Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

‘Even when I am down, I am up!’

Sam Leon giving his talk after formal dinner

The CEO of online magazine MANSAM, Mr Sam Leon, has been successful in many business ventures and in public life, so when he spoke to Warrane residents on Wednesday 3 March 2016, he shared his recipe for success.

“First, you have to work out what is the meaning of success to you,” he said. “I can assure you that it is not only money. In fact it might not be money at all. Success goes a lot further than that. I believe it is simply belief, drive, focus and passion.

“Belief in yourself and what you do.”

“Drive, regardless of all the dream stealers. Sometimes it’s your best friends, even your family, who will knock your dreams and your ideas, which is weird, but you have got to have the drive to get through that to achieve what you want.”
“You also need the ability to focus 100 percent on your objective – and I mean laser focus!”

“And the passion for what you do will carry you through to your ultimate objective.”

Over his long and varied career, Mr Leon has been a Director of SSB Advertising Agency, Director of The Whiddon Aged Care Group; member of the Board of Trustees of Transamerica Life Company (USA) and a Life Member of the international Million Dollar Round Table. He has been Director of Samson Film Productions and Co-Producer of the Australian feature film “The Odd Angry Shot” and is a keynote speaker in Australia, the United States, China, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand.

He said it was important, whatever one did, to never give up. When he entered the life insurance business, for instance, he had many doors slammed in his face, but he didn’t pull out. After years of struggle he had many of Australia’s leading business people as clients.

“I cannot believe my client list,” he said. “It reads like the Who’s Who? But it took 20 years to get there and it was a hard grind.”

He learnt a great deal during his career in the life insurance business, particularly about how to identify individual personality types, something he picked up by doing a course with the US-based Wilson Learning Institute, a centre for leadership, workforce, and sales development.

“In your working lives, you will come across different personalities and you can’t treat them the same,” Mr Leon said. “We’re all different. My granddaughter wears a t-shirt that sums it up: “Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken!”

One of Mr Leon’s achievements was changing the direction of the Australian Cancer Council when he was on its Advisory Board by proposing a new logo –  the now well-known yellow daffodil.

The previous logo consisted of a sword and serpent on a dark blue background. During a board meeting, Mr Leon said he suddenly realised it needed to be changed to something bright that offered more hope.

Off the top of his head he told the other board members that it should be something yellow, something bright and added: “Something golden yellow – a daffodil opening up and giving life.”

That success led to him being recruited to the board of a prominent advertising agency which helped him to develop his ideas on creativity further.

“It is only artistry and creativity that can vie with the shocking events of the day for the attention of the consumer,“ he explained.. “So always seek creativity.”

His Warrane talk reflected the major role that creativity played in his own career, helping him to get a foothold in so many different areas of business and public life.

He summed up his outlook by quoting author Wilferd Peterson: “Walk with the true dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, those successful people with their heads in the clouds, but their feet on the ground. Let their spirit guide you and ignite a fire within you, to leave this world better than when you found it.”

Mr Leon said his wife had helped him to develop the idea of founding MANSAM magazine, pointing out that he knew so many busy people who could write for other “time-scarce people” and that he already knew a lot about the digital world. The magazine now has over 3,000 subscribers and more than 150,000 readers each month and a social-media reach of more than 2 million people.

During a Q&A session, Mr Leon was asked what kept him motivated during his time in the insurance business despite being continually rejected.

“I had read a lot of motivation books,” he said, “but I had read one book in particular, and it started off at the very beginning with a guy saying ‘I’m sitting in my wood-panelled office with my awards on the wall, knowing how many families I have protected and I have helped and I am just back from an overseas conference with my wife and my children and I am thinking of all those people who have knocked me and have ridiculed me. Who is loving life the most?’

“And I thought, ’Ah, I want that, I want the wood-panelled office, I want the awards on the wall. I want to travel.’

“And that’s what kept me going. That, plus my wife was a clever bunny. I used to go anywhere for business and I’d get rejected and knocked back and would come home empty handed – which wasn’t good because she liked eating.

“So she got a map of greater Sydney and she drew circles based on the time I was spending away from my office and we realised that within 20 minutes from home I had my most success. So I focused on that area.

“So it was that and the the book and the belief in myself that I could do it. I’m a very naturally motivated person. Even when I am down, I am up.”

[Warrane College offers a lot more than just student accommodation at UNSW: find out about some of our other guest speakers.]