Think You Got it Tough? Be the First!

Let’s revisit a true sales pioneer and trailblazer, Thomas J. Laster. His ability to deal with racial preference, racial discrimination, and acts of racial prejudice are legendary.  We cannot avoid giving kudos to International Business Machines (IBM) in their effort to promote diversity.


Amazingly enough, it is still not too late to be the first! Being the first is an important role in American society.  It is equally important in business.

I am going to use cite one iconic American company as an example. As a matter of fact, it is more than symbolic, because this organization took a leadership role.  This is a brief study in how an organization handles diversity.

A Leader in More Ways than One

In 1946 International Business Machines, also known as IBM, hired its first black sales representative. It was an individual named Tom (T.J.) Laster. This was well before the Civil Rights Act of 1963.  This act was also well before the Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier inprofessional baseball.  This was not a beauty products company, or someone selling durable goods products to the Black community, this was a business products company that was on the technical leading edge, and selling their product to basic ‘white’ America’s businesses.

The audience that Laster was something to was decidedly in the majority. If we think we see racial prejudice and racial preference, we need to recognize that we see nothing like this gentleman was faced with during his tenure as a sales professional.  A couple of years later, Laster joined the 100% Club, an honor for reaching his sales quota.  This was affirmation to many that this individual was a qualified and accomplished sales professional.

The 40s, 50s, and 60s were decidedly difficult time even dream of being “the first” in B2B sales, but someone had to do it.  Soon after Laster, IBM hired their first Black marketing representative (Lionel Fultz) in 1951, their first Black engineer in 1952 (Harry Cochraine), and their first Black engineering manager, (Calvin Waite) in 1956.  Lionel Fultz also was named branch manager in 1964.

This made IBM a leader in both business machines as well as employment diversity.  It also made Tom Laster a pioneer in the sales diversity situation.  He was willing, and obviously began destroying the racial perceptions that Blacks, or Negros as we were referred to in that time, could not handle the technical nature and business relationship issues related to B2B sales to a white business populace.  I would believe that partially as a result, many others Black professionals followed through the doors that were opened.

There was no greater a threshold in business sales as this one!  This was certainly important.  Although you probably won’t read books about it there is no doubt as to the impact.

Following this, IBM, assuming the leadership role again, penned and enacted its Equal Opportunity Policy through the Thomas Watson’s (the president of IBM) letter to his organization termed as Policy Letter # Four.  This September 21, 1953 letter directed his managers to “…hire people regardless of race, color, or creed.”  We wish it was as easy this declaration, but this was a start.

This is Significant, But Why is it Important?

I hope you see the significance in the story of Laster. He is truly a pioneer, and really knows what it feels like to be the first.  What is equally important is that you still can be the first Black sales professional in many organizations.

By the same token, you still can be that individual the changes everyone’s ideas about the abilities and work ethic of black professionals.  It would be nice not to worry about that, but it is significant.

I was not the first Black sale professional in the organization that I came up in. I was actually the third. I was the first Black sales manager, and the first Black vice president, senior vice president, and executive vice president.  I had some interesting experiences, which I try to share in this ‘journal’, but I am certain that many of these assertions would have paled in comparison to the stories that Laster could tell.

Be the Best

There are many small and medium sized organizations that have avoided, for whatever reason, employment diversity.  They could have avoided it because of their small size, or because they purposely have not hired Black sales professionals.  They may have other Blacks and minorities working for the company.  It does not matter what the reason might be, embrace that opportunity to work for and to change those organizations.  Show your stuff!

Your only requirement is to do be best that you can be at what you do.  By being the best, you increase your opportunities for success, as well as destroy ridiculous and erroneous racial perceptions.  Your success will be rewarded with a high compensation rate, but also in the pride you have in being the first!

Be the Best!  Your comments are appreciated.

Investigate Yourself! The First Activity of Your Job Search!

If you are a job applicant, there are things that  you need to do, and this is one of them.  Information on you in the public domain may be true, or it may be false, but it should not be a surprise to you.  Know what exist about you as you should always “be the expert on yourself”.  This post from 2011 spells it out in good detail.  Read it, and do your research!


We took a little time to discuss the effects of social media sites (Black Sales Journal – 3/10/2011, Social Media, know the Pitfalls) and what it could do to your employment, as well as your job search.  It can be devastating if you release the wrong information at the wrong time.  Pictures are worth a thousand words, and if you are not judicious in your attempts to show your great vacation, night out with the girls, or guy’s trip to a local gentleman’s club, you could damn your next job.

