The Smartest Man I Know

I learned most of what I know about people and relationships from a master. I've always thought of him as "The Smartest Man I Know" -for his ability to make people laugh and to build a relationship faster than anyone I have ever met. His name is Walt Zastawa.

We met many years ago when I went to a night club to hear a great "oldies" band. The band members were fantastic entertainers and communicators and I remember wondering what they did for their "day jobs." One of the acts included a set where two of four men band members dressed in drag in poodle skirts, Bobbie socks and saddle shoes. I was seated at a table on the floor and "got lucky" when one of the "girls" sat on my lap to sing to me.

About a month later that same guy walked into the 3M branch I managed looking for a sales job. It was Walt Zastawa and the rest has been a wonderful history of laughter, sales success, some tears and the best friendship you could imagine.

Over the years I have seen Walt walk into an office or a restaurant or anyplace you can think of and have the people there laughing and enjoying themselves so much they just want to be around him. He has a gift for knowing just what to say to people to make them smile - smiles that usually turn into belly laughs that bring tears to your eyes within minutes after making his acquaintance. He is the perfect example of the phrase "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

I could tell you about many of Walt's successful accomplishments in sales. But, it would probably be more appropriate to tell you about his success in life. I don't know a man or woman who has more people who call him a friend. In this age when we can count on one hand or less the number of people we know are true friends, Walt, no doubt has the distinction of having that title with hundreds of people. And, thousands more people have had their lives touched by him in a positive way. They come from all walks of life; the rich and powerful, those who have nothing, those who have had it and lost it and those who most people walk by and never notice. He's reached out to all of them or was there when they just needed a place to stay or a non-judgmental ear.

I've seen his "process" of meeting someone new and beginning a relationship many times and each time I marvel at the magic he weaves. I was going to describe the process myself, but I thought I'd pick up the phone and ask Walt how it works. First, he laughed and asked me if I was serious. I told him I was and so he thought about it and said, "I just like people." He said he laughs at himself a lot and he tries to get people to laugh at themselves and not take themselves so seriously. He told me that I should ask Becky, his wife of 40 some years.

Now here are Becky Zastawa's thoughts about what makes Walt - Walt.

"Hi Bob! Walt told me about your questions about what makes him the person he is. Here's my perspective:

He is what he is without pretense. He truly doesn't care whether or not you have money, fame, or power--he'll treat you the same whether you are the guy who washes his car or the 4 star general who visits him. He never "needed" the fans or local fame from playing in the band--he really enjoyed himself and in doing so, made others enjoy him too. When it wasn't fun anymore, he quit playing publicly, but has never stopped "entertaining" everyone who is around him.

He is the true middle child--he had to stand out to get attention and he certainly found a way. He stuttered as a child and became the "class clown" in defense. Once he made the other kids laugh, he never stopped. What he has cannot be bottled, copied or even picked apart. He is really the same guy I met over 45 years ago. Experiences have changed him very little--he still wants to please, wants to entertain and make you laugh, and wants to make you his friend, I think that's what people feel when they meet him and that's what makes him unforgettable.

Bob, you might not realize it but you do the same thing, only your forte is "one on one". You look the person in the eye and make it seem you're hanging on every word. You make that person feel they are, for that moment, the most important one in the room. You focus on what they want or need and try to find a way for them to have it. When I've seen you "work a room", you are at your best with one or two people at a time and you have them in the palm of your hand in minutes. You and Walt have many similarities which is why you've enjoyed each other so much and are so close--you just approach people differently to get the same results."

I wasn't going to leave the last paragraph in this article because this isn't about me. But, I changed my mind. I changed it because I know that prior to meeting Walt over 25 years ago; I wasn't the person Becky describes. Therefore, Becky's comments say so very much more about Walt than they do about me.

I started this article by saying I learned most of what I know about people and relationships from a master. I'll end it by thanking him one more time for being my friend.

By Bob Poole