True Character from Comanche Marketing
(From Comanche Marketing, by Matt Michel)
This is a difficult story to write. It's sad, but it's also uplifting. It's a story about the best of business, about business rivalries and business friendships. make that friendships.
Hemmingway said, "All true stories end in death." This is a true story, but death is not the end.
Through the years I've mentioned super salesman Tom McCart more than once. Tom was the first person to sell $1 million of residential replacement air conditioning equipment. Hitting $1 million is no small feat today, but it was a lot harder 20 years ago when Tom broke the barrier.
Moreover, Tom did it in Fort Myers, Florida, a one season market (i.e., Tom didn't have the benefit of a strong heating season).
As his sales reputation grew, Tom received numerous calls for help, coaching, and training from other salespeople. "What did you do?" they asked, "How did you do it? I need help."
Tom saw an opportunity in the need and became an industry sales trainer and consultant. For years, he crisscrossed the country, teaching contractors and salespeople at distributors and hotels in out-of-the-way locations. He also wrote and published a series of books on sales and marketing.
As time went on, Tom perfected his training. He was as good in front of a roomful of contractors as he was sitting across the kitchen table with a homeowner. I personally talked with a number of contractors who credit Tom with saving their businesses and by extension, their marriages, careers, and lives.
Tom received the recognition one might expect. As a salesperson, Tom was the first person to enter the Million Dollar Club for the Service America franchise. After years of industry service, he became the first recipient of "Contracting Business" Magazine's Thomas R. "Doc" Rusk Award for industry leadership. He is the first recipient of the Service Roundtable's Servant Leader Award. He was a member of the "Contracting Business" Editorial Advisory Board, a Service Roundtable Consult & Coach Partner, and a recipient of the Service Roundtable Crusader Award.
Two years ago, Tom was stunned to learn he had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease (known in Europe as Motor Neuron Disease, or MND). ALS is a terminal disease.
According to the website LouGehrigsDisease.net, the symptoms include, "tripping, stumbling and falling, loss of muscle control and strength in hands and arms, difficulty speaking, swallowing and/or breathing, chronic fatigue, and muscle twitching and/or cramping. ALS is characterized by both upper and lower motor neuron damage. Symptoms of upper motor neuron damage include stiffness (spasticity), muscle twitching (fasciculations), and muscle shaking (clonus). Symptoms of lower motor neuron damage include muscle weakness and muscle shrinking (atrophy)."
In short, the brain becomes trapped in a body that's rapidly failing. ALS ends in death. Always. Most people die within 18 months of diagnosis. Tom was given 6 months to live.
Upon learning the news Tom was on the verge of suicide. He mentioned to Mike Weil, his editor at "Contracting Business," that he ought to end it all now. Mike, not knowing if he was serious or not, acted as though he was.
"What about your family," asked Mike, "Do you want them to find you? Do you want this to be their last memory of you? Is this how you want to be remembered?"
I don't know if Tom was seriously contemplating suicide or not. Suicide ran counter to his faith, plus Tom had a strong will to live. He had already beaten cancer. If he was suicidal, Tom decided his family was too important. He would not take the easy option.
Yet, this did nothing to affect his prognosis, nothing to help his depression. And this is where the story begins.
Charlie Greer was a competitor of Tom's. They were friendly competitors as salespeople when they both worked for Modern Air in Ft Myers. Both eventually entered the sales training arena, where their competition spilled over into an outright rivalry that seemed heated and bitter at times to those of us who watched it.
Tom's training program was "No Secrets." Charlie's was "No Excuses." Coming from Modern Air, their programs were similar, reflecting Ron Smith's approach to replacement sales.
Tom and Charlie downplayed the rivalry the last time I was with them. I know better. It was a rivalry, even if it was a friendly one. I can believe it was more of a friendly rivalry than it appeared because they remained friends even while they competed with each other and their rivalry didn't prevent them from helping each other. Tom, for example, helped Charlie get his website started. In time, they even sought ways to work together, cooperating rather than competing.
Even though they lived a few miles apart in the same small coastal community, Tom and Charlie rarely saw each other. Both were constantly flying around the country training and consulting.
The day Charlie heard about Tom's diagnosis he immediately dropped everything and rushed to see his friend who was fighting depression in the face of fate's death sentence. They spent hours together. Charlie tried to shake Tom out of his malaise. He reminded him of reasons for living. He highlighted the things Tom still had to offer. He pointed out ways Tom could still contribute to the world. According to Tom's wife, Diane, when Charlie left, Tom had a new outlook on life.
"It only took one visit from Charlie," said Diane, "And Tom was refocused."
Earlier this year at Charlie's house, Charlie and I took a walk. Tom followed in his motorized wheelchair. Tom started talking about Charlie. He wanted me to know some of the things Charlie had done for him and Diane. He literally credited Charlie with saving his life.
"Ah, I just showed up," said Charlie.
"You did more than that," said Tom, "And you know it."
Lots of people came to Tom's aid since he was first diagnosed with ALS. Ron Smith, Tom's old boss and mentor, called Tom regularly and visited him in Ft Myers, spending hours helping him set up his business for transition after his death.
