my defining moment
I left the British Special Forces to
become a Beverly Hills nanny. It taught
me everything about how to sell myself.
When I was 22, I decided to
leave the British Army
which is a unit like the
and go to the United States. I’d heard that
experienced soldiers could get Central
American military work through contacts
in Los Angeles. This was 1982. I was making
$40 a week in the British Army, and this kind
of military work could run into the $1,000-a-
week range. It was a big opportunity.
As I was about to board the plane at
Heathrow Airport, my mother grabbed my
arm and asked, “What is this ‘security work’
you said you’d be doing?”
I said, “Well, I’m going to find some
bodyguard-type work in L. A.”
And she said, “You put us through hell for
years by being around the world in different
conflicts.” ( While in the military, I’d served
in Northern Ireland and in the Falklands
War). She said, “Don’t you think it’s time you
did something that didn’t involve guns?”
Now, she had no idea that my intention
was to seek work in Central America. But
she made me promise that I wouldn’t do any
more work involving weapons. So I promised.
The trouble was that I had only $200 and
one friend in Los Angeles whom I could look
up for help. My friend had been working
as a chauffeur in Beverly Hills, and he had
heard of another family that was looking for
My mom said,
“Don’t you think it’s
time you did something that didn’t
m ark burnett
THE SURVIVOR The
prepares for an
a chauffeur. It seemed
weird, but I needed a
job. “Let’s make the
call,” I said.
It turned out to be
worse than I thought.
It was chauffeuring
kids around, as well as
being a nanny and a
housekeeper. So this
was a bizarre turn
of events! Still, this
would give me a roof,
a car, and $125 a week,
plus time to figure out
my next move.
First, I had to
pass the interview.
Of course, the man
couldn’t see hiring
a 22-year-old ex-soldier as a nanny, so he
grilled me hard. “Can you wash and iron?”
he asked. I said, “I was in the British Army
for four years, sir. I could put creases in
your shirt that you could shave with.”
He was having none of it. “How about
cleaning?” he asked. I said, “In the army,
they inspected for dust with a white glove.”
His wife grinned; she wanted to hire me.
Then he asked, “Can you cook?” My turn
to smile: “Sir, I’m British. Not even my
mother can cook.” That made him smile.
Later that night, the wife called: “You start
tomorrow at 10 A.M.”
Two things made all this “defining.”
First, I learned on the fly how to sell myself.
Second, I was now living in the home of
multimillionaires. It opened my eyes to
possibilities. My bosses were giving people.
The fact that I didn’t have a college degree
and was from a poor part of London didn’t
faze them. The father knew I couldn’t be a
nanny forever, so he suggested that I start a
small, inexpensive, service-based business
and use that as the foundation for building
what he and his wife had. And I wanted
what they had.
So I started selling T-shirts in Venice
Beach, and that’s when I really learned how
to sell. Only an idiot sells the same product
the same way to every person. The first
mission in commerce is to analyze the person
opposite you, get to know him a bit, and then
adjust your sales pitch to match the person.
That’s the same strategy I used when it
came time to sell Survivor and every other
television show since. I often look back
on those nanny days as fundamental. No
matter what you’re doing, you have to be
determined to make it work.
As told to Mike Zimmerman. Mark Burnett is the Emmy
Award– winning creator of Survivor, The Apprentice ,
and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?