Speaker shares networking idea



A New York Times bestselling author came to Garden City Thursday night to talk about networking at the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce banquet, but it wasn't a typical business spin.

Tommy Spaulding, author of "It's Not Just Who You Know," talked about changes of heart, and how those do more than merely elevate a business. They change your life, and that of others.

Spaulding began his story in high school, where he struggled with dyslexia. His grades were so poor, counselors laid down a future for him in vocational education. However, a happenstance changed his destiny. A happenstance involving a beautiful Swedish girl.

She was with "Up With People," which travels the world singing about building relationships with people and changing the world.

The girl invited those interested in joining the troupe to talk to her after the show. Spaulding wasn't interested in that, but definitely wanted to talk to the cute girl.

"I asked her, so what kind of GPA, SAT score, class rank do you need?" he asked.

"Up With People" wasn't about that, the girl said. "We're looking for young men and women who want to change the world by building relationships with people," she said.

Spaulding interviewed and ultimately was chosen for a spot with the troupe, spending nine years living with more than 3,000 host families in 60 different countries. The hopes and dreams and struggles of host families did something to his heart.

"I learned what true service means," he said.

Spaulding decided to attend law school. He knew it wouldn't be a prestigious school with his grades, but there are 435 law schools in the country, and he only needed one. So he picked the bottom 37 — that was how many $100 applications he could afford — and sent them out.

And all 37 rejected him.

Diving in Bali a few weeks later, tring to reconsider his options in life, he met a woman on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. He was intrigued by that, but then she said something that really got his attention. Every ambassador gets $50,0000 a year to get an MBA.

"You have an automatic acceptance to any business school," Tommy recalls her telling him. Reading the application was a struggle because of Spaulding's dyslexia. It took him an entire weekend, but he poured his heart out on those pages, telling about "Up With People, his quadriplegic roommate, and other stories illustrating how life had given him a heart for service.

At the bottom of the application, however, the fine print stopped him cold.

"It says in small parenthesis, a 4.0 is required to apply for this scholarship ... But I had just spent the whole weekend applying for this!" he said.

So Spaulding put a 4.0 on that line and a little asterisk, explaining that if you added his high school and college GPA together, the sum was 4.0. He mailed it off — and was ultimately chosen to continue with an interview in New York.

There, the chosen applicants awaited their turn for the interview in a bar. Spaulding tried to introduce himself to them, but they were studying their notes. That left the bartender. Spaulding struck up a conversation with him. That eased his nerves, and when it was time for his interview, he felt relaxed.

The matter of his GPA did come up, and some weren't amused by the little asterisk. Spaulding argued that growing up with a handicap may have been rough on his grades, but it had given him qualities like perseverance. And his experiences traveling the world had given him a heart for service.

He swayed half the board to choose him. The other half chose a magna cum laude graduate who dreamed of raising venture capital to open small AIDS clinics in South Africa.

"How do you beat that!?" Spaulding asked.

The board voted twice more, and each time tied. They retired to the bar, debating the two candidates over a drink. They voted a fourth time. And were still tied.

The bartender happened by, and one committee member said, "Hey, you were here the entire day, weren't you? Who do you think should win the $50,000 scholarship? You met all 10 candidates."

But the bartender hadn't met the others. He'd only met Spaulding. Thus, Spaulding got his scholarship and graduated at the top of his class with an MBA.

"For the first time in my professional life, I realized the power of relationships," Spaulding said. "The power of being genuine and having a true heart for caring about people and wanting nothing in return."

His wife turned that insight into something even greater, Spaulding said. She pointed out he was networking to meet people who would help him, when what he ought to do is network to help others. That flipped the way he'd been looking at relationships, and became part of his best-selling book.

Spaulding illustrated the truth of his wife's insight with a story about a relationship he at first resisted.

He and his wife were selecting a nanny to help with their children while Spaulding went on a national book tour. His wife wanted to choose a girl covered in tattoos and body piercings.

"I politely looked at my wife and said, no freaking way are we hiring this tattoo girl to take care of our precious children," Spaulding said.

But his wife insisted. "You're going to call her and talk to her and hear her story because God has already made the decision."

Spaulding called her, planning to talk 15 minutes. He talked three hours instead.

"My wife's a hell of a lot smarter than I am," Spaulding said. "I couldn't believe the things that happened to this girl, yet she overcame them. She's a good kid. She's just had a bad life. Bad people did bad things to her."

She changed his heart, and his life.

"If you allow these people in your life, they'll totally change your business, totally change the world," Spaulding said. "It's how we can love. It's how we can serve."