Sales Platoon: S1: E1: Honoring Raleigh Wilkins with Jim Leffel

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In this episode of the Sales Platoon podcast, John Renken and Jim LaFell pay tribute to Raleigh Wilkins, the visionary founder of Sales Platoon. Raleigh’s unique qualities, including his determination, magnetic personality, and military background, captivated him. The episode explores the evolution of Sales Platoon, including innovative programs designed to empower veterans and transition them into successful sales careers. Raleigh’s enduring legacy lives on through the lives he touched and the hearts he inspired, leaving a powerful reminder to always pursue passions with authenticity and dedication.

The hosts discuss the challenges of continuing his work and the importance of mental health awareness within the veteran community. They emphasize the magic of helping others, transitioning and resilience, building relationships and adoption, the tragedy of Raleigh’s suicide, preserving the legacy, emphasizing mental health awareness, gratitude and collaboration, and the transformative power of passion and purpose in driving meaningful change.

John and Jim express their appreciation for the opportunity to share Raleigh’s story and reaffirm their commitment to honoring his legacy by continuing to make a positive impact in the lives of veterans.

Highlights:

{02:00} Unique qualities that made Raleigh stand out.

{09:00} Raleigh’s background

{15:00} Sales Platoon under Raleigh’s leadership

{17:00} Raleigh’s enduring legacy

{41:00} The Tragedy of Suicide

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Raleigh's Obituary Bio:

Raleigh Wilkins, age 48, departed this earthly life on July 22, 2022. He was born in Richmond, Virginia and grew up in Franklin, Virginia. He called several locations home over the course of his life, including the Washington DC and Gaithersburg, MD areas, and most recently in Chicago, Illinois.

Raleigh served in the United States Marine Corps for 6 years and loved his country dearly. After his time in the military, he transitioned his leadership skills into a successful sales career that spanned several industries and locations. His true professional gift was mentorship in sales, and teaching others how to use their talents to be successful in that field. He combined his mentorship experience with his passion to help his military brothers and sisters to create his latest venture, Sales Platoon.

To know Raleigh was to love Raleigh. He had a special ability to make others feel as though they were the most important person in the room, and to inspire others to see the best in themselves. He has mentored, encouraged, and sponsored innumerable people over the years. He will be remembered as a caring and loyal friend to many.

To those closest to him, Raleigh was his most authentic self when he allowed his beautiful heart to shine through, even in its most vulnerable moments. He was a beautiful, multifaceted soul and best expressed himself through his writing and music. Raleigh felt things more deeply than most and was loved beyond measure.

Raleigh is survived by his sister, Elizabeth Barnette and husband Kevin; his beloved niece, Hannah Sawyer; his uncle, Mitch Sandlin and husband Dave; his aunt, Judith Sandlin; the love of his life, Merritt McClayton; his three closest friends, Dana Jackson, Travis Keaton and Anthony Wolf; and countless family members, friends and business associates who will miss him terribly. Raleigh was predeceased by his mother, Sandra Wilkins, and his uncle, Bob Sandlin.

Links:

https://www.salesplatoon.org

Sponsored Links:

https://newulife.com/hk/en 

https://trufinco.com 

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John

Hey, everybody. John Renken here. I’m coming to you from the sales platoon and excited to start this series with a tribute to our founder, Raleigh Wilkins. And today, we have his silent partner and good friend on our show who kept sales polluting alive. Jim LaFell

And I’m just going to talk briefly. How did you come to know Raleigh? Why did you get involved? Because you’re not a veteran, right? You’re OK, but you’ve had a long history of being a successful businessperson and salesperson, and just talk about what you saw in sales Platoon and what caused you. To get involved in this. And then, when he passed, keep it alive. So why don’t you tell me about how you and Raleigh first met and about yourself and your back?

Jim

Sure, sure. Well, first, John, thank you very much, and it’s great to see you in the chat, as always. This subject is interesting because our introduction was rather interesting. After all, on the last day of my last job, in other words, I was retiring… My assistant called me right at the very end at 5:00 PM. I would say my last day on a Friday. 

And she said, By the way, you need to speak to this gentleman, Raleigh Wilkins. He’s your kind of guy. And what she meant by that is that I appreciate passionate people who are fierce. And at the same time, you know exactly what they want. And they’ve got to, and their entire goal is really to help others. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a profit motivation to this but at the end of the day. He wanted to share his knowledge and his success. He had tremendous success in sales with people. 

So, you know, I made the phone call. I called him up and realized this was somebody unique, special, and fiercely passionate about. His mission and himself and what he was doing. It didn’t take me, but probably a week, I bought a ticket to Chicago. I didn’t live in Chicago then, but I flew up and met with him and realized. His business plan was one aspect of it, and frankly, the business plan, I’ll say it out loud. I’ve been a business coach, CEO, coach. I have had the opportunity to walk into businesses and pick off flaws.

And when I say a flaw, it’s not. It’s not a flaw in the CEO or necessarily a flaw. It’s one of those pieces of the puzzle in our life that we just missed, and he didn’t have his business plan perfected. 

But you know what? When you’re starting. Anybody like yourself, John, you’re a bootstrapper. You’ve brought a lot of other companies up yourself. And so, it’s easy to make, and it’s nice to have another set of eyes and ears to look at some things down with him.

John

For sure.

Jim

But what swept me off my feet is kind of a corny way to put it. It has an unbelievable presentation style. I mean this guy, you know? I mean, I think it. It was probably 20° in Chicago on a January or February day, and he shows up in a vest, and he’s, and he and he’s dressed in the hill, you know. And, but he’s got this, this posture. Yeah, with that.

John

That’s swagger. 

Jim

Yeah, he did. Exactly. Exactly. He had swagger. He walks in, and it, you know, it was just that. And He was a marine. My father was a Marine; my father-in-law was a Marine. And so, you know, it’s very identifiable for those of us who have—been around, if you will. 

And so, my father, the drill instructor, and householders run. I knew it quite well, but anyway, he. But that wasn’t the end of it. He combined that with his magical ability to convert a business vision. With a mission of helping others and being able to connect. 

