Southwestern Advantage Receives BBB Award for Business Ethics

Photo: Southwestern Advantage Director of Communications Trey Campbell (left) and Greg Boucher, President of Southwestern subsidiary ThinkingAhead.

Southwestern Advantage was recently recognized for its ethical business practices by the Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee (BBB), where the company has operated since its founding in 1868. The Nashville-based brand was one of two large companies to receive the 2015 Torch Award for Ethical Commerce, based on a unanimous vote by a panel of judges.

“We believe in building people. We also know that we are not what is important, but what we do is important,” Southwestern Chairman and CEO Henry Bedford said in a statement. “Integrity and ethics are a very important part of our mission to help people develop the skills and character they need to reach their goals in life.”

The educational brand markets a learning system that features homework guides, interactive books, and CDs to help children build knowledge and life skills outside the classroom. The company is known for selling its products through college students enrolled in the Southwestern Advantage Sales & Leadership Program. Each summer, the company signs on nearly 2,500 students across North America and Europe as independent contractors and trains them to run their own Southwestern Advantage business. Alumni of the program include former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, author Max Lucado and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

Southwestern Advantage joined the BBB of Middle Tennessee in 1961 as a charter member. The company has since gained accredited member status by adhering to the ethical principles outlined in BBB’s Standards for Trust.


Industry Outsiders Hit the Sweet Spot with NuCerity

by Beth Douglass Silcox

Photo above: Distributors celebrate at a recent NuCerity event.


Company Profile

  • Founded: 2009
  • Headquarters: Houston, Texas
  • Executives: Jeff Graham, CEO & President; Lonnie McKinney, Founder & Co-Chairman; David Dillingham, Founder, Co-Chairman & Chief Operations Officer; Richard Jaenicke, Founder & Chief Technology Officer; David Bain, Chief Financial Officer & General Counsel; Melissa Chambers, Vice President of Marketing; Nancy Wendrock, Vice President of Operations; and Karen O’Quain, Director of Specialty Marketing & Public Relations
  • Products: Skincerity®, Skin-Nutrition Rejuvenating Barrier™, Advanced Repair Satin Serum™, Eye Effects 3 Advanced Serum, Body Silk
  • Website:

Recent hire signals company is aiming higher.

NuCerity International hit the sweet spot for a direct selling startup when innovation gained traction, in part because industry experience didn’t slam on the brakes. But the recent hire of an industry insider as CEO and President shows NuCerity is ready to take the company to new heights.

NuCerity’s story starts with three visionary entrepreneurs focused on first-to-market technologies and creating brand-new consumer product categories. They first excelled in traditional markets. More than two decades later, they transitioned to direct selling and brought a unique, roll-on polymer barrier technology to the marketplace in the form of Skincerity.

In the Beginning There Was Slick50

It’s been 30 years since Lonnie McKinney, David Dillingham and Richard Jaenicke first combined their entrepreneurial spirits to create a paradigm shift within an industry. Their outsider status may have appeared as a disadvantage to industry insiders, but they liked it that way. After all, innovation often comes from not knowing what can’t be done.

Jeff GrahamJeff Graham
Lonnie McKinneyLonnie McKinney
David DillinghamDavid Dillingham
Richard JaenickeRichard Jaenicke

The trio brought forth products and methods for conducting business that industries never before imagined. They introduced portable construction engineering software and the very first lasers used in the construction industry. They owned and managed the largest multi-location dermatology practice in Texas—even though none of them held medical degrees—so doctors could focus on patients instead of billing. And then there was Slick50.

“It was a fantastic thing. We shipped product into 46 countries around the world. We really launched the whole category of engine treatments in the automotive after-market,” NuCerity Founder and Co-Chairman Lonnie McKinney says.

But in many ways Slick50 became a victim of its own success. “We were doing $50-plus million with Wal-Mart, and one day we had that kind of meeting where they said, ‘We need to have a better price or it might be hard to find your product,’ ” McKinney remembers. “Now, I’ll say this, we did have a great relationship with Wal-Mart. It is just who they are.”

NuCerity’s story started with three visionary entrepreneurs focused on first-to-market technologies and creating brand-new consumer product categories.

Retail profits were dropping because of voluntary retail price cuts, but that mattered little in the negotiations. Nose-to-nose with a big-box retail giant like Wal-Mart, Slick50 wasn’t coming out on top. So the partnership agreed to sell the company to Quaker State and chalked it up to a valuable lesson learned.

Fast-forward nearly two decades, and McKinney sits with Dillingham in the brand-new Houston offices of NuCerity International, discussing the trajectory of a very different kind of company, with products that have nothing to do with the automotive after-market and sales that are in no way connected to retail behemoths.

