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Gary Polk of Polk Institute: “Know your audience!”

Know your audience! Who is your book intended for? It is important to talk to your audience, not “at your audience” Speak their language, not academic or technical. As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Polk. […]

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Know your audience! Who is your book intended for? It is important to talk to your audience, not “at your audience” Speak their language, not academic or technical.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Polk.

As a Black businessman, CEO, business consultant, university professor and author, Polk is passionate about entrepreneurs…and why they succeed or fail. His initial book, Why Entrepreneurs Fail (to Win), is widely used as a textbook in college entrepreneurship programs. Why Black and Brown Entrepreneurs Fail (to Win), published December 1, 2020, is intended for entrepreneurs and those who want to be.

Active in numerous organizations, Gary was selected by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurships (NFTE) as their 2020 National Individual Volunteer of the Year. He’s also a proponent of social entrepreneurships and will launch the Polk Institute of Social Entrepreneurship, https://polk-ise.com, a 501(c) 3 pending, on January 15, 2021. Focused on the triple bottom line, “People, Planet, Profit,” Gary believes they align to drive success for everyone involved.

Professionally, once upon a time, Gary served as a banker, friends called him “Mr. B of A.” Starting as a teller, upon graduation from LMU, Gary went on to spend 10 years at the old Bank of America. His positions ranged from teller to Branch Manager to Area Credit Administration and Marketing Coordinator. After banking, Gary spent 14 years in insurance sales and district management.

Starting at CSU, Northridge, Gary has taught as an Adjunct Professor since 1991, and at CSU, Dominguez Hills since 2003. 2020 marks his 29th year as an Adjunct Professor & 17th year at CSUDH as a Lecturer and Adjunct Professor of Business Management, Ethics, & Entrepreneurship. Ethics is his recent area of scholarly research.

In between CSUN and DH, he has also taught at Cerritos College, Santa Monica College and DeVry University. He also worked as a corporate trainer while at Allstate and Farmers Insurance companies.

Educationally, Gary earned his Master of Science in Administration (MS) at CSUDH. He earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Loyola Marymount University, L.A. Gary spent his first two years at Azusa Pacific University and played JV basketball for the legendary small college coach Cliff Hamlow at Azusa Pacific.

Personally, Gary has five grandkids, three adult kids, two dogs, and is married to his second wife, Claudine Pacheco Polk. He resides in the South Bay of Los Angeles County. His hobbies include reading both nonfiction and novels. In 1995, he founded a co-ed book club that still thrives today. Historical fiction is his favorite genre. The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews is one of his all-time favorites. Also, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto was an amazing read, he says.

Finally, Gary is a true Los Angeles sports fanatic, not just a fan! He LOVES the Lakers, the Dodgers, USC Football, and UCLA Basketball, and Rams.

Learn more at https://polk-ise.com.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

Thanks for asking! It was not by design. Before I wrote my first book, I never really dreamed of writing a book. Before I talk about my career as an author, I would like to provide a brief snapshot of my teaching career as a college professor. For a college professor, writing a book is not uncommon. But it took me only 27 or 28 years to do so. (smile).

After graduating from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 1978. I spent 10 years as a banker for Bank of America to start my professional career. Then in 1991, I was asked to teach a college course for a new program called the Minority Business Program at CA State University, Northridge (CSUN).

This is where my future career as a writer all began. The first class that I taught was ‘Introduction to Business.’ As a new college professor, I decided to teach my students how to write a business plan. As a former banker, I told my students that the most important part of a business plan is the financial section.

As a banker, we always said that “if the numbers do not work, then the boat does not float.” In other words, the numbers and the financials are key to any business, new or existing. With that mentality, I told my students that their business plan would include “The Deal” The Deal would include determining:

1) How much money they needed to launch their business ;

2) How much to operate the first year with a positive cumulative cash flow? Cash is king is mandatory to understand!

3) How they would use the money? How much? And, for what?…must be very detailed on major expenditures.

4) High salaries to founders and officers in the early-stage NOT good.

5) How they would pay back the money, including monthly payments, collateral, and terms of repayment

6) They were put into teams of 4 or 5 student. They could start any business they wanted.

7) I would serve as the business advisor or mentor for each class.

Instead of my students presenting The Deal to their classmates, I would invite my banker and CPA friends to form a loan committee for the students to present to professionals and this would raise the bar for the quality of their presentation.

This format worked for both my students and my professional friends who formed my loan committee. We taught them real-world needs to start and finance a business. The goal was to teach them to think like a business owner. Mission Accomplished!

In 2018, after teaching for 27 successful years as a college professor at that time I decided to write my first book and share my experience and teachings with a much bigger audience. I thought that this would be my first and last book, so I included events and key teachings from my entire educational career.

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

That would be, my decision to leave Corporate America to pursue my true passions — teaching and coaching (women’s basketball). In 1998, I took the leap of faith, left a lot of money on the table (a middle-six income) to pursue my passion. The best decision that I ever made. To this day…no regrets. With this decision, I was able to have more work-life balance with my three children and family, friends, and coach women’s college basketball. Most importantly educate over 7,000 college students about management and entrepreneurship from a practitioner’s perspective. The good news is that I personally continue to learn and grow while avoiding the stress and strain of managing corporate politics. I found my peace by pursuing my passions. Money is not everything.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

While writing my first book, “Why Entrepreneurs Fail (to Win), published by Sentia Publishing (February 2019), because of my banking experience writing the first draft was easy, but the editing and proofreading process was much more complicated and time-consuming than I ever anticipated. After five or six edits, we still found typos and errors. In lamenting my frustrations to the publisher of my first book, I was told that every book has typos, including the Bible.

