Lloyd Conant: This I Believe Article by: Earl Nightingale

This is the story of a man who was born in the little town of St. Joseph, Missouri, and grew up believing that anyone lucky enough to be born in the United States could become anything he set his heart and mind upon. Of course, World War II came along, and although he had just married his sweetheart and there was a baby on the way, he went off to war and became a pilot and served in the European Theater.

After the war, he began selling business equipment and became especially interested in automatic typewriters. And so this young man journeyed to Chicago with his machines and the desire to make his fortune in the big city. It was very difficult for him and his family in the early days, but he stuck with it, maintained a healthy attitude and a good sense of humor, and gradually his business grew.

And it came to pass that I met this man in the early 1950s in Chicago, and we worked together on several projects. We found that we had similar interests, although entirely different talents and that we seemed to make a good team. So finally we merged our two small companies. He would handle the business end, at which he was very good and to which he was completely dedicated, and I would write and record the products we would sell.

The idea was that millions of people are too busy and don’t have the specialized knowledge or time to go digging up the kind of information they need if they’re to succeed and continue to grow as persons. So we tried to do that for them and put the ideas in a recorded form so that they could obtain the information while they were doing other things like commuting to and from work in their cars, exercising, or dressing in the morning. It was a great idea but being completely new, it grew slowly for the first 10 or 15 years.

Then, the company started to grow and eventually became very successful under this man’s direction. He made his fortune all right. But he was so wrapped up in the business which he loved and the people who worked for him and with him, that he never left it.

This man, from St. Joseph, Missouri, was Lloyd Victor Conant, and he died on April 2, 1986. He was my partner for 30 years, and I miss him very much. The world is a better place because he lived and worked in it.

— Earl Nightingale, Co-Founder of Nightingale-Conant

The following article was adapted from the only known interview with Lloyd Conant a short time before his death on April 2, 1986.

Lloyd, you were a pioneer in the field of putting these types of messages on recorded albums. Did you have doubts that this would really go as a business because no one else was doing it?

Yes, of course. However, we found that the people who bought our products really didn’t care whether anyone else ever got them. They were pioneers as well and they liked that they had found something new. And the feedback from those people was so great, we were encouraged to go ahead. We were dealing with major forward-looking companies at the time, and they would buy our programs for all their sales force or all their management team. However, when I say “all of their,” we were lucky to be selling seven or eight hundred thousand dollars’ worth of business in our very best year. We knew we were just scratching the surface, and we were determined to go ahead with it.

We knew that we were on the right track as long as we were selling a product that brought far more value to the end-user than it cost. And we were getting feedback that for every dollar invested in our product, they might be getting back a thousand dollars in return from the ideas that they were gaining. We knew that we, basically, were on the right track and that some day we would be able to figure out a way to reach the greater number of people who could make use of this information. So, we stayed with it.

At first, we had so much in the way of feedback that we thought everyone was excited about this. We actually thought that 100% of the population was interested in this material. Some people would buy two or three hundred of them and just give them out to people in their community. However, we found out the hard way that relatively very few people were interested in what we were doing — most simply couldn’t see how to apply the ideas in their life.

I remember, we went over to South Bend trying to “save” Studebaker when they were about to close their doors. We found out that was a mistake. They had no budget and they didn’t think this way. So, we went over and talked to Oldsmobile, and Oldsmobile bought our products in big numbers because they did believe in it. I should point out the obvious, that one of those companies is still in business.

Lloyd, it wasn’t so much Nightingale-Conant helping them run their business by telling them how to do that, but it was helping them think about their lives and how they were applying themselves to their business. Is that right?

That’s true. In fact we give very little in the way of information. We stimulated them to think positively about reaching greater fulfillment in their lives. Our programs are more or less, as much as the word is not too well understood, motivational, in that they caused the person to motivate himself. We are primarily idea stimulators, or our messages are idea stimulators. We must keep presenting these ideas until we trigger some ideas that you can use.

Even though our customers often want to give us credit for their success, and we can take some credit — but not a whole lot, we simply stimulated them at the right time. But I think most were set to do something big, and we simply came along and helped them over the top. However, because so many of our customers feel a real fellowship with us, it’s the most rewarding business that I can imagine.

We feel that if our customers get only one good idea from each of our programs, then we can have a profound influence on their lives. I used to sell business machines, and they were terrific if they could bring the customer a 100% return on the investment in a three-year period. If our programs don’t bring 100% return in a month’s time, it’s a poor investment, which is why we have an unconditional return policy. The last thing we want is for someone to pay for one of our products and not feel that he or she got the best of the deal.

The most beautiful part of it is that if we do inspire great ideas, the customers get to live with those ideas the rest of their lives, and the ideas are going to multiply and grow. So they are bound to have a very profound effect.

Our audio versions can have the most impact because we can learn at times when our hands are busy but our minds are free, such as while driving to work or exercising. Audio learning can save us a half hour or more of dead time every day and keep our minds charged up. We are all blessed with this fabulously poor memory that can forget the bad in our lives, but it can also forget the good. So, we need to be recharged and reminded on a constant basis of the good ideas that we’ve heard and have forgotten.

