Recently I was made aware of the death of my first real mentor and former employer, the wonderful Judith Sutton from Woven Image. This got me thinking of the many life lessons Judith taught me all those years ago and how this has impacted so positively on my life and how these lessons can be used by anyone who wants to build their business through referral.
I remember my first week with Judith was spent learning about the product (commercial textiles) followed by meeting architects and designers to present the latest fabrics. The first day on the road I remember Judith and I driving across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Judith telling me that networking and building strong relationships along with the ability to tell stories would be the key to my success in her company.
It was the late 80’s and things in Australia at the time were not that great for the design and architecture industry, but Judith had managed to build this business with her family into a leading textile house. I was in awe of what Judith had done and very excited to be on the road with her in my new job.
Our first meeting was a meeting where we provided lunch as sort of a bribe to the designers in firms so they would meet with us and allow us to show the product. We had over a dozen designers wander into the boardroom and devour the Danish-inspired lunch (as we had Danish textiles to show) and stories Judith had to share.
Judith was a master relationship builder – people adored her and this was no more evident than that first day I spent with her. I think many of the designers came for the “Judith show” more than anything else!
I was dazzled by the way Judith held the attention of the designers, telling wonderful stories about our products, it was exciting and captivating, yet genuine and warm. From that day I knew I wanted to be able to capture client’s imagination in the same way as Judith and for the next few years I observed and learnt from her absorbing every technique she had in her business toolkit.
The two major success factors I observed form Judith were that 1) she was a master storyteller and that 2) she genuinely cared about the people she was interacting with. Judith also taught me the value of ongoing learning and a continual desire to improve oneself.
A couple of years later I was given the privilege of taking the company to New Zealand. Arriving with little more than a suitcase of samples and a yellow pages. I quickly set about to recreate the relationships that I had observed Judith building. I had learnt first-hand though that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. To this day I follow that mantra and often reflect on the impact that Judith made on my life.
I built great relationships within the industry, got to know some truly remarkable people as well as shared stories that inspired many. I had a lot of fun and think back on those days as some of my best years I ever had as an employee. I was young and had a long way to go in my life, but this set me up with the skills to network, build relationships and sell using meaningful stories.
I eventually left the company and had several changes in career, but always remembered that stories sell and people want to deal with authentic and caring individuals. I know for Judith that continual earning was essential. I know today more than ever that if one is not growing, one is dying, which is why I value continually developing my skills so I can serve better.
I also learnt from my time with Judith that there are people out there who can and will help you. Some will formally mentor you, some you will learn from being around and others you can model them without them even knowing them. Reach out and develop your skills, tell stories and care about people and success in business will be that much sweeter.
Today I am a master storyteller and get paid to speak on stage. I have a company that helps thousands of people generate business through referrals and know that this is a true privilege and I get to train thousands of people every year on networking and referral generation and much of it started with one special lady.
As a result, Judith has impacted the lives of so many people she never even met. Rest in peace Judith and I thank you for everything you never knew you did for me.