And it was great . It was a big mission for me to understand the mission of saying, hey, look, Jim, I’ve got bodies I want to train them. I want to make money on training them, but not from them because they can’t pay for it. I want to present these well-trained people to people looking for highly trained, ready-to-go, boots-on-ground B2B salespeople. There are not a lot of career opportunities for someone who wakes up. I have done a lot of recruiting, so my last job was recruiting people. I would get people on the phone, young people right out of college, they said, Jim… I went to college in biochemistry or whatever because my parents wanted me to be a doctor. I could care less about being a doctor. I love my part-time job selling cell phones or whatever, and they and they were #1 salesperson loved it. 

You know, so these people, but they don’t have a career path. I mean, they went to college, and they spent, you know, thousands of dollars before college. And there’s not a school of that nature, and there are schools. And he was replicating that. But this was more unique than that. He said, Jim, I also want to help transitioning people. And he had to educate me. Real quickly on what it meant to go. Into the service from somebody who’s right out of high school, or maybe, you know, in the early 20s or whatever that number is, and then spend, you know, 10, maybe 15 years or so, and now they’re out, and quite many of them are married, have children. 

And now that stream of income, if you will, and that incredibly inclusive safety net is going to dissolve away, and when he shared to me those experiences and how that is and what a. What a blunt force that can feel like, I realized that this was a bigger piece than just teaching people how to sell, teaching people.

John

Now, what year was this?

Jim

So, this is back in 2021, and so is June. I met him on June 7th, 2021. That’s the day that I retired. 

So, right away, we got together because, as I said, I read into him fierce passion. He was helping others. And he had a tremendous sense of humor. I mean, that guy and he had a tremendous level of engagement. 

So, in other words, I don’t care. We can walk down the streets of Chicago. He could talk to anybody and everybody, and he and he could converse with three people at once. He just had this type of magnetic personality that people wouldn’t engage him, and he quickly created this element of trust. That’s why he was a great salesperson. It’s because. When he looked you in the eye, and he spoke. He was humble and posturing, but he was also assertive at the same time; he had credibility, but at the same time, he was extremely warm and comfortable talking about a broad range of topics and people. 

So you know, as we worked through this, he brought that to the table not only for the people who invested in his company, like me, but also for those who invested in his company. He also brought that to the table for every class member; the biggest piece was he went out and cultivated. Companies, big companies, if you and I have talked about many of the versions of the world that he’s worked with in Adobe and a few of these other sizable techs and non tech companies that he worked with and provided first-class salespeople to. 

So that’s, you know, the rally that I know was somebody who inspired those of us to participate in a team, whether it was an investment in the company or for me, it was not only that it helped. I talked, and I was involved with Raleigh every single day. 

I was involved in the classes I did. I did some teaching but joined the classes mainly to watch him and understand how he could train these people. Like I said, this is where you’re not only from a mechanical standpoint but also from a look standpoint. Knowing he was blunt about it, I mean, he had this thing called the Murder Board, which claims a terrible word, but it was where he’d make at the end of the course, he’d have to make their presentations, which he did while in. They were doing their presentation. He’d behave like probably some of the rudest people you would be selling to. 

And he was brutal about it. I mean, but, you know, people knew, and they allowed him to do that. They trusted him. That was the thing. They trusted him, even though it was sometimes pretty harsh. And but it was, it was reality, I mean. And that was what he wanted to share with him. He was never apologetic. I can tell you that right now. Never. 

And he wouldn’t be. He certainly would apologize if he made a gross error or hurt somebody fake. But I mean. But he never apologized for his message and the way he delivered it. He never did because he felt like this was the truth.

John

Sure, sure, sure.

Jim

And if you can’t handle it, you need to watch the movie, whatever it is. But you know it’s so. You know, he came from a background that I think a lot of people, and probably a pretty strong handful of people in the military, come from a background they would like to change. And he’s no, he was no exception. He was a foster child. He had alcoholism when he was quite young; I think he had been dry for something like 20 or 25—years, maybe 30.

John

He mentioned that when he came to Fort Campbell because we went out to O’charley’s, and when he came down, it was still during Lent, so he wasn’t eating meat. He was doing well. He was telling me a little about overcoming that and being sober so that, you know, I know that that’s a part of his story.

Jim

Yeah. Well, I think when anybody develops alcoholism at a young age, it’s a battle for life. And maybe battle is not the right word, but it’s something that you have to care about. You must care for yourself to the point that you have to verbalize it, and maybe not have to is the right word. But you do you. It’s almost natural that you need to describe, and there’s a great deal of pride; I think he embraced Christianity by being able to do that. He was a devout Catholic. And I know that would also help guide him to success on those demons. 

So, but you know that all gave him this tremendous strength. You know, people who have to battle those demons and weather, and it’s a never-ending battle. So that also brings that core strength out of a lot of people. And I’ve told people, well, I think we’ve all observed it, John. We know people who’ve lived a cushy life from childhood up, and they got into Harvard because their parents were.

You know what I mean? 

They get in and come but never achieve the passion for success. The people who have had their feet to the fire at some point in time, and he had foster care. It wasn’t good for him. It was not. It was not supportive. 

But he got out, you know? He turned 17 or 18 somewhere along the way. He put in time, and he went right into the military. Frankly, he even admitted to me, he said. I’m surprised they kept me, he said. I’m surprised I could get in and get going, and then he put his time in there and that regiment, if you will. I think it helped him a lot. It carved a piece out of him that says now I know who I am.

John

Well, he did go ahead. Remind me he did. What was it? 2 tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan? Or was it vice versa? Was it 2 in Afghanistan and Iraq with the core?

Jim

You know I can’t. You know what? I don’t remember that, to be honest with that, I’d like to. I have to follow up. But what he did put in the time, I know that he was a correspondent. He wasn’t necessarily. He was around live fire, but I don’t think he was in battles himself, but he was there. And I know that. He did. He did participate pretty dramatically, but I don’t remember. I have to say I can’t remember those details. 

