Brandon Devlin – University of Richmond
It’s funny to think that our lives can fundamentally change based on the smallest decisions we make. In March of 2001 I was a sophomore at the University of Richmond, and I can assure you that I harbored no grand illusions of having a paradigm-shifting experience like I ended up with that summer. I had just returned to my dorm room one evening and happened to find a slip of paper resting just inside my doorway. After reaching down to pick it up, I read the small print on it. To the best of my recollection it read, “What are you doing this summer? Sales and Leadership Program with Southwestern Advantage available for Richmond students. Average student makes $7,400”. I remember gawking at that last number in disbelief, as I had worked 2 jobs the previous summer and had only managed to make about $5,000 working 60 hours a week. Needless to say I was intrigued, and in that state I called the number listed on the paper, using my handy dorm room phone – raise your hand if you still have a dorm room phone!
I left a message and didn’t really think much of it until I received a call back the next day from Lester Crafton. He invited me over to an information session at our Commons that afternoon and I went over to check this job out in more detail. The first time I met with Lester we ended up talking about sports for roughly 2 hours (I am a Philadelphia native and he seemed to have a preternatural understanding of the Eagles, which I thought was cool). Eventually we got around to discussing the Southwestern Advantage Program, and I ended up signing up immediately. Once I left the meeting I went back to my dorm room, and being the mature and discerning 20 year-old that I was, promptly decided to change my mind and back out on my “decision”.
That’s actually a gross oversimplification. I called my mom back in Philly and she reminded me that, “nobody buys books”. I told my roommate Luke and he scoffed at the idea of selling things door-to-door. I told my boss at the library, Scott, and he scrunched up his face and just shook his head back and forth. Then I called my girlfriend Katelyn and asked her what she thought (I was a very independent decision maker, it seems). She told me her Uncle Bill had worked with Southwestern in college at the University of Delaware and paid his way through school back in the 70s. Although that made me feel a lot better, I still had this nagging fear that I’d be an awful salesman. I was an Econ and Civil War Studies major in college, so the idea of sales was a foreign concept to me.
The next day, after taking a deep breath, I walked over to the commons to tell Lester that I had conveniently forgotten that I had to take summer school to earn my business management minor. I would have to say that as an adult, looking back, this quiet scene in the University of Richmond on a nondescript weekday afternoon turned out to be the single most important moment in my life. Lester let me know that it was ok if I didn’t work with him, but that he had scheduled the time to talk with me and asked if I’d like to talk about it. We ended up talking for about an hour, and I am grateful every day of my life that Lester took the time to believe in me and help me understand that I was afraid to fail. Eventually, he looked me in the eye and said, “If you go out and work 80 hours a week and see 30 families a day, you can’t fail. Come work with me”. So I said yes. And my life changed forever.
I’ll fast forward from here on out and tell you that I ended up making a little over $20,000 in profit that summer and finishing as the #13 first year in the company. It was the best summer of my life up until that point. I lived with Lester and another student from UNC named Paul Kosko. We lived in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in the modest basement of a modest family named the Hulls. I walked all summer around the sweltering streets of Eau Claire, which for a kid from Philly who’d never been west of Pittsburgh and considered the Jersey Shore the furthest place you’d ever travel, was quite an experience. I met my closest friends I’ve ever had, too. I’ve been in 5 weddings from that first summer’s organization alone. I knocked on about 3,000 doors that summer and heard “no” from 2,700 of the residents in Eau Claire. Most people didn’t buy from me and I didn’t care. I just committed to working as hard as I could and doing my personal best. It’s impossible for me to every adequately share with someone else what I learned that summer. If I had to, I’d tell you that I proved myself to myself. People had always told me how “good” I was before then but deep down I never fully believed them. I was determined to see how high I could go, so I pushed myself harder than I knew I could. I grew more in 3 months than I had in 3 years. When I came back from that summer I felt like I could do anything I put my mind to.
Lester has remained my closest and dearest friend, mostly because he was the first person I ever met who truly saw me for what I could become. I ended up selling for 5 more summers and now work with students all over the US at incredible schools like Penn State, Tennessee, Purdue, Indiana, Murray State, Illinois, and Washington State. I get to mentor and teach other students and share our program with them every day. It’s the best vocation I could ever hope for. If you’re thinking about Southwestern this summer, I’d encourage you to think about it like this: can you work hard? Will you be coachable? And will you stay committed no matter what? If the answers to those simple questions are yes, yes, and yes, you ought to do it. It was the most challenging thing I’d done up until that point, and that’s why it stays with me to this day.