Still, Wal-Mart’s words ring in McKinney’s ears. “Look,” he recalls the representative telling them, “You need to understand something. That consumer is not yours. That consumer is ours.”

McKinney says, “It didn’t matter that Slick50 was running $40–$50 million a year with Wal-Mart, pioneered cable and targeted TV, or was the first million-dollar advertiser on The Weather Channel. We didn’t have the relationship with the consumer. We didn’t deal directly with the consumer.”

But with NuCerity, it’s a completely different story.

A Product That Begs to Be Demonstrated

Set up at a three-day Texas women’s conference, the plan was to broaden the reach of the company’s product Skincerity, a liquid-based, barrier polymer that rolls onto the skin and turns into a breathable, moisture-retaining film that amplifies any component under it, as well as the body’s ability to heal itself. According to the company’s website, while it seals in the body’s natural moisture to deeply hydrate skin, it both infuses antioxidants and allows oxygen to penetrate the barrier to help restore and rejuvenate skin. The result is smoother, younger-looking skin.

As owners of a large, multi-location dermatology practice, the founders checked out newly developed products at medical conferences all the time. And that’s where they discovered a breakthrough, one-of-a-kind technology.

“This product begs to be demonstrated!”
—David Dillingham, Founder, Co-Chairman and Chief Operations Officer

Financed through National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant funding, the polymer film technology increased the effectiveness of topical antibiotics and antifungals. Clinical testing to meet NIH grant requirements was complete. The science behind the product was impressive, and so, too, was the firsthand experience of the product developer’s president, who suffered a broken wrist abroad.

Two surgeries and one unattractive scar later, the president sought a topical vitamin E that wouldn’t ruin her clothing. Immediately, she partnered the vitamin E and the polymer film technology. They worked together. She and her surgeon were impressed.

“We became enamored with it,” McKinney says. After negotiating worldwide and multi-channel marketing rights to the product, Skincerity was retailed through their dermatology clinics and other medical practices for several years until the fateful women’s conference opened another door.

“We simply rolled the product on women’s hands and explained to them how it worked,” says Dillingham, NuCerity’s Founder, Co-Chairman and Chief Operations Officer. In two hours, their three-day inventory vanished. “This product begs to be demonstrated!” he recalls telling his partners that day. “That was the moment we decided Skincerity was a network marketing product. Put in the hands of women, in particular, they were going to share it with their friends, and that’s exactly what has happened.”

Locking Arms with Consumers

There is, perhaps, no other industry with a tighter connection to consumers than direct selling. Consumers, distributors and companies are inextricably linked, and the importance of those relationships is an ever-present Slick50 callback for NuCerity’s founders.

It’s no accident that the partners believe they sit at the bottom of an inverted pyramid. “Our distributor partners are at the top. Our vendors are No. 2. Our staff is No. 3. We are at the bottom,” McKinney says. “It’s our job and our goal to give our distributor partners the tools and all the opportunity to be as successful as possible. We grow our business by putting our distributors first.”

Dillingham adds, “We will lock arms with you. We will have meetings in homes with you. We will be right here with you to help you grow your business. We absolutely lead by example, and I can assure you, we truly walk the talk. We don’t stay in Houston, Texas, and think for one minute that we know what’s going on in the field. The only way that you know that is to get out there and work with people. That’s what we do here, and it really does make a difference.”

McKinney agrees: “We would never sit there and say we’re the smartest people in the world, but someone would be hard-pressed to outwork us.”

“We would never sit there and say we’re the smartest people in the world, but someone would be hard-pressed to outwork us.”
—Lonnie McKinney, Founder and Co-Chairman

Jeff Graham marveled at the accomplishments of NuCerity’s founders when he signed on as their new CEO and President earlier this summer. “In our industry, if you can be copied, you will,” he says. “They were very smart in that they secured the worldwide licensing for Skincerity, and they secured it not only for our industry, but for any channel.

“By all intents and purposes they had gotten through the first two years,” Graham continues. “They had certainly made some mistakes along the way, but whereas a lot of companies will start with industry experience and fail, these guys—without any industry experience—appeared to be succeeding.

“Now we have an opportunity to really communicate effectively and start to build on a brand-new category that nobody really knows about. We’ll call it breathable masque technology. That’s where Skincerity really fits,” he says.

Driving NuCerity’s early success is an incredible work ethic, trust and respect that starts with the founders and spreads across their field of predominantly female distributors. “We tell our field to recruit nice people, treat them with respect, and help each other,” Dillingham says. “When ordinary people pull the rope in the same direction with the same goals, that’s where you get extraordinary results.”