I focused a lot on, you know, what he got out, and he worked for NASDAQ. He did some selling for them, and he did some selling for other companies. He worked for Leavers LLC peers as a company. Most people may not have heard of it. I learned about it because their medical publishing company publishes medical journals and is a huge publishing company. And he was successful. Both of them became VP of Sales, I think, over at NASDAQ and so on. When he came out of the military, he gave him the strength to find those positions. I believe he already had the intuitive ability to sell, like many of us in sales. 

But the Marines gave him that, for lack of a better word. That’s fine. But it uncovered his ability to get out, be assertive, and show off. It’s a true talent. You know, we have our talents, and then we have our, you know what? We’re good at it, and you know, he had talents, but he didn’t know he was good at selling. He had his talent, but he didn’t know he was good. 

The Marines allowed him to say you know you are good at this. Not that he doesn’t means to teach it to himself, but they teach you about yourself, and I think that’s what it did for him. It created a man out of him, for sure.

His life was certainly complicated and fraught with difficult areas, but. It was a breath of fresh air when I met him, and he and I talked pretty frankly about those low times. Once in a while, he would call me, which was great that he found enough. Honesty is in me, and I have enough safety to spend time, you know, at 8:00 or 9:00 at night with a phone call. Not. Not a lot, but once in a while. 

And so it was good. 

John

Yeah. So you came. You came on board, so. When I think about this, according to the paperwork I got, he started the sales platoon in 2018 or 2019.

Jim

Right.

John

And then, obviously, in 2020, we know what happens there. You come on board in early or mid-2021.

Jim

Right.

John

And then in 2022, Fort Campbell asked me to start his skillbridge, and I was like, no way, I’ll find somebody. 

Then I found a sales platoon online, and he flew down to Fort Campbell. We spent time together here. It’s just really kind of interesting. And the way that that whole thing kind of transpires, right? How did he connect with your company for them to tell you on the day you’re walking out the door to call him?

Jim

Yeah. Yeah. So I had the most, you know. When I retired, I was 69 years old and had a lot of assistance. I worked with, but I had this.

John

That’s great for 69, by the way.

Jim

It’s a lot of work. She was not kidding. I had an assistant, and she was brilliant. She was brilliant and tuned in to me and what I was looking for. 

So she did the pre-screening of everybody that called in. Well, there was somebody like Raleigh that wanted to. You know, sell us individuals or whether it was individuals, but she pre-screened all my candidates before I interviewed him, and she was just an incredibly wise woman. She’s gone on to recruit herself and recruit pilots for United Airlines. And on one of the airlines, they got to approach each other to stay there. There are not enough pilots, you know? 

And she may be doing something else, but she and she’s the one. And when she talked to him briefly, it clicked in her head. She said, you know. We might be able to put some of your people to work here on the one hand but on the other hand. It would be best if you talked to Jim because I know Jim did retire, but I also know Jim well enough. While he enjoys fishing, he’s not going to do it every day and he’s not, and he’s not one to just go and say I’m retired, and I’m going to work in my garden the rest. It’s not me.

So that’s why she did it. And She called me at home and just said, Jim, you know, give this to give this gentleman a call. This is an interesting contact for you and her. I’ve had contacts since then, but that’s how that transpired. And I appreciate her for it. Really. I do. Yeah.

John

No, that’s good. Assistant, right? So cool. So, talk to me. A little bit about as the sales platoon was getting into late 20/21/22: that’s kind of when some of the issues started coming up, and we’ll talk about it in a little bit. But what was happening that Raleigh was struggling in that area?

Jim

So, as we were moving forward, I learned more and more about the core program…  the one you’re executing now. 

So, let’s find veterans. And the ones that the counselor wanted to take a career in sales. Let’s train them. Transition them, and then let’s find jobs, whatever that takes. And that was his original court, that group.

So, it had a bunch of bigger pictures than that. And that’s really what inspired me. And from a financial standpoint, to get involved, I had no idea where my level was. For all he was going to get on this, to be honest with you, what transpired was the financial side. The financial side was like, OK. I could support this, whether I get paid back now or 20 years, and I didn’t make it, I didn’t care. But I should say I didn’t care. Of course, I always care. But I should say I didn’t become the primary focus. It’s probably the best thing.

What happened is that we had created what we call a PEO, which is a professional. For employment organizations or professional sales organizations that we were just beginning to test out, we would take a group of Veterans who worked for us in Chicago.

Under our umbrella, we had a line of computers and small offices in the Willis Tower, the X Sears building we would get. We had companies that said we used to introduce or sell our product for us, and we would just sell them to Salesforce. 

When we looked and ran the numbers. Financially, it made more sense, so it was an adjunct and probably would become a bigger piece and maybe the sales fortune. But it would also open up this tremendous pipeline for us to say, if you want to work for these companies, we’ll take you, set you up, and introduce you to them. On the other hand, if you want to stay and do the work for the sales platoon, here’s the pay that we’ll pay you. 

And here’s what that looks like. It feels like. And here are the companies that hire us on occasion, or who knows what will be, and you’re going to be doing a lot of outbound calling, looking for companies and a sales force, which is a lot easier than outbound calling. I want to sell you something when you call a company and say you know what, I’ve got a built-in, well-trained, ready-to-go sales force. 

Do you know who your clients are if you have a new product you want to introduce? We’ll find them. We’ll go from there. We had, and he had built in a lot of technology, and you and I’ve talked a lot about that. Leftover technology is out there. He was tremendous. I mean, so, you know we, well, zoom. I mean the Zoom info, the other databases of all the companies he had all that pulled together. So that was really where my portion was funding that piece. And at the same time. Going out, finding other funders. 

Well, Raleigh. He had some fragility to him for sure, and he spent a week in the hospital at the VA in Chicago. I went up to see him. I picked him up. Probably. I think his best friend who lives there picked him up from the hospital. I went and saw him a couple of days later. 

And you know he was. I would say fine, but he was not. He was stressed, but he was. You know him. He but he could do the job. I mean, he wasn’t. He came right back to work, and he and he started to do the job. I had to laugh because he said, Jim, I lived down the street from where I work. I can’t see. Driving my car, there are ten blocks in—the snow. 