A business, such as Nightingale- Conant, that has endured for nearly half a century as a pioneer must have been built on certain bedrock principles. Your programs talk about excellence, success, achievement, and winning, so you’ve obviously followed some very successful formulas. People not only respect your business, but they respect you as a person. Are there some general rules that you have followed to be a success in business?

Well, there’s one rule, the golden rule that almost suffices: If you’re treating your customers and associates the way you want to be treated, you’ve got that situation pretty well taken care of. In The Science of Getting Rich, W. D. Waddles wrote that we must always give more in service to our customers and to those around us than we are getting in return. By doing that we are bound to succeed. That little message has had a lasting and profound effect on my life.

It would be no fun to win in a business without our associates winning also. We have always thought about our employees as associates and friends, and by treating everyone as adults and as friends, everything just seems to work.

Consequently, we have had very little turnover. In fact, in the past five years we have had only two people leave us and one left to get married and move to another part of the world. We try to develop permanent relationships, and it takes something of that nature for someone to leave us.

Our people are often so responsive to the “cause” that they don’t want to leave at the end of the day. We do like them to be happy at home as well, but we also like for them to want to come back the next morning. I would hate to think that anyone hated to come to work.

It impressed me the very first time I paid a visit to Nightingale-Conant that you were actually walking around the entire facility saying “hello” to employees, talking to them, and observing some of the things they were doing. Is that part of your management style?

Yes, I feel it’s not only necessary, but I enjoy it. I love the interaction with our associates, and I try not to do anything in the office that I can take home. I try to keep all my time during the day available to the customers and associates. I hope that I never “outgrow” that, but I don’t know how it could be “growth” to leave it. I think it’s a vital part of being a CEO of any company.

Lloyd, The Wall Street Journal several years ago ran a survey of chief officers of companies and what they looked for in young employees or young managers. What do you look for? What are the characteristics of the model of a person working for Nightingale-Conant that you would like to see?

Well, we would like to see, and we do have, veracious people who want to fit into our game plan. We look at the person more than the education. We can tell in a few days how they will make out with us, and we are fortunate in that somehow we seem to attract great people who are eager to grow and to grow with our company.

I think my function is to help each of our associates develop to his or her fullest potential. In some cases, I have a tendency to shelter them too much, but I’m learning to throw bigger and bigger loads on them, and in turn they are then able to develop their own departments and staff.

You often hear the saying, “What’s an idea worth?” It’s pretty hard to put a price tag on any kind of an idea. A business like ours is based on a big idea. And it takes hundreds, maybe even thousands, of little ideas to keep it afloat. We must each generate several new good ideas every day just to keep the big idea going. I think that’s true with most businesses.

Management is an art, not a science, because we’re dealing with people — both our customers and our own team here at the office. We are not perfect, but it’s something that we must work toward at all times. Each of us on the team is different, yet we all have the same basic drives and desires. So, it’s a continuous and very interesting activity to blend all these talents into a team — much like conducting an orchestra.

Running a company like ours is like being the conductor of a great orchestra or symphony in which each person is playing his or her part as definite individuals, with no one person more important than any other, to create the best products and service for our customers. I have always thought of myself as more of a coordinator than a manager, or in staying with the orchestra metaphor, a conductor.

It’s always interesting to meet someone who is successful and find out a little bit of the influences that they had in their lives and in their thinking. How would you define success in business? You have obviously been successful in terms of selling programs and meeting certain numerical goals. But I suspect from the answers to the other questions, you define success in a slightly different way.

Success differs with each person. And of course there are so many different areas of our life that you can look at for success: your career, your family and friends, or your contribution to society. There are so many ways to judge success, and each of us has to be his or her own judge as to what success really is.

I used to think that there was a way to “have it made,” but now I find out that just doesn’t happen — and shouldn’t happen. Of course, people do retire; some of them really enjoy it and some do not. You might say that they “have it made,” but for me it wouldn’t be so. I think we’re put here to keep growing and to help other people grow. We must have a dream that’s strong enough to carry us through all the petty things that can come up during the long journey toward our vision. Success is in having something worthwhile to be striving toward.

I usually say, “You’re not entitled to a big problem until you’ve solved all those little ones.” And so you must be agile to keep looking forward to what’s next. Some people succeed at something and then plateau. Then there are others who take that success and parlay it into bigger and bigger successes. As we grow in our profession, at some point we grow into a new plateau. At that point we need to enjoy it for a short time, regroup, and then climb on to the next plateau. And, I think that’s the way life should be.

I am as charged up today at 70, as I’ve been at any time in my life. And it’s exciting to be in a business where you have that opportunity. We’re trying to make that opportunity available for everyone — our associates and our customers. Abraham Lincoln once said that people are just as happy as they want to be, and it is just as true today as it was then. We want to help keep people excited about their work and what they’re doing in life.

Of course we need to create a profit along the way, but we know that if our customers are well taken care of, we will get our rewards. It seems like it took a long time for that to start happening, but it’s happening now and we’re very grateful for it. We feel successful.

Lloyd Conant died shortly after recording this interview, but his dream is ever-present in everything that his company, Nightingale- Conant, touches. Lloyd’s son, Vic Conant, continues to lead his company with the same love and devotion to the customers and associates that his father had. And, the goal is still the same: Make possible anyone’s ability to live the life he or she most desires.

— Edited by Carson V. Conant