“First, get rid of the red shoes …”
5 tips that helped Louis Carr rise to the top of the sales industry
“First, you need to get rid of the red shoes.” This is the somewhat embarrassing advice Louis Carr was given shortly after landing his first professional job in the sales industry. That, along with the admonition to never show up to work with a broken shirt button.
Carr could have responded in a few ways. At the very least, a stunned, “Excuse me?”
Yet, Carr, a young man from Chicago’s Westside at the time, had the wisdom to swallow his pride and go with it.
Adopting a dress code was among the advice he embraced on his way to becoming BET Networks President of Media Sales, a career in which it’s not uncommon to strike a pose with people like Halle Berry for the paparazzi.
And Advertising Age once named him to its list of “10 Best Dressed People in Media Marketing” with this description: “There are those people you just want to look at, and those you have to touch. And, HR be damned, BET’s Louis Carr makes us want to do a bit of both. Louis drapes himself in fabulous fabrics —clothes so soft and richly textured you can’t help but think of an excuse to pat him on the back.”
Carr, who was in Indianapolis recently to talk to attendees of the Mid-States Minority Supplier Development Council’s 2017 Procurement Conference, shared the words of wisdom he received from his mentors during a 30-plus year career working with BET.
Here are 5 tips Carr shared during the conference, some of which are detailed in his new book Dirty Little Secrets.
1. Blend in with certain aspects of corporate America but be willing to challenge it.
While Carr heeded the advice to dress the part of corporate America, he was more than willing to challenge it. At one point in his career, he arrived at a Fortune 500 company for a meeting and gave the precursory greetings to the people gathered in the boardroom.
Then Carr sat down and announced that he would wait until the rest of their executive team arrived. When they replied, “This is it,” Carr pointedly looked around and asked how was it that a company with mostly female customers didn’t have a single woman in the boardroom.
The male executives chuckled and replied that they had female managers — just not at that level. That’s the type of response that falls in nicely with one of Carr’s next tips.
2. Surround yourself with people from diverse backgrounds.
“I’m not an expert at it all,” said Carr, describing his hiring philosophy. “I don’t want people who look just like me or think just like me. We all need strategic partners.”
Carr pointed out that it’s human nature to gravitate toward the people who are like you when entering a room. He also said women will act differently in a room filled exclusively with other women. The same thing with men. They will behave differently when around other men than they would in a mixed gender setting.
“We’ve got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
He said it’s critical that hiring managers and other executives go out of their way to shake things up. “We’ve got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Carr, who regularly gives hiring advice to other corporations who claim they can’t “find minority talent.”
“I look around to see what are we missing,” Carr said of his sales staff at BET. “Asians? Hispanic women? People of different ages?
“It’s not how we look and how we show up, but the value we get from others’ experiences, backgrounds and culture,” Carr said.
3. Rethink diversity.
In addition to more obvious aspects of diversity, including ethnicity, gender and age, Carr challenged companies to think differently about diversity when it comes to hiring people for certain roles and when building strategic partnerships.
“Most people can excel if you give them an opportunity.”
“You have to look at diversity differently,” said Carr, pointing out that he has sought out potential hires with educational backgrounds not typically associated with sales. “You can find people with related experience who can bring a different perspective.
“Most people can excel if you give them an opportunity,” he added.
For example, Carr once hired a former school teacher to join his sales team. “I figure if you’re dealing with kids in a classroom, you’re probably the manager. And you’re doing it every day.”
He was right. That former teacher is now in a senior management-level position at BET.
Carr also has recruited people from Ivy League schools, competing with Wall Street-type companies trying to lure the best candidates. “You want people with strong math backgrounds dealing with numbers,” Carr pointed out. “I tell them, ‘You can go work for a financial institution or you can join us and hang out with Halle Berry and Denzel Washington.”
By hiring outside of traditional fields, you’re able to bring in people who have different ideas and will look at the business differently, he said.
Carr advised companies to form strategic partnerships with other companies that may have different but complementary strengths. BET successfully formed a partnership with an events company by embracing that type of thinking.
“Diverse thinking helps you look at things differently,” he said.
4. Nurture relationships.
Carr also expressed the importance of building relationships as part of building a successful business or your own career. He wasn’t talking about superficial relationships that tend to dominate most workplaces, but relationships that require some work — similar to those that you form in your personal life.
“You go through the same thing,” he said in comparing the two. “At first you work hard to impress them. You try to show that you are unique.”
But it doesn’t stop after you’ve made the hire or finalized a sale.
“How do you build relationships?” Carr asked. “You keep at it — over and over again. Relationships are hard work, but it’s work that pays off.”
5. Be open to changing your vision.
When it comes to dealing with the challenges brought on by constant change, especially in today’s digital-first environment, Carr has this to say: “Get a new strategy and get over it. It’s something you have to deal with.
“The world is constantly changing so your vision has to constantly change,” he said.
Carr said that it’s essential to have self-awareness, recognizing when it’s time to reinvent yourself and your environment. “The same situation is not going to be there forever,” he said. “You need to reinvent yourself for the current time and what’s happening in your world.
“No matter what business you’re in, you need to reinvent yourself. Maybe the business outgrew some of your employees’ skill sets. That’s hard. But you need to know when to step back and let someone new enter the work environment,” Carr said. “You need to know when to trust other people to lead, and give them the opportunities to lead.”
Another lesson in leadership Carr learned from his mentors is being committed to lead himself — to take the time to be a mentor.
Leadership, he said, requires that you motivate, inspire and have the emotional intelligence to teach others along the way — just as his mentors did over the past 30 years, starting with that advice about those red shoes.
Shari Finnell of Blend Creative Team continues to learn the power of reinventing herself—as a news journalist, magazine editor-in-chief, corporate communications consultant, content marketing specialist, creative director, and media relations manager. She also has had many mentors along the way, and regularly pays it back.