So, he got himself a bicycle. Well. You know, the first thing I told him, I said, Raleigh, and I said this, that I meant this. I said, well, I’m going to buy some insurance for you because for you where you drive down Michigan Ave. to get to your, to get to your office. 

It’s not someplace you want to ride a bike, especially in the middle of winter. I said this is, sure enough, he gets hit now. He’s not hurt. Nothing happens. He’s wearing a helmet. He’s a real safety. He calls me up and shows me a rip in his pants. When I said what, what did I tell you? I said yes. 

So he stopped doing that. But that’s the kind of stuff he did. I mean, he did some quick; he’s poofy.

John

Yeah. Not just that, though, because he was eclectic, right? So he was playing guitar and doing some stand-up comedy, right?

Jim

He did stand-up comedy. He played the guitar, sang, and had a fiancé who was on and off but delightful. I got to meet them in this process, and she told me how he would court her and do these elaborate schemes, showing his affection for her. Would just, you know, it was overblown and parties he put on for her stuff, and he.

John

Here is the modern-day Great Gatsby.

Jim

Yeah, yeah. And in a lot of ways. Yeah. And he. I did that for everything. People said that he’d show up. You know, I can’t remember. Oh, I saw some people running. He lived on. He lived right off of Lake, MI. So, in the summer, these guys are a group of guys who would run. 

And he said, hey, I want to run with you guys. They said sure, we’ll meet here tomorrow. Whatever he shows up. They said in the wildest outfits that they were like Oh my. God, we don’t. Want to be seen with this guy? But he said, well, is this not the right gear? You know, it was just. 

But once they got to know him, they realized, hey, you know what? It’s just quirky. It’s just Raleigh. And he was very, very striking. And, you know, he always wore vast. He always had. A Sport coat and a vest.

John

He always wore a vest.

Jim

It always wore a vest, and some of those vests got wild. And he was but. It was, it was. So that’s what made a lot of this a lot of fun. I mean, it was. I had a lot of fun when I went to Chicago. We finally left the office, went to dinner, and went around. 

And the people he knew and talked to. And his flamboyance, he’s probably a bit as a good word. It was just a blast. And. And, you know, there was no alcohol. Required. I can tell you that it was just a raw blast being with him, so that was a that was a. That was him, without a doubt. But you know they go back to your question. You know, so the issues became these, this conflict building out. This Is this entity, and it’s hard to attract people to downtown Chicago if they don’t live there. If they live there, you can find them, but not if a veteran is not there. That’s not necessary.

John

There’s nothing up there now except for the Navy post on the ground lights.

Jim

Right, exactly. Exactly. So, we were considering moving to Virginia, and there were some incentives to do so—the state. And I think the federal government, too. But for us to move out that way, the state of Illinois has some great support in veterans’ support programs. And he was already integrated in those. And so those programs. It would have been hard to leave, although we would have recreated a, most likely in Virginia. Virginia had some outstanding veteran support programs, but that was a hard conflict. 

So we weren’t getting that core built out, which was causing him some stress, and then? The companies that were taking our people, they. It felt like it became, how do I word this? Maybe somewhat selfish on their part, you know, their expectations begin to change, and some economic things were happening in COVID, you all coming out of COVID. But when you think about early 21, it’s still very on. It’s still. Right. It’s understanding.

John

The country is still locked down. I mean, there’s stuff still happening.

Jim

Yeah. So, much damage has been done to the economy and the psyche of hiring people. That’s really what it came down to: the psyche of hiring. Where are we going? Where is the economy even today? I mean that legacy still exists today as we know it. 

And so, you know, salespeople are always in good sales. People are always in demand. There’s no, there’s no food slump. I mean, I’ve come through recessions. I’ve never. If I was selling, if I was producing, I’ve never. I had no chance of ever being laid off. Did I make less money because the sales were lower? Sure. It cuts commissioned jobs. That’s just the way it was.

John

That’s one thing I love about you. You come out of the Commission background. 

Jim

You know it’s it, and you learn. I learned a lot. I mean, my parents came through the depression. As I said, my dad was in World War 2. So, we learned as children that, you know, you save every penny no matter how much you got, you still save every penny. 

So, I mean, you just know how to, you know, how to get through those times. And you know what? You also learned as a perspective and had this perspective. Those times don’t last. Those people’s last tough times don’t last, and I think a lot of you know, so that’s a part of a marine too right there. You know this battle is tough, but it won’t last. But the toughest of the tough will come. Through and so on. You know, and that’s what we were working through. We’re working through it, and, you know, finances are getting a little stressed at the same time; our support from our core group of hiring people is becoming a little pressure. 

So, the pressure started on him, and he took it harder. I think he should, but as I’ve already talked about him, we realized he was emotional, dramatic, and also. And so that all contributes to this thing that plays in your head, and you know, you combine that with what demons that he had.

John

Yeah, it was so funny too. Because you meet somebody so magnetic. Yeah, like I, you know, when he came before Campbell, man, it was like the world was on fire and he had the hose. Like he just, you know, and I remember that, you know, we were sitting here at Fort Campbell, which is right behind me. But we were sitting where they do all these veteran hiring fairs; I just remember him… I won’t mention who he was upset with… but remember him—going to town and fighting for these kids. 

And he was so upset. And I remember watching him go. And I asked him. I was like, hey, what was that about? And he explained it to me, and I was like, well, that makes sense. Like, I’d be ****** about that, too. And I, you know, like I said, I didn’t get much time with him to develop a long relationship. But he was powerful when he was on and just as energetic when he was mad. 

So you know, so.

Jim

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, I saw that once in a while. I mean, not between him and me. But I saw him because John was in his mind. If you’re in this, if you’re into it, if you claim to be helping vets get a job or become trained, or to transition or to whatever it is, and all of a sudden, the things you’re doing in the way you posture are inconsistent. 

He questions it well: why are you here? Is there some S Grandison around this for you to say? Oh, I helped vets? Or is there an incentive here that you’re pocketing money just because they’re, I mean, you know, he sniffs that out, he goes on the attack because he says you’re not being true.

