The bull market

Peter Lowe explains how to succeed in business without really trying: First, find 20,000 suckers Photographs by Mark Graham

Certainly, I've known failure. In high school, the day I got cut from the varsity football team after the coach told me I had hands like feet; the night of the homecoming dance when my date, on whom I had a terrible crush, informed me she'd agreed to go steady with someone else starting the next morning; the history of Russian film class I took in college that was supposed to be a cakewalk--all the jocks took it--until the professor decided to show the films in Russian without subtitles; the year I went cold turkey and became a freelance writer, exercising the fundamental right of every American to impoverish himself if he so chooses.

Perhaps my failures have hardened me, but the idea that they could have been avoided if I'd only taken a one-day "success" seminar seemed a throwback to the human-potential movement of the '70s, when a primal scream, a mud bath, and some wheat germ qualified as a transcendental experience.

Yet there it was in black and white, a nearly full-page ad in the business section of The Dallas Morning News peddling Peter Lowe's SUCCESS 1998, "the most electrifying and energizing day you will ever experience!" (Obviously, they weren't there when I dropped the Russian film class.)

Playing on my ennui about the approaching millennium, the ad warned: "Don't miss your opportunity to get the innovative tools you need to prepare for a new decade of success and personal achievement." If I would attend the seminar on September 29, the day the road show was docking in Dallas, I, too, could learn the "deep, dark, mysterious secrets of success" from the superstars of our time: Motivation meister Zig Ziglar would teach me "how to get more of the things money will buy"; Cowboys superstar Emmitt Smith would explain "how to achieve the competitive advantage"; virtue vigilante William Bennett would instruct me on "the power of ethical ideas"; Iraqi-butt-kicker Gen. Colin Powell would tell me "how to triumph over anxieties and apprehensions."

What the "Honorable Ann Richards," who was unsuccessful in her last gubernatorial bid against George W. Bush, had to teach about success was not clear. But for only $225, I could spend the entire day at Reunion Arena and find out. And if I acted now, I could take advantage of the "special early bird" rate of only $49.

But even at this low, low price, would Peter Lowe's SUCCESS 1998 deliver on its promise? Would I "gain new motivation to fuel my life to new heights"? Would I "discover the latest secrets of success that work in today's world"? If these seminars have changed "thousands of lives," as advertised, would this one change mine too? And if it didn't change my life, would it at least change my mind: convince me that someone would benefit by attending a Peter Lowe success seminar other than Peter Lowe himself?

Just who is Peter Lowe, anyway? The ad informed me he was "America's #1 Success Authority," the founding president and CEO of a $25 million organization. His rags-to-riches story--the son of Canadian missionaries, a man with an unremarkable career as a computer salesman who teetered near bankruptcy as he chased his dream of motivating others--seems to have been profiled by journalists everywhere, particularly since he conducts more than 200 interviews annually. Each year his touring company promotes 25 success seminars in North America alone. More than a million people have attended them--26,000 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, 22,000 at the Thunderdome in St. Petersburg. And today at Reunion Arena, Lowe is playing to a sell-out crowd of some 19,000 folks hungry for his message.

First, however, they are hungry for breakfast. VIP participants--those who paid $190 for choice arena seats and the privilege of munching muffins with celebrity speakers at Union Station--had the option of an intimate 7 a.m. coffee klatsch with either Ann Richards (seating limited to 289) or Energizer Bunny Zig Ziglar (seating limited to 645). Since the media were forbidden from eating, I decided the over-the-top Ziglar would be rough listening on a caffeine-deprived morning.

So I opted for Richards, who seemed a bit caffeine-deprived herself--her voice sounding gravelly as she seized the opportunity for questions rather than answers. Apparently, she'd only brought one speech and wasn't about to give it twice. Although I voted for Richards, I hadn't forgiven her becoming, of all things, a Congressional lobbyist for the tobacco industry.

Yet it is a testament to her down-home charm and good-ol'-gal humor that, by the second question, I am ready to vote for her again. Only she's not running.

"No mas. No mas." She throws up her hands, the sun casting her face in shadow. "I have a wonderful life and no intention whatsoever of going into public life."

"How are you the way you are?" asks a woman, clearly an existentialist.
Richards' tone changes, copping a "but seriously folks" resonance. "Let me tell you--you don't know what it is that makes your core. I can't think of a time when I didn't know that I couldn't do what I was doing."

Compelling sentiment, I guess, but where did that leave the rest of us? If you are what you are, how can your life be changed by a one-day success seminar?

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