Winning Strategies of a Self-Made Billionaire (LIVE INTERVIEW)

(Preview): Founder of Wall Street English. Born into a modest family in Italy, – Pecce set up Wall Street Institute 40 years ago and it has become the most internationally renowned English Language University. Today, the organization has 450 learning centers in 28 countries around the world. There is a great deal to learn from this man if you are setting up a business of your own. ~~~ Interview by Linda Forsythe

Pecce at his office in Barcelona

Linda: Today, I am extremely honored to have as our guest, Luigi Tiziano Peccenini, (though close friends, employees and even multiple Presidents of the United States, prefer to call him “Pecce” [pronounced pe-chē] ).

And, as you may have already guessed…he is Italian. Pecce is not so well-known in the States and other English speaking countries, but he is something of a celebrity elsewhere…especially in China. And there is a good reason for that!

Wall Street English – China in the Jinmao Tower

Pecce founded a world renowned business 40 years ago called the Wall Street Institute, whose purpose is to teach the engish language and how to conduct international business interactions. Two million plus people have learned English at Wall Street Institute. All are from non-English speaking countries and territories—27 to be exact. Today, Pecce holds the post of Honorary President of Wall Street Institute International and Wall Street English-China. But he devotes most of his time sharing what he has learned as an entrepreneur, and as a man, with our future leaders. He does so through giving seminars, particularly at universities in China, and through the books that he is currently writing. He is Guest Professor at Shanghai International Studies University and Hunan International Economics University and Adjunct Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

He lives between Barcelona, Beijing, and China’s beautiful island of Hainan, set in the tropical waters of the South China Sea, which is where we have caught up with him today.

On Hainan island where I interviewed Pecce.

Welcome, Pecce, to this month’s Millionaire Incubator interview. This is truly an honor to have you with us today!!!

Pecce: Nice to be with you, Linda. I am very pleased to be here, and I am available to answer all your questions. Please, go ahead.

Linda Forsythe: Well, Pecce, I don’t suppose many of our listeners will have heard of Hainan. Can you explain where this is on the map for us?

Pecce: Hainan, as you rightly said, is in the South China Sea, and belongs to China. It’s a beautiful island…and it’s very big. It is between Hong Kong and Vietnam. In fact, it’s an hour and a half flight from Hong Kong. Of course it’s tropical. And the best time to be in Hainan is from December until March, because during the winter you get 24° C and upwards, so it is really a paradise. That’s why I spend most of my time in winter here, except of course when I’m traveling around China, giving seminars in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and other cities.

Linda Forsythe: You have become a success, Pecce, beyond most

The tropical island of Hainan lies in the South China Sea and enjoys an average
temperature of 22-26°C, with over 300 days of sunshine a year

people’s wildest dreams. When they listen to this interview, they will probably want to know, “What do I have to do to achieve the success that you have had? Are my dreams even big enough? Am I up to it?”—and so on. Quite a few more may be wondering why they never heard of you. *Laughs* What I am hoping today, Pecce, is that you are going to be able to unearth your secrets to success.

Pecce: Well, you’re right, Linda…your audience may very well be wondering, “Who is this man, Peccenini, who Linda is taking the time to talk with?!” Maybe a few will have read my article printed in a previous issue of your “Walking with the Wise” book series, but I imagine most will be saying, “How come, if you’re so well known, I have never heard of you?” Of course, you mentioned the reason for that. The business I created is all about teaching people English and is entirely located outside the United States. I would hope, though, that if you stopped a young professional on the streets of Beijing or Shanghai and mentioned “Wall Street English” to them, they would not only have heard of us but may even have learned English in one of our centers. We currently have 16 centers in Beijing and 15 in Shanghai. When you think that an average-sized English school elsewhere in the world has maybe 500 students at any one time, our largest centers each have up to 3,000 students enrolled! If I was to walk you around our flagship center in Shanghai, I think you would be astonished—it still amazes me! It takes up the entire third floor of China’s most prestigious building, the Jinmao Tower—one of the jewels of modern architecture.

The Jin-Mao Tower And Shanghai City Illuminated At Night.