John

Right. Right.

Jim

To your mission or the vets, and you think true to me, he would tell him outright. And he didn’t do it perfectly. We can all display our frustration or anger or cover falsehoods without becoming angry. You know what? He was passionate, and that was a piece of that.

John

So, you know his vision, which brought me in like you. When I saw the website, I was like, because I love sales; I’ve been in sales since I was 11—a long time. Commission. Only guy, I mean outside of the. I’ve done sales my entire career, my entire life. And I mean, I had a couple of nonsales roles, but I’ve had 4 W twos my whole lifetime. 

So, it struck me when I was going through the website, and then I met him because he was an anti-Commission guy who wanted just BDR roles. And so, when I first met him, the goal was to Start getting these kids hired for more than 20/25 bucks an hour, which is still happy. Then, I saw an opportunity to help and take the companies calling him for commission. Holy stuff, and I could work with them because that’s my background, right? 

And I just remember us having that conversation. He’s like, yeah, you could teach. All that ****. He just didn’t want anything to do with it, and it was so funny too, because he was, you know, like he never met me. I had one conversation with you and him. And then he’s on a plane to Fort Campbell. You know, and I picked him up from Nashville, and you know, like he, if it was about helping the troops, he was gone. I don’t know from your perspective because I just met you on Zoom. Did he even do any vetting before flying down here?

Did he just get on the plane and come?

Jim

I think, John, that in the amount of time, the time you’re right, the three of us were on that Zoom call right, and when you departed from that Zoom call, he had me on almost all his Zoom calls of that nature and the only reason well say the only but the biggest reason why I was there when. When you depart, you say, OK, Jim, is this somebody who? Do you trust this guy? What do you think? And yeah, this is a veteran; this guy is not. I’ve looked him up here online while we’re talking, blah, blah, blah. I said no, this guy’s authentic. You should go and talk to him. 

Maybe it sounds like it’d be a great lead into Fort Campbell. More than that, because, as we were talking at some point in time, a CEO like Raleigh or you can work in the business for a long time, but you must do so at some point. And I mean, you’re a bootstrapper yourself on a few of these things. 

So, when you look at bootstrapping the company, the company will mature, and you have to mature with it, which means you have to work on the company, not in the company.

John

That’s right.

Jim

And that was my biggest challenge with him: we needed to find someone to run the company or Raleigh. You’re going to run a company. And they’re going to sell, which means you need to find. I’m sorry, not sell, but for the train. 

So we needed to find teachers. We did find a teacher, but he couldn’t.

John

And that I’m having the same struggle he has. So, the value for him and me comes from connecting with these kids and showing them a better way. I’m already there. Yeah.

Jim

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s your heart, John. That’s what you don’t want to do. You don’t ever want to leave that. 

John

Yeah, and he wouldn’t have either.

Jim

No, he wouldn’t, he. Wouldn’t. And I said OK, well, let’s find a CEO and. I said, well, maybe. Maybe somebody like John Renken would. Fit that role. You know, so that was kind of a.

John

I’m just as bad as you.

Jim

Well, if that makes me just as worried, no, I’m kidding. But I think that in time, though. Maybe there’s a compromise, and I tried to get him to do this. We hired Christine, and Christine was a fabulous teacher, a fabulous person, and she got addicted. She, I mean, she said, oh, my God, Jimmy, this is such a. I mean, he’s in the beginning. She said, ” OK, well, I will do this teaching. I’m going to do it this way. Blah, blah, blah.

And it wasn’t until about a week later that she called me. She says, this is different, I said. Yes, it is different. There’s a group of people that came from somewhere. They didn’t come out of college or high school, and they’re green, and they’re it’s. This is a whole different ball game, and she was.

John

And it is.

Jim

Like wow. These people are like me; they have children. They have broken families, or they have whole families, or she thought it was. 

So we all got that way it was a hard thing, and I understand it. I get it, and I. I could, I could have easily. It was hard for me when I took the whole class for three months. Those young men and women went on to their careers after that. I didn’t attend the second class, but I missed it because watching, interacting, and growing up with these people is a lot of fun. I learned a lot from them. I. Learned a huge—amount about their life. I knew nothing about the military. You know, the nuances of being in the military.

John

There was the transition.

Jim

Right, exactly. You know, in Parris Island is One Direction; the Marine Air Corps base is 3 or 4 miles in the other direction. So, I have a lot of exposure to it. And I have to admit, John forgot to tell you this. I spent probably 3 hours over. There’s a museum on Paris Island, two of the best historical museums I have ever visited about South Carolina. I mean, it covers not just the military but all the. Aspects of the military and the Marines, but it certainly has. It’s just great. 

So here, come this way. You need to come out this way and take you over there. Right. OK. It got off track there a bit, but Raleigh, you know, kind of got off. I kind of forgot where. We’re headed. I got track.

John

That’s why you do these things, man because that’s where the magic happens.

Jim

Heartfelt into helping. These individuals, and that’s. That is, that’s the toughest thing, as you mentioned, for yourself, as well as Raleigh. So how do you know? Maybe that’s a conversation right there. Maybe it is a podcast, or we invite somebody to help us. How do we help transition? Or how, if you want to teach, how do we funk? How do we get someone to function in the company? You know it’s these farmers in southwestern. Where are they in the conversation?

John

Well, you have to. Yeah.

The truth is, I had to do this cohort because it’s getting too busy. I had to bring in a second teacher to take part of the load. And then I’m looking at by April that two out of every month, I’m not teaching on Monday, but I’m working with the companies. That allows me to connect with the kids, build relationships, and do what I love. It’s also slowly freeing me up to run the company part of this. 

And you know, the way I structured it, which was slightly different than how Raleigh structured it, I spent less time on the tools. More time on the practicum of selling rights and then making them sell. But I also took us off Zoom so much so that and did some more self-paced certification stuff that they could, you know, they could sink their teeth into that would help their career over the next 5-10, twenty years or whatever, right? And even that was hard. I’d like to release that. And I think ultimately when you have, you know, I joked with you when we first started connecting and talking and you helping me put this thing back together after his death. I would joke. It’s not my ugly baby, so I don’t care. 

