Flying Southwest to Chicago on my way to the U.S. Apple Outlook and Marketing Conference in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, I sat in the middle seat between two men. The aisle seat was occurred by a large black man about my age (let’s call him Jim), wearing warning expensive clothes and exuding authority. The window seat was occupied by a smaller man in his early 30s (“Bill”) who, I was soon to learn, was Jim’s business subordinate.

After enduring a crack from Jim that he had been hoping a good looking girl would have chosen the middle seat (“You’ll have to do,”  Jim told me), I settled in to my seat for what I thought would be another forgettable flight.

Soon I closed my eyes and after a while began to eavesdrop on the conversation that Jim and Bill were having about sales and success.
Jim urged Bill to not become weighed down with the daunting challenges of sales or the personal demons nipping at his heels.

He espoused two principles:
Move forward every day and

PMA (no not Produce Marketing Association, but Positive Mental Attitude)

Jim went on to tell a  story about a journey from homelessness to wealth. (“It’s true what they way; the first million is the hardest,” he said)

At one point Jim told how he slept on the floor of the office of where he worked for about ten months. In his climb up the ladder,  Jim told of people who believed in him and provided him with the opportunity to succeed.

It was about that point in the conversation that I opened my eyes and joined in the conversation.

Apart from the hard work and positive mental principles associated with his success at sales, Jim also said he thankful for the 1980s and Ronald Reagan. He specifically said that some of Reagan’s speeches personally inspired and motivated him.

“Ronald Reagan helped me make a lot of money,” he said.  He said he is one few black people he knows with a picture of Ronald Reagan in his home.

I got the “Cliff’s notes” version of Jim’s story – the short hop from KC to Chicago only takes an hour or so - but he went on to say that he now  takes the opportunity to give back to people who are struggling and in need. He told about the time he once paid for a homeless mom and her kids to stay at a hotel for three months while they got their lives back on track.

“Don’t pay me back,” he told her, “just help someone else when you can.”

As I reflect on it now, I rank it as perhaps my top “sitting next to a stranger in a plane” experience. It’s not often you hear a remarkable story like that,

Only in America? Bill, Jim's struggling associate,  may not have the 1980s and Ronald Reagan – after all, he has the biggest recession in 50 years and President Obama – but don’t count him out just yet, either.