Graham, a seasoned direct selling executive, says, “The culture is one where the field and corporate are working together, which is very unique for our industry. My sense is that NuCerity distributors, in general, feel as if they are aligned with corporate. They absolutely adore the founders and when describing them they use words like trustintegritypatiencekindnessunderstanding and honesty. They have this natural desire to belong to NuCerity.”

Holding Somebody’s Dreams Is Serious Business

“In a traditional business, somebody gives you money and you give them a product. In the direct selling business, they also give you their hopes and their dreams. You have a greater responsibility in direct sales than in any other thing that we’ve been involved with because you actually have somebody’s dreams in your hands. And you don’t mess that up. You just don’t do it wrong,” McKinney says.

Dillingham looks at the work NuCerity distributors do as investing in annuities toward financial security for the rest of their lives. “We say, ‘Take your time. Don’t quit your day job. Just do this if you enjoy it. You have to believe in your product. You have to believe in the company. You have to believe in the people behind the company. When you have that passion, it comes across, and distributors have the opportunity to change other people’s lives too,” Dillingham says.

“It was the first time I’d ever been involved in a business where changing someone’s life was more important than the sales report. I think that is the culture of our company.”
—Lonnie McKinney

Nine months after she sold her car to meet expenses and borrowed the $59 startup fee, one NuCerity distributor partner confessed to McKinney that her original goal was to live in a place where her carpet was clean enough to lie on it and run her arms like angel wings through it. NuCerity made that happen for her, and retelling the story brings tears to McKinney’s eyes. “It was the first time I’d ever been involved in a business where changing someone’s life was more important than the sales report. I think that is the culture of our company,” he says.

Of course, it is with NuCerity’s products that these life changes begin, whether for customers purchasing them to improve their skin or distributor partners selling them to build a business. So the company diligently tests effectiveness and consumer trends. “We do things like a traditional business,” McKinney says. “So that makes it really magical when we attach products to a compensation plan. All of our distributors understand that we’re not making crazy claims. We’re out there selling something that changes skin and changes lives.”

Belief + Action + Skills = Results

“Belief + Action + Skill = Results. It is our responsibility to help distributor partners develop the skill to be business builders.”
—Jeff Graham, CEO and President

It’s obvious to Graham that both NuCerity’s founders and distributor partners believe in their products and can put that belief into actions that advance their impact on other people. But in the equation, Belief + Action = Results, Graham says, “I would simply add one more thing: Belief + Action + Skill = Results. It is our responsibility to help distributor partners develop the skill to be business builders.”

The company’s goal is to build on individual strengths, shore up areas that need improvement and recognize the strengths of others. “We’re going to help you learn the skill of partnering with someone who is great at sales. You don’t necessarily have to become great at sales, but you ought to recruit someone into your business who is,” Graham says.

NuCerity distributor partners sell products in the United States and 14 international markets, including Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. “We have a strong, strong core in Canada as well,” Graham says. “I look at the revenue that we’re doing out of Canada, and even in a couple of years I would put us in the top 15, maybe the top 10.” He’s focused on domestic growth this year, so any international expansion will be very strategic. Instead, the goal is profitability in existing markets.

Globally, there are between 27,000 and 32,000 active NuCerity distributors. Some 75,000 distributors and customers combined have placed orders. Enrollment of distributors and customers continues to increase steadily. The company has experienced month-over-month growth since January, with less than .05 percent product returns.

Graham’s plans to expand distributor skills training reflect the needs of an international community. Areas of focus will be personal development, sales skills activities, videos, smartphone apps and improved social media that better connect distributors to the company’s story about such things as philanthropic partner Moms Against Hunger.

Moms Against Hunger delivers prepared, freeze-dried, vacuum-sealed meals and bulk food to some of the world’s neediest children. “We need to better communicate through social media, for example, our involvement, where these meals go, how many kids we’re feeding and in what countries,” Graham says.

Moms Against Hunger delivers prepared, freeze-dried, vacuum-sealed meals and bulk food to some of the world’s neediest children.

Dillingham traveled with the Moms Against Hunger group to inner Fiji after flooding ruined a life-sustaining sugar cane crop. “We took bags of fortified rice and gave it to mothers and children. To see how they were living was just unbelievable. I mean, it was life-changing to be part of that,” he says. To date, NuCerity has shipped 250,000 meals to Fiji, and a few distributor partners volunteered hands-on during the floods in Alberta, Canada, and in the aftermath of a devastating tornado in Moore, Okla.

But, Dillingham says, “Going into these disaster areas is no picnic. Not everybody can get behind those ropes, if you will, to help. So Moms Against Hunger is our vehicle, and we are very, very blessed to partner with them.”