But I found that as the year went on, it became my ugly baby, you know? Yeah, right. You know. Well, I mean, the inner joke between you and me was everybody thinks their kids are the best-looking in the world, and so and thought this about.

Jim

And it isn’t so ugly, either.

John

And you know, I didn’t have any of that when I came in. That prejudice, because I was not involved, right? And then, as the year went on, we connected with these kids and learned their stories. In our last cohort, we had a young guy, like, say, young; he was in his late 30s and fully retired. And he had a day where we challenged them on what they wanted out of their lives. Like, how much do you need to make? And what’s your vision for your future life? Right. And he texted me later that day, and he went. You challenged me today. For example, I’ve been skating because I make plenty of money and haven’t pursued my potential. Two days later, he had a $24,000 Commission day. That’s what he made, you know. So you start hearing those stories and.

Jim

That’s good for him. That’s good. Yeah.

John

And you can’t help but adopt that baby. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, and it becomes yours. You know, so I faced some of those same struggles. I have a different perspective because I didn’t create it, right? So.

Jim

Well, but you know, John, don’t sell yourself short because you have made it your own, which is one of the reasons why. I’ve probably been more hands-off. With you. Is this up to this point anyway? Based on the fact that you, there’s no way I could describe where it should go to you. You had to take what was there and make it fit where you would be successful. Each one of us would have executed differently on the pieces of the puzzle that we got. How do we put them back together? Or maybe we just throw the puzzle away. We start over, however. You did it so.

John

Yeah, that wasn’t easy, you know, because Raleigh had everything fragmented at first. When I look back at it, I think he, like many veterans, had some security concerns that made it to where he stored information on multiple platforms, right? And you know, when we recreated this, you and I spent a lot of time on the phone.

Jim

Yes, yes, yes.

John

You know, there were, I’m like, I’m good at tag, but I’m not tech-heavy like him. I struggle with CRM. And you know, I still do stuff on notebooks and paper, and I mean, where is he dug into that?

 So you know, as I looked at it. What’s the end state? Getting these kids hired for more than 2025 bucks an hour. It doesn’t matter how good you are at CRM; that won’t happen. Get you hired? Right, it’s black. It won’t get you hired or any of these other awesome tools, right? And you know. When we look at what he started, you said this to me? Well, I don’t know, maybe six months ago, you said at the end of the day, we’re still doing what he wanted. It might not look the same because I’m not him. Right. I definitely. I’m older and fatter.

Jim

I expect you to be … You know, while he was pretty young, he’s only 48/49 years old.

John

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m just a little bit older than them. Not by much, 33 years.

Jim

OK.

John

I think saving the passion of why he started this and what he was after has been important to both of us. And you know, I think it’s a good place to transition. You know. Here we are, it’s. I met him in May with you and him on May 22.

Jim

Right.

John

He comes down the first week of the 1st week of June and spends a week with me at Fort Campbell. We put together a plan. He invited me. I came, and I taught twice. Then he’s graduating. We’re going to, and then in September, he and I started discussing dividing the labor. 

So it would be me, him, and Christina doing training. And then, in July, he ends up taking his life. And for me, like I was sharing with you before we came on the call, that was a hard gut punch. I didn’t know him well, but he ended up taking his life on Friday, and on Sunday, one of my very good friends, I married her and her husband and her husband, still a great friend of mine. She ended up committing suicide, shooting herself. 

And so I had those back-to-back. I found out about her first, and then Christine messaged me. Did you hear what happened? I’m like, what are you talking about? And you know, there’s so many of our, our veteran community that struggles with this that I don’t know what the numbers are today, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 2022, a day end up hitting, it’s suicide.

Jim

Yeah, It’s a big number.. And I didn’t know it until I got involved in this. And I should know that #2. But It is far, far greater than the average. And there’s an uptick in suicide in the US and maybe around the world, but certainly in the US anyway. But veterans historically have had this, this, this issue, and I would speculate, combat veterans. It probably is even higher. I don’t think there’d be any so. Yeah, you know what happened between the times. I think your question or thought was what transpired between those six or seven weeks, whatever it was.

John

I don’t even know that we know because, as you and I have discussed, you didn’t even really know. Everybody was kind of taken aback by it. We needed some struggles, and the pressure you were sharing was on about the finances and stuff like that. 

And I don’t even know that we need to know why. It’s just that… Here’s a successful guy who created his own company, was doing great things in the world, and has already accomplished much in his life. But here you were in his life as one of his, you know, mentors / Partners and you didn’t know I wasn’t close enough to him to know.

Jim

Yeah, you know.

John

You know, other people out there probably stay silent like he did.

Jim

Yeah, you know, and I could say I didn’t know. I have to say this. I did have a level of concern about it. I did entertain the thought of buying some insurance on it because if the company was running and this did happen, the money wasn’t for me; it would have been to keep the company running. Now, we were able to do that. But you and I both know it took. It did this before you got it back to this. So. And I don’t know if that would happen. 

One of his employees, Lonnie, got the call; I called Lonnie immediately. And Lonnie’s first question to me was, did Rollie and Raleigh commit suicide? This is. When I asked why, why is my phone blowing up? Jim, why are you so desperately trying to reach me? Did Raleigh commit Suicide, and so on. When one’s mind. Becomes torture. There’s an acceleration in some expressions that you do become aware of I’ll put it that way. 

Now, could I have ever interpreted that as something imminent? I’m not trained, and I, well, that’s a bad excuse. I should have said. Holy ****There’s something here. But he had Some closer people than me who lived there and saw him daily, including now his fiancée. 

She told me, she said. Jim, I had broken It off, and He bought a very expensive ring and was on the hook. I didn’t know that until after the fact. So, in other words, she shared these additional financial burdens that he put on himself. And we talked about flamboyants. It was extravagant. We’ll put it that way. And so more than he could afford at the time.

So, you know, she was crushed by the way she always saw even to this day. She still says to me. You know what? We were going to get married. I knew I was going to marry Raleigh Wilkins. There was no doubt in her mind. She’s OK.

