Why I Turned Down Xerox For a Straight Commission Sales Job

Even though I had a wide array of part-time jobs working my way through school at the University of Memphis(grocery store sacker, mail clerk, warehouse maintenance, IBM typewriter installer, etc.) my first real job out of college was selling offset printing equipment for Addressograph Multigraph Corporation (AM International). Even though I had just been offered a more lucrative position as an account executive for Xerox Corporation, I really felt like there was a bigger, better opportunity at AM. Why did I think that?  The simple answer was “I did my homework”  

Prior to making my decision about joining AM I had visited the local library (remember, this was 1978...way before the Internet) and read several articles in Business Week about AM’s reorganization and their new CEO Roy Ash. AM was a company that been around since the early 1900’s manufacturing addressing equipment and offset presses which had served them well for many years. But as the articles stated. the times and business needs were changing and AM was in need of a serious makeover which is where Roy Ash came into the picture. Roy  Ash was a former colleague of Robert McNamara in the legendary statistics division of the Army Air Forces and was co-founder of Litton Industries (billion dollar corp.) Ash had a reputation for being a tough minded  visionary and was actually dubbed at one time as the “human computer” for his technical IQ.

To me, Roy Ash  looked like the kind of guy that could lead this old time American company to new heights and at the ripe old age of 21 year, I smelled an ”opportunity” So even though Xerox offered a higher base salary I took the job at AM for straight commission with a draw (around $800 per month). Sounds not only crazy but risky as well since my commissions were calculated after my draw and expenses were deducted. Translation- I could easily go “in the hole” if I didn’t sell anything and have a hard time digging out of it!  And, oh yeah, living on $800 a month was more than a little tough, even in 1978.  

But that job taught me a lot of valuable lessons that I learned early on which included things like how to manage expenses as well as the return on investment for good old fashioned hard work. From day one, I learned to run my sales territory like I was “running my own business.” I did that by keeping a close eye on things like mileage, hotel rooms, lunches etc. so I wouldn’t waste money and subsequently be able to maximize my monthly commissions payments.  

I also learned that even though I was an industry rookie, I could still be successful if I committed to doing one thing: OUTWORK THEM. That mantra has continued to prove to be the great equalizer for me then and now. The other valuable lesson I learned from my first job at AM is the understanding the association between risk and reward. I learned by choosing the riskier straight commission compensation plan I was also able to reap the financial rewards that went along with that choice. That lesson would prove to be an invaluable one years later when I started my own business, Interactive Solutions,Inc.(ISI).


Posted by Jay Myers at 3:09 PM