SIOUX CITY | Gene McNaughton sat at East High 32 years ago, listening to Dan Clark, a speaker brought to the school as part of the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) initiative.
"That was the first time I'd ever seen a motivational speaker," McNaughton said. "I was blown away. I knew that's what I wanted to do."
McNaughton plunked down $6 and bought Clarke's book that day, the first book the East High senior had ever purchased with his own money.
McNaughton, who spent more than a decade helping direct sales, training and leadership roles as Gateway Computers rose to a world leader in the market, readied for a keynote speaking appearance in San Diego three decades after his senior year at East. A friend approached and introduced him to another speaker at that event: Dan Clark.
"Sometimes, life comes full circle," McNaughton told me. "Dan Clark and I now message one another. We encourage one another. I was able to honor him that day in San Diego by sharing with the crowd how Dan Clark got me started on this 30 years ago."
McNaughton, the Sioux City native, went home that night and pulled Clark's book from his shelves. He snapped a picture of it and sent the image to the man who inspired him.
Life circled back again on Saturday morning as McNaughton stood before Ras Vanderloo's East High Black Raiders basketball team in the media center serving their alma mater. McNaughton, who has traveled the world speaking to thousands of people, took the time to share his thoughts with Vanderloo's team, thoughts about goals, work habits and how people are happiest when they're learning.
Vanderloo compensated McNaughton with a couple of Black Raiders t-shirts. And McNaughton, who started the week by addressing a cyber security summit at the U.S. Department of Defense, indicated Vanderloo's payment for services rendered was more than enough.
"I worked at the Athlete's Foot at Southern Hills Mall when I was in high school and Ras was one of my first mentors," said McNaughton, son of the late Eugene and Joan McNaughton, of Morningside. "Ras and his dad (the late Rich Vanderloo) really helped me, paid attention to me, taught me things I didn't learn on my own."
McNaughton, 50, played defensive back in 1984, his junior season, when East won a state title under the direction of the late Walt Fiegel. He earned 12 varsity letters at East, competing in baseball, basketball and track. He later played football at Morningside College.
He would go on to work his way up the ranks at Gateway, eventually leading the company's first major account sales training program. He initiated a coaching program for the computer maker and created the Gateway Solutions Team.
His success at Gateway propelled him to become the leader of Tony Robbins' Global Sales force, where, under his leadership, every team broke sales records that had spanned nearly three decades.
Along the way, he spoke in places like Fiji, and shared the dais with world business leaders such as Robbins and Donald Trump, who went on to become our country's 45th president.
"There were 17,000 people at the basketball arena in Sydney, Australia," said McNaughton, recalling the National Achievers Conference in Australia in 2011. "I was the emcee and a keynote speaker with Donald Trump and Tony Robbins. There were 10,000 who saw us in Melbourne and 7,000 in Brisbane."
President Trump, McNaughton added, took time to sign every autograph while posing for every photograph, too. "He's the only guy who stuck around," McNaughton said. "He was so kind, so good to people. I watched how he operated when he didn't need to do all this stuff."
And on Saturday, Gene McNaughton took the time to address the Black Raiders basketball players, a few Sioux City East baseball players, and several parents of these young student-athletes.
"First, you make your habits and then your habits make you," said McNaughton, who hasn't forgotten the example his parents set for him and his five older sisters. While Joan stayed home to raise six children, Gene rose early for work at the Sioux City Stockyards for 52 years.
"I never once heard my dad complain," he said. "He was a laborer who put his family before himself."
McNaughton, 50, said talent doesn't determine success; mindset is the key factor.
"It's a mindset, how you prepare, set goals, how you look to the future," he said. "You get rewarded in public for the things you do in private, whether that's at work, or in studying, reading or practicing a sport."
That mindset determines happiness, which can come from a variety of places; be it a relationship, a career, earning a spot on the honor roll, or a position on a team that battles for a state championship.
This world sales and motivational leader remains ever thankful he was surrounded by dedicated parents in a loving home, and teachers and coaches like the Vanderloos and Fiegel, Sioux Cityans who helped him realize the potential he had within.
"Don't forget where you came from," he said, echoing words of wisdom Coach Fiegel shared with him and hundreds like him. The message hit home, literally.
That's why for each of the past seven years, McNaughton has come from his residence in Orange County, California, to Sioux City to speak for free. Or, as was the case on Saturday, a 90-minute presentation for a pair of Black Raiders t-shirts.
Said McNaughton: "I do that because Sioux City is part of my soul."