EberlyInsight: Michael Bergdahl Shares His Success Secrets

Posted on 12/7/2016 12:53:20 PM

Back during the 2015–16 academic season, Michael Bergdahl, professional speaker and former Walmart executive, delivered a powerful speech to students at the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology. Continuing his dedication towards bettering the lives of others, Bergdahl once again took the opportunity to share his insight to Eberly business students through the writing of marketing strategy associate and business student Robert Schwartz. Herein lies the message directed towards students.

About Michael Bergdahl

“World renowned professional speaker on six continents, best selling, internationally read author, and authority on the best leadership practices of Walmart and Sam Walton” 

Michael BergdahlMichael Bergdahl is a professional international business speaker, author and turnaround specialist. He worked in Bentonville, Arkansas, for Walmart as the director of People for the headquarters office, where he worked directly with Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton.

His corporate experience is in human resources, having worked for four Fortune 1000 companies, including: Walmart (#1), HQ director of People, PepsiCo (#44), Group HR manager, Waste Management (#217), VPHR, and American Eagle Outfitters (#703), VPHR. He also worked as a Plant HR and Safety manager at J.M. Huber, a privately owned, $2-billion manufacturing company.

He started his career in his family’s Houston, Texas-based publishing business as HR director. He is a turnaround specialist who participated in two successful business turnarounds at Waste Management and American Eagle Outfitters. He received the senior professional in human resources lifetime certification from SHRM and is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology/behavioral science.

His Journey to Achievement

“The first time I met Sam Walton was when I was interviewed for the “Director of People” job at the Walmart HQ in Bentonville, Arkansas. Sam Walton mispronounced my last name, calling me “Bird-Dawg” instead of Bergdahl. His pronunciation stuck and from that point onward my nickname was “Bird-Dawg.” I got the chance to work closely with Sam Walton and I was so smitten by his unique leadership style, people skills and values that I ended up writing four books that were influenced by his teachings.”

“I wrote my first book about “The Strategies of the World’s Largest Company,” titled: What I Learned from Sam Walton:  How to Compete and Thrive in a Walmart World (2004). My second book is written about “The Tactics of the World’s Richest Man,” titled The 10 Rules of Sam Walton:  Success Secrets for Remarkable Results (2007). Note: Rob Walton, the current chairman of the Board of Walmart, and the son of Sam Walton, wrote the foreword for “The 10 Rules” book. Translated versions of my books are available in Russian, Thai, Indonesian, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish. Three of my books have been published in India. My third book is a 50th Walmart Anniversary Commemorative Edition titled The Sam Walton Way (Brighton Publishing 2012). My fourth book, is titled, HEATKTE:  High Expectations Are The Key To Everything (Motivational Press 2014).”

“My first attempt to become a published author actually failed miserably. I have no excuses. It was my fault. I had written a book that no publisher was interested in publishing, because no reader would be interested in reading it! I poured my heart and soul into writing that first book, and when it wasn’t published, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Imagine writing 300 pages, more than 100,000 words, and wasting six months of your life—that’s exactly what I had done. The wounded feelings and humiliation of that first failed book writing attempt lingered within me for a very long time. After failing, like I did the first time, here is the question I now faced: would I be crazy enough to consider trying to write a second book? I had concerns about my own ability. Those doubts were the biggest hurdle I had to overcome in order to start writing again. You see, writing a book takes hours and hours of sitting at a blank computer screen, alone with your thoughts. If you don’t believe in yourself, and you’re not fully committed to what you’re writing, it just doesn’t work very well. When you have doubts and fears about your own ability, it’s like a batter stepping up to the plate trying to hit with two strikes against him. That’s exactly how I felt.”

Of course, like any individual of success, struggle and failure comes along with it. Below are a subset of Bergdahl's lessons to success. These have helped him tremendously in overcoming obstacles and achieving his version of success and happiness.

Six Lessons to Success

Lesson I: Market Competition

“The job market is highly competitive for recent college graduates. Look around you at the other students in your classes at IUP and each and every one of them is your competition for the best jobs. Imagine each year how many college graduates enter the market and the competition is daunting. So what is your personal marketing strategy? I think one of the most important keys to a successful job search starts with understanding what the ideal opportunity looks like for you. What I mean by this is college graduates need to have a narrowly focused area of interest in order to make their personal job search marketing effective. You aren’t looking for just a job... you are looking for a career opportunity. So, you need to know what you want and then go after it. If you don’t know exactly what you want how will employers be able to see you as the ideal applicant for their job. You can find a good opportunity if you maintain your marketing focus and open yourself up geographically. On the flip side, you will limit the number of available opportunities and increase the competition for each job that might be available if you limit yourself to a specific city or town.”

Lesson II: Geographical Leverage

“It is important to get out of your comfort zone. Are you willing to move to another city in another state if that’s what it takes? When our daughter Heather graduated from college, she ended up moving to Texas to establish her career. By necessity, she took a big risk by moving far away, but she was rewarded with a great career opportunity. I have recommended this “move to where the best jobs are” strategy to other recent college graduates, who were struggling to get their careers started, and not one of them was willing to pick up and move to another state to pursue opportunities. When you have few options, it is imperative to do something proactive to give good things a chance to happen. Heather found a great job because she was willing to get out of her comfort zone and do what so many others are either unable or unwilling to do. Are you at a crossroads in your life? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone and move in a new unfamiliar direction? It worked for Heather and it could work for you as well!”

