Knocking on the door to success

Melissa Leach

“The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of a steady accretion. It is the man who carefully advances step by step, with his mind becoming wider and wider-and progressively better able to grasp any theme or situation-perservering in what he knows to be practical, and concentrating his thought upon it, who is bound to succeed in the greatest degree.” -Alexander G. Bell

Each and every one of us aspires to be something to be someone. We all desire to be successful, to be happy and to show the world that we have something meaningful to contribute to people’s lives.

We mold our lives toward the goals we have set for ourselves. Education and everyday life experiences help us to progress to that degree of success which, for each of us, is something very different. For Bill Porter, success meant becoming a traveling salesman. However, his steps to success were much harder. Paralyzed from birth on one side ofhisbody.

Porter suffered from cerebral palsy. The disability affected his speech, his capacity to walk and often times caused him to have muscle spasms.

His disability would make him an unlikely candidate for a job that required great demands on both the mind and body. Yet, with patience, persistence and the compassion of the people around him, Bill Porter climbed his way to success.

It was 1955 in Portland, Ore., when Porter stepped out of his house and into the Watkins Corporate office looking to become its newest employee. Fearing rejection, which he quickly met, he persisted until he walked out of the building with a job even though it was strictly on a trial basis. During this period Porter was given the territory no one wanted because of poor sales records.

Thus, Bill began walking eight to 10 miles a day, 12 hours a day, studying the habits of his customers all in the pursuit to prove that he was more than capable of the job assigned to him. Eventually, he began to develop a relationship with his customers. He learned to articulate his speech as much as possible and when a sale was made he kindly asked the buyer to fill out his or her order form. At night he would go home and, with one hand, type out each and every order that was made that day. Quickly, Porter solidified himself a territory and a permanent job. In 1979 he received the award for “highest personal sales” in the leadership division of retail sales at the Watkins Int’l Business Conference. It was now time to call for some backup.

It was 1985 when Shelly Brady answered the call from an ad posted in her high school. She was hired to help with deliveries of Watkins products and to do other household chores for Porter. They created a rapport with one another that lasted far beyond her high school years. Even today, with a family of six, Porter and Brady remain an unstoppable team. According to Brady, she has learned some tremendous lessons about perseverance and determination from her friend, but she added that Porter has also learned from her. She teased that he has learned patience because he needed patience to work with her.

With her assistance, Porter received the “America’s Award” in 1997, which honors unsung heroes who personify the American Character and Spirit. In that same year, he was also honored as the Top Salesman for the Watkins Company.

Sadly, in 1997 an accident left Porter unable to fulfill his normal delivery duties. He was hit by a car, which made walking too strenuous (even for Porter).

Brady said, “I never heard the words ‘I can’t’ come out of his mouth.” With the time changing rapidly and Porter not wanting to lose a moment of work, he began selling via the telephone.

“He was able to cover his territory faster,” Brady explained. “So he ended up selling too much. I had to tell him to slow down. I didn’t have enough room in my car.”

Success can span across a wide spectrum of definitions. To everyone it is something different. Success is a personal achievement set by oneself. For Bill, becoming a salesman was not only following in his father’s legacy, buy also overcoming a tremendous challenge.

It was proving to himself and to those around him that he could be a part of everyday society, completing the tasks everyone else did; just completing them in a different manner. His disability was not a challenge to overcome, but simply a different adaptation to life.

On Sept. 9, Porter will celebrate his 70th birthday. He is still selling Watkins products and still motivating and inspiring millions.

Porter’s success story is the result of patience and persistence. It is the story of a man who climbed the steps slowly, but eventually reached the summit.

Along the way, he broadened his mind and adapted to new challenges and new situations. It is a story of perservence, practicality and success in the greatest degree.