|Company Founded:||Bay Ridge Consulting (Milwaukee)||Year Graduated:||1977|
|Location:||Milwaukee, WI||Residence Hall:||Dillon|
At age 61, David Wallace was totally at a loss as to what to do. For 35 years, he’d devoted himself to a career in technology sales, first in Chicago and then in Milwaukee. He viewed sales as a profession on par with medicine, law and accounting, except for the lack of MD, JD, or CPA after his name. He knew how to read customers, understood their buying behavior and dedicated his life to making customers the stars in their stories not his.
And then it was over.
“I lost my job in 2016 when the company I was with let their entire business development team go. I was over 60; not a good age to lose one’s job,” he says.
Not that he was upset about leaving. “My last three years with the company were miserable,” he admits. “But I had to decide what next. I was too young and too poor to retire. Plus, my wife would have killed me as I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself.”
Just as startups pivot when they reach a dead end, Wallace pivoted his career. Today, he is the founder of Bay Ridge Consulting Group, an independent consultant with Corporate Visions and Culture Partners, and co-author of an Amazon number one bestselling business book, Brilliant Breakthroughs for the Small Business Owner.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” Wallace says. “Sometimes it seems like luck, but it was a lot of work to get here.”
Wallace’s founder’s journey began in the beautiful town of Oxford, Ohio, where his father was an English professor at Miami University and his mother was a French professor and later director of the alumni association of Western College for Women. “My parents taught me to understand the value of reading and writing analytically. Our dinner conversations centered on philosophy and literature. I definitely learned the skills of listening and communicating.”
Despite the family connection to Miami of Ohio, Wallace never considered attending college there. “From an early age, my dad made it clear that none of us kids were going to Miami. Dad had no interest in hearing about our problems.”
The University of Notre Dame was not high on his list either. Now, nearly 50 years later, Wallace isn’t even sure why he applied. What changed his mind was a Notre Dame football game. “I was on a campus visit and went to a game. It was cold, rainy and windy,” he recalls. “The experience was so different from the other schools I visited I decided Notre Dame was where I wanted to go.”
His mother was less than encouraging of his aspiration. “She encouraged me to have a back-up plan. Fortunately, I got in,” he smiles.
While at Notre Dame, Wallace honed his competitive skills playing intramural sports. While he didn’t realize it at the time, he also developed the life skills of prayer, patience and perseverance. After graduating, he moved to New York City to work in sales with famed retailer Abraham & Strauss. “My father thought that was the cat’s meow—single in New York,” he laughs.
Within a year, Wallace was back in the Midwest, first in Chicago and then in Milwaukee, embarking on his corporate career in sales and business development for technology companies that included General Electronics, North Shore Computers, Allied Computer Group, and Maryville Technologies.
“Sales is hard work, and contrary to popular belief, it is a profession,” he says. “The most successful salespeople are good businesspeople who have an ‘outside in’ mentality in that they look at things from the customer’s perspective. They solve customer problems rather than sell products or services.”
By 2016, Wallace was a consummate sales and business development professional. He was an attentive listener and customer problem solver. He paid attention to detail. He understood the science of decision-making and the predictable ways buying decisions are made. But he had not predicted an abrupt end to his corporate America sales gig.
“I didn’t know if I should look for another corporate sales job or hang out my own shingle,” he says. “To buy myself some time, I started Bay Ridge Consulting Group in Milwaukee the day I was released by my employer.”
A well-intentioned friend told him he wouldn’t make any money his first year in business. He didn’t, but with prayer, patience , and perseverance, Wallace kept at it. “If you believe you have something that will benefit others, go for it. So I did.”
Patience would prove to be a virtue as it took 18 months before Wallace found his consulting niche. “Large corporations can afford to pay large amounts of money to consultants like McKinsey & Company. Small businesses don’t have that luxury. They struggle with sales and business development. My focus is helping small businesses get their arms around the sales side of their organization. At times it’s as basic as helping them define their ideal customers and knowing when to walk away from people and companies that will never buy from you.”
He adds, “The big lesson for those new to sales is understanding the ugly truth that customers don’t care about you, they care about themselves. You’ve got to make them the hero every day and with every sale.”
Successful salespeople also have to work smart. Among the most difficult challenges Wallace faced as a solopreneur was understanding the value of his time. During his corporate career, he thought nothing about jumping on a plane, doing a pitch, and flying back. “The trip could span two days with travel, but that was the way of the world in IT sales,” he says. “When you’re heading your own consultancy, you can’t do that because if you’re not working, you’re not making any money. I didn’t appreciate the value of my time until my business coach told me to stop giving away my expertise.”
One of Wallace’s proven business-building tactics during his tech days was personal networking. After founding Bay Ridge Consulting Group, he joined a small business networking group. The founder, Maggie Mongan spoke to him at one of the events and invited him to go to coffee. When they met, she asked if he wanted to be a co-author on a book she was developing called Brilliant Breakthroughs for the Small Business Owner.
“Maggie had a vision of making her book a number one best seller on Amazon. She was assembling a group of successful businesspeople to contribute content and thought with my background in sales that I was a good fit. I thought it was a cool challenge and I like to write, so I accepted her offer,” Wallace says.
There’s more to creating a best-selling book on Amazon than writing. The co-authors had to contribute a number of reviews before the book was published so when it launched it already had high ratings. “When we published, we had 24 five-star reviews and one four-star review. That one was from my Notre Dame roommate! The book was released at midnight November 8, 2017, and by 6 p.m. that day it was a bestseller and rated number one in entrepreneurship and small business,” he says.
“That was my 15 minutes of fame.”
Wallace admits the caliber of the book was average and he didn’t become rich like Tom Clancy—his first royalty check was $11.50—but the return on his time investment was invaluable. “That book was an oversized business card. Being a co-author of a best-selling business book gave me street cred as a consultant and opened some doors for me.”
One of the doors that opened for Wallace was those of Corporate Visions, a leading provider of science-backed revenue growth services for business-to-business sales, marketing, and customer success. After an arduous vetting process, he was invited to join Corporate Visions as an independent consultant. Like the book, the new relationship helped fuel his consultancy.
“What’s great is they do the selling and I deliver the product through speaking engagements, workshops, and consulting. It’s fun and rewarding. I am working harder than ever before and enjoying it so much more,” Wallace says.
Wallace says another win from his new career has been discovering the joy that comes with being a guest lecturer. He started lecturing at Marquette University, then at the University of Wisconsin, and finally at Notre Dame, which he calls “my happy place.”
Since 2018, his friend Bob Essig invites him to spend two days at the Mendoza College of Business to lead workshops and mentor undergraduate and graduate students. “Notre Dame kids are amazing. They are so smart—and they ask a lot of questions. Any way I can give back to Notre Dame, I’ll do it”
Wallace offers this advice to older folks who have reached a crossroads in their career and don’t know whether to find another corporate job or strike out on their own. “You have to figure out what it is you have to offer and why someone will want to do business with you. How can you make a difference in their businesses? Don’t think they’ll hire you because you’re nice or smart or went to the same college. What they care about is whether or not they can derive value from working with you. If they believe they can, you’re in. If not, they will move on.”