Lesson III: What you Think is what you Become

“There is a saying about personal success that seems to fit the answer to this question, “What you think about most of the time is what you become.” This in many ways was my personal success mantra; allow me to explain. My inner motivation, enthusiasm, sincerity, dedication and self-confidence are a result of a personal mission I created right after I graduated from college. I set a goal to become a professional speaker and writer 25 years before I was able to stand on the stage for the first time and before my first book was published.”

Lesson IV: Utilize “Imaging”

“Here was how I used “imaging” to create and achieve my career vision to become a professional speaker:

I put a plan in place that involved going to the end, “what did I want to ultimately achieve” and then I worked on my strategy, starting from today, to determine the steps between now and then that it would take to get there.”

“I started by purchasing a massive, framed, 8’ x 10’ world map and hung it prominently on a wall in my home so I could imagine myself speaking at exotic international locales around the globe. I also bought a full length mirror, spot lights and a podium which I set up like a stage in my basement. It was there I would practice “public” speaking in the privacy of my home. I voraciously read books about strategy, leadership, tactical execution, goal-setting, change management, innovation, business competition, selling, customer service, teamwork, and performance management. I was inspired by the writing of Og Mandino, Zig Ziglar, and Norman Vincent Peale, who filled my mind with positive thoughts and possibilities to build my confidence. I studied great leaders like Michael Eisner, Jack Welch, and Rudy Giuliani, to hone my business leadership skills and knowledge. I shaped my values and reinforced my beliefs by seeking guidance from books written by Joel Osteen, Stephen Covey, and Rick Warren. I read stories of triumph over tragedy by Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeves, and Randy Pausch, each facing irreversible and debilitating medical conditions. I read books about public speaking, attended speech training seminars, listened to speakers on audio tapes, watched videos of great speakers, and attended live performances to visualize great speakers in action. I spent one-on-one time with successful authors, Peter Garber and Sam Deep, who taught me the secrets behind writing books and articles. I met with storytelling experts, Bill Gove and Jack Boget, who taught me the importance of telling stories to support points made in my speeches and in my books. I invested time and money with professional speaking coaches, Rich Tiller and Somers White, who taught me what it takes to be a successful professional speaker. I found a literary agent, Sam Fleishman, and convinced him to represent me and help me design marketable books that would become the platform upon which my international speaking business would be built. I primed the “professional speaker” pump by initially offering my speaking services to meeting planners and conference directors for free, which allowed me to work on my speaking skills in front of live audiences. After all this, I had finally reached a point in my personal and professional development when I knew I had acquired the business maturity, experience, skills, and knowledge required to embark on a professional speaking career. Incredibly, what I thought about and imagined doing for twenty-five years was finally realized when I quit my corporate job and took the risk to become a full-time professional speaker.”

Michael Bergdahl

Bergdahl , on stage, changes his image into reality

Lesson V: Find Your Passion

“The questions you must ask yourself is this:

What is it that you are passionate about? Are you willing to dedicate yourself for 5, 10, 20, or even 25 years to achieve your career goal if that’s what it takes? Do you have a “vision” for what you have a burning desire to achieve in life? The biggest question is, “What are you so passionate about that you would love to make your life’s work?””

“The good news for you is this . . . as you graduate from IUP you can create your own vision for your career and life . . . and once you do you can achieve it. What you think about most of the time is what you will become . . . it is within your control! If you can imagine the ideal career for you . . . you can put the steps in place to achieve it.”

Lesson VI: Take the Road Less Traveled By

“I believe everyone has a purpose to fulfill during their lifetime. Your life mission can simply be to take the first job you find and follow the path wherever it takes you. That is what most people do.   But to paraphrase the words of the poet, Robert Frost, two roads diverged and I took the one less traveled, and that has made all the difference. That is the same for you as you graduate from IUP. You can diverge and follow your unique dreams and blaze your own trails.  In the end, regardless of where it takes you, you have succeeded because of the simple fact you are pursuing your dreams.”

“I was fortunate that I figured out what my passion was during my High School and College years. It was my parents who planted the original seeds that germinated into who I am in my speaking and writing career today. My father was my first speaking mentor, and my mother was my first writing mentor. My dad thoroughly enjoyed every opportunity he had to speak at company meetings, Lions Club Dinners and Rotary Club Luncheons. My mother was a prolific writer who wrote a newspaper column for many years. As my earliest mentors, they shared their knowledge, experience, and expertise with me, which encouraged me to develop my speaking and writing skills. In turn, I have passed the Bergdahl writing and speaking genes on to my son and daughter. Both have already written articles which were published in magazines, and each of them is an aspiring, fearless public speaker. I give a great deal of credit to both of my parents for the profound influence they had on the direction my life has taken.”

“Having a corporate job is not necessarily the road to happiness. Yes, you will make money, so you can afford a nice home and car, but you’ll discover one day, that working for a corporation is not the key to your happiness. Pursuing YOUR dream, focusing on family and friends, being a good citizen, and mentoring others is what I think are the real keys to happiness in life.”

Closing Remarks

Thank you to Michael Bergdahl for sharing his valuable lessons. Check back at the Eberly News page for past and future editions of EberlyInsight.

−Robert Schwartz