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A Few Moments with Bob Danzig

A Few Moments with Bob Danzig by Bill Harris
Centerpointe (www.centerpointe.com)

This post is going to be a bit different than the others you’ve read or listened to here. I want to tell you about a friend of mine an amazing man, Bob Danzig. This post, more than any of the others, is a must-read.

Because of Centerpointe’s huge success, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many amazing people. Bob Danzig is certainly one of the top two or three. Just spending time with Bob Danzig leaves you feeling good about yourself and more confident about your own value and what you can accomplish.

One reason whyBob is so amazing has to do with his sad and difficult childhood and his amazingly successful and inspirational adult life. For twenty years Bob was CEO of the entire Hearst Newspaper Group, a multi-billion dollar company, working his way up from office boy in a small newspaper in Albany, New York. Considering where he started, his story shows how anyone, with the right encouragement from people who care, can create a life that matters.

Bob never had a family. Instead, he grew up in a series of foster homes. In one home, he slept in an attic with no lights. The family he lived with would leave his dinner on the bottom step of the attic stairs. He ate in the attic, alone, in the dark.

For his entire childhood Bob owned one pair of much-too-large scuffed black sneakers that he grew into over several years by taking out bits of the tissue paper stuffed in the toes as his feet grew. His other possessions consisted of two shirts, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of socks, and two pairs of underwear. When I had to move to a new foster home, Bob says, I would reach under my mattress, take out the folded black plastic trash bag I kept there, put my clothes in it, and move to a new home.

Today, Bob is one of the kindest, most gracious, most inspirational and most well-dressed people I’ve ever known. I learned more about his childhood, I understood why dressing well is so important to him. When he got his first job at the Times Union newspaper in Albany, New York, each pay period he took a part of his paycheck and bought himself one nice piece of clothing, a quality shirt, a cashmere sweater, a pair of Italian slacks, a silk necktie, and so forth.

He never wore dungarees or blue jeans. They brought back too many painful memories of his childhood. He was embarrassed about the two sets of plain and wrinkled clothing he alternated every other day. The other kids had clean, unwrinkled clothes. They looked like someone cared about them. He wanted someone to care about him.

No one ever took Bob to the beach. No one took him fishing. He never had a baseball card collection. His few friendships didn’t last because he never lived in one place for very long.

Despite his lonely, sad childhood, Bob Danzig became a Fortune 500 CEO and an inspiration to his employees and to thousands of other people, including me. Today he writes books and speaks to thousands of people each year, donating all the money he earns to help foster children.

Bob had to leave the foster care system when he graduated from high school at age sixteen. Youâ’re probably thinking that a guy has to be pretty smart to finish high school at sixteen, he told me. This happened, however, because of a mistake. When he was moving from one foster home to another,the school made a mistake and placed him in the wrong grade. As he told me, Then I just drifted through those grades.

Can you imagine what this was like? Never having a family, never doing what normal kids do, moving from place to place whenever a family couldn’t keep him or didn’t want him, never staying long enough to make friends or create a close connection with anyone, and then being totally onyour own at age sixteen?

One important incident from those years never left him, and he still talks about it. Mae Morse, the social worker who met with him periodically and who would send him on to his next foster home when his foster family didn’t want him anymore said something to him that changed his life forever. At the end of each of their meetings, he told me, she would take his hands in hers and say, Bobby, don’t you ever forget this. You are worthwhile.

Here’s how he described his reaction in his book, Conversations With Bobby:

Just like that, she uttered such a simple, pure sentence. But the funny thing is, the reason I remember it so vividly is because I know she meant it. I could tell she was genuine and sincere. She truly wanted me to know that I, Bobby Danzig, was worthwhile. She had no motive for saying what she did. I had nothing to offer, she had nothing to gain. I was worthwhile, not because I would shine shoes. I was worthwhile, not because I would carry coal. I was worthwhile, not because I would make no trouble. Just me, I mattered.

This, he said, was like warm milk pouring over me, the idea that I had some sense of possibility and promise.

When Bob left foster care, he got a job at Montgomery Ward in the wholesale mattress department. His job was to climb up onto catwalks high above the floor, find the mattress the foreman wanted, and push it over the edge onto a trampoline on wheels, after which it was wheeled out to the customer.

One day he must have mistaken the number the foreman called out, because when he pushed the mattress over the edge, there was no trampoline. Instead, the mattress hit his boss, and he was fired. That night, he told a friend what had happened. The friend had just been promoted from office boy to clerk at the Albany Times Union newspaper. If you get down there fast, you might be able to get my old job,” his friend told him. ut you look kind of young. You’d better get a hat.

So Bob went to a men’s clothing store, bought his first hat, and went to the newspaper offices. Nine others were waiting to see about the job, and Bob was the last to be interviewed. The woman who interviewed him looked, in his words, like a pitbull. The first thing she said to him was,Why are you wearing that hat in here? Don’t you know it’s rude to wear your hat indoors?

Bob had never owned a hat, so he didn’t know anything about hat etiquette, but for some reason this woman the office manager saw something in him she liked, and he got the job. It was the lowest possible job at a newspaper, but Bob eventually became an advertising salesman, then head of the advertising department, and eventually the publisher of the Times Union. Later he became CEO of the entire Hearst newpaper group, managing a considerable number of newspapers, many popular magazines (Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Harpers Bazaar, Popular Mechanics, Country Living, Colonial Homes, and many others), and 27 television stations.

A few months after starting as office boy, the office manager called him into her office. I’ve been watching you,she said. Oh, no. Fired again, he thought. But she continued, and I just wanted to tell you that I believe that you are filled with promise.