So, we broke it off. So what? But that would not be the end of the story for her and or them. She was convinced, and she said to me she knew. She knew. She said he called her one day, and they sat somewhere and talked for four hours. And then he went home. And he did this thing.

So, she knew at some point that something was cheating, and she realized it was that imminent, but she knew too. And both of us kicked ourselves, and that we were close enough, and I didn’t do something about it. And you know, what can I say? I mean it; it’s what I’ve read about.

John

There’s a couple of things there, you know. 1st is that people shouldn’t suffer in silence and leave clues. But get help. As you know, for the people that are going to listen to this and they’re going to want to hear Raleigh’s story and you know how all this kind of transpired because I believe that that’s going to happen, I believe people are going to want to know this story. Don’t be Raleigh; speak up and trust your friends to tell them what’s happening. It doesn’t matter if it’s financial or emotional Combat-related or whatever it is; don’t be the next rally, right? And then, for you and her, there might have been some clues, but you can’t hang on to that, right? You know, unless he flat-out told you, and then you didn’t act. You know.

Jim

And that would have been, yeah. And true that that’s a good point, John, but I also. Think that the rest of. We also need to be able to be a little more sensitized, especially those people who are at risk, who are veterans, who are not bad veterans, which is which are people who come from. Backgrounds like his, I mean, he shared his background very openly with him, so those kinds of things added up in my mind. 

But like you just. I said I couldn’t have predicted the moment, and I’m not sure I could have done anything about it anyway, but that’s not the case. I don’t want to be a cop-out around that, either.

John

Right.

Jim

So it is all of us. I mean, there are.

John

That is true, but the lesson here is that it’s twofold. If you’re, if you’re listening to this and you’re in that place, speak out. And then, for those listening that aren’t in that place, be tuned to what your friends and family are saying. So that if something strikes you as off.

Jim

A conference.

John

That you say something. Hey, are you OK? Like, where are we here?

Jim

Yeah. What? Yeah. What? Where’s yours? Yeah. Where’s your brain? Where’s yours?

John

Yeah. And you know, and I want to, you know, this podcast is the first one we’re doing, and I wanted to do it this way to memorialize what happened and tell people the story of how I came here. But to honor the legacy of what he does. I helped because I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t built this. Because when Fort Campbell called me bro, I was like, I am not interested in building that. I knew that that would be a red tape struggle, which I know he dealt with because he told me about it, and it took him forever to get it up and going. 

And so that struggle at where I was at in my life, I did not want to tackle. And you know, I. And I’ve shared this with you privately: I look at what he’s done and what he accomplished, and it’s set the stage for us to be where we are today. Unfortunately, he’s not here to see it, but so many things can come out of this now. 

And hopefully, and I tell every class of this now, you know I I tell him that, you know, he committed suicide. And every one of you has my cell phone. And if you don’t call me when things are bad, you don’t tell me. I will find you in heaven or hell, wherever you end up, and kill you. Again, nobody should go through this alone, and I would be really upset if any of them didn’t. They didn’t call me. Hopefully, I’m building a relationship that they do call. 

And so if you’re listening, you know, don’t don’t hide that. Call your friends and family, and let them know because it’s not worth it. So.

Jim

There’s nothing you can’t overcome, and there are a lot of resources; there are a lot of sensitive resources out there.

John

That’s right. Yeah, yeah. Let’s switch up here and kind of wrap this up. I told you we would do 15 or 20 minutes, but it’s been great. And we’re now in an hour.

Jim

You can edit it down.

John

Yeah. No, I’m not going to edit it down. It’s been great. So. he ends up committing suicide. I call you shortly after I give you a couple of weeks, and I’m like, hey, what can I do to help you talk to me about your angle carrying this, trying to figure out how to keep it alive? What was going through your mind? With time, how did we get to where we’re at today, where you and his sister gave me the company?

Jim

You know, so. Some employees had to find positions right away, so they could not. Try to sort this out; they just did. They had families, so they needed to do their thing. And one of them was right in the middle of a cross-country move. 

His sister was really his, well, his only. Living relative, he’d lost both of his parents quite young, so that’s all he has, just so she. She got a hold of me right away and said, Jim. You know, can you give me some help here? 

And sure. And she’s a real fine human being—just a delightful person. I’m honored. And I’m so thrilled that I got to get to know her. And Raleigh’s fiance, too. But Elizabeth brought a lot of strength to look. Jim, I. I’ll take care of the personal side of this, which is not easy. I’m flying to Chicago. And I’m going to, you know, take care of all this stuff that’s been left. 

But what can you do on the company side, the sales platoon side? To help transition it, keep it alive. I want to keep Raleigh’s legacy alive, which translates into keeping the sales platoon alive, at least in my head. And hers, too. At the end of the day. 

And I did have some offerings. I think, John, I, you know, I’ve been able to have people who came to me and said, hey, they were willing to put some money on the table to have the franchise of sales, Mattoon. But then I met with these people. Two of them were in Chicago, and I because they knew him.

John

Have you told me?

Jim

When I met with him, nice guys, I mean very nice people, one of them. I was a vet. One of them was not. One ran a successful trade sales training organization; the other ran a personal AA corporate financial. He was a wealth manager, which is basically what he was for corporations, individuals, and so on. Why would he be interested? And he was the vet and UM. He wanted. 

And when I got in and peeled back the onion, why do you want to do this? And really, what’s this all about for you? And it was more about. It became clear that he was more interested in meeting with the big companies Raleigh created relationships with to expand his business. 

And he might find a way to pursue the training side, but. It was too self-serving for me. It wasn’t. It wasn’t a Raleigh spirit, and so. The other person was interested in creating a way. He could benefit because he charged for his training and did the recruiting side, which is great. He could have probably taken this and put it into his company, but I felt like it would have been a small piece. It wouldn’t get the attention, and he is not a vet. I don’t feel like it will again have the same attention you or someone else would give. 

