‘JUST One Day To Change Your Life’ screamed the poster. For just €125 and six and a half hours of your time, Apprentice star Bill Cullen would let you in on all the tips needed to achieve all your goals and make loads of cash.
If ever a phrase “rags-to-riches” was coined for someone, it was for Cullen. From selling apples on the streets of Dublin, he eventually took over the franchise for Renault car distribution from Waterford Crystal for just £1, but with debts of £18 million. The Glencullen Group, as it became known, blossomed and had a turnover in excess of €300 million in its prime.
I may not have started out in rags but I’m a long way from riches, so I decided that, with a CV like that, if anyone could change my life Cullen could. He couldn’t, but I had a few laughs along the way.
In 2002, Cullen published his memoir It’s a Long Way From Penny Apples in which he told us of how he went from selling apples on the streets of Dublin to becoming the multi-millionaire entrepreneur we all know. Golden Apples, released three years later, is full of the home-spun wisdom imparted to him by his Ma and Da and his grandmother Molly D’arcy.
It was on the tough streets of Dublin in the ’40s and ’50s that Cullen learned the lessons that would catapult him onto the Sunday Times Rich List.
About 60 souls turned up to the Clayton Hotel in Galway, early on Thursday morning to hear Bill’s motivational tools. Predominantly well dressed men, they ranged from accountants, doctors, budding entrepreneurs and the recently unemployed to Cullen devotees. Some had even brought their children along.
One of the Europa Academy (Cullen’s management and leadership training academy) staff asked me what I hoped to get out of the day. After I said I had no idea, I was told that Bill always “likes people to set goals”. I was beginning to feel nervous.
After a brief introduction which listed all of Cullen’s achievements, awards, people he has met, Guinness world records he has set, the man himself came in. For the next few hours he reiterated all those achievements, through to a series of anecdotes.
We were led to believe that all of this was achieved through simple steps and lessons that Cullen picked up from his youth. Typical of many motivational and management gurus, Cullen’s key to success is summed up in the most banal of acronyms. Cullen’s is apples: A – Attitude for achieving, P – People power, P – Plan with passion, L – Learn to be lucky, E – Energy to excel, S – Selling skills. Under each of these headings was a succession of management cliches such as “Stay Positive”, “I am Terrific”, “Dump the Negatives”, “Can-Do Attitude”, “Yes I Can”. You get the drill.
The problem was that they sound like every other motivational cliche trotted out at seminars all over the globe; quick and clever but devoid of almost all meaning.
Cullen does acknowledge the debt owed to books like Dale Carnegie’s 1937 book How to Win Friends and Influence People among others, but it leaves you with the feeling that you are paying to hear a man tell you the very things you can read in his book that can be bought at a fraction of the price.
While not hugely instructive, a day with the Apprentice star could never be described as dull. The six steps along the golden apple way are filled in with stories: how he played football for Ireland, table tennis for Ireland, how he almost made the Olympic team in gymnastics and even how he became “the man that turned down Man Utd”.
We were told about his relationship with Richard Branson, how he met Muhammad Ali, a bizarre anecdote about how he could get Hillary Clinton on the phone when she was First Lady in the White House, and even how by looking right into John B Keane’s soul in Kerry gave him the determination to write his first book.
“Any negative words you use are picked up by your body,” he told us. We were then given a demonstration in how to best shake hands and engage with someone, and told how he has “never had a cold or flu in my life”. It’s all down to being positive.
Will he change your life in a day? It’s doubtful, but if you fancy trying it out, buy his book. It’s certainly a lot cheaper, and not even Bill could argue with saving a few quid these days.
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