The Lasting Impact of Ron Willingham
“Success is more an issue of who you are than what you know.”
By Mike Esterday
That’s one of many enduring quotes from our friend Ron Willingham, who founded Integrity Solutions in 1968. Ron was instrumental in shaping an approach to sales training (and later, coaching) focused on building both skillset and mindset.
I’ve been reflecting on Ron’s legacy quite a bit recently, after receiving the sad news that he passed away on August 6th. Ron’s many lessons and ideas have had a lasting impact on the lives of those of us who loved Ron dearly – and on the lives of the millions of people he influenced around the world.
Ron’s death was not unexpected – he spoke of his declining health in frank terms when he returned to Integrity Solutions as a special guest at our company meeting earlier this year. We loved having him with us that January afternoon, and his many stories and reflections are still vivid these many months later.
Ron shared that he fell into the training field when someone recognized talents in him that he didn’t see in himself. At the time, he had a failing interior design business and a young family to support. A friend recommended that Ron create a men’s leadership program for an organization they both knew. Ron was skeptical, because he had no experience in developing training courses, but he took the plunge and his course was a huge success. He’d found his calling – and he never looked back.
In the late 1980s, Ron shared with several of us junior training professionals that he had created a new mission statement for Integrity Solutions. It was: We’re changing the way the world sells and serves people. I still recall how lofty and impossible that sounded at the time. Our small band of sales trainers were going to change the world?
And yet, that’s largely what happened. Ron’s vision was to shift training to be more focused on customer needs, to emphasize positive values and ethics, and to expand people’s beliefs in what they could achieve. To quote Ron: Why you sell is infinitely more important than how you sell. Selling isn’t something you do to people; it’s something you do for and with them. When your values, motives, and desire to help customers are right, your actions and behaviors will be right.
Ron’s legacy as a training innovator and thought leader endures – with some 12 books and more than 30 training programs that deployed millions of global graduates. Integrity Solutions alone is a global movement, with representatives around the world and graduates from more than 130 countries.
On a personal level, Ron was a true original, a man with a captivating personality who connected with people sincerely and listened to them intently. He was a natural at affirming people and seeing more in them than they saw in themselves which, of course, typically triggered in them a desire to live up to that belief.
Ron’s initial success in the training field was grounded in that same dynamic in his own life – his friend’s belief that he could create a successful leadership course even though he’d never done it before. My own experience with Ron as a mentor speaks to the same pattern: His belief in me launched my 35-year career at Integrity Solutions.
As Integrity Solutions moves further into our fifth decade, we do so guided by the lasting wisdom of Ron Willingham. Our global team is proud to carry on Ron’s legacy of helping individuals and organizations rise up and achieve more of their potential.