Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar, the man of a million motivational maxims who bucked up and cheered on three generations of American business strivers over a 40-year international speaking career, died near his home in Plano, Texas, on Wednesday after a brief battle with pneumonia. He was 86.
A onetime cookware salesman who boasted he was “born in L.A. — Lower Alabama,” Mr. Ziglar wrote the 1975 motivational book, “See You At The Top,” but it was rejected by 30 firms before finding a backer in a small Louisiana publishing house. The book went on to sell more than a quarter of a million copies and remains in print 37 years later. In all, Mr. Ziglar “has written more than 30 sales and motivational books, 10 of which have appeared on best-seller lists and have been translated into more than 36 different languages,” according to an official biography.
“Though his time on earth has ended, he is speaking with Jesus now in his heavenly home,” read a statement on Mr. Ziglar’s corporate home page. “The angels in heaven are rejoicing, and his family is celebrating a life well-lived.”
If Mr. Ziglar, who regularly brought his daylong, star-studded motivational extravaganzas to arenas and conference centers around the District, had a mantra, it was a creed forged in his hardscrabble days of door-to-door sales: “You can have everything in life that you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.” His steady rise to the top of the motivational game, as he saw it, merely confirmed the rightness of his think-positive approach to work and to life.
Finding little success at first, Mr. Ziglar was encouraged by his supervisor, and results followed. In his books and speeches, Mr. Ziglar recalled how he found those keys to human relations that opened doors: being focused on what the other person/customer wants; meeting or exceeding expectations; and remaining friendly and upbeat in the face of life’s challenges.
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last,” Mr. Ziglar noted in one of his dozens of quotable maxims liberally sprinkled throughout his pep talks. “Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend [both] daily.
Mr. Zigler’s peripatetic speaking career reached hundreds of thousands of salesmen, corporate executives, business owners and would-be entrepreneurs, many of whom issued Facebook tributes Wednesday as news of his passing spread.
“I had the privilege of hearing Zig speak on more than one occasion, and will always treasure the book that he signed for me,” recalled Bob Loudermilk, owner of Wichita, Kan.-based Quantum Expositions International Inc.
“Zig Ziglar impressed me as a man of integrity — one who walked his talk.”
Mr. Ziglar was born Nov. 6, 1926, in Coffee County, Alabama, the 10th of 12 children. His father died when Zig was 5 years old. At age 6, the first-grade student began selling peanuts on the streets of Yazoo City, Mississippi.
After serving in the U.S. Navy during the World War II, he studied at the University of South Carolina, marrying his wife Jean, who survives him. Seeking to earn more for his young family, Mr. Ziglar went into direct sales and ultimately found his calling.
In 1972, as his public speaking career was starting, Mr. Ziglar underwent a religious conversion, becoming a born-again Christian. He incorporated references to faith into his public talks, despite warnings that this would be career suicide. Against expectations, his faith helped to connect him to his audiences. Mr. Ziglar became a lifetime member of the National Speakers Association and was inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame.
Mr. Ziglar retired from public speaking in 2010, three years after a fall down a flight of stairs left him with short-term memory problems. His son Tom Ziglar and daughter Julie Ziglar Norman are among the family members who run the Ziglar Inc., publishing and speaking business. The company includes more than a dozen other speakers who advocate “The Ziglar Way.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.