Indiana State University Newsroom

‘Boxcar Millionaire’ encourages students to define success, maintain honesty

April 9, 2012

Sales expert Tom Black emphasized the importance of developing a personal definition of success in a recent presentation at Indiana State University.

Author of "The Boxcar Millionaire," Black grew up impoverished and credits goal setting and hard work as reasons for his success in sales and business. He presented "Achieving Sales Success Ethically," during which he explained his definition of success with the captivated audience as "the progressive realization of a worthwhile goal or dream."

"It didn't say I'd be the smartest or the best-looking or the richest. It didn't say that I had to have the biggest house or the best car," Black said. "It just said that every morning when I got up, I was progressively moving towards my worthwhile goal or dream."

Organized by the Sales and Negotiations Center, his presentation served as the first event of the State Farm Circle of Influence speaker series and was in accordance with Ethics Week at ISU. Additional programming throughout the week included the annual ethics conference, coordinated by students in the Networks Professional Development Program.

In a presentation filled with anecdotes, quotes and analogies, Black shared what he believes to be the "common denominator" of success.

"Successful people form the habits of doing the things that unsuccessful people don't want to do or know how to do," Black said. "It was the uncommon things that distinguished me at the companies that I've worked for."

Black also clued students in on five values that he looks for in employees, including keeping a positive outlook about change.

"You can form the habit of accepting...and embracing change and realizing that what happens with change is best served by your approach to it, not by circumstance," Black said.

He also referenced honesty to self, customers and co-workers as the simplest definition of ethics in business. Black used the analogy of business as a boat to illustrate cooperation and honesty among employees, specifically.

"You see, a business is a boat and you're out in the middle of the ocean. And if there's a hole in the boat, we don't [point to it and say] ‘That's your side of the boat.' Right? We all run to the hole," said Black. "And the reason we do is because we know our survival is dependent on it, and a company is the same way. A company, if you think about it, is dependent upon all the employees working together and being productive together. So there is no finger-pointing and there's no dishonesty in between and among employees because that destroys the boat."

Another value described in Black's presentation was the ability to dream big, regardless of circumstances and what others think. When asked what the biggest mistake was that he had made in his career, Black's response was simple.

"I didn't think big enough," he replied. "Think big, and start thinking big now. There's nothing to stop you."

Jon Hawes, director of the Sales and Negotiations Center, thinks this message was an important one to bring to ISU students.

"He had a very strong message to have big goals, and we're constantly trying to get our students to think big, to set larger goals, to have higher aspirations," Hawes said, "and Tom is a real expert at helping people think big."

Hawes recognizes the value in bringing well-known field experts to campus with the goals of connecting with and providing outstanding role models for students.

"We're very fortunate to have (Tom) come to Terre Haute and share his information and news with Indiana State University students."

Photo: (ISU/Rachel Keyes)Tom Black speaking during his presentation at Indiana State University. His presentation was part of ethics week this semester at Indiana State.

Photo: Hawes

Contact: Jon Hawes, director, Sales and Negotiations Center, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 812-237-2286 or

Writer: Mallory Metheny, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773