By Kathy Routliffe • Staff Writer
Imagine Jeff Blackman’s disillusionment in 1982, as the former Lincolnwood native contemplated marriage and a future in the legal profession.
Blackman grew up fascinated with Perry Mason dramas, seeing himself speaking on behalf of clients, promoting justice in the courtroom.
Speaking and ethics seemed to him to be the quintessential core of the law, he remembers. Communication, trust and honesty, were important to him, too, things with which he’d been raised. So, after he graduated from Niles West High School, he headed for law school.
He earned an advertising degree with honors from the University of Illinois and a law degree with honors from Chicago’s IIT Kent – College of Law.
By then, however, he’d learned the awful truth, “I’d guess that 90 percent of lawyers don’t litigate. Getting into the courtroom is an anomaly.”
To a man for whom the spoken word was important, that didn’t bode well. Still, on the eve of his marriage, Blackman was resigned to what he thought was his future.
Then he blew out his knee playing softball. While it healed, he made a fateful decision.
“I told (wife) Sheryl, ‘I don’t want to practice law,’ She said, ‘Oh. What do you want to do?’ I said ‘Speak!’,” Blackman now recalls.
“She said, ‘Who the heck is going to listen?’ I told her I didn’t know.”
Now, the answer is easy; a lot of people will listen to Jeff Blackman, a professional speaker and consultant, who calls himself a “business growth specialist.”
Blackman travels from his Glenview office to programs all across the country, for corporations, associations and Fortune 500 groups. He logs 50,000+ air miles a year, going to audiences filled with sales people, middle and upper level managers and CEOs.
Those people are also the target audience for the learning videos, audios, magazine/newspaper articles and books he has authored on everything from successful sales techniques to employee confidence enhancement.
And every speech, seminar, audio, video and article Blackman creates emphasizes what he insists is at the heart of success, ethics.
His book, “Peak Your Profits” puts it bluntly: “Without integrity, truth and honesty in the business-development process, there’s no need to even market, sell, negotiate or serve. Do you know what the best thing is about honesty? It doesn’t require a good memory!”
Blackman says the sometimes-popular perception that business success automatically mandates deception, double-dealing and ruthlessness is “unequivocal bunk.”
Honesty and trustworthiness can only increase business, or improve relations between leadership and employees in any business, he says. “That’s how I am in my relationships with clients. For instance, I’ve had to tell heads of departments or CEOs that what I learn in confidentiality from employees I can’t tell them because that would violate my word, as long as there’s no ethical, moral or legal impropriety,” he says.
Becoming a professional speaker wasn’t easy for Blackman. He grossed only $3,000 his first year in business, as he searched out church groups, women’s clubs and synagogue audiences willing to listen to him. In fact, the first audience he ever addressed called on him simply because they knew his parents, Irv and Sallie Blackman, longtime Lincolnwood residents and community activists.
In those days, his message was often as simple as “the power of the spoken word,” he now says.
Gradually he focused further, getting into the business areas in which he has become successful.
Blackman uses the research skills he used as a legal student to gather information enabling him to customize the speeches and seminars he was asked to provide. Sometimes that means legwork; when he worked with Federal Express, he visited operating stations to see how they worked.
He also uses his own omnivorous reading habits to keep him abreast of dozens, even hundreds, of changes in business and other fields. Some of his reading choices are surprising.
“Research is crucial. I do an exhaustive amount of it. I read the traditional things in terms of Newsweek, Business Week, Fortune, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. But I also read Highlights, Sports Illustrated, Redbook, you never know where you’re going to find things.” Blackman also haunts the Internet for the same reason.
With what he acknowledges as a hectic schedule and near- constant research, information gathering, development and presentation, people could be excused for thinking Blackman is a slave to his schedule.
He says that just isn’t so. Rather than being time-driven, “I’m driven by results and by the challenge of making things happen. And you don’t have the keystrokes on your computer to write the number of things I’ve tried and failed.”
What a casual observer of his schedule (“a full day meeting in Tucson, heading to Phoenix that night, a change, a shower, a dinner meeting at 9:30 and a flight home the next morning”) doesn’t see, he says, is the flexibility he has.
“If I want to take off two or three hours and do things with my kids and or my wife, or play hooky and go to the batting cages, (Blackman is a fanatic softball player, still playing in leagues) I can do it.”
Blackman says his family is both a prime reason for his success and the most important thing in his life. His father’s recent illness has meant in recent weeks that one of his first stops after deplaning at O’Hare was a hospital visit.
Professionally, what keeps Blackman going is his love of helping his clients grow, prosper and maximize results.