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PART 5: Cowell shares a story that should guide each of us

Paul Cowell(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a five-part series about local entrepreneur, minister and philosopher Paul Cowell.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Paul Cowell is a pastor, serial entrepreneur, philosopher, counselor and down-to-earth individual who still personifies the humble beginnings from his early years in rural West Tennessee.

During our extended interview with him, we paid particular attention to the stories he told and the lessons he learned. One of those really struck a chord. While it was an experience from his Book Warehouse days, it can apply to any situation – work, home or elsewhere – and any relationship, whether personal or professional.

Cowell’s example starts with a representative of Random House calling one day with an offer of three truckloads of books. “It was an all or nothing offer,” he recalled.

At the time, Cowell had three stores that were handling one truckload every three weeks. So, this was a large shipment, but he agreed to take the order. When the trucks arrived, it would be an understatement to say he was surprised and challenged.

“The first trailer was 47,000 copies of an Ed Koch book on politics,” Cowell said in reference to the former Mayor of New York City. The next two trailers were no better. One was loaded with pop-ups of Michael Jackson moonwalking, and the third was full of badly damaged books.

“How do I deal with this,” Cowell asked himself? The answer was something he read earlier in a marriage counseling book: “Ask a question for information without judgment.”

Remembering the advice, Cowell called his contact at Random House to ask for his advice on how best to market the Ed Koch book. What was his answer? Well, it turned out that Cowell had received an incorrect shipment. All three truckloads were intended to go to a shredder.

“That conversation made me several million dollars,” Cowell said, explaining that his Random House contact could not believe that “you did not cuss and yell at me.” In turn for the way that Cowell approached the matter, the Random House contact let him over the years buy all the books he wanted before other retailers could and also spread the word to other publishers about how good a client Book Warehouse was.

The lesson learned from this story is so applicable in all sorts of situations. “Once there is criticism, all conversation ends,” Cowell says, reiterating the point from the marriage counseling book: “Ask a question for information without judgment.”

This story clearly personifies the philosophy of Paul Cowell and the way that he has lived his life.


Tom Ballard

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer,
Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.

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