to high performers. Finally, there is real wisdom in and out of the room, meaning we should tap into the learner’s experience as well as stay current with the latest thinking. 
 
My journey, both in the industry and working for training companies, has informed the way I work, making what we do truly unique.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

One of the more recent stories involves a high-level meeting with a Partner at EY, who was considering us for a program for EY’s top 100 GCSP’s in North America. The meeting with the partner, Mark Manoff, was a part of the vetting process. So, practicing what I preach, I did some research to look for areas of rapport to use early in the meeting. 
 
I found that Mark was a news reporter for a local paper near me. I thought, wow what a cool career he has had. I also noticed that we both attended the University of Maryland.
 
So, there I am at the dinner early — nervous and hoping to show up well. Mark comes in, we do introductions, and I hit him with “I have to ask you a question. In doing my research, I noticed you were a writer for a local newspaper, how was that?” He looked at me and said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I did some research and saw you were a writer for a Philadelphia newspaper.” He said, “I wasn’t, are you sure you looked me up?” I then said, “Please tell me you went to the University of Maryland — because that I all I have left.”
 
He smiled the smile of a fellow Terp and became animated. It turns out he loves the U of M. Order, and some of my dignity was restored. And, we were awarded the program.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I just published my first book Moving from Models to Mindsets, which gets to the bottom of my sales philosophy. The life I have lived and the philosophies I have taught and practiced for almost 30 years has been put to print. It is exciting. The most exciting part is the book contains insight that I know is new to the sales world — particularly chapter seven which reframes story telling. 
 
We also get to work with some fabulous companies, both in the US and internationally, who have bought into our approach of discovery. Discovery for our clients allows us to create the best program for them. It is exciting to be able to get the content right for their participants, versus buying something off the shelf. We also get to do cool topics like Strategic Curiosity, Authoring Your Future, Amplifying your Impact, etc.…

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I am a big Teddy Roosevelt fan — he took on his own party, was fearless in his beliefs, and was always in the arena. I also love Martin Luther King Jr. for his command of language, his belief in the long arc of history, and the personal risks he took for the greater good. 
 
I would also have to say, Orson Welles — he was in his twenties when he mastered radio, stage, and screen on his terms. In his lifetime, he changed how films were directed. He said so much in Citizen Kane with just the camera — absent of words (and I love words). It was great to see what is unsaid and I feel I can learn a lot from his mentality.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I love when something is well written — so there is thankfully a lot to choose from.
 
The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy is a great memoir and makes the argument that everyone is entitled to a good education.

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe perfectly captured the ’90s, and his language is to die for.

Of course, To Kill a Mockingbird for obvious reasons.
 
Finally, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is perfect. “He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back — that’s an earthquake.” I love tragedy, and this play resonates with me to my core.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

There is so much bad advice for salespeople out there I don’t even know where to begin. The main sales thought leaders in the training industry are still pushing models from the 80s and ’90s, rebranding and calling it “new.” Their sales books focus on step-by-step models they believe are the answer. This approach is wildly appealing since it suggests that sales (which is filled with art) can be reduced to solely a scientific exercise. I’ve worked in sales or with salespeople for the last 30 years and have used those years of experience to create a sales book that leans into the ART. This book isn’t about a model or a step-by-step, how to make a sale, regimen. This book is written to change people’s minds about how they think like a salesperson. To think about their career as an art form as well as a science. This idea is completely new and will hopefully make quite the impact on whoever reads it.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

It’s hard work — and you must have structure and rigor to get it done. That said, it is easy to write when you combine passion with something to say. I wrote about sales, but only after I worked in sales for thirty years and after reading many books on the subject. I believed that there was still more to say that was different than anything else out there and could benefit the reader, so I wrote it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would have to say, a movement that would change the way people regularly approach problems. At JMReid group, we try to solve a company’s problems through training, not by prescribing a program we already have lying around. We are getting our hands dirty and build something new. We thrive because our four key pillars elevate us; context is king, there is wisdom in and out of the room, engagement is the word, and embrace complexity.

When looking at a problem, it is important to first look at it from all angles — the who, what, when, where, and why. Even if you think you’ve seen it all before, there might be a devil in those details that can help untangle the mess. Remember that you are not all-knowing. The people around you also have wisdom to share. Ask for help and other people’s opinions to absorb all you can about a potential solution. When solving a problem, even if you have the best solution, no amount of change will happen unless the people involved are engaged. You can give an order or make a change, but people will go back to their old habits if they are not guided in a way that engages them.

And lastly, when you embrace complexity, your solution will take root. Sure, if you change something in one place, it might affect another, but true change happens when a solution is implanted in the heart of the problem as well as throughout the rest of the body.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. You have a gift in what you know about selling. While I think selling can be taught, a lot of what I do is intuitive — for a long time, I undervalued it.
2. Speak up. When you’re a white man, other white men can say ignorant and racist things around you. I wish I had challenged every one of them. 
3. Don’t worry about not having a plan. I never had one, and it has turned out well. If I had any plan, it was simply to change jobs when I thought I had stopped learning. It worked for me.
4. You can’t have too much integrity. In the long arc of life, you may get challenged ethically only a handful of times. This is when you need to be present and do the right thing. For most of the rest of life, it is easy to be ethical.
5. There is a better version of you. Let go of those behaviors that put off or diminish others. Find the best version of yourself.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I am into celebrity worship. I think it would have to be a writer. So, I will go with Aaron Sorkin. His breadth of work, command of dialogue, and wit — would certainly make for a great lunch.

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