I just heard that Ted Levine passed away. Ted was probably the first true entrepreneur I ever worked with. While I am saddened to hear he’s gone, the news has brought up a lot of great memories.
Ted created Development Counsellors International, the world’s first economic development marketing company. I don’t rememberl the exact origin of the company but I do recall the spark was when Ted, who I believe was a PR guy for the government of Puerto Rico, realized that when it came to working with governments, it was better to be in the private sector. The story had some kind of Seinfeld-esque escapades that had something to do with mimeographs or at least he had a mimeograph so we’re talking MadMen time. Anyhow, what I remember most is that he saw the opportunity that no one else saw, and he went for it.
My first meeting with Ted – I was in my 20s – he sat me down at his desk which was overflowing with piles of Economic Development trade magazines, many with his business card paper-clipped to it for mailing to clients. He was giving me the big Vince Lombardi motivational talk which pretty much amounted to “We’ve got something really great going on here. If you can figure something great to do here that would be great.” Everything was usually pretty great with Ted.
I have a lot of great Ted stories – the time he convinced me to wear fake glasses to meet a client so I would look “more mature”, the time he absent-mindedly stuck a flair-tipped pen in his ear while talking to some clients and left a fashionable black ring, or the time he got up from a table to shake hands with the governor of Nevada not realizing he had a tomato-sauce-stained napkin hanging from his pants. Ted didn’t really seem concerned with other people’s opinion of him. There was something “authentic” about him that clients inherently trusted. I think he taught me that being yourself was the best business strategy of all.
As his son Andy says on his tribute to Ted on DCI’s site, “Ted was the most optimistic guy I ever met.” I agree. He once told me that when he first started out he did a lot of cold-call telesales and got hung up on a lot. But that never discouraged him. He had figured out that if he made enough calls he would eventually make a sale. After he had made a few sales, he did the math and figured out on average how many calls it would take to make a sale. He concluded that every time someone said “no” to him he would make $0.25. After that he came to love to hear prospects tell him “no”. Each time he knew he was one step closer to “yes”.
In my business career I have had a lot of bosses. I never thought I ever had a really great mentor, until just now. Thanks Ted!
Best wishes to Pat, Andy, the rest of the Levine family and all the DCIers out there.