Hedge-Fund Master Channels P.T. Barnum

The cover of "The Art of the Sale" by Philip Delves Broughton. Selling is the driver of commerce, not a sideshow, Delves Broughton argues in this engaging melange of research and reporting. Source: Penguin Press via Bloomberg

Richard Perry is best known as a hedge-fund heavy, an event-driven investor who thrives on companies caught up in mergers and spinoffs or emerging from bankruptcy.

He also has something in common with Steve Jobs, Estee Lauder and P.T. Barnum.

“It’s all about sales,” the founder of New York hedge fund Perry Capital LLC says early on in “The Art of the Sale” by Philip Delves Broughton. “If I have sales, I can create profit.”

Delves Broughton is the former Daily Telegraph reporter whose book “Ahead of the Curve” chronicled his two years getting an MBA at Harvard Business School. His latest quest propelled him across the globe -- from San Francisco’s Embarcadero to a Tangier souk and on to Tokyo -- searching for the secrets of a discipline absent from the HBS curriculum.

Selling is the driver of commerce, not a sideshow, he argues in this engaging melange of research and reporting. Though salespeople are often sneered at as a low caste of untouchables reeking of cheap cologne, they are the workers who actually generate revenue, he reminds us.

Delves Broughton revels in the diversity of salespeople and their patter, from Barnum’s humbug to Jobs’s monastic garb and charismatic cult of iCool. Traveling to Tampa, Florida, he meets Tony “Sully” Sullivan, an infomercial barker who learned to pitch products by selling Washmatics in open-air markets. (“It’s like giving your car a shower instead of a bath.”)

‘Queequeg of Sales’

In Tokyo, he introduces a life-insurance salesman with a gelled Mohawk -- “a fearsome-looking man, a Queequeg of sales.” In between, we get to know Seddik Belyamani, a Moroccan-born American who sold $30 billion of Boeing Co. planes, Delves Broughton says.

And then there’s Larry Gagosian, the New York art dealer. His office had “the austere calm of a private papal chamber,” the author recalls from an interview that verges on seduction.

“Gagosian’s voice was soupy and languid,” he writes, “like warm ocean water, monotonous, low, confidential and self-effacing, evidently an effective tool for slackening an art buyer’s wallet.”

As the snapshot portraits show, this isn’t a book of tips for closing a sale. It is, rather, an earnest effort to understand what drives master salespeople -- to “sort through the paradoxes” of a profession that touches all our lives.

Far more Americans are employed in sales jobs than in manufacturing or finance, he says. And the rest of us do some selling every day, even if it’s just coaxing our kids to do their homework.

Setting the Stage

While Richard Perry is judged by his risk-adjusted returns, he still dresses for success and keeps his offices clad in modern art that bespeaks the firm’s wealth.

“If you aren’t selling, you aren’t part of the world,” he tells Delves Broughton.

Americans hold two conflicting views on selling, Delves Broughton says. There are those, like Dale Carnegie, who see selling as the great leveler, a way to cut through class and upbringing.

Then there’s the brutal opposing picture presented in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” where the unrelenting demands of commercial gain destroy Willy Loman.

The Faustian bargain implicit in selling is clear to Delves Broughton, the son of an Anglican clergyman. Pharmaceutical companies engage in “disease mongering,” persuading healthy people that they’re ailing. Restaurants, stuck with food that’s about to go off, sell it as the day’s special.

Smart Mops

Yet for every unscrupulous operator, the author finds hardworking men and women who believe that selling provides a genuine service.

Sullivan, the infomercial hawker of Smart Mops, won’t push a new gadget until he puts it through its paces at home, he says; his reputation depends on it. Belyamani, the Boeing salesman, speaks three languages and trained in aeronautics, management and economics.

“He is a mathematician, an engineer, a man of many cultures and languages, who when deployed to sell became more than the sum of his parts,” Delves Broughton writes.

Salesmanship requires an extra helping of the traits needed in life, including resilience and optimism. It all boils down to human rejection and acceptance, the author says, to turning a no into a yes.

It’s Delves Broughton’s way of saying, “Step right up and buy this book. Don’t delay. Order now.”

“The Art of the Sale: Learning From the Masters About the Business of Life” is from Penguin Press in the U.S. (291 pages, $27.95). It’s available in the U.K. as a Portfolio paperback under the title “Life’s a Pitch: What the World’s Best Sales People Can Teach Us All” (12.99 pounds). To buy this book in North America, click here.

(James Pressley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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