Diane and Ralph Foster practically adopted Tom's son, Sean, and gave Tom work and purpose in their shop during the early months of the illness when he was mobile enough to be driven to their shop. To this day, they have made themselves available to help with any needs the McCart's have.
Mike and Jeff Curtis would drive hours from Palatka to see Tom. Mack Heaton stepped in to keep Tom's business alive and thriving. And the list goes on.
Contractors throughout the nation helped Tom through the Service Roundtable's HVAC Roundtable discussion list. The HVAC Roundtable became a lifeline for Tom. As soon as he finished breakfast, Tom would logon to the computer. Despite the increasing struggle to talk and write, Tom took phone calls and answered email through out the day, each day, until exhaustion overwhelmed him. Looking through the Service Roundtable's HVAC Knowledge Base, I'm amazed at the number and quality of contributions Tom made.
"It (the HVAC Roundtable) became his life," said Diane. "It gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I don't know what he would have done without it. Sit in front of the television? Hardly!"
Through it all and above all others, Charlie Greer helped the most. Charlie and Debra, his significant other, stopped by to see the McCarts regularly. They ran errands. Like the Fosters, they made themselves available 24/7 for any need. Because of his proximity, Charlie was often the first person the McCarts would call. Diane and Tom both told me of instances where a call in the middle of the night resulted in Charlie rushing across town.
Diane says Charlie helped Tom physically, financially, and most of all, emotionally. Charlie started marketing Tom's books, providing a much needed revenue source as the bills piled up and the health insurance was canceled after a heart attack. When Diane and Tom insisted on paying Charlie a commission, he acted offended. He wasn't doing it for the money.
The friendship between these two former rivals strengthened and matured during Tom's illness. It became more than a friendship and they become more like brothers than friends.
In Tom's final days, Charlie asked contractors to send him email about Tom. Charlie printed these and read them to Tom at his bedside. On Tom's final morning, Charlie was again at his side. In the afternoon, Charlie took a break to collect himself and give the family some time with Tom alone.
Tom knew it was his time. Two years had passed since he was told he had six months remaining. Yet, he continued to fight on. He refused to take the medication that would ease him into a sleep from which he might not wake.
As Tom was passing away, surrounded by family, Diane told him, "Tommy, we're all here. The family's all here."
Barely audible, Tom whispered, "Charlie's here?"
"Yes," said Diane, "Charlie's here."
"I feel happy," Tom whispered, "I'm very lucky. Don't cry." And Thomas Kelly McCart passed from this world to the next.
At Tom's funeral a few days later, Charlie Greer offered a eulogy. "I lost my best friend," he said. And Charlie Greer, known for his tough guy, hard nosed persona in the plumbing and air conditioning industries, proceeded to lose control. He turned away from the podium, took a moment to collect himself, and somehow finished.
Charlie Greer and Tom McCart, former rivals, became best friends. And Charlie became part of the McCart family.
People often speak of the business world as cold, cruel, and ruthless. It can be. It can be when cold, cruel, and ruthless people enter the world of business. Yet, when people like Charlie Greer enter the world of business, it becomes something else entirely. It becomes a place where rivalries are transcended and character is triumphant. You see, true character is helping those who can do nothing for you in return. Charlie Greer has true character.
Charlie is continuing to help. He calls Diane McCart every day and both Charlie and Debra remain ready to help however they can. Charlie and Mack Heaton are bringing Sean McCart to HVAC Comfortech with the encouragement of Sean's employers, Diane and Ralph Foster.
Death is not the end of this tale. Death is not the end for Tom. His life on earth is little more than the one page forward of a book that will last through eternity.
And Tom leaves a legacy behind through his children and grandchildren. For the rest of us, he leaves a legacy through a body of work that includes writings and videos. Through these, he will continue to help contractors. Mack Heaton will carry Tom's company forward. And something tells me that Charlie Greer will be around to offer support and guidance to Mack and to the McCarts.
Copyright 2004 Matt Michel
P.S., Charlie Greer did not know I was writing this and would probably try to dissuade me if he knew. In fact, he's said very little about his role. I learned about his contributions from others. It goes far behind what was mentioned here. It's a story that should be told, so I told it.
BUY TOM McCART'S BOOKS
TAKE A "NO SECRETS" SALES TRAINING CLASS
You can support Tom's legacy by purchasing his books and enrolling in the "No Secrets" training program through his website.
If you knew Tom McCart or have benefited from his writing or training, the Service Roundtable has started a tribute page as a memorial to Tom. Add your tribute by emailing Matt Michel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These tributes are not for Tom. He is beyond them. They will, we hope, provide some comfort to his survivors and help his grandchildren know him better.
Comanche Marketing is hosted by the Service Roundtable. The Service Roundtable is an organization of contractors, by contractors, and for contractors. Service Roundtable is dedicated to financial and business performance improvement of service contractors and provides a wealth of business tools and content for a very affordable monthly subscription. Visit the Service Roundtable at www.serviceroundtable.com.