April 9, 2020

What I learned from Harvey Mackay about hiring, firing, motivating, selling and growth

As I was reading The 100 best business books of all time by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten, I went down a number of rabbit holes as is the case when I get recommendations to read other books. This was one of those rabbit holes that I’m glad I went down as Harvey Mackay is someone that I think is very much like Zig Ziglar. He’s a salesman, entrepreneur and he has a lot to share about selling, motivating employees, success and more as he grew his business selling envelopes in the $100 million revenue range.

The 100 best business books of all time talked about Swim with the sharks without being eaten alive, and there was one single piece of advice that made me read Harvey’s book, which is:

If you are interviewing someone and are not sure about whether you want to hire them or not, think about if they worked for your competitor.

Wow, some very good advice!

Here are the other takeaways from Harvey Mackay’s book Swim with the sharks without being eaten alive that I enjoyed:

When employees make a mistake, do this with them

Harvey has a really interesting technique for when employees make a mistake. Instead of reprimanding them on the spot or calling them out, he asks his secretary to book a meeting with them in his office. Before going into the office, he makes the employee wait for some time, maybe 15 – 30 minutes, so that the employee can really stew in his mistake. Finally, Harvey enters the room, asks the employee to sit in his chair, and then asks the employee what he would do and say if he were in Harvey’s shoes. Harvey leverages the fact that people are typically harder on themselves than other people are on them and so after the employee says everything, Harvey says okay and lets them off. In this way, he never says anything to the employee and the employee has learned their lesson.

In the event that the employee does not say anything or refuses to get into Harvey’s chair, well, Harvey then fires them (there are some people that you need to get rid of right away).

On being overpaid and underpaid

Harvey shares this lesson to share with kids. When kids get their first job, tell them that they are being overpaid. Why? Because the employer has to pay them to learn how to do the job. Why are they being overpaid (in the first two years)? This is to help make them overlook the fact that they are being underpaid in the next 20 years they are working. Why are people willing to work 20 years while being underpaid? They want to make it to the top where they are then overpaid again.

What does that mean for you if you are being underpaid? Two things: first, minimize the time that you are being underpaid and second, related to the first item, keep on growing, learning and improving your skills so that you are overpaid for what you do.

The Mackay 66

I’m sure you can find this on the internet but Mackay keeps detailed notes of every customer he has. What pets they have, what kind of food they enjoy, whether they have children, what their children do, what their hobbies are, etc. These detailed notes help him to surprise and delight his customers. This is similar to what Keith Ferrazzi details in his book “Never eat alone” and the level of detail really surprised me here. I started to take notes on coffee orders and food preferences for my team and my client, but I’m starting to think I need to take more notes. The Mackay 66 is called that because it consists of 66 questions that you should be able to answer about your customer.

Cash is king

I love this anecdote from Harvey about how cash is king. To really motivate his employees (salesman), he would pay out bonuses from sales or at Christmas with cash. There’s nothing like the sound of crisp $100 bills being counted out that instills the audience with energy and motivation.

Continually learning and growing, even skills that you may not think are related, will benefit you

Harvey shares a story of how he went to learn Chinese and after World War 2, he was one of the first businessmen to deliver a speech in China. Weirdly enough, he managed to grow his business because Americans (and Chinese) alike who saw him speak reasoned that if he was dedicated, passionate and intelligent enough to learn Chinese, he was also a dedicated, passionate and intelligent businessmen selling envelopes. They equated one proficiency with another.

What skills or hobbies are you working on even if they are not related to your work? Maybe one day they will.


What do you think about Harvey’s advice? What are you going to incorporate into your life? Harvey has published a lot of business books and I’m excited to learn more from Harvey to share with you.

By the way, if you are interested in these book notes, I have an e-mail newsletter I sent out to thousands of individuals every 1st of the month with detailed takeaways and stories of how I have incorporated the lessons into my life. Are you interested? Sign up for my e-mail newsletter now.

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