With uncertainty the norm in today’s world, whether it is natural disaster or the realities of every day, McKinney hopes NuCerity is “giving people an opportunity to have control of their lives.”

Dillingham knows they are on the right track when a NuCerity Diamond distributor, who is so fearful of public speaking, wowed a crowd recently despite her fear. How did she get past it? She was more fearful of returning to her life before NuCerity, she told Dillingham, than she was of public speaking. “Now that,” he says, “will touch your soul.”

AdvoCare: A Two-Decade Marathon

AdvoCare: A Two-Decade Marathon

by Barbara Seale

Click here to order the September 2013 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.


Company Profile

  • Founded: 1993
  • Headquarters: Plano, Texas
  • Top Executive: President and CEO Richard Wright
  • Products: General nutrition, weight-loss, energy and sports performance

Companies that reach their 20th anniversary often celebrate great products and growth. AdvoCare can tout both of those, as well as one of the industry’s most loyal armies of distributors. But its celebration included one more unique highlight: giving.

For two decades, AdvoCare has taken care of people through its science-driven general nutrition, weight-loss, energy and sports performance products, so it made sense to executives to kick off its celebration by contributing $20,000 to food banks in each of 20 selected cities across the country. And at its semiannual Success School in February, AdvoCare challenged its distributors to commit to giving 20 hours of their time to a local charity by the August Success School.

Richard WrightRichard Wright

“What better way to honor our 20th anniversary and our success than to give back to the communities where our distributors are building their businesses,” says AdvoCare President and CEO Richard Wright. “It fits with the things we believe in: building stronger families, getting healthier and having a little extra money that can, we hope, be used to pay off debt. It was such an easy fit for us.”

The idea was received so enthusiastically by the entire AdvoCare family that its National Spokesman, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, asked the company to add city No. 21 to the list: New Orleans. Through the Brees Dream Foundation he matched AdvoCare’s donation, increasing the gift to the New Orleans Food Bank to $40,000.

Caring Company

Philanthropic focus is an unusual way to mark a significant point in a company’s life, but it speaks volumes about AdvoCare’s culture.

AdvoCare’s Founder Charlie Ragus set the stage for that culture in 1993 when he drafted the company’s Guiding Principles. Ragus was passionate about building a company that had principles that it stuck to. They continue to direct company decisions today. Ragus was driven by a desire to help people improve their lives nutritionally and financially. He chose the name AdvoCare to communicate his commitment to be an advocate who cared.

“Charlie passed away in June 2001, and he was with the company for eight of its 20 years,” General Counsel Allison Levy recalls. “It was the way he poured himself into the company through his principles and the standards he helped set for the industry—he was so intentional about it that it has withstood his not being present and has led us to where we are today. It’s an unbelievable legacy.”

Ragus also personally set the standard for growth by recruiting the company’s first distributor, Norma G., who is still active today. According to company lore, when Ragus approached her about becoming a distributor she asked how many people were already using the products. Ragus’ classic, honest answer: “As soon as you start, there will be two of us.”

Norma G. did start, and for 20 years she has been the aspirational example for more than 300,000 distributors throughout the company, earning a lifetime income of almost $4 million. Loyalty like hers comes from financial success, of course, and also from the unique AdvoCare culture that Ragus created.


What better way to honor our 20th anniversary and our success than to give back to the communities where our distributors are building their businesses.”
—Richard Wright, President and CEO

Carrying the torch of a well-loved leader and founder is no simple feat. But Wright, who joined AdvoCare in 2007, has managed to maintain Ragus’ values even as the company’s base of distributors has grown by five times and its revenues have reached more than $400 million. Perhaps that’s because he was close friends with Ragus for years and served on the equivalent of AdvoCare’s board of directors—or because he believes in leading through character, expecting the same from his employees and distributors. Under his leadership, AdvoCare continues its distributor focus even as it launches strategic initiatives and increases its brand recognition.

“Everything we do is about how it’s going to impact distributors,” Wright explains. “When we’re launching or discontinuing products, or when we choose endorsers, it’s the way we compensate them and the way we train them to be the best they can be that lends itself to loyalty. When you’re building up people, they want to stick with you.”

AdvoCare’s 24-Day Challenge productsAdvoCare’s 24-Day Challenge products.


The AdvoCare Guiding Principles

AdvoCare Founder Charlie Ragus developed the company’s 10 Guiding Principles even as he launched the company. He wanted to be sure that AdvoCare was a company that distributors could believe in. His values have stood the test of time.