The tower is shaped like a pagoda that has been stretched 88 stories into the sky—88 because 8 is a lucky number in China. It tapers all the way up to the Hyatt Hotel which occupies the top 34 floors. Our center is at the bottom, where the floors are the largest.

The interior courtyard atrium of the Grand Hyatt Shanghai Hotel inside the Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai, China

That gives us the room to provide the sort of facilities students could normally only dream of, like a cinema to watch English films, a Social Club area, and English Corner, where students can practice English with friends and enjoy such a degree of comfort that many students prefer to spend their days in a center rather than in their own home! The design of all the centers is Chinese-Italian–a mix of Ferrari and Feng Shui. I feel very strongly that the space you learn in has a deep effect on how effectively you learn, so no expense has been spared! As you mentioned, Wall Street Institute started life in Europe 40 years ago this year. And it has grown steadily to around 450 centers in 27 countries and territories.

Linda Forsythe: The environment you describe in your centers sounds truly inspiring! It’s not difficult to see why Wall Street has enjoyed so much success. You said that you have sold the company bit by bit over the years…can you tell us more about that?

Pecce: I have always been a one-man show, and a one-man show cannot last forever. There comes a time in the expansion of a company, especially one that needs a lot of capital investment up-front for new centers, developing online learning, and so on, when the opportunities for growth far exceed the cash available to finance that growth. I have hit that point three times in the life of Wall Street Institute. The first time was in 1986. A couple of years earlier I had invested all my money in developing learning materials especially for the new learning methodology I had designed. But I was unable to recoup my investment. There just weren’t enough schools in Italy to spread the cost over. So the business went bankrupt. I knew the business model was sound, though, and was determined to start again. But I desperately needed an investor. So I used my last two thousand dollars to buy an advertisement in a Swiss newspaper. Luckily, a Swiss business angel came forward, and his investment allowed me to launch and expand the network in Switzerland. The next time I needed capital investment was in 1997. This time a large American company, Sylvan Learning Systems, offered to buy the whole business. By then it had expanded through Europe and to Central and South America. Knowing that they would secure its future and enable it to grow more quickly than I could alone, I sold them the business. Then the final time was in 2006. I had launched Wall Street in China, this time as a franchise. I had grown it to a point where it needed to make a quantum leap in expansion.

Pecce’s Birthplace – Born in Ferrara, Luigi Tiziano Peccenini  was the only child of a modest family. Although he was a brilliant student at school, his parents could not afford to send him to university and, at the age of 19, he started working as a sales agent. It was not long before he became a successful sales manager. At the age of 28, he created Computex, the first computer training company in Italy. Four years later he sold it to his partners.

Just think—there are now nearly 3,000 people working for Wall Street in China! There comes a time when you have to do what is going to benefit your staff, secure their jobs, and keep students coming through the doors. So I sold the franchise to The Carlyle Group, who had already bought the rest of Wall Street from Laureate Education. Carlyle, in turn, has recently sold the whole of Wall Street, including China, to Pearson, which is both the largest education company and the largest book publisher in the world. You know Pearson very well, I’m sure. They started out as the publisher Longman, which was founded in 1724. They also own Penguin Books, AddisonWesley, and many other famous companies, as well as the Financial Times and 50% of The Economist. Importantly, they did not acquire Wall Street Institute and Wall Street-China to resell them, but to keep them, and are planning to invest very large sums in taking the business on to the next level. That’s why now I am satisfied with the situation today, and I’m helping them with that in a small way. They are already improving the business with new complementary products for our students. So the situation today… I think it is ideal for the two companies that I founded. They found their best destiny.

So you see, Linda, we all know that failure brings problems—and I have had my fair share of those—but growth, and especially lack of capital to grow, also brings its problems. Of course, they are usually better problems to have! But if not handled correctly they can, if not destroy your business…they can see it relegated to the sidelines. At any of these points, had I not sought and accepted investment, Wall Street Institute could have ended up a mere footnote in the history of language learning…and people would still perhaps be laboring to learn English in the old and inefficient traditional ways!

