Bill Britt, one of the most successful MLM businessmen in history and the man who built one of the world’s largest direct sales networks, died this week of heart failure. He was 81 years old. There will be a funeral service held in LaGrange, North Carolina and a memorial service next week in Raleigh.
Britt was famous as a straight shooter, unabashed and uncompromising in his views. While most entrepreneurs would advise against mixing the subjects of religion or politics with business, those were always the central themes of any of his speeches. Britt’s strong patriotism and conservative political views were stated clearly – before crowds of thousands – without hesitation. And his Christian faith was declared loudly and without apology. If Margaret Thatcher was the “Iron Lady,” to her generation, Bill Britt was surely the “Iron Man” within the world of network marketing.
The North Carolina businessman was seldom thought of as separate from his wife, Peggy. It was always “Bill and Peggy Britt,” even though Peggy was a quiet, soft spoken, a contrast to her husband’s more bombastic personality. Peggy could often be seen at large conventions, looking on adoringly as Bill gave speeches, like a Nancy Reagan, supporting her man. And like Mrs. Reagan, Peggy was known to be alert to those who would take advantage of her husband.
Likewise, when Bill Britt’s name was mentioned it was often in the same sentence with Dexter Yager, Bill’s upline networking colleague. Bill made a career out of demonstrating public loyalty to Dexter. It was surely part of the secret to his success at keeping together such a large, cohesive network organization, for such a long time.
On Bill’s 80th birthday, at a gathering of several hundred networking leaders, Bill Britt brought back Dexter Yager to honor him and tell his leaders that “this is the man who changed my life.”
Britt was a city manager in North Carolina when he was first shown the networking business by Dominick Coniguilaro, a downline friend and distributor of Dexter Yager. As the Yager network expanded across North America, Bill Britt’s organization followed a close second.
An apocryphal story, widely believed, held that a young man with a big idea. Richard Clark, suggested that Britt and Yager build their own cassette tape manufacturing plant. As networkers they already had a customer base that would justify the investment and if the plant were big enough they could make a fortune when massive orders for a hit song or a political candidate suddenly demanded it.
According to the story widely accepted on the street, Yager declined the Clark suggestion and Britt said, “Yes.” It was a decision that would soon make Britt and network marketers worldwide extremely rich. Within a few years Britt’s company would be one of the major suppliers of cassettes in North America. For a time, the Amway Corporation and Dexter Yager, himself, would buy their tapes from Bill Britt’s manufacturing concern.
The real story, told below in comments from Jim Britt, is less colorful but more accurate. While Bill and Peggy Britt hit the road, and maintained relationships with their sprawling networks, Jim and other family members built the tape business machine by machine, keeping the growing network efficiently supplied and it was Jim and other Britt family members who launched the manufacturing business as well. Clark’s involvement came later.
Britt was late to the international networking game. He invested large amounts of money and fielded a superb staff but the formula of God and Country that worked so well in North America fell flat in other markets. Not only did he fall behind Jim and Nancy Dornan who built Network 21, the largest worldwide network, but for a while he fell behind his upline, Dexter Yager, as well.
Britt found his comeback in Kanti and Lata Gala, business persons from India. They went on to build a huge business worldwide. Arguably, the largest surviving remnants of the Britt organization in North America are led by Ron Puryear in the Pacific Northwest and Larry and Pam Winters in North Carolina. Other domestic leaders include Angelo and Claudia Nardone and Paul and Leslie Miller.
Joel Griffing says that Bill Britt came from a troubled home. His father was an alcoholic. In a rare moment, when asked when and how his life changed he offered a story that was seldom told onstage. He was an enlisted soldier in Korea, he said, when another soldier came along and said “Bill, you’re officer material.” According to Britt, that small exchange turned his life around. He went to officer candidate school, found his faith in God, and gained the confidence to pursue his destiny.
Bill Britt was not perfect. In today’s world he would be labeled a homophobe and a misogynist. It is the latter that sometimes hurt his image with fellow networkers. One couple remembers him returning late at night from a large meal, including desert, and then ordering his wife to go to the kitchen to prepare banana pudding. She obeyed. Another remembers him suddenly, unexpectedly ordering his wife to step into the aisle of a restaurant and dance. Again, she obeyed.
As a city manager in Sanford and then Goldsboro he had his ups and downs. And as a business investor he made some pretty big mistakes as well as some outstanding successes. It was network marketing that worked for him and provided the steady stream of income to play with.
Bill organized his leaders into an association that formed committees and created systems that allowed them to avoid many of the lawsuits and crisis that would come to other groups.
If Bill was a showman onstage he always kept one foot out of the business as well. He understood the reality outside the ballroom and the coliseum. In 1989 I was working in the White House and arranged for him to come in to meet with the president in a Roosevelt Room meeting with twenty other leaders. Britt wisely stripped the showy diamond rings off his fingers and blended in nicely.
When it became apparent that they would not have children of their own, Peggy Britt wanted to adopt. But Bill thought it was too late. And so, his friends in network marketing became those children. And they will be the ones who descend on the tiny little town of LaGrange next week to say goodbye to a legend.
On short notice I couldn’t
get to many of Bill’s friends and I am sorry for that. Their comments and eulogies will follow in the days to come. But here are a few loving thoughts from those I have been able to reach today. Also see MLM Hall of Fame.