Success has been on Dr. Herb Greenberg’s mind for years. It all started when he was teaching at Rutgers and a colleague stopped by to ask him how much he knew about psychological testing. A large life insurance company was looking for help locating a test that would help predict sales success more effectively. After poring over a couple of thousand tests, Greenberg and his colleague had to tell their client they could find no test that could predict sales success.
But they didn’t leave it at that. Realizing that a huge need existed, they decided, “Let’s build a better mousetrap,” and they spent the next four years doing just that. In 1961, when they had in hand a tool that could predict sales success, Greenberg took a leap of faith. He quit not only his teaching job, then at Long Island University, but also his side jobs selling insurance and mutual funds. He borrowed $15,000, which he had no way to pay back, and he started Caliper on August 1 of that year.
For several months, he says, “we couldn’t sell a penny’s worth.” In the nick of time, when they were completely out of money, a General Motors executive said to them, “I don’t know if you’re the smartest liars I ever met, but maybe, if you’re such good liars as to create this, I’ll find out which division is hurting the most.” It was Buick, and Greenberg had to borrow money to get to Detroit, but that break was the first step in developing Caliper into a large and successful company.
Caliper, now based at 506 Carnegie Center (www.caliperonline.com), advises companies on employee selection, employee development, team building, and organizational development, using data from its assessment instruments to measure potential, personality characteristics, individual motivations, likely behaviors, and job-related progress. The Caliper profile has been used by 25,000 clients to assess more than 2 million employees in a range of companies, including Johnson and Johnson, FedEx, Caterpillar, and BASF.
Greenberg talks about “Succeed on Your Own Terms,” the just-published book he has written with Patrick Sweeney, Caliper’s executive vice president, on Thursday, June 1, at 11:30 a.m. at a Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce event at the Doral Forrestal Conference Center. Price: $40. Register online at www.princetonchamber.org or call 609-924-1776 for more information.
To prepare to write his new book about just what success is, and how to achieve it, Greenberg did in-depth interviews, psychological testing, and assessments with the Caliper Profile of a wide range of successful individuals in the fields of politics, business, entertainment, and sports. He and Sweeney brain stormed about potential interviewees, and then pursued them, through connections, if they had them, or sometimes just by sending a letter. “A few people turned us down,” says Greenberg, “but most people accepted.” The first to accept an interview was Senator Barbara Boxer, who, he says, responded to a “cold letter.”
Interviewees from 12 countries included not only obvious public figures like Boxer, but also people with more unusual achievements: the first British woman to climb Mount Everest, a woman who lost her eyesight at 28 and started a multimillion dollar company, and the female CEOs of Lloyd’s of Scotland and Home Depot of Canada.
Greenberg’s own life illustrates four commonalities he and his co-author found among this vast array of otherwise different and distinctive successful individuals:
Successful people have their own personal definitions of success. For Greenberg, the definition is simple, even humble. Success it ‘when I can genuinely feel that my existence has made just a bit of a difference — not as DaVinci, Galileo, Columbus, or Einstein. I want to be able to say that my existence has made some sort of positive difference in this crazy world, that maybe a few people are better off.”
But definitions of success are idiosyncratic. Take Samuel Pisar, originally from Bialystok, Poland, and now a renowned international lawyer who served as a consultant to the U.S. State Department and to President Kennedy, as an advisor to President Nixon’s special commission on international trade, and as a participant in important international conferences in Moscow and Kiev.
Pisar saw his father, mother, and sister shot during World War II, and his definition of success is also a humble one: starting over and building a new family, with a wife and two children. Greenberg observes that another way to state Pisar’s definition of success is simply “being alive.”
For actor Ben Vereen, says Greenberg, the definition of success is “the notion that wherever you are, you have to go further. However far down the path you are, you have to ask, ‘What is the next goal?’”
One item that is typically associated with success was not mentioned by a single one of the 50 people interviewed for Greenberg’s book. “I would swear that none of the 50 would say that money is the reason,” he says. “Money is a little symbol of success, money is nice, you want it, but it isn’t the definition of success.”
All successful individuals recall a defining moment, something that happened in their lives to get them where they are today. For Greenberg, what defined his life path was losing his sight at age 10, and the choices he and his parents made in its wake.
“At that point the whole world was pressing to send me to a school for the blind,” he says. Acquaintances envisioned for him a future livelihood of weaving baskets or running a newspaper stand. But he and his parents stood their ground and pressed for Greenberg to be a part of the sighted world. “I stayed out of school for a year,” he says (and the police even made a visit), “until they found ways to get me into schools without shoving me behind stone walls.”
Eventually he skipped grades, graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from college, and summa cum laude from his doctoral program.
For Paul Schulte, who represented the United States as a college junior at the 2000 Para-Olympics in Sydney and led his team to a 57-54 victory over Great Britain in the bronze medal game, the moment was physical. A triple-sport athlete as a kid, playing baseball, basketball, and football, he was in a terrible automobile accident at age 10 and was left a paraplegic. Instead of giving up, he became an Olympic wheelchair basketball star.
Angelo Chianese remembers one hot, sunny, July day when, as a roofer, he sat on a roof and thought to himself, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t want to do this.” He slid off the roof, told his boss he was quitting, and decided he wanted to be in the singing telegram business. Signing up his now former boss as his first customer, he started a successful company, the Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Singing Telegram Company.
All successful people must have the courage to grasp the brass ring. They have to seize the defining moment and do something about their lives. For Greenberg, this moment occurred when he quit his academic position and sunk money that went far beyond his means into an idea.
For Barbara Boxer, a Jewish girl from Brooklyn who grew up without a lot of money, it was the decision to keep her safe Congressional seat or run for the Senate against a Republican who had lots of money. She ran, and the rest is history.
Every successful person loves what they are doing and would do it for nothing. Greenberg shares his own feelings about the work he does at Caliper. “While I love earning a good living and being astride a successful global company, and I have the ego satisfaction of seeing it evolve from a borrowed $15,000 to a multimillion dollar company — all that is fun — what I enjoy most is that what we as a company do makes a difference.”
Greenberg says his company has created opportunities for thousands of people who wouldn’t have had them — women, minorities, mature workers, handicapped workers, and welfare recipients. Beyond that, he says, “companies tell us every day how much better they are, how turnover has been reduced, how much better quality people they have.”
When Greenberg asked Barbara Boxer, “What would you be doing now if you had lost the Senate seat?” she responded, “I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing now — picketing stores, checking labels, and fighting for consumers, but I’d have a little less power than I have now in the Senate.” About her Senatorial efforts, she said to Greenberg, “I view it as the same work.”
In addition to stories about impressive individuals, Greenberg’s book includes 19 stories that capture the core qualities that successful people have.
“Courage means fear,” says Greenberg. “If you’re not afraid, you don’t need courage to overcome something.” He cites Congressman John Lewis, who had his head cracked when he marched to Selma, Alabama, with Martin Luther King, and who was arrested over 40 times. But this man, who was a sharecropper until the age of 15, introduced King at his “I have a dream” speech and is now a powerful Congressman.
“Mugsy” Bogues, a 5 foot 3 inch man, exhibits resiliency — making a strength out of a weakness. Despite the protestations of people in high school and college that someone his height couldn’t play basketball, he ended up with a 14-year career in the NBA, with three years as an All Star. This man, who was shot at the age of five as a bystander in a robbery in his tough Baltimore neighborhood, got a scholarship to Wake Forest University. He told Greenberg that his proudest moment was when David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, announced that the Charlotte Hornets had selected him in the first round of the NBA draft.
Geoffrey Bodine, a top NASCAR driver who ended up twice at death’s door, exhibited the extreme competitiveness characteristic of many successful people. Bodine told Greenberg, “I had to win again. I couldn’t let them do this without me.”
Pisar exemplified the willingness to take risks, to break the rules, to try, fail, and try again. When he was on line at Auschwitz, moving toward the ovens, he was 14 years old and didn’t want to die. He noticed a pail of water on the side, snuck out of line, got on his hands and knees, took a brush, and started scrubbing the floor. He slowly made his way to the back of the line, where he ran into a Nazi officer who ordered him to clean the area around him.
Greenberg thinks that Pisar probably just grabbed this opportunity, not thinking about the potential for getting shot in the process. “It was probably a reflex reaction,” he said, adding that “people are too afraid of their reflexes.” But successful people are willing to take action. “If they make mistakes,” says Greenberg, “they make mistakes of commission, not omission.”
Greenberg, who grew up mostly in Brooklyn, got scholarships to a couple of Ivies, but couldn’t afford to pay for the books. So he went to City College of New York, where he says he got a “phenomenal education,” graduating in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology. He finished a master’s in clinical psychology in 1951.
His first job, as a placement consultant with the New York City Department of Welfare, paid $2,764 a year. Because he got married young and had to support a family, he started selling life insurance, mutual funds, and wholesale furniture on the side, and while doing all of that, he got his Ph.D. in psychology and human relations from New York University in 1955.
Then he got his first job, as associate professor of psychology at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and things got interesting. It had to do with his dissertation, “The Effects of Segregation on the Personality,” which he completed right after the decision was handed down in Brown versus the Board of Education in 1957. Greenberg studied women, blacks, and the blind, comparing high school and college students who went to integrated versus segregated schools. His conclusion, he says, was, “Kids in integrated situations were more assertive, self-confident, and had better self-beliefs than kids exposed to segregated schools, even if the segregated schools had prestige.”
Not only did that tune not play well in Texas, where he had given lectures reporting his results — “not preaching,” he says, “just the facts” — but it cost him his job. Not that they admitted the real reason that he and two fellow liberal professors, one fully tenured, were summarily fired.
Greenberg heard he had been fired when he got a call from a newspaper reporter who asked, “Do you have any comments on what happened today?” He was a little surprised at the news, given that he had just been put in for a 15 percent increase in salary.
When Rutgers eventually hired him, he was told that the university was proud to hire someone who was fired from Texas Tech for the reasons he was.
Greenberg and his company have come a long way. Using what Greenberg calls the Job Matching Approach, Caliper has come up with an unexpected conclusion. When businesses are looking to hire, he says, “never mind the experience, never mind the education. The question is do their core strengths match the core strengths required by the job. And do they have any untrainable weaknesses that would prevent them from doing the job.” Product knowledge can be learned, but core characteristics ultimately determine success or failure.
Greenberg’s parents were Polish immigrants who immigrated in the early 1920s. His dad made orthopedic shoes, and what is called the Murray Space Shoe. “He designed it, but never got the credit,” says Greenberg. “All he got for it was a $110-a-week job.” His mother was a milliner, who worked during the war at various jobs. Both of his parents learned English and then got their high school diplomas here.
Greenberg tells a story about his mother’s arrival in America. The boat from Europe, with passengers packed like sardines, was held up for three days at Ellis Island. “My mother got very annoyed,” he says, and somehow, he doesn’t have a clue how, she got on a boat that took her to Manhattan, stepped ashore, and “walked away into the United States.”
What better illustration is there of “grabbing the brass ring?” Genes have a way of speaking, and Greenberg thinks his mom may well have been the source of the chutzpah that allowed him to leave a secure job to succeed on his own terms.