In this month’s Executive Connection, Direct Selling News Publisher and Editor in Chief John Fleming speaks with Dr. Alan Tomlinson, Chairman, and Keith Harding, International President and CEO of Sportron International, about leadership, connecting and making a difference in people’s lives.
DSN: What is the one thing you enjoy most about being the top executives of Sportron?
AT: It’s based in the original vision we had for this company. We had a credo that said we wanted to make a world of difference in people’s lives—not only a difference from a financial and physical point of view, but also in their spiritual, mental, emotional and social sides. That credo has been with us every day of these 20 years.
KH: I also enjoy helping people grow. It’s wonderful to take someone who has never stood in front of more than their family and see them one day stand in front of thousands of people as they talk to them and train them. To see self-esteem grow is one of the joys of this business.
DSN: What has been your proudest accomplishment?
AT: To actually observe for ourselves people who had life-transforming experiences. For example, one day we were in Italy [with the winners of an incentive trip]. One lady there was quite overcome. She said she had never flown before, never had the opportunity to travel, and there she was in Europe in St. Peter’s Square. Just a little while ago, I heard a very poor lady in South Africa who had been given an opportunity. She had struggled all her life. She was able to show a Sportron commission check to her colleagues and say, “This is the most money I have had in my whole life. It will change my family’s circumstances.” The vision we started with is being accomplished.
KH: Alan and I aren’t the type of people who think that earning millions of dollars a year is the big thing. We love to see the impact on people. One man had diabetes and was legally blind. He was crying out for God to take him. Now he is healthy again. For the last 10 years he has been the leader of a diabetic support group, helping them with exercise and nutrition. His wife told us, “If not for Sportron products, I wouldn’t have my husband today.” When those are your goals and dreams that makes you proud. I’m also proud of establishing Sportron in Asia. That wasn’t an original goal. We thought that when we went international it would probably be to England or maybe Australia. That’s all we were thinking of. Now we are a household name in Asia. But it came to us. We didn’t go to it. We had a leader who wanted to open his own business and was looking at companies in America who were members of DSA. He stumbled across Sportron, liked what he saw, and came to us.
DSN: What do you tell Sportron’s distributors to lead and inspire them?
KH: A couple of years ago Alan and I read a book by John Maxwell, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. It has inspired us as leaders. We believe we are better leaders as a result of focusing on people’s lives and families. That’s what we teach and preach to our leaders to inspire them. We don’t try to manipulate and use people. We want to find what their goals and aspirations and dreams are so we can help them accomplish that instead of focusing on our own goals. We wanted to develop a culture where it’s about you.
AT: The world is full of people who doubt themselves. Their ego-integrity is very poor. We believe that the most important human right we have is the right to make a choice. So we believe that we need to tell our distributors that it is their choice that will determine their future. If they want to stay where they are, make no changes, not improve their situation, that’s their choice. If they want to make a change, that’s their choice. We care about them, but at the end of the day all we can do is inspire them to determine their own direction. Then they can choose to change. That’s the major message. You are the gatekeeper of your thoughts and mind, so it’s up to you.
DSN: What is your vision for Sportron?
AT: Our vision has never changed. It is to give people the choice of changing their lives and growing and making a difference. The problem is that we haven’t gotten to all the people we want to yet, and we want to get our message across to as many as we can so they can change their own five dimensions. Everything cascades from the spiritual aspect of life.
KH: From a growth point of view, in the next 24 months Central and South America are countries where we are looking to expand.
DSN: Sportron is celebrating its 20th anniversary in May. As you think back over the last 20 years, what is your favorite memory?
KH: How so many lives have been changed is probably my favorite memory. My first trip to Asia is also a great memory. Going to China was never on my dream monitor, but they treated us so nicely in Beijing. One of the things the Chinese people love to do is fly kites, and they love to dress up. They had two kites made with the Sportron logo on them. They made Alan and I fly kites in Tianamen Square. There we were in our suits, in the heat and with no wind, running up and down Tianamen Square and trying to get kites into the air! We even got to climb the Great Wall of China. Sportron has provided both Alan and me with wonderful opportunities to see the world.