    • Honor God through faith, family and friends.
    • Respect and strengthen the family.
    • Believe in the dignity and the importance of the individual.
    • Create a standard of excellence recognized as superior by the direct sales industry.
    • Believe that honor, integrity and principles are the foundation of a great life and company.
    • Commit to mutual loyalty and trust between AdvoCare and its distributors.
    • Establish and continually improve the vehicle of opportunity and the pursuit of financial freedom for all AdvoCare distributors.
    • Commit to ongoing personal growth and development through professional training and educational programs.
    • Build self-esteem by promoting a sense of personal worth among all people.
  • Continually expand our market by providing the most effective and highest-quality products and service available.


Success School: Continuing Education

One of the key ways AdvoCare builds up its distributors is through Success School, the company’s twice-yearly event. The August event was held in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the first time, attracting some 30,000 distributors. The previous event had almost overwhelmed the Fort Worth Convention Center nearby, where the company held two simultaneous events just to accommodate the outpouring of enthusiastic distributors. While many distributors consider Success School a “can’t-miss” event, between 40 and 50 percent of attendees at each Success School are first-timers.

One of the key ways AdvoCare builds up its distributors is through Success School, the company’s twice-yearly event.

“We know it’s not easy to come to Success School, so we’re intentional about making it worth the time, effort and struggle to get there,” Levy notes. “We have lots of product training and field leader training on business basics. We always have inspirational speakers to talk about some of the intangibles of this business. Our distributors are always stretching to have a better life, so people do come back every time. They find it meaningful and impactful.”

At Success School in August, attendees heard motivational speaker and former NBA guard Walter Bond; artist, author and entrepreneur Erik Wahl; and contemporary worship singer/songwriter and AdvoCare endorser Michael W. Smith. The company’s philanthropic focus also played a role. AdvoCare hosted a diaper drive for Captain Hope’s Kids, an organization that dedicates its time and resources to meeting the needs of homeless children in Dallas. Distributors were asked to bring a small package of diapers, training pants or children’s underwear to donate. And, as a Success School tradition, the company introduced three new products.

“We just plan to keep doing things the way we’re doing them now—the right way, with integrity in everything we do.”
—Richard Wright

The new products joined a family of more than 70 wellness, weight-management, skincare and athletic performance products. Its flagship is the bundle of products included in its 24-Day Challenge™, AdvoCare’s comprehensive supplementation and nutrition program that encompasses six of its products. Users can customize the products based on their goals. The company provides a recommended food plan, and a workout DVD is also available.

Athlete Enthusiasts

AdvoCare’s marathon-like attitude is evident in its tagline, “We Build Champions.” As much as amateur athletes—whether they’re weekend warriors or fitness fanatics—appreciate AdvoCare’s products, a large number of elite competitors from virtually every sport actually stake their athletic careers on AdvoCare. More than 100 of them help fuel their performance with AdvoCare supplements. They consider the supplements so important to their success that they endorse the products. Some endorsers are million-dollar professional athletes who could buy any product at any price—but they choose AdvoCare.

In addition to Brees, endorsers include such well-known figures as Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Atlanta Braves pitcher Jordan Walden and even NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty, who has endorsed the company’s products since 1996.

“Our endorsers are compensated with products,” Levy says. “They use and endorse our products because they believe our products work.”

Those athletes also value the fact that AdvoCare has formed a strategic alliance with INFORMED-CHOICE to certify that its products do not include banned substances. The INFORMED-CHOICE program adheres to regulations put forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and professional sports organizations including the NFL, MLB, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Soccer (MLS), the PGA and LPGA, the Association of Tennis Professionals, the Women’s Tennis Association and NASCAR.

Sports marketing has traditionally played a major role in AdvoCare’s awareness program, as well as its incentive programs. It has sponsored the NCAA-sanctioned AdvoCare V100™ Bowl for five consecutive years; it’s the title sponsor of NASCAR’s Sprint® Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the primary sponsor for Nationwide® Series driver Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Chevy. Last year, it became the first-ever jersey sponsor of the MLS team FC Dallas. The agreement places the AdvoCare name prominently on the front of the club’s jerseys. Team jerseys sold throughout the nation also feature the AdvoCare name.

“Sports sponsorships are important to our distributors,” Levy says. “When you are able to have a meeting at your house and watch the AdvoCare 500 NASCAR race, it’s a great opportunity to talk about the company’s legitimacy. Sports sponsorships help them leverage the opportunity when they can talk with pride about the company. It’s about softening the market—what is AdvoCare, and what do they do besides sponsor a bowl game? It leads to conversations about wanting to be healthier or how to lose weight, and those are all AdvoCare topics.”