These are self-inflicted wounds that you can do to yourself, and regret for the rest of your life.  They are definitely avoidable so the more private you lessen the chance of this happening.

As you will see there are other wounds, and these are not necessarily self-inflicted, yet they can have a similar, or more striking effect.

Investigate Yourself

You owe it to yourself to know everything that others can glean about you.  It is a process I call “investigating yourself.”

Here are some ways to go about it:

“Googling” is good when you need an answer to almost any question.  A very simple act now is going to the keyboard and getting hundreds of results.  Quite frankly, we do it without thinking, and usually get the information that we want.  Search engines are imperfect devices that string together the characters of the alphabet and primary numbers to peruse the lexicons of all sorts of databases in order to find like strings of information.  Prospective employers use this tool as well.  What they find can be amazing.  What they find can be menacing as well.

You can be left without any recourse other than to try to explain the product of this search as you may have major difficulty changing it.  With that in mind, it is best to know what is there in its entirety.

Suggestion: “Google”, “Bing”, and “Yahoo” your name and all of its’ variations to determine what information a prospective employer will see when they look you up.  There may be some things you can change; yet you will be armed with a view of what they are going to see.  If you are Milton Jones, and you also see that a Milton Jones from the same city and state was convicted of embezzlement, you have an opportunity to explain that he may be a distant relative, but he is not you.

Credit reporting can be your worst enemy or your best friend.  Are you aware that it is commonplace for a prospective employer to check your credit?  It is explained for you, although in fine print on the packet of information that is completed on line, or physically, as you must give them a signature or approval, and your social security number.  Remember, a terrible credit score might not keep you from getting a job, yet it can be a potential strike against you.  If you are going to have company credit cards, a company vehicle, or need to be bonded, this may present a problem.

Suggestion: Know your score from the three credit reporting agencies (Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian) and have your explanations ready regarding why it is impaired.  If a company is going to trust you with their assets, your story may need to be very solid.  If there are situations like identity theft, you may want to bring information to prove that there was a problem.

Public Information sources carry strong credibility.  The following records can sink you if you don’t have good explanations:

  • Police and Arrest Records
  • Personal Debt
  • Bankruptcy
  • Judgments
  • Liens

There are things in the above list that comes from circumstances we could not control, and things that, as our grandmother’s used to say, came from trifling behavior.  No matter how they got there, they are potentially on your record, and they may be irremovable, unless they are a mistake.

If they come from disputes that have not been properly adjudicated, you may have some hope, yet search engines as well as public record can find this information.

Suggestion: These are your records so don’t take it lightly.  Find out why, and how these items might be removed.  Review search engines for this as well as the credit records for debt.  You should know if there are any judgments or liens in the public record.  Of course you will know if you have filed bankruptcy.  Know your story, and your circumstances.  You are the expert on you, so reduce it to writing.  I suggest you don’t fabricate some lengthy story, but be able to explain what went wrong.

A Practical Example

While I was a sales manager, I received a call from a local basketball coach who suggested that I consider a basketball star from one of the public universities in Wisconsin.  He was Black, and from the same community I was from, and was supposedly a premier student from the standpoint of grades.

We went through the interview process and I not only thought this individual gave a great interview; he also had a list of references that was exemplary.  Everyone from college professors to past employers thought he had the personality and deportment to be a great employee and to sell.

I completed checking a representative number of his references, and proceeded to gather the rest of the requisite information.  Then came a possible roadblock.  The school would not release to the transcript to me.  We were at a crucial time in the process as I had done a significant amount of work already and I could not check his grades.

I figured that he might have a “past due” that was from not having settled up, so I contacted the candidate and advised that if he wanted to have the opportunity that I presented, he needed to act fast.  It turned out a little different in the end.

The candidate “fessed” up to me under time pressure that he had some library books that were not returned, and that they were holding his transcript until he settled up.  My response was, “if you want this chance, you need to get it solved within the next two days.”  Then it got more involved, and we determined that there were parking fines…numerous parking fines.

This marked the end of this issue, as I removed the candidate from consideration.  This one, more than anything else was an example of ‘trifling’ behavior.  Not returning of a couple of reference books and not making good on some university parking tickets cost this individual a chance at a good opportunity in outside sales with a reputable company, including a car and expense reimbursement.  It was the height of irresponsibility.

Your Access Vs. The Employers Access – A New Age

There was a day that your access to information was limited, and corporate access to information was supreme and penetrating.  Now, there has been a leveling of the field.  Your access to information is penetrating as well.  Business will pay someone to do it, yet you should have enough energy to “be the expert on yourself.”

Do not think for one minute that you are not going to be checked out!

Your comments are welcome.