Linda Forsythe: So, it was your confidence in your business model that carried you through the difficult times in the 1980s. Your confidence must have been infectious because you obviously managed to convince people to invest in it, including two very well-known companies, Sylvan and Carlyle. That’s what we all dream about…coming up with an idea that is a game changer in an industry! It sounds, from what you say, that that is what you did, and I know our audience would just love to hear about how you invented a new business model. It must have been something special to have attracted the big players to your door!

Pecce: Well, let me say that frankly, 40 years ago, it turned the English teaching world upside down. It was very much ahead of its time and is only now being introduced into the school system in the United States. Before my method, learning was teacher-centered. Afterwards, it has gradually become student centered. Let me tell you why this shift in focus was important, and then I’ll tell you how we achieved it. Previously, you went into a classroom, and you had the teacher giving you a lesson together with maybe 10 or 20 individuals. And then you went home. You would maybe study homework, and then you would go back for the next lesson the next week. So what was the problem? In fact, there were a number of fundamental problems. First, students in a traditional class would have different levels of fluency— I’m talking about the typical adult evening class, not a class in school, although schools are not immune from this problem. It is very difficult for a teacher to teach students who are at different levels of ability, and it is very frustrating for the more advanced students to have to slow down for those who are struggling. No one is really very happy—not the teacher, not the able students, and not the students who are lagging. What makes this worse is that not every individual has the same skills for learning, whether it is mathematics, physics, history, or a language. You know, learning is not just a matter of intelligence; it is above all a matter of aptitude. Do you know that Einstein, at the age of 17 didn’t pass his French exam because he wasn’t very good at it? So if you put Einstein to study with someone who had a great aptitude for learning French, he would look stupid. People with an aptitude obviously move ahead of the rest. Secondly, with a fixed timetable, students ended up missing some classes. Imagine if today’s Einstein can’t make it to all the classes and so falls even further behind. Then you can see how he would act as a drag on the class. These factors accentuate the differences among students over time. Clearly, getting people to sign up for a fixed course of classes at 7:00 p.m. on a Wednesday evening for 10 evenings is a recipe for dissatisfaction. I realized there just had to be an opportunity behind a problem as annoying as this was. I needed to create a method that put students at the same level of fluency in front of a teacher, time after time after time, without exception. And that’s essentially what I did.

Linda Forsythe: How did you finally manage to accomplish this?

Pecce: How? Well, I had to deconstruct the process of learning a language. Like reverse engineering a car…taking it to bits and seeing what makes it work. I realized there were essentially two aspects to learning a language: first you learn new vocabulary and grammar, and then you practice it so it’s ingrained. With that in mind, I eliminated classes as we knew them, and I abolished the fixed timetable course. Instead, students would pay to achieve a result, a certain degree of fluency. They were then free to use the resources of the center as much as they liked, usually over a year or a year and a half. They would begin by learning vocabulary and grammar at their own pace by themselves in our language labs, using all the support we could provide. In the 1970s and 80s, that meant books and a tape recorder, whereas now it means a computer, of course. In addition, they can summon help from a lab assistant who is an English-speaking native of their country. Then comes the bit that really makes a big difference. When they reach a certain point in the curriculum, a certain level of fluency—let’s say they have completed Level 3 Unit 10—they need to practice and reinforce their learning with a teacher before moving to the next unit. One student might need one day to study Unit 10, another student four hours, another student six hours spread over two weeks, and so on. Well, rather than having to go to a weekly class with the same teacher, they head to the reception area of their center to book a small-group lesson with a teacher and a maximum of three other students.

picture

the lesson they’re looking for repeated three or four times a week, maybe at 10:00 on Monday morning with an American teacher, at 4:00 on Wednesday afternoon with an Australian teacher, at 8:00 on Thursday evening with a Scottish teacher, and on the weekend with an English English teacher! They then put their name down for the time that suits them. This way they get accustomed to different accents. Now, if they miss their lesson because they suddenly have to go away on business, and they cannot attend, then the next week they simply continue from the point they left off when they get back, in a week, a month, or whatever. Furthermore, if one Unit 10 lesson with a teacher is not enough, then they can do it again—at no extra charge! So you can have a thousand students in one center, and even if they all started at the same time, they won’t all finish at the same time. Everyone (and this is the great secret) is going at his or her own speed. So courses are self-paced. I eliminated the problem of missing lessons and of studying at a time that is fixed and determined by the school. This was a big revolution in language learning, and now of course, many, many competitors copy what we do. But if we continue with the original, improving it all the time, we always stay ahead. You know originals are always better than copies! I don’t know if I have made you understand how the method works, but today, it’s really very, very successful. It has become known as blended learning, in that it includes both technology and teachers in the mix. In China, we are the leaders, number one without any doubt, and in many other countries too.

