Summary and Review of Swim with The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition by Harvey Mackay

This summary and review of the book, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition was prepared by Ainsley Bossom while a Management student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Executive Summary

Harvey Mackay is the author of Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition. He bought a failing envelope company at the age of 26, which is now a multimillion-dollar corporation. This entire book is written in lessons. He presents each lesson in a way that makes you want to read his book. This man has done and can do just about anything.

The book may have been written in 1988, but it is most certainly not out dated. Cars may not still be $10,000 but everything he talks about can be twisted to fit present-day situations. In the most basic sense of the words, management and marketing have not changed. Tactics, on the other hand, have. Harvey Mackay expresses ideas that are basic and can be changed according to what facet of life it is that one is referring to.

The Mackay 66 is an important tool that can be used to get the most information out of your customer about your customer. This profile utilizes a battery of questions in order to get insight into your customers’ wants and needs. Only the customer knows what they want and why they want it. It is your job to find out what and why that is.

You always need to keep in mind who your customer is. You need to make it a point to find out who they are in order to give them the services they require. When you know your customer, you will never run out of things to talk about, whether they are work-related or not.

Negotiation and management are two major aspects of being successful. Negotiation, by definition, is the mutual discussion and arrangement of the terms of a transaction or agreement. Key points that are worth remembering are to smile and say no until your tongue bleeds. It pays off in the long run if you are able to walk away from a deal without a deal. You are always able to go back to the table and get even better terms. Everything is negotiable, because in a capitalist society everything is for sale.

Management, on the other hand, is defined as being in control of running an organization. Managers must encompass leadership skills that run deep. The little things mean not just a lot, but everything. The little things can be used to score big. As a manager, you must encourage thinking. Your best people may spend their most productive time staring at the wall. Efficiency achieved at the expense of creativity is counterproductive.

In order to achieve success, do not plan on sticking around just to collect the gold watch. You need to challenge yourself and keep learning. You need to find something you like doing and make it pay. If you like something, you can make it pay no matter what field of business you are in. No matter where you are, you need to learn how to communicate effectively. Communication is one of the keys to success.

There is no future in saying that it cannot be done. You need to take chances. There is less to lose attempting change than to hang on to old ways in a system that rewards change.

In order to succeed, you must have a combination of determination, goal-setting, and concentration. You need to keep doing what it is you love to do. Do not quit. Your efforts will be well worth your results.

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from Swim with the Sharks

1. Make your decisions with your heart, and what you will end up with is heart disease.

2. The single most powerful tool for winning a negation is the ability to walk away from the table without a deal.

3. Little things don’t mean a lot; they mean everything.

4. Anyone who thinks he or she is indispensable should stick a finger into a bowl of water and notice the hole it leaves when it is pulled out.

5. Your best people may spend their most productive time staring at the wall.

6. Everything is negotiable, but not everything that is negotiable should be negotiated.

7. He who burns his bridges better be a damn good swimmer.

8. Dig your well before you are thirsty.

9. Do not get mad and do not get even either. The only way you can achieve true revenge is not to let your enemies cause you to self destruct.

10. Nothing is greater to one than one’s self is.

Full Summary of Swim with the Sharks

I. “I’d Like 15,000 Tickets for Tonight’s Game, Please”

This chapter introduces Harvey Mackay. The opening paragraph explains that he is in a nationally publicized effort. He is trying to stop Calvin Griffith’s efforts to sