It was a great honor to speak to the rising stars of ExxonMobil Corporation during their XOM 2016 ANNUAL SALES KICK OFF MEETING. With oil and gas prices dropping, I thought there was no better time to talk about how nothing parallels sports better than the world of business, including working for a multi-national corporation like ExxonMobil. In order to be the best in in either of these arenas, there is no shortcut to success but good old-fashioned hard work!
With the summer Olympics and Paralympics fast approaching in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this coming August and September, I could think of nothing more fitting than the theme that the ExxonMobil XOM Sales Management chose for their annual theme: “Winning Together.” I wanted to share some of my experiences of what it takes to compete on the biggest stage in the world, like the XOM Sales people do for ExxonMobil.
The Makings of a Champion
The sports world is great because it doesn’t tolerate weakness. The athletes who succeed aren’t afraid to sweat…to WORK! They make effort, discipline, focus and commitment part of their daily lives to reach new levels of excellence and achievement in their sport.
“An inspirational and motivating message about courage and perseverance. Kevin showed us what it takes in the face of adversity. Our sales team left his presentation inspired and energized. I highly recommend Kevin’s message to any organization that is looking to set high goals and achieve them.”
Manny Campo, Industrial Lubricants Sales Engineer, ExxonMobil
The primary symbol of the Olympic Games is composed of five interlocking rings, colored blue, yellow, black, green, and red on a white field. The six colors (including the white background) combined in this way reproduce the colors of every country without exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tri-colors of France, England and America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, the yellow and red of Spain next to the novelties of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan, and new China. The Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” is Latin for “Faster, Stronger, Braver” and the more accepted international meaning is “Swifter, Higher, Stronger.”
The symbol of the Paralympic Games is composed of three “agitos“, colored red, blue, and green, encircling a single point, on a white field. The agito (“I move” in Latin) is a symbol of movement in the shape of an asymmetrical crescent their motto is spirit in motion.
The plain white background for Olympic and Paralympic symbols are the symbol of peace throughout the games. The most important thing in the Olympics or Paralympics is not to win, but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The crucial thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
In the Olympic Games one athlete from the Games host country takes the oath at the Opening Ceremony on behalf of all the competing athletes.
The Paralympic Oath is a solemn promise made by one athlete – as a representative of each of the participating Paralympic competitors; and by one judge – as a representative of each officiating Paralympic referee or other official, at the opening ceremonies of each Paralympic Games.
From Tragedy to Triumph
When I was on my feet I really loved playing sports. After graduating from Kansas State University, I took a job as a Federal Inspector for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Some of my friends asked me if I wasn’t afraid of being involved in a grain dust explosion. I had heard that grain dust was more explosive than dynamite, gasoline and atomic energy. But like most young people I had the usual response: “It will never happen to me!”
Left: pictures of Kevin when he was a freshman in high school in the spring he ran a 57 second 400 meter dash. Right: Kevin participating in sports in college on scholarship. One thing is for sure… Kevin loved sports and competition.
This picture was taken from across the ship channel over a half mile away from someone at a plant with a small camera on the dash of their truck.
It was just my 2nd day working at the Corpus Christi Public grain elevator when it exploded. The experts said there were 12 explosions that ripped through the grain elevator at 1500 feet per second. It was the worst explosion of its kind in history. The blast had hurled me right through the roof, over a two story building, and over 300 feet through the air. I landed hard on my head and shoulders in a concrete parking lot. The Doctors said that my legs flipped over me and broke my body over at the chest like people bend at the waist. So when the Paramedics found me in the parking lot, in a pool of blood with blood and cerebral fluid oozing out of my nose, ears and mouth, they didn’t have any hope. My vital signs were so low that they “black flagged” me, which meant they were going to leave me because they didn’t think I would survive my injuries.
Thanks to GOD, one paramedic didn’t want to leave me. They had ran out of ambulances and stretchers, so the paramedic that didn’t want to leave me got a fire and rescue worker to help him sort through the debris. Together, they found a blown off door and they put me on that and loaded me onto the back of a station wagon. That’s how I got to the ICU of Memorial Medical Center that day. After the Neurosurgeon and other experts had a chance to examine me, their diagnosis was that I would not survive my injuries. They gave me less than a 50% chance of survival. This explosion was national news and was on all 3 major networks in the 1980’s: ABC, NBC & CBS. So my parents heard about it before the Doctors had a chance to call them with the news and my unlikely prospect for survival.