*Editor’s Note: For anyone interested in how far ahead of its time Pecce’s learning methodology was…see how this same concept is *only now* being hailed in education as “the new big thing”: http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_ s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html.

Linda Forsythe: You answered my question very comprehensively! I know that our audience is going to be very eager to hear how a young boy from Italy ends up living in a tropical paradise and has built an organization of such a magnitude as you have. I also love how you have taken the English language and been able to sell it to the world. Some would say that that is incredible! Others would say that only a non-English speaking person can truly appreciate the value of being able to speak English. What was it that led you to enter the English language learning arena? Pecce: It’s interesting how it all came about. Because sometimes things happen which you would like to take credit for, but actually they happen almost by accident! Linda Forsythe: *Laughs* I personally don’t believe in accidents. But, with that being said…you do have me curious about your statement.

Pecce: The whole story is that before I started Wall Street Institute in 1972, I was running another company, called Computex. I had set it up in 1968 in Italy, when I was 29. It was while running Computex that I devised the methodology that I later used in Wall Street Institute. Computex was the first company to do computer training in Italy. This was the time when computers, like the IBM 360 20, used punch cards and were the size of a very large American refrigerator!

I remember in 1968 that some computer companies had just started up in Italy: IBM, Siemens, Honeywell, and General Electric. But there was no one training programmers, analysts, and computer operators. So I set up Computex. Actually, before I set the company up, some people said, “Are you crazy? IBM is already training people to use its computers. Are you competing with IBM?” Well, IBM and the others were doing free training because when they sold a computer they had to train their client’s staff. It occurred to me that it wasn’t their core business to do training. They were obliged to do it. And in a few years, training would be done by other companies. In fact, that is exactly what happened.

Linda Forsythe: It’s obvious you have always been a visionary. What did you do after you first had the idea?

Pecce: I moved forward to make it happen. The first ad that I published was in the Corriere della Sera, the number one newspaper in Italy. Linda, I had a queue at the door of people coming to enroll, despite the fact that the training was very expensive! Speaking of which, I have always targeted excellence; the best service, the best teachers, the best academic material, and so on. And you know how it worked? I borrowed manuals from IBM and other companies. They called it “Programmed Instruction.” So, in effect, you had a self training handbook with multiple-choice questions, and you had the answers at the end of the book. So trainees could check if they were answering the questions correctly. What I did was this: I took the manuals, I eliminated the answers at the end, and I replaced the checking process with a teacher. So the student would study a manual at home in their own time, and at their own pace. There were none of the multimedia tools we use today. Then when they were ready, they would come to my school to have the lesson with the teacher. One student might need to study at home for three hours, another 10 hours, another three days, and so on. So, you can see how the methodology created in Computex came to form the basis of the Wall Street methodology. Of course it became more sophisticated in Wall Street, with the advances in technology. And now, if you like, I will tell you why I went from the computer training to the English training business!

Linda Forsythe: Well yes, I would like to hear that! Your brilliance amazes me.

Pecce: Well, I always had a passion to study languages. You may remember I can speak four well, but I can actually get along in six languages. I was just over 20, and I had left my small town, Ferrara, in the north of Italy, and moved to Milan. In Milan I was working full time, and in the evening I went to the Swiss consulate because they were offering lessons in German, and I wanted to learn German. But that didn’t work out very well because one evening I’d be too busy to attend the course, and then another evening, and another, and I was always missing lessons. I then tried with the Goethe Institute, but it was the same story. And then I said to myself, “There must be a better way because this isn’t working for me.” Remember, this was when I was 20-something.