This had such a powerful effect on him that even after becoming publisher of that newspaper, after the Hearst Company later sent him to Stanford University on a journalism fellowship, and even after he became head of the entire Hearst newspaper group, he never stopped hearing those words.

When I heard this story I was reminded just how powerful what we say is to others can be, especially if you’re a parent or in some other position of respect and authority.

I want to tell you how I met Bob Danzig, because he has had a powerful effect on my life.

In the late 1990s, during the dot-com days when venture capitalists were giving new internet companies millions of dollars, I thought I’d should try to get some of that money, too, and start an internet company.

An advisor told me that the first thing I should do was to put together a board of directors of prominent business people. I didn’t know any prominent people then, and I wasn’t sure how to find any, much less convince them to be on the board of my start-up company. I told Jim Hennig, a friend who had been the president of the National Speakers Association, about my idea. Jim, who knew many prominent business people, said, I know who you should get. Bob Danzig. He told me a little bit about Bob and made an introduction.

I was a bit awed to be speaking to someone like Bob Danzig on the telephone, but he was warm and gracious and even invited me to come to New York to have dinner with him at the Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan. The Harvard Club was just like what I’ d imagined a private Ivy League club would be: dark wood paneling, expensive rugs, overstuffed chairs around warm fireplaces, old and beautiful artwork, and richly attired and attentive staff. Bob was friendly and impeccably dressed. He seemed genuinely interested in me and my idea. Fifteen minutes into the conversation he said, I have a feeling we’re going to do big things together.

When he said this, you could have knocked me over with a feather. You have to realize that at this point in my career Centerpointe wasn’t very big. I had six or seven employees and our headquarters was a small down-in-the-heels building that had once been a print shop. My spartan little office looked like the office of a warehouse manager. No art, no ferns, no credenza.

Every day I would show up for work, sit in my office all day, and do whatever needed to be done. I didn’t know more than two or three other people in the personal growth world.Hale Dwoskin at Sedona Training Associates, and Pete Bissonette at Learning Strategies Corporation, and maybe two or three others. I had no business education other than the school of hard knocks. I was living in my own introverted little world, running Centerpointe with little or no communication or feedback from other personal growth leaders or business owners.

Other than the fact that Centerpointe was reasonably successful (the year I met Bob Danzig our sales were about $2M), I had no idea if my business skills were mediocre, competent, or something else. So what Bob said to me really meant a lot.   Wow, I thought. This guy was CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, and he wants to do something with me? An hour later, when I asked if he’d be willing to serve on the board of directors of the new company, he said, I’d be happy to serve on the board of any company that had Bill Harris as the CEO.

I was stunned, and very happy. Now that I know more about Bob, his childhood, and the way he worked his way up from office boy to CEO of the entire company, I can see that he was doing for me what important  mentors in his  life  had done  for him looking past  my flaws  and inexperience and seeing the promise in me promise I didn t yet see in myself and then communicating it to me in a way that helped bring it out.

Literally days after I’d  finished putting together what turned out to be a  rather impressive board (Bob was the  biggest, but not the only, star I  recruited), the stock market crashed and all the start-up money for internet companies disappeared. The company never got off the ground. Instead, I turned my attention back to  Centerpointe. Because Centerpointe has grown by about 900% since then, I’m glad it happened the way it did. I still stay in touch with Bob, though, and he still inspires me every time I speak to him. Just as he never forgot the people who told him, You are worthwhile, and You are filled with promise, I’ve never forgotten what he said to me because it significantly boosted my confidence.

Several years ago, after he’d become publisher of the Albany Times Herald, he tracked down  Mae Morse, the social worker who had said to him, You are worthwhile when he was just a small boy. She was in a nursing home, old and frail. Here’s how Bob described their meeting in Conversations With Bobby:

They had set her up in the parlor chair of the nursing home. She beamed when I walked in. I can see her so clearly, her knit shawl hung over her shoulders. I walked over to her and put my hands in hers. Before I could utter a word, she said to me, Didn’t I always tell you that you are worthwhile? I was in awe. I told her how I looked forward to this day the day when I could share with her my gratitude for the confidence and value she placed in me. I said to her, In a life stuck in the shadows, you, Mae Morse, gave me my first shining moment that penetrated the darkness.

Other than the fact that Bob’s story is so touching, there’s another reason why I’m telling it to you.  Somehow, out of my own painful childhood and my struggles to master my anger and depression and lack of success, hundreds of thousands of people now look up to me for help and seek my guidance. Believe me, in light of where I started and the person I used to be, no one is more surprised about this turn of events than I am.

Many people tell me that they benefit from Holosync and that they’ve had many ah-ha’s from  the information I share. It’s obvious, however, that my focus is not  motivational or inspirational. What I teach is more theoretical, intellectual, and informational rather than inspirational.

So as we all do our best to navigate our way through some very difficult and scary times, I want to express to you something a little more heartfelt something I’ve unfortunately failed to say as  often, or as directly,  as perhaps  I should:  I value you. Even though I may never meet you in person, I’m glad that you’re in my life. You are worthwhile. You are filled with promise.

Everything I do at Centerpointe is based upon the premise that anyone, if they know what to do, can be happy, peaceful inside, and successful, regardless of their past or present circumstances. If I can do it, anyone can. So I want to express my hope that Holosync, along with all the the  information and tools we provide at Centerpointe, will in some small way make is easier for you to navigate your life, and allow you to bring forth the promise that is in you, whether in bad or good times.