Well, I guess that he was in a particularly good mood at the time, because his politically incorrect answer shocked me. He said, “I didn't have much choice. Because I don't have a college education I had to go to work for myself, and this is what I did the best.”
Then I thought, isn't it funny that many will pay money to hear this man speak and to buy his books and tapes, and will pay top dollar for his consulting services, but they probably wouldn't hire him to work for them?
I've been noticing a trend over the past years in our trade-publication classified sections that most ads for sales and territory managers state that either a Bachelor's or a Master's degree is required even to be considered for the job. This seems strange to me, because if I were to select all the best salespeople and territory managers that I've known over my past 30 years in this business, I can't think of any who would meet those qualifications. In fact, most were rather odd-looking people who wouldn't be hired on that basis alone… but they were (and still are) the best!
Also, as I think back over the years, the same could be said of almost all of our industry's most outstanding figures, motivational speakers, and consultants. I could mention names, but I won't.
Oh, I recognize the value of a good education, and admit that a degree certainly gives almost anyone a leg up when it comes to management and design techniques. Also, with the growing availability of online courses and degrees, there is hardly an excuse for anyone not to obtain a degree today. But which will make the better employee in our business: someone who has just graduated from college with a Master's degree, or someone who knows the products, designs, and customers (most of whom don't have degrees), because they have been successful at doing it for several years?
Does it take a Master's degree to sell to a plumber or an air-conditioning person?
The fact is, most new hires that have just graduated from any school will require several years of breaking in and training. And in the HVACR business, a mechanical engineering degree usually does very little to prepare someone to work in our industry - and you know that. Doesn't several years on the job account for an even better education, although it isn't degreed? How can we count experience and natural ability as nothing of value?
Remember that Willis Carrier didn't invent air conditioning because he took a class on it; he did it because he noticed steam coming from an engine while he was standing at a train station, and this started him thinking. Also, remember that the Wright brothers were just bicycle mechanics. And would you hire a kid named Lincoln to work in your warehouse if his resume said his only education was reading the Bible by candlelight in a lean-to log cabin in southern Illinois?
This reminds me of something I was involved in some 25 years ago. I was the national service manager for a controls company when a high school dropout who worked as a technician in our back room came up with a design for one of our industry's first digital control systems (after we had to fire our graduate engineer for incompetence). Then, two years later, when an industry giant bought the company to get the patents on his designs, they simply let him go when they closed the plant, because he didn't have the proper education.
No, I'm not downing a better education, because better is better. However, I guess that my experience with the famous guy on the plane rather shook me to attention and made me think. It isn't that we should hire people without a good formal education, it's just that we ought to leave our minds open when we advertise for help.