So and then there was, you know, a corporate partner. I stepped up, and I. I couldn’t quite understand why this corporation wanted it. I couldn’t pin that down, but it didn’t feel right. So I do a lot of things. I either go in and find, do a lot of discovery, ask tough questions, and put those pieces together—a little research. Or I act on my gut and that last piece, that corporate piece, which felt good to me. I said, well, you know what Elizabeth could. Take some cash out of this and at the same time. This was a veteran who worked for this big corporation, but the big corporation, at the end of the day, in my mind, really didn’t they? They could have. They could have dumped it in 20 Minutes later. I have never missed it. You know what I mean? 

See, that was a secure place to go. And then you and I, and I thought you called me. I mean, you called me and said what are you doing? What’s going to happen here, you know, quite thankfully, you did because, and I think maybe you even called me before I did some of this due diligence on the other three players or at least two out of the three and returned. And talk to Elizabeth. So, Elizabeth, there’s nothing here. I mean, there’s nothing you’ll get me. Let’s put it this way, Elizabeth. I can. I could sell this and convert it to Some cash for you. 

But it’s not going to be that much number one. And she doesn’t live in an extraordinary or affluent fashion. But money is not her. Yeah, it’s not at all. She’s just like, well, it was off her heart. I mean, she didn’t. She raises her children, her daughter. And so wasn’t who was more interested in Raleigh’s vision for the future, which was cool for me because I was. Wow, how great is this? Because how much easier is it, John, for me to go share and find someone with the same passion? It’s easy to find them for you. A few dollars. That’s no fun in that, you know, I mean, you know.

I’m an investor and invest in ideas that will translate into money, but that’s an arm’s length cold. Whatever it is, when you’re talking about training people and veterans and human beings and getting involved with that, I wasn’t up for it. Just taking this out and taking it out in a cash value exchange just becomes a transaction, and I wouldn’t feel good about it. You showed up, and you know you were very humble and said, Jim, I don’t know what I don’t know what I could do, but I’d like to figure it out. 

I can help, I said. Well, once you take and run with it, and I know at the time, Elizabeth already told me to find the place, and I don’t need anything out of it. And. And I was. You know, I’m in the. That was my mission. I’ve always told you that my piece of the puzzle is, if I got anything back, that’s great. 

So I do have motivation around that. There’s no doubt. If she. And, if I could deliver something back to her, that’s gravy, though. That’s totally after you. And I have after you. And this mission has been fulfilled. Build its core elements where we know we’re getting these veterans in, and we’re finding them jobs, and they’re being successful at it. That’s that. 

And that, you know, and I and I know you’re there, you’ve already proven it. You’ve done it in less than a year. You transitioned this thing from something that could have been. It’s just smoke. It could have just disappeared without any, without any sense at all. And you took that smoke if you will. And. And you brought it. Back together, and you picked it up and ran with it. And. And you picked up the most rewarding pieces: training and finding jobs for these people and giving them a sense of self. About. I can do this job. Those are the key elements that you brought to the party, and you deliver, and you continue to deliver, and that’s. That’s really how this has come together. 

So I thank you, Elizabeth. Thanks, for sure. Raleigh is not here. But he thanks you, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I do. And I think there’s a long way to go to make it where we are, and the only thing standing in our way is you because you want to keep teaching.

John

Wow, what a way to take that job. You know, I just remember, I remember our first meeting, and you were so quiet. And I remember thinking, what is this guy’s role? 

And then and then we talked again. I think it was while he was at Fort Campbell. He called you, and the three of us were talking, and then, you know, I had no clue what would happen when I made that first call to you. It was genuinely like, hey, bro, what do you need? 

And then the second call? Was on. From my perspective, the second call was really about what you will do. I know we won’t do September because there’s no way. But what are we going to do? And that’s when you said, I’m thinking about selling, and I just took a gamble. I have no clue. I was like, well, ****, I’ll throw my name in the hat and just see what happens.

And here we are now, a year later. Well, a year and a half later. And man, it has been. It is so fulfilling for me to meet and train these kids, and what you and I both love about sales and that they’re not getting because I called Raleigh from one comment from Fort Campbell. This is what started this whole thing. Guys are getting out of the army, and they’re getting paid. 2025 bucks an hour. And I was like, get the hell out of here. There’s no way.

Jim

He’s right.

John

It’s like 20 years of war, and this is what we’re getting offered. There’s no way. And I was like, every one of them can do sales and even not be a great salesman like you and make $50,000 fifty 5000. Dollars like there’s like, you know, and I, you know, and that’s what led to that call to Raleigh: they said that one thing, which changed my life. 

And then you, being the person you are, have given me so much help over the last year and a half to figure out how to rescue this and put it back on track. And you know we’re not. You know you have that experience. I don’t run a bigger company. A bigger company is already a well-oiled machine. And if the CEO passes, we’ll just hire a new CEO.

Jim

Having, you know, having that succession plan in place is something to figure nobody’s going to afford to do. Are they going to have people on the line? So you know, I want to make one little call out, and that is during the transition for both of us was Christine Miller and Christine having taken that last cohort and saw them through their employment so that you could kind of concentrate on where we do with the next class when it starts. You concentrated more on the idea than the fact that you got that Organized.

John

For sure.

Jim

I do appreciate that she hung in there without paying. I mean, she just did. Yeah.

John

Now, without being. No, she made huge sacrifices.

Jim

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

John

We’re going to have her on too. We’re going to do a podcast with her.

Jim

Yeah, she’s great. So, so very good.

John

Yeah, good, man. Well, I appreciate your time and coming on and sharing his story. And we will put his obituary in the show notes and a link to where this will be. Then, it’s going to be hosted on the website. Well, man, it’s just so good for everybody to hear the story from our perspectives and how this went and get to know him better. So thank you for your time.

Jim

Yeah. Well, you’re quite welcome, John. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas, and, you know, anytime, and this spurred some. This is great because it spurred some things I want to share with you. I’m going to. 

So I’ll put my thoughts down and get them together, and you know, you always learn, and your brain fires up when you get into these conversations. So again, thank you again. I’ll say goodbye.

John

All right. Thanks, ma’am. We’ll talk soon.

Jim

Take care. Bye.

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