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Quotable Notables:  EXTRA! Inspiration

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Here is a peek at another extraordinary Monterey Peninsulan who will appear in my forthcoming book StarWords:

Stardust Inspiration: Talk about tenacity! This tennis tycoon, who taught Lee Iacocca how to play, broke every bone in his foot (21) and intends to return to the game. Doctors told him hed never walk correctly again. Yet he jumped up and down when I met him . . . Peter Burwash also has a humble and rewarding recipe for business success: the CEO and president are the least important people in a company. This user-friendly man now travels the world with words of inspiration for Fortune 500 companies as well as teens.

World Improvement according to Peter Burwash

Canadian-born Peter Burwash is, on paper, a supremely successful man. The international tennis management empire he founded 29 years ago, PBI, is the worlds largest, operating in 32 countries. But thats only a piece of the pie. He has written 10 books - on everything from tennis to teen suicide and nutrition. He travels the world, giving motivational speeches to Fortune 500 companies. And, the 7-year Association of Tennis Professionals Tennis tour competitor - who won 19 international singles and doubles titles - was just inducted into the Toronto Sports Hall of Fame.

He says that while PBI is headquartered in Texas, he works out of his home in Carmel Valley. I dont work at headquarters because they (employees) become too dependent on me. Im at the bottom of a reverse triangle.

Our meeting is casual. No business suit or hangmans noose around his neck, he wears Hush Puppies and a checkered short-sleeved shirt. Theres love in his household and he makes no bones about the fact that his galloping golden retriever and two daughters, one with whom he travels to India yearly to feed the hungry, are all adopted.

I travel to 40-50 countries a year, he says. If my plane goes down in a couple weeks, Ive had the most unbelievable life in tennis. Its been my passport to life, really. And if I hadnt been flying, I wouldnt have met Lynn, my incredible wife of 20 years.
She was a flight attendant on one of my trips.

Then I learn that this tenacious 59-year-old, who never broke a bone playing tennis and hockey, fell two years ago while changing a light bulb and shattered 21 bones in his foot.

The doctor said Id never run or walk properly. They wanted to operate and put in metal. But I said, No, I go through too many metal detectors.

Hes healing nicely and jumps up and down to prove it. Im finally walking without a limp. And I WILL return to tennis.

Q: Define humility.
A: Humility doesnt mean thinking less of yourself. It means thinking of yourself less.

Q: Name some laws for success.
A: I have a very unique philosophy: the president of the company is the least important person in the company. Your No. 1 goal is to take care of the employees . . . The most important quality to have is humility, and thats very difficult for men to understand. When Im interviewing someone, the first quality I look for is humility and empathy. From there, are they willing to change, learn and grow? I feel the purpose of a great company is to make great people - not to make money.

Q: Share some creative workplace ideas.
A: Employees need naps. The body is supposed to have a 15-minute catnap eight hours after you wake up. Also, Ive never yelled at an employee in 30 years. Anger is one letter short of danger. Every one of our pros and staff has mandatory one-month vacations. Appreciation is the No. 1 driving force in human spirit.

Q: When did the tennis bug bite you?
A: At 12. My mother and I had arguments, which kids do, so she sent me out of the house with my tennis racquet and said, Go play tennis. I won the match and when I brought home the trophy, she didnt believe me. A week later, I won all the Quebec championships for the under-13 division.

Q: Wow!
A: My life has been one of intense passion not to quit. I won on sheer guts. Within a two-week period, I was No. 3 player in Canada. Success breeds interest. Thats the tennis bug.

Q: What is the secret to the game?
A: It begins with passion: the secret to success in any field. Secondly, you really do need a good teacher to make progress.

Q: Do you grunt when you serve?
A: I didnt. I was teaching women this morning and they grunted every time they had an overhead. I said, Dont tell your opponent youre straining. Be quiet. You want a poker face.

Q: Youve schmoozed with legendary CEOs. Who are your heroes?
A: I have two heroes as managers. Im very good friends with Issy Sharp, the founder of Four Seasons Hotels. He was my sponsor on the pro tennis tour. The other is Sir Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin companies and the most entrepreneurial guy on the planet right now. He walks up and down airplanes and asks every passenger how he can make flight better for them. He was the first one to put TVs and Internet on planes and hes putting in exercise machines on his next set of jets. (Laughs) They threw him out of schools when he was 14. He was dyslexic.

Q: You met Nelson Mandela. What did you learn from him?
A: Lack of revenge. I asked him the question: In America theres a lot of revenge for what was done 100 years ago. How will you avoid that? The example he gave was that in the front row of his inauguration ceremony hed invited all the white prison guards from Robben Island (where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment). To me, he didnt have to go any further. That was the Gandhi thing: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Q: You average one speech every five days. Do you open with something better than Im so glad to be here?
A: I very rarely say that. (Sighs) I try not to use the word I . . .

Q: What do you and Lee Iacocca have in common?
A: We both enjoy a challenge. Ive taught him tennis. Hes a great learner as most leaders are. Pretty intense.

Q: Success is:
a) winning in tennis
b) sharing wisdom with others
c) becoming more honest
d) confronting fears
e) other
A: Id say success is understanding that the highest honor in life is to be of service.

Q: What is something in your nature you still wish to overcome?
A: We (PBI) constantly ask all our people to answer this question. Im still working on empathy. As a male, I still have the tendency to want to solve the problem rather than to empathize. The second thing is having patience with transportation security. Monterey airport is the most difficult.

Q: When do you let all the balls drop?
A: (Grins) I dont ever feel Ive worked a day in my life.

Q: How do you handle laying off any of your 100 professionals?
A: Weve never laid anybody off. Well all take a pay cut first. I totally disagree with laying people off. They have mortgages to pay. They gave me part of their life. We make the effort to improve rather than remove.

Q: Your most menial job?
A: Cleaning toilets at a paint factory at age 19. But my philosophy from an early age was: There is no menial job, just a menial attitude. In our company, we all take out the garbage.

Q: Where's your next seminar destination?
A: To Guam to do a parent-teen seminar for about 1,000 people . . . And to Alaska to train the staff on Crystal cruises. And Im saying to myself, What am I gonna teach these people?

Universal Update: Well, its only been a year, but I had to know whether Burwash has, indeed, returned to tennis. He was in Florida when I called but left this on my answering machine: Two months ago, I had my first tennis game. Guess who with? Rupert Murdoch. The doctors said Id never run a game again. Its nice to finally get out.

 

 

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