The newspaper headlines the next day in Corpus Christi, TX, read that “Blood and bodies were scattered all over” and that the parking lot around the grain elevator looked like a battlefield.
I had always been a very athletic person, and now I couldn’t even get out of bed by myself. I was stripped of my pride and personal dignity, paralyzed from the chest down and left alone to wallow in self-pity. Depression and self-doubt ate me alive, dominating my thoughts and reducing me to a shell of my former self. I spent a year in the hospital. While there, I met Mique Davis in the rehabilitation hospital. When I was going through depression and anger, he told me: “It’s not what happens that matters! It’s what you choose to do about it that does!”
This is the painting I bought by Mique Davis. He painted it with the paint brush held between his teeth, because all he could move was his head due to being completely paralyzed from the neck down.
I needed inspiration like that because my time in the hospital was almost up. I was released in an old hospital wheelchair…the big old bulky, clumsy, heavy wheelchairs. It was about a month later my older brother Gerald gave me a call. He invited me to come and run the Peachtree 10K road race in Atlanta, GA. It’s a big event that draws more than 50,000 runners from around the world every 4th of July. My brother lived close by, and had seen wheelchair athletes on the course the year before. He thought I might like to give it a shot. This is what really gave me my first chance to compete against other wheelchair athletes. At the starting line, I saw the other competitors with wheelchairs that looked more like drag racers than wheelchairs. They all had special gloves for racing, too!
The drag racing wheelchairs I saw the other athletes use in my 1st wheelchair race, the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta, GA.
So I found myself in a 10K race. I didn’t even know what a “K” was. I had heard of “Special K” but not 10K, as we were converting from yards to meters at this time in the ‘80’s, but I thought it couldn’t be that far. I found out later it was 6.2 miles.
At mile 4 of that race, I reached “Cardiac Hill.” It looked like it was about a mile long and at about a 45 degree angle. I didn’t really know anything about racing in a wheelchair at all. I’d competed in high school and college, but only on my feet. I think one of the true secrets to success in whatever you choose to do in life is not being afraid to fail. When I went to the Peachtree road race, I had NO FEAR of FAILURE! Racing on wheels was a whole new game for me. I looked at my hands, my racquetball gloves were shredded and my hands were full of blisters. Then I saw the 45 degree hill and the sign at the bottom reading “Cardiac Hill,” and in my mind I said: “NO WAY!” But we all get at the bottom of the hill sometimes in life, where we think we just can’t make it over that obstacle, that change or challenge, whatever it is we run into in life that makes us want to give up. We all need some motivation to help us over those challenges in life. For me, they were playing the Rocky Theme on the side of the hill that day, and something came over me and I felt like I could accomplish anything. I made it up “Cardiac Hill” that day, and for the first time since my accident, I’d made it over one of those huge obstacles standing in my way to finding success in a wheelchair.
I can trace all my accomplishments back to my first wheelchair race, the Peachtree road race in Atlanta, GA, because that’s the day I set some goals. Once I accomplished the first goal, I accomplished another and another and another. I accomplished things I never would have dreamed possible, all because I went to that race and I wasn’t afraid to fail – so can you!
What it takes to make an ExxonMobil Champion like an Olympic Champion?
- What is the meaning of an “ExxonMobil Champion” to men and women here today?
A champion is something you become through a process involving self-improvement, sacrifice, service, and yes, the attainment of the goals you have in your position/job for ExxonMobil. These high goals are normally out of reach for all, except those willing to pay the price and always go the extra mile! Because that’s how champions are made!
- Goal Oriented: Do we have accounts that we are targeting? Do we have the appropriate focus on a certain sector? How is our time management?
- Self-Improvement: Do we use the EADS (Employee Assessment & Devolvement Summary – List accomplishments) process as a way to really ask for and suggest training plans that will help us grow? Do we push ourselves to enter situations with customers or sectors that we are uncomfortable in?
- Perseveres with that “NEVER GIVE UP” attitude: How do we handle rejection from an opportunity? What about if we lose an account? How do we manage relationships with customers/distributors that are more difficult to get along with?
- Optimistic: What is our general attitude with customers/distributors? Do we at least “act” like we are enjoying our job/grateful for their time or are we rushing through tasks & muddling through the conversation?
Left: Matt Jones, the US Business Development Advisor, was a true world class “gold medalist” to work with. Matt designed and implemented a world class Kick Off Meeting for 2016, ahead of time and under budget, exceeding expectations with the best XOM 2016 Annual Sales Kick Off Meeting for ExxonMobil! Center: Kevin on stage with Manny Campo, Industrial Lubricants Sales Engineer, based in Denver, CO. Right: Kevin Saunders speaking about “Finding the Champion Within” to the attendees at the XOM 2016 Annual Sales Conference.
- Humility: Are we careful to never make a customer feel like we are better than them? Do we handle distributor errors with tact? Do we bad-mouth competition?
- Team Player: Have we reached out to help peers in our region? Do we find it burdensome when a distributor or customer needs additional training?
- Introspective: Do we actively share best practices and close calls? Do we have regular coaching/feedback sessions with our distributors, customers, peers and supervisors to discover ways we can grow and be better?
You all are Sales Athletes who are NOT afraid to sweat! I love the Sports world and the commitment I’ve seen at ExxonMobil because:
The Kansas State Wildcats getting ready to take the field at home in “Bill Snyder Family Stadium” you can see # 97 DeMonte Hood holding the family sign. Like Artis Brown, US Sales Manager for ExxonMobil Corporation, and Head Coach Bill Snyder, both winners know how important Family is to a winning team!
- You don’t tolerate weakness!
- To be successful you’ve got to produce!
- You’ve got to step-up, meet challenges and succeed!
- There’s NO shortcut to success but good old-fashioned hard work!
- You’ve got to give your MAX effort every day!
- You’ve got to do what it takes to win. Be a WINNER!
- You’ve got to be a BIG time player!
- Make BIG time plays that BIG time employees make in BIG time situations!
- Be successful and WIN TOGETHER!
I love the sports world & ExxonMobil. Competition brings out the best in us all!
Champions focus on their goals and what it takes to get there. Refuse to Complain – push through and get your job done right!
Train yourself to have a winning mindset everyday. Venting to other people about the magnitude of your problems fuels feelings of feeling sorry for yourself! Be mentally and physically strong. Don’t try to gain sympathy from others by complaining about difficult circumstances. Instead, take action to make things better, or accept the situation that you can’t change and find a way to win elsewhere.
Left: Kevin presents Artis Brown, US Sales Manager and head of the 2016 conference, with a gold medal for doing what it takes to help ExxonMobil remain profitable while the rest of the Oil & Gas Industry is struggling and laying off employees. XOM sales continue to set the bar for all other Oil & Gas companies worldwide to follow. Kevin also presented Mr. Brown with a USA track singlet, a copy of his book “There’s Always A Way” and a B&W autographed picture congratulating him and his team on their tremendous gold medal performance and for continuing it into and through 2016. Right: K-State Connections – Kevin on stage after his presentation, with a Kansas State University graduate on his right. On his left, another employee with a relative playing for the Kansas State University football team.
Members of the audience were filled with great enthusiasm, as they yelled and got excited about their goals for 2016. Kevin received two standing ovations, one after the video “Finding the Champion Within” and the other after he completed his presentation.
Keep GOING FOR THE GOLD in all you do breaking previous limits & reaching new levels of excellence, achievement & possibility with ExxonMobil!
Again it was a great honor to help ExxonMobil their 2016 XOM Sales Kick Off Meeting as their Keynote speaker! I would like to encourage everyone who was there to keep raising the bar, pushing stronger to reach greater heights than ever before.
“I have a disability, as I am completely paralyzed from the chest down, but I’m not going to let my disability control my life! I’m going to continue to accomplish great things and you can, too, when you set your goals high, work harder than ever before, and NEVER GIVE UP. ‘There’s Always A Way!’ to ‘Find A Champion Within’ that will help you reach new goals and reach new levels of excellence, achievement and possibility.”
This is something we can all apply to our lives in fitness, sports and work, and all we do, by “Finding A Champion Within” us all!
Keep Going for the GOLD in your Life!