AT: One of our great memories was the opening of our office in Thailand after we had been in the country for a year. They had 5,000 people at the opening. It was the most overwhelming thing! Almost everyone wanted a picture with us, so we stood around for hours and hours having photos made with them and celebrating our first year. On a scale of 1 to 10, their celebration was a 20!
DSN: Is there one basic principle which has governed your leadership at Sportron?
KH: We didn’t create this principle, but it’s embedded in our lives. It’s that Sportron shouldn’t be the No. 1 thing in life. It’s God, family, then business. That’s a principle that we teach and that we hold to personally in our lives as the founders. That order will let them enjoy a happy, peaceful life. We also treat people with respect. That goes back to connecting with people. It’s about you. We’ve always stood by our word, even when it hasn’t been good for us. If we overpromised, we stuck to our word. As a result, we now underpromise and overdeliver so people are excited when they get more than they expected.
AT: I agree!
DSN: What direct selling company or leader do you especially admire?
KH: One of our favorite people we love listening to is John Addison. He’s a great leader, a great motivator, and inspires people to do their very best. I admire his company, too. Primerica isn’t an easy product to sell. You have to be licensed, and that takes a while. They obviously do a great job communicating how their opportunity helps people. Stan Fredrick, Chairman of Mannatech, has been a very good friend. He supported us with his friendship and advice. He’s just an outstanding man with great character and a Hall of Famer with DSA. Stuart Johnson has been a friend of Sportron for 20 years. Twenty-one years ago when we started planning the company, we talked with him. He invests his time, and more important, invests his resources. He wants to see the industry grow.
AT: Historically, we have had great admiration for some of the large companies. We’ve been privileged to interact with some original founders, such as Rich DeVos at Amway. They’ve done an unbelievable job around the world for years. We also had the privilege of meeting Mary Kay Ash personally. We met Mary Crowley from Home Interiors. She was a great leader. We admire Avon, the No. 1 direct seller in the world. You can’t be No. 1 and not be a great company. We also have great admiration for Neil Offen, former top executive of DSA, who inspired us along the way. We have great respect for him. The new President of DSA, Joe Mariano, is going to follow in Neil’s footsteps and also do a great job.
DSN: What’s one piece of advice that you’ve found especially useful?
AT: One of the people who influenced us greatly has been John Maxwell. His writings reflect the way we feel about life, and he teaches us about leadership principles—how to relate to others, to connect. He teaches, “Just remember: it’s not about you; it’s about them.” It’s a great lesson.
KH: I watched Mary Crowley’s life. She was always persistent. She had a servant’s heart. She used to take people to her ranch in the Denton area for weekends. People would sit down; she would put an apron on and do the cooking; or she would serve the tea. It’s so different than the typical corporate America CEO way of thinking where others are there to serve them. Mary Crowley taught us: I am here to serve you. That impressed me so much that I wanted to copy it. She had a saying: The stars can’t shine until the sun sets. It’s important that the real stars are your distributors.
DSN: What do you like to do when you just want to relax?
AT: We have a passion for our grandchildren. We like to spend as much time as possible with them. We love going to school functions and participating in their growing up. They are the biggest bringers of joy in our lives. Another thing I really enjoy is being in the wilds of nature. My wife and I go to Kruger National Park, a game park in South Africa, as often as we can. We like to spend as much time as we can in the wild, enjoying nature. We sometimes take our grandchildren.
KH: I really love being with my grandkids and attending their sporting activities. My Saturdays are filled with watching volleyball, football, soccer and basketball. We had the wonderful opportunity to take our oldest granddaughter, who is 11, on a trip recently to England and then on to South Africa for Sportron’s convention. We had a wonderful time just being together. We often take our three grandkids on vacations. I enjoy golf, too.
Editor’s Note: It is with great sadness we report that during the production of this issue of DSN Dr. Alan Tomlinson, the Co-Founder and Chairman of Sportron, died suddenly of a heart attack on April 3. We convey our condolences to Sportron, his family and friends.