So, moving forward 10 years or so, when I’d finished with Computex, and I was 33, I thought back to the difficulties I’d had learning German, what with missing lessons. Not only that, but I’d joined a class in which there was 10 or 15 people and me. I’d had some talent for languages, but there was some who were very slow, and the teacher had no choice but to accommodate the slow ones. Trouble was, the fast learners got bored. Of course, if you follow the pace of the fast students, then the slow ones cannot learn, and this was a big problem. So I thought to myself, “Why can’t I apply the methodology I developed for computer training to learning languages?”

And then I thought, “I’m going to try!” And you know what I did? I tested the methodology for 9 months with 15 people in Milano, who I paid to be students. After 9 months I thought, “It works!” and I launched the company. So, it was all because I couldn’t learn German that I decided to create a new way of learning languages. Did I set up a school for English? Well, not exactly! I set up a school for English, yes, but also French and German. And this is why I say my career has been accidental. Because it took me a year of trying to sell French and German courses to realize that most of my business was coming from teaching English. From that moment on, it was Wall Street Institute, School of English! That experience—of starting a language school offering three languages, finding it was a failure at selling two thirds of its product line, but then seeing the potential in English—was one of a number of times in my life when I could have failed, but managed to see an opportunity behind the problem.

Linda Forsythe: Fascinating! Mentioning your failures reminded me, Pecce, of when you and I met for lunch in Chicago with Sharon Lechter (who is the co-author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”), and we were all having a conversation. I was so impressed by what you were saying! You and Sharon were both talking about your history…how you started your businesses and the failures you had overcome, and how you both had come to realize that there’s an opportunity behind every problem. You also spoke about one problem, one obstacle in particular. I would love our audience to hear that conversation.

Pecce: Yes, exactly, Linda, that was one of the six lessons that I wrote in your first book, “Walking with the Wise:” behind a problem, there is always an opportunity. Many people know this. But how many people turn it around in their heads so that it becomes a guide in life? In other words, until I come up against a problem, I won’t have a chance of seeing the opportunity behind it! I have to seek out problems to find the most opportunities. In doing that, I inevitably court failure because I am pushing the boundaries, trying new things, which make failure more likely: starting a new business, expanding to a new territory, inventing a new product, and so on. As you’ve seen, the reason I was successful with Wall Street Institute was not because I did the right things, but because I failed. There was the minifailure in my product line that I told you about. Easily rectified. There was an earlier failure in my mid-20s, in the pre-Wall Street days, when my business failed. Everyone blamed my partner, but I knew I had to take responsibility for having chosen the wrong partner. I realized, at that early stage, that the more one blames, the more one loses power and control over one’s own life.

Much later, in 1985, came my big business failure and my resulting bankruptcy. I had made a huge investment in new learning material for Wall Street, but I didn’t have enough centers to spread the cost over and the business went bust. It was the worst time in my life, and it was the best, because from that failure I learned how to be successful and never failed again. I analyzed it, and I admitted I made “this mistake” and I made “that mistake,” and I resolved to start again and try not to repeat those mistakes.

Linda Forsythe: That is a profound outlook. Were there other “failures” during your journey?

Pecce: No, but there were certainly other situations. The other thing that happened to me (in the same year by the way) was that my health failed, and I nearly died. The doctors couldn’t understand what was happening. I could even feel myself dying. But thanks to that serious illness, I discovered a new style of life, which I have followed ever since. It’s made up of fundamentally three things: One is the right nutrition, the second is exercise, and then the third is—and sometimes it is harder for people to achieve—but it’s peace of mind. So I try to keep body, mind, and spirit in shape. So it was thanks to that sickness that I learned how to be fit and healthy— the opportunity for full health ONLY materialized because of the acute sickness problem I had faced. From that time—I was 46 when it happened, 27 years ago—I have followed a macrobiotic diet as advocated by Michio Kushi in his book “Macrobiotic Way.” Not in a radical way, because I am not a radical guy in anything, but I would say I follow it 80% to 90%.

I now follow the rules that I fix for myself: the right nutrition and the right exercise—you know 2 hours before dinner, 20 minutes of swimming, and walking half an hour nearly every day or 20 minutes at least. Nutritious food, in my opinion, accounts for about 60% of the benefits of my health regimen. And exercise for another 30%. The remaining 10% has to do with something in the mind. Linda…It’s that I have never thought in my entire life that, “I am old.” I always think that, “I am young.” When I stick to those three things, then peace of mind follows.

