Firing Up Russians To Close That Sale

The conference hall in the Izmailovsky Hotel last month had the atmosphere of a revival tent. Audience members crowded around the microphone, gesturing and waving their arms energetically as they jostled to be the next one to give a testimony.

But it wasn't a religious meeting: All the fervor was sparked by Kirk Rector, a charismatic American instructing Russians in the art of the deal.

Rector, a 48-year-old former Mormon missionary and corporate lawyer, conducts seminars on time management, sales and presentation skills for thousands of Russians all across the country, as well as for multinational corporations who want motivational speakers to teach their employees how to sell their products and manage their time.

After talking about issues like the difficulties salesmen face in closing a deal and encouraging the audience to share their stories, Rector urged the audience to clap louder and louder, faster and faster, building to a crescendo of enthusiasm, before blowing a whistle to end it.

"This gets them totally enthusiastic about selling a product," he said.

Rector has taken a winding path to the motivational stages of Russia's hinterlands.

Before coming to Russia, he worked as a corporate attorney and state representative in Utah. But after losing an election to the state senate, he decided to get out of politics.

"I said to myself: Why am I doing this?" he said. "It was to impress my father. So I asked myself where I could go that I'd really like to be -- Hawaii."

Rector then went to work as the lawyer for Dave Del Dotto, a face many Americans may remember as one of the denizens of late-night cable television sales pitches. Del Dotto, lounging on the beach dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, urged viewers to attend his seminars and buy his books on how to make a quick and easy million bucks selling real estate.

"The place was a paradise with beaches, the most friendly people, beautiful weather," Rector said. "I was always brainstorming on how to make more money. Dave started his late-night cable show as a real estate evangelist who invited celebrities to talk about how much money they made. We made a lot of money and then we'd have to figure out how to spend all of it."

But Rector says he eventually grew disillusioned with the flashy, fast-paced lifestyle, and began searching for a change. "I was reevaluating my whole life at the time," he said. "I was going through a divorce, and after doing some soul searching I thought about going to Russia to help the Russians."

Toward the end of his four-year association with Del Dotto, Rector met a management training specialist who urged him to accompany him to Russia to use his gifts of public speaking and salesmanship to help Russia move toward a market economy.

"I came to Russia to help the Russians harness all their creative powers and use them effectively in this emerging free market," he said. "In the process I found Western corporations here with a cadre of Russian employees who have no idea what selling is."

His first trip to the Soviet Union was in January 1990. He joined 200 Americans and 400 Russians at the "Citizen's Summit 2" -- a conference of leading politicians, professors and business leaders whose goal in those early days of cooperation was to set up a dialogue between Russian and American citizens.

Rector then returned to work for a joint venture trading company in 1992 before breaking away to start his time management, sales and presentation seminars. He said he now earns up to $10,000 a seminar for multinational corporations such as Johnson & Johnson's, Microsoft and ABB.

"Most Russians have this idea that you sell and run," Rector said. "The goal is how to control your life amidst all this chaos. This includes organizing goals, immediate tasks, daily plans, how to schedule events and handle interruptions, how to serve the customer and establish long-term relationships."

Rector, who has a Russian wife and an adopted Russian child who lives in the United States with his first wife, says he's committed to staying in Russia and pumping up its salesmen.

But he attributes his success here not to the fertile training grounds of politics, the law and infomercials, but to his evangelical training as a Mormon missionary. He spent two years in southern Brazil relating to a different culture and a different people.

All of this, he said, has helped him tin his new missionary work here. "I'm an old Mormon," he said. "I have the evangelical background, the 'let's make a difference in life' attitude."