Last year, AdvoCare became the first-ever jersey sponsor of the Major League Soccer team FC Dallas.Last year, AdvoCare became the first-ever jersey sponsor of the Major League Soccer team FC Dallas. AdvoCare is the primary sponsor for Nationwide® Series driver Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Chevy.AdvoCare is the primary sponsor for Nationwide® Series driver Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Chevy.

Sports Build Businesses

Sports sponsorships offer unique opportunities for the company to help distributors build their businesses.

Sponsorships offer other unique opportunities for the company to help distributors build their businesses. As a NASCAR race sponsor, AdvoCare has 500 tickets available to field leaders who want to run incentives for their teams. Its soccer sponsorship with FC Dallas includes tickets to every home and away game, which they share with distributors.

“Soccer is the longest sports season, and that provides lots of opportunities for brand recognition,” Levy explains. “Our distributors go to the games and wear their FC Dallas jerseys at games around the country.”

AdvoCare showed its proficiency at combining products, promotions and marketing expertise as it entered its 20th anniversary year. With distributor excitement running high as the year-end AdvoCare V100™ Bowl approached, the company announced that it would produce its first-ever fitness DVD, a two-disc set that features AdvoCare distributors who have successfully met fitness goals using the company’s products. The DVD product was launched New Year’s Day 2013, the day when many people embark on New Year’s fitness resolutions.

“Our distributors are always stretching to have a better life, so people do come back [to our Success School] every time. They find it meaningful and impactful.”
—Allison Levy, General Counsel

To build momentum and fuel overall sales, AdvoCare bundled the program with its 24-Day Challenge products, calling the DVDs and the bundle Can You 24?. The company carried the theme through to the DVD set, which includes seven 24-minute, equipment-free workouts and is billed as the “perfect companion to the 24-Day Challenge.” AdvoCare created a promotion around the limited-quantity bundle, entering distributors who purchased it into a drawing for a chance to attend the company’s upcoming incentive trip to Hawaii. They discounted the bundle during the first two weeks of 2013 to help create urgency. AdvoCare also launched the Transformation Challenge, a 72-day contest among distributors to use the Challenge products with the Can You 24? DVD and share their results.

The results were record-breaking. On New Year’s Day alone—a holiday for most people—AdvoCare independent distributors sold a whopping $8.2 million in products, exceeding its previous one-day sales results by some $5 million. In addition, they recruited a record number of new distributors on the same day, and the highest number of distributorships to qualify for leadership in one day was reached. The company anticipated the promotion’s success, and its IT, customer service and distribution centers worked for weeks to prepare, even working on New Year’s Day to process orders. Wright was so impressed with the results that he changed the rules of the promotion. Instead of drawing the name of one distributor from among those who qualified, he drew two.

Results like those show why AdvoCare is growing consistently on every front. Its 2012 net sales were $255 million, placing it at No. 47 on the Direct Selling News Global 100 list. Compare that to 2011 when it ranked a still-impressive No. 62 with $138 million in sales. One of Wright’s stated goals is for AdvoCare to become a household name and to be a billion-dollar company by 2015 in the United States, currently its only market. The strategy: Keep on doing the right stuff.

“We just plan to keep doing things the way we’re doing them now—the right way, with integrity in everything we do,” Wright says. “We’ll continue to have products, sponsorships, leaders and distributors that uphold our integrity. Those things will take us into the future.”

Expert Advice

With a product line based on science and marketed through sports, AdvoCare takes its cue from two advisory councils: its seven-member Scientific & Medical Advisory Board and a 13-member Sports Advisory Council.

Highly regarded and recognized in their areas of expertise, members of the Scientific & Medical Advisory Board use their knowledge and experience in the fields of medicine, nutrition and science to ensure that all AdvoCare products are formulated with the highest-quality ingredients based on the latest scientific research.

Allison LevyAllison Levy

Members of the board are knee-deep in AdvoCare’s product development, holding monthly conference calls and twice-yearly face-to-face meetings.

“They feel passionate about having quality products,” says Allison Levy, AdvoCare’s General Counsel. “They work closely with our internal Research and Development department to make sure that the products we make are safe, effective and appropriate for our audience. Safety and efficacy drive product development.”

The AdvoCare Sports Advisory Council, along with the company’s sports marketing program, carries a bit of Founder Charlie Ragus’ DNA. Ragus was an athlete and sports lover throughout his life. The council includes many of the top strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers in the country who are involved in football, hockey, motorsports and wrestling. Strength and conditioning coaches and trainers were among the first to discover the superiority of AdvoCare products. Today they exchange information on a variety of topics relating to the use of nutritional supplements in the training of athletes and rehabilitation of athletic injuries. These experts also consult with AdvoCare on issues relating to current and future product development.