Linda Forsythe: I know that saying you think of yourself as young is not just words, Pecce. I have heard somewhere that you play football (soccer, for us Americans), and that your team members are in their 20s and 30s!

Pecce: Hah! I guess you’ve seen the photos on my website! In fact, the last match was three months ago in Shanghai. We are all young guys, and play seven against seven. Normally when you play seven against seven, you play for half-an-hour, and then you have a 10-minute break, and then you play another half-an-hour. But we were crazy! We played for two hours without an interval, without a single break! And my team won 11-10. I scored four goals and I assisted three others, and I was not tired at the end. It’s unbelievable. (Because you know I will be 73 this year! And, I am playing football! *Laughs*)

Linda Forsythe: WOW! You know, Pecce, you have spoken very candidly about your ups and downs and different obstacles that you have had to overcome in life, and there are many in our audience who will be able to relate to that. Americans, in particular, will remember Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again,” but it is not always that easy. What was it in you that kept you going when many others would have given up? What kept you going, Pecce, when things were tough?

Pecce: I think there are a couple of things that kept me going when times were tough, and still do, because I am still challenging myself. The first is that my character was forged in adversity. I came from a modest family, so from early childhood onwards, I was used to the notion that we had to work for what we get—and indeed I helped the family by getting jobs during the school holidays. There was no money to send me to university, so I went straight to work once I left school. I was used to encountering obstacles. And I was used to overcoming them, plus doing this mostly on my own, partly because I was an only child.

It’s like people who go to war and afterwards are more prepared to face problems, because their character has been tempered…sort of like steel in a furnace. Of course when you have a tough life, two things can happen: you survive, or you succumb. But if you survive, then you are all the stronger for it. There is a quote from Nelson Mandela who stayed in prison for 25 years, and he said, “Tough times make people strong.” I think we all know this. So, when my business failed in 1985, it was very painful, very difficult, very tough. I had a family, I had two kids, I had no money. Really I had nothing, and practically zero possibilities. But I could pick myself up because I was used to facing problems. Nothing heroic, just a response that was second nature given my upbringing.

The second thing that has helped me through has been a mindset I have adopted in order to deal with the various downturns along the road. My approach to failure has been, “It is my business that has failed, not me personally.” It was that mindset that has given me the confidence to dust myself off and start all over again.

Linda Forsythe: Despite what you say, I think there is a lot of the hero in you, because not everybody has the chutzpah, so to speak, to be able to overcome obstacles and continue moving forward. That’s rather a rare trait, which is sad. In America we have the saying “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” I’ve been so impressed by what you’ve been able to achieve and how you overcame these obstacles! Now, Pecce, there is one thing that you have mentioned to me in the past about “choosing the right partner,” and that has been an important theme in your life. With hindsight, do you think it’s possible to know in advance whether someone is going to make a good partner or not? I mean, are there any particular signs that you look for? For instance, even in personal relationships, some will look for those born under the same zodiac sign. And especially being in China, if you were looking for a partner today, with the benefit of having had good ones and not-so-good ones in the past, what would make you choose one person over another?