I was told that It is just the ugly nature of publishing and that all authors fight that same battle.

For this book, “Why Black & Brown Entrepreneurs Fail (to Win), I increased my team of proofreaders. Because many errors were discovered after my first book was published, we had a working copy printed for the purpose of seeing the final draft in book form. This flushed out even more formatting and cosmetic errors.

My advice for new authors is to expect typos. Do not take it personally as all writers must fight the same battle. Increase your proofreading team. Hire a writing coach.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not sure if you would call this a mistake or funny, but I thought that my book would be priced at below 30.00 dollars, instead it was first listed at over 100 dollars. In the end, my publisher lowered the price to 90.00 dollars as a hard copy, and when I asked why, I found out that my book was considered an academic textbook, and textbooks start at a much higher price point. Call it being more naive than funny on my part. I vowed to learn and make sure I did not repeat this mistake.

I learned a very valuable lesson about book pricing models. I easily decided that my next book would not be an academic textbook, “Why Black & Brown Entrepreneurs Fail (to Win), A Collaborative Perspective” by Gary L. Polk (Dec2020) would be a business book and sell for 14.99 dollars paperback, 9.99 dollars for ebook.

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

TWO THINGS:

1) On January 15, 2021, we formally launched the Polk Institute Foundation, a nonprofit education-based organization; Our primary focus is a Master Level, Certificate education in social entrepreneurship.

2) We start the 40 — week tuition free tuition on February 1, 2021.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

That is a tough one. The case study found in Chapter 4, “Is self-doubt holding your back?” is a great true story about a young Black woman versus her family. However, the story at the end of my book, — page 132 “My Entrepreneurial Journey, from Tunisia to So Cali” by Chiraz Kelly is a book in itself, an amazing real-life case study about one of my former students. Her story is powerful yet relatable and a real-life mini-memoir of a strong leader and businesswoman.

Chiraz is now also a successful active CEO, trusted colleague and personal friend.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

To feel empowered that you can succeed as an entrepreneur! Entrepreneurship can be a brutal sport or game where more will fail than win, but with the right help and some luck — YES, YOU CAN be a successful entrepreneur.

That failure is OK. As long as you learn, grow, and find success! Quitting is NOT an option.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Know your audience! Who is your book intended for? It is important to talk to your audience, not “at your audience” Speak their language, not academic or technical.
  2. Share Stories that are relatable! Nowadays people want to be able to relate to you, and storytelling is a great way to accomplish this.
  3. Say what you mean! Do not expect the reader to know what you meant to say. You must be clear in your writing.
  4. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread! You must have many many eyes to read your drafts as those typos can hide, until your book is published. Then they will jump out to embarrass the author.
  5. Have Fun! Looking at writing and sharing your knowledge, story, or your information as a fun opportunity. When you start your first draft, just write and write, it does not have to be perfect. When in draft mode, do not be a perfectionist. In reality, being a perfectionist will work against you!

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or an example?

TWO THINGS: 1) Perseverance, and 2) Positivity.

1)PERSEVERANCE: While a teller at BofA, I applied for a part-time Marketing Intern Position in the Manhattan Beach Area Management Group and was rejected. I contacted the hiring manager for a follow-up meeting as a learning opportunity to review what happened, and how I could improve. During the interview review meeting, the manager praised me for having perseverance and advised me to never stop using perseverance in the face of adversity. I never forgot that advice.

About 6-months later, after graduating from LMU, I was accepted to the Management Training Program at B of A to become a Loan Officer. I spent the next 9 years gaining so much valuable information about business entrepreneurship.

2) POSITIVITY: According to Strength Finders, one of my top five strengths is positivity. My glass is always half-full. You have a choice whether to be negative or positive about all things in life. I choose to be positive. Being positive will help you live longer, avoid conflict, see the beautiful things that life has to offer. Perhaps, most importantly, you get more enjoyment and find your peace.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

From a religious perspective, my favorite Bible verse is the 23rd Psalm. It was my deceased Mother’s favorite verse. The day she passed (2/15/17) at her bedside we repeated the 23 Psalm over and over about 20 times. Nowadays it is my daily prayer, sometimes twice a day.

In 1995 I started a coed book club and I currently read an average of one to two books a month. I have a wide range of books that I can refer to you to, so, just ASK ME. For my complete reading list or my favorite nonfiction readings, email me at [email protected]

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

Social entrepreneurship or the Triple bottom line — People. Planet. Profit. — is my big message or movement. People, Planet, Profit is not a zero-sum game. The three can co-exist. I believe in capitalism, but when profit maximation mentality sets in, can lead to greed. This is where the notion of the greedy American pig mentality comes in. Obviously, this is not a good description.

We launched the Polk Institute of Social Entrepreneurship on January 15, 2021 with the purpose of promoting and fostering social entrepreneurship. Our mission for the Polk Institute is…”serving social entrepreneurs to help make the world a better place.” Our Pi vision is to launch 1,000 Social Entrepreneur…SHIPS by 2032. By SHIPS we means launching new businesses and re-launching existing businesses.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin: Gary L Polk Sr AND https://www.linkedin.com/company/polk-institute/

Website: https://academy-polk-ise.org/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/polkinstitute

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/polkinstitute/

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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