Ambit Recognized by J.D. Power for Customer Satisfaction

J.D. Power

As a result of its annual customer satisfaction survey, J.D. Power and Associates has named Ambit Energy “Highest in Residential Customer Satisfaction with Retail Electric Service in New York.” The Dallas-based energy supplier also received the second-highest ranking in Connecticut. The 2013 Retail Electric Provider Satisfaction Study surveyed more than 14,800 retail electric residential customers of 71 retail electric providers in eight states.

At Ambit’s inception in 2006, co-founders Chris Chambless and Jere Thompson Jr. wrote their vision on a whiteboard: To be the finest, most-respected retail energy provider in America. The company’s dedication to excellence earned it a 642 on J.D. Power’s 1,000-point scale—with high points for price, communications, enrollment/renewal and customer service factors.

In this month’s Top Desk, Chambless provides a look at Ambit’s “Roadmap to $1 Billion”—six key decisions that propelled the company to $1 billion in revenue in just seven years. According to Chambless, the most important decision the company made was “to never sacrifice our integrity for growth.” That commitment has brought Ambit both significant revenue and recognition.

Read more on Ambit’s customer satisfaction ranking.

Values and Ethics Leave a Lasting Impression

by Doug DeVos, President, Amway


Today, more than ever, entrepreneurs are discovering direct selling. Hard-working people are attracted to the opportunity to start a business, set goals and pursue a better quality of life. As a result, the direct selling industry is growing, with more than 15 million distributors and nearly $30 billion in sales in the United States.

Doug DeVos
Doug DeVos

As we continue to grow, our industry takes a higher profile, too. That’s a tremendous benefit to our distributors, who leverage the name recognition, product quality and personal nature of direct selling that is so unique to our business.

That’s why, like any high-profile brand, it’s critical that we build and maintain a positive brand for direct selling. As we look to share our businesses with even more people around the world, the first impression is always the most important and most lasting.

Our industry has long fought to integrate professional ethics at every level. This commitment can be seen in the DSA’s Code of Ethics, which clearly identifies what both consumers and distributors can and should expect when conducting business. And any company that wants to become a DSA member must pledge to abide by these standards. But we can do more.

Rooted in this Code of Ethics are values and principles that underscore the importance we place as an industry on ethical business practices. The expectation is that distributors can rely on leaders in their organizations to uphold the highest levels of honesty, integrity, responsibility and accountability. And they can count on these values to be placed front and center when it comes to ensuring products are safe, individuals are reliable, compensation is fair, training is effective, and support and guidance are readily available. At the same time, consumers should be able to trust that people in this industry possess strong principles, moral character and sound judgment.

As we look to share our businesses with even more people around the world, the first impression is always the most important and most lasting.

As members and leaders in DSA and its global counterparts, we must continue to bring these values and principles to the work we do each and every day. Using them to guide decisions and strategies is what will help sustain direct selling businesses regardless of the climate in the marketplace. And it is these ideas that will help us continue to strengthen our businesses, improve our products and brands, and deliver exceptional distributor and customer experiences.

But there are more fundamental reasons. When people throughout an organization adhere to a common set of values, there is a trickle-down effect. When others see that working in this manner is not just expected, but reinforced through decisions and actions by their leaders, it inspires them to think and behave the same way. For direct selling, the result is an increase in morale, a more motivated salesforce and stronger, more successful businesses. That’s how we earn trust and respect from our customers.

Fortunately, we see these values put into practice all the time. As a member of the CEO Council for the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations, I am proud to say that each one of us strives to serve as a role model to demonstrate these values. All of us understand the unique opportunity we have to set the example for the industry as well as the individual businesses we represent.

Direct selling was founded on helping others, and those values continue to be brought to life through countless charitable and philanthropic activities that our companies and direct sellers participate in each year. For instance, last year, USDSA companies donated a total of more than $16.5 million in products and cash to the TODAY Show’s Annual Holiday Toy Drive. And a very personal example is when USDSA company executives mentored the next generation of entrepreneurs during our June annual meeting, thanks to DSEF partnering with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

I know many direct sellers use a strong set of values to take care of more than just their business, employees and customers. As an industry, we show we care about the communities we live in, because we understand that once success is reached at a certain level, not only do we have the resources to turn our attention toward others in our communities, but we have an obligation. And when communities see firsthand the commitment direct sellers have toward making other people’s lives better, it helps improve how we are thought of as well.

When we lead with values and act in ethical ways, our reputation grows.

That’s why first impressions are important. Many of us are the first introduction people have to our industry. So our role in shaping their perceptions is critical. A reputation is something that’s earned. And it takes time and effort to be perceived a certain way. So when we lead with values and act in ethical ways, our reputation grows. And the more favorably we are looked upon, the more people will want to be a part of our industry. So as you work to enrich lives by offering more people an opportunity for success, we encourage you to continue to focus on helping others be better achievers with discipline, integrity and honesty.

As direct selling quickly becomes the path of choice for many entrepreneurs, we must preserve the work that has built a strong foundation of goodwill. Great strides have been made in showing the world, the millions of independent business owners and countless other budding entrepreneurs that this industry is filled with people who believe that values are just as important as the bottom line. We have seen where abiding by strict ethical standards can take us, but there is potential to go so much further. We must. And with your help, we will—in every decision we make, every encounter we have and every person we meet.

Doug DeVos is President of Amway.

Strategic Presence: The Power that Fuels Leadership!

by Tony Jeary

leadershipThe goal of leadership is to produce superior results on purpose, making leadership a results contest. The challenge of leadership is to persuade and motivate those being led to produce the leader’s desired results. When people voluntarily and enthusiastically do what their leaders ask them to do, achieving the desired results, leaders are considered effective and successful! The question is, How do leaders really get others to voluntarily and enthusiastically produce the desired results? There are many parts to this puzzle, but there is none greater than a condition I describe as strategic presence.

Here is a great story that illustrates strategic presence and illuminates its effect. A student from a foreign country was enrolled in a new school during the middle of the school year. During the first day of class, the other kids in the class were doing what kids do. There was a lot of giggling and staring and posturing for the new arrival. The new student was dressed in a way that did not meet the expectations of a few of the children, and eventually one of them (the class clown) began to make jokes about the new student’s appearance.

As the scene was progressing toward chaos, the teacher was about to intervene when a girl stood up and told everyone to stop picking on the new classmate. The girl reminded them that it was scary to be new in a school and that they needed to be kind to the student and make them feel welcome. She reminded them they should treat this new person as they would want to be treated if they were in a new country and a new school. After class, the teacher called the girl aside and said, “That was a very brave thing you did. Why did you do that?” The girl replied, “Because that is what my mom and dad would expect me to do.”

This story powerfully illustrates the essence and the effect of strategic presence. The girl had merely done what she knew her parents would want her to do. Her parents had succeeded in creating a positive presence in her mind, giving her the willingness and courage to do what she did. Most important, the presence of her parents was so authentic that they did not have to be physically present to inspire their daughter’s good behavior.

Leaders create impressions that exist in the mind of every person they lead. It is a presence that defines the perceptions people have of their leaders and what they believe about them. It is this overall persona that I am referring to when I use the term strategic presence, and there are two types: positive and negative. Leaders are constantly creating and presenting images of influence that produce both types of results.

The most important fact about strategic presence is that it evokes two possible reactions in others, either voluntary cooperation or various forms of resistance. If leaders generate a positive strategic presence, people will be more likely to support what they want most of the time. However, if perceptions of leadership are negative, people will substitute resistance for cooperation. The possibilities of how people will respond to strategic presence are limited to cooperation or resistance. There is not much middle ground between them. As someone once said, “You are either for us or against us!” It is easy to see why creating an authentic, positive strategic presence is critical for the execution of a vision.

Creating positive strategic presence is not a strategy of manipulation. The positive strategic presence leaders project must be authentic. Failing the test of authenticity means that the very image leadership hopes to establish will be perceived as deceptive and disingenuous—or worse. People are very perceptive and will see through efforts to project a phony persona simply for the purpose of manipulating their behavior. So why shouldn’t a leader’s strategic presence just be allowed to be what it is? That is a great question, and the answer is simple. Many leaders are misunderstood and create perceptions that really don’t match their intent. Understanding how strategic presence is created will minimize the possibility of being misunderstood.

So, how is strategic presence created? What are the things about leadership that speak the loudest about it? What creates the perceptions that combine to produce strategic presence? There are two components that contribute to strategic presence: values and behavior.

Our values are established by what we believe to be right, wrong, true, false, acceptable, unacceptable, appropriate and inappropriate. Let’s face it: We have all developed deep, strong opinions about many things as we live our lives. Opinions spring forth from your values, and your values influence what you do.

Our values and beliefs impact five categories that drive our behavior, and it is our behavior that creates strategic presence. The five categories are:

  1. Work ethic
  2. Integrity
  3. Judgment
  4. Courage
  5. Willingness to help others

So, if you want to be a great leader, you need to have great values, which must be demonstrated in the actions you take. This is the essence of strategic presence, and it is truly the power that fuels leadership.


Tony Jeary—“Coach to the World’s Top CEOs”—is a prolific author, presentation strategist and executive coach known for helping others create better and faster results. Reach him at