Pecce: You know it’s not my way to use the zodiac. Though, of course, in China there’s great interest in whether you were born in the year of the tiger, or the pig, and so on! *Laughs* I think the recipe for choosing the right partner has two ingredients: an understanding of human nature and instinct. If you really take an interest in people in your life and you pay attention to your relationships, you begin to understand what makes people tick. I have always wanted to understand people, and like anything else, the more you try the better you become. I was as bad at it as the next man when I was young. In fact, I was given a lesson in instinct, when I was 25, by my fiancée, who later became my wife. I’d met a man (a 35-year-old) with whom I was planning to start my first company— the company I mentioned earlier. I thought he was brilliant, intelligent, a good speaker. Anyway, I introduced him to my fiancée. It was only a quick introduction, in passing: “Nice to meet you, and bye-bye.” Later I met up with her and she said “I don’t like that man.” Well, I was upset, Linda. I said “How can you say that you don’t like that man when you have only met him for a couple of minutes?” I was really perplexed. Then later in life I understood. She had a gut feeling, an instinct that that the guy was wrong. As it turned out, she was right because one year later, his lack of care for customers brought the company down. We had two departments: my department dealt with education, his department was involved with machinery. But it was one company. My department was not so brilliant, but it made a profit at the end of one year, but his department was a failure. And because it was one company, we failed. Because he didn’t care about people. He didn’t care, and it was something I hadn’t spotted. I’ve gotten better over the years, for sure, but whatever my ability to assess people, I have always obtained help from friends and colleagues when hiring for senior roles. Sometimes appointments are just too important to rely solely on your own instincts. For example, ten years ago when I hired David Kedwards as COO—David is now the CEO of Wall Street Institute—I got every one of the nine senior managers to interview him and give me their take on him. All but one were very happy with him. The one who wasn’t happy, funnily enough, was the one manager who I had had reservations about. When David told me afterwards that he was impressed with all the managers bar this same one, it was confirmation to me that David had good instincts, and that the errant manager had to go!

It reminds me of a very interesting book called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, whom I was lucky enough to meet at a forum in New York. He explains in detail in his book the importance of instinct. He says that in a fraction of a second, in the blink of an eye, you can tell if a person is good or bad. I’m sure he’s right, but it’s a skill one has to work at! It helps if you are fond of people and study them. Then you develop a better understanding of human nature, and that is something that I developed over time.

Linda Forsythe: It’s fascinating that you say that, because when I interviewed Donald Trump a couple of years ago, he said the exact same thing. He said that the people who many times were very successful, are successful because they have that gut feeling—that instinct as you say, or “street smarts,” is another way that he put it. So having that gut feeling and following it, I think, is very important to listen to. So thank you for going over that. Now, Pecce, I’d like to talk a little bit about China, if you don’t mind.

Pecce: No, I don’t mind at all!

Linda Forsythe: Americans, in fact many westerners, find China a little bit mysterious. You have had rare insight into how the Chinese people think and what they are like. And you’ve spent hours with senior figures there and even more time with university students at China’s top universities. So, you must know about the culture and what is on their mind. I am sure that there are many questions that the Chinese ask you, which may give you a bit more insight. If you could sum up the essence of the modern Chinese culture, what would it be? And are they really that much different than us in the West, or are we all pretty much alike?

Pecce: You know, I’ve been fortunate enough to live and work with people of quite a few countries. I’ve lived a few years in the States, I’ve lived in Switzerland, I’ve lived in France, and I now live in Spain and China. What I’ve discovered is that beneath the surface, human beings are the same everywhere. I know from the question and answer sessions that I hold at the seminars I give in China that they have the same needs, the same wishes, the same dreams.

Talking about China…of course it’s a different country. It’s very different, and I’m sure some of your readers would like to know how to do business in China. The thing to remember is that, although as human beings we are all the same, the culture within which people live can be very, very different. And so, to have the best chance of getting along with people, one must take the time to understand and respect their culture. I have tried to immerse myself in the Chinese culture, and as a result I have been gradually accepted, almost as if I were a distant cousin. People who fail to understand the culture get short shrift. I’ll give you an example. Seven or eight years ago, when I had just started my business, I had a meeting in Beijing with the general manager of the municipal Education Commission. I was attending together with my Chinese partner, and there were other participants around the table. One of the other participants introduced his organization to the general manager saying, “Well, we want to do more business in China; we have already have done this and that.” And he kept blowing his trumpet louder and louder: “We have already invested $5 million in China,” and so on. Well, you know what happened, Linda? The general manager, who was sitting next to me, suddenly stood up, looked at the “trumpeter” and said, “Are you just here to tell me that you invested five million dollars? Our meeting is over, goodbye.” He then gestured for me to accompany him to the door, and privately he said, “I know what you have done and what you are doing in China, and you are welcome here.” So, you can go to China, and even if you go as part of a large company, if you behave in a way that could be considered arrogant, then you and your company will not be welcomed.

Linda Forsythe: Fascinating! I know everyone would love to know more about Chinese culture.

Pecce: OK then, when you want to start your business, be aware that the government is watching. Then, if you do the right things, and they understand that you are really doing things with quality, and you care about people, and you do things with excellence, they will support you. This is what happened with my company. I did the right things, I invested for the people. I didn’t care about immediate profitability. Then, gradually, very gradually, I started to make profits. So first you have to show in this country that you are doing things really for the people. You know, whereas in the United States or in Europe, nobody really watches you, in China the government is watching. So you have to pay attention, and you have to do the right things. So come, but don’t act like an American or like a European; try to understand the culture and the way they live, and then you can really be successful. I should add that I get to meet a lot of business people and students in China because of the seminars I have been giving in companies and universities here, and they are really eager to understand and learn from foreigners. They are fascinated by what we can teach them. They have so many questions about life and everything. They are so alive, these people. Yet fundamentally I don’t find any difference from students in Italy. They are very dynamic, and when you really create confidence, create trust, you can speak with them like I am speaking with you now. So if you do the right thing when you get here, they will accept you with open arms…and maybe you will be invited onto their television to explain our Western ways, as I have been!

Linda Forsythe: I can honestly say that I also am very eager to learn about the Chinese and hold out my hand in friendship. As another point, Pecce, I know that you hand out other people’s books at your seminars for free, because you’ve learned a great deal from writers, particularly the Chinese sage, Lao Tzu. What else do you think we can learn from the Chinese, and what else has been learned that has impressed you so deeply about Lao Tzu that you can pass on to us?

Pecce: Well, Linda, the book by Lao Tzu you’re referring to is called the Tao Te Ching, and I’m sure many of your readers will know of it. In it you can find the answer and advice for anything you want to do in life. Whether in business or in private relationships, whether it’s about friends, life, death, or anything else. It is such a fantastic book, and it’s one that I want to bring to the attention of the Chinese because, believe it or not, a good few have not come across his writings. Which is why I talk about it and hand it out at my seminars. By the way, I discovered the Tao Te Ching not when I came to China, but rather 35 years ago when I was still living in Italy. That’s when I learned about Feng Shui, Taoism, and Buddhism—when I was 35. As a result, I practically never use Western medicine. My doctors in Barcelona and Germany follow the Chinese way of medicine.

Linda Forsythe: How did you come across the Tao Te Ching so many years ago?

Pecce: Nobody gave me the book. I think a book finds you. I was in an airport and picked up a book and it was the Tao Te Ching. It was in this book that I found the wisdom for everything. For instance, it says, “if you know others…you are intelligent; but, if you know yourself…you are wise.” And then it says also, “if you want to be a king, you have to serve your people.” And there are so many other things that you can learn from this book. I think that if foreigners read this book they will begin to understand Chinese culture through it.

Linda Forsythe: If you could pass on the most important thing of all that is required for success… what would that one thing be?

Pecce: I would write in big letters “HEALTH.” Why? I say because, “If you are not healthy, you’ll find it difficult to obtain the other things you want. If you cannot be healthy, you cannot be happy.” And of course, I talk about success and happiness, because you know how many people are successful but are unhappy. So that’s why health for me is number one, because it’s the one that can allow me to control my life.

Linda Forsythe: That is powerful, and you’re right. In fact, there’s even an old saying: “If you don’t have your health, you have nothing.” And on that note, I think that it is time that we have to end our interview. It has been absolutely fascinating and inspiring listening to you, Pecce! I have learned so much from our conversations together and during this interview. And I want to thank you for taking time from your very busy day to get together and talk with me today. I’ve known you for many years now, and each time we meet, you’ve always managed to inspire me.

Pecce: Linda, I have to thank you above all for giving me the opportunity to pursue my purpose in life, which is to help people and be useful. If you look at my website you’ll notice three of my maxims. The first one is “Serving people.” The second one is “Education is the engine of life, and language is its vital tool.” And the third one is “In a sound business, profit is a consequence, not the purpose.” So if this interview can really be useful to people, then I will be happy.

Linda Forsythe: Outstanding! Everything that you have done is truly an inspiration. Learning how you have overcome obstacles and how you live on purpose…that is something that many of us really need to learn more of in order to follow your example.

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