The Superpowered: Interview with Author Peter Smith
Peter Smith has spent thirty years building brands, sales teams and working with countless numbers of independent retailers as a brand executive. His counsel and advice on personnel matters has become so sought after that he recently put his branded sales experience and expertise into his first book, Hiring Squirrels (available on Amazon).
Peter is a longtime friend, mentor and former colleague from my days leading marketing at Hearts On Fire. During the brand's major growth phase in the middle of last decade, Peter led sales and brand development with hundreds of our brand retail partners in over 25 countries around the world. He was always infectiously passionate about the brand, universally respected by retailers, partners and collegues. And an honest, reliable voice of reason to me. (When we weren't singing duets of Squeeze. Dude can sing. Unlike me.).
The Irish native is a graduate of Boston College and he has served on the Advisory Board of Caliper’s Global Conference. He is also a contributing panelist on the KR Executive Group’s Talent Blog and he is a regular contributor to the Centurion Sales Newsletter. Smith has worked in retail for companies including Tiffany & Co. and as Executive Vice President of Brand Development for global diamond brand Hearts On Fire. He is currently executive vice president of diamond company Schachter & Co., a division of Leo Schachter.
Describe yourself in a sentence or two.
Passionate and driven. A serial learner. Deeply committed to living each and every day fully and helping people, through words and actions, at every opportunity.
What are your Superpowers?
I subscribe to Daniel Pink’s assertion that we are all in sales. What we see less of, and I believe it is an important cog in my arsenal, is a commitment to doing business in an ethical and decent manner, and in a way that everyone benefits.
What were the “aha” moments when you discovered your Superpowers?
Fred Levinger, the former CEO of Colibri, told me many years ago that I was the best salesperson he had ever seen. Coming from him, that was manna from Heaven. I tell a story in my book about the time he taught me a great lesson about sell-in versus sell-thru. He was a reluctant and unknowing mentor and his impact on me reverberates to this day, almost two-decades after I worked for him.
What was your career plan before you discovered them?
There may have been a little identity crises, who am I? What should I do? What am I good at? Levinger’s comments and his confidence in me made clear what I subconsciously already new. I had the talent to move the bar from one level to another, utilizing my drive and empathy.
If you want to go back a little farther than that, I wanted to be the center-forward for Liverpool and Ireland. I’m now holding out for a Premier League for overweight 50-somethings!
What do you do to improve your Superpowers?
Great sales begin with being able to connect the dots. Connecting the dots demands that you are constantly learning and always listening. Duke Ellington once said that the most important thing he looks for in a musician is the ability to listen. I want to be that guy.
How do you use your Superpowers everyday in your career?
There is not a day that goes by when I am not engaging my two loves, learning and listening. Whether we are discussing sales, education, marketing, brand-building, personnel development, recruitment, product, or even writing – I draw from my well of learning and listening to chart new directions or to put out fires.
What is your kryptonite? (things you are absolutely awful at)
I am actively disengaged with the rote, the routine and the mundane. I am much more excited about the creative and the collaborative process of problem-solving and developing new ideas. Once the details are worked out and agreed, I’m very happy to have someone else handle the routine stuff. I also have a pathological disdain for negative people.
Which Superpowers do you wish you had?
I admire people with great resilience. You obviously cannot survive in business without having sufficient reserves of the ‘resilience juice’ but I look at some people who seem to never hear the word no, let alone allow it to define them. That’s an amazing trait.
What would the title of your biography be?
"A Life Lived - With Passion and Purpose"
What keeps you up at night?
There’s nothing original or unique about my answer, but I have to say my hopes for my kids trumps everything else. I just want them to follow their passions and be happy and fulfilled.
Who are your favorite public figures / bloggers / authors / business people?
I love everything that Erik Larsen writes, I am a huge fan of Charlie Rose, and I think that just about every book that comes out of the Gallup organization is worth reading, especially First, Break All The Rules.
Which brands do you think are “Superpowered”?
Tiffany & Co. is a remarkable American institution that has transcended its category and grown through the multitude of changes over the years. I am not a coffee drinker but, as ubiquitous as they are, I always feel so welcome and comfortable in any Starbucks anywhere in the world.
BONUS: If you could interview anyone with these questions, who would it be?
Stephen King – really!
Anything else you want to add…
Why Did You Write Hiring Squirrels?
On some level, every single conversation I have with small business owners centers on the need to get improved productivity from their personnel, or the need to hire better people. I always find the conversations to be stimulating, but I am frequently left empty when I see the same behaviors that got them into trouble in the first-place being repeated again and again, proving the old axiom about the definition of insanity. The book lays out very clearly why the most essential traits should be wiring, not experience, and then it tells the reader how to interview to deliver better results. While it is aimed at salespeople, the principles of aligning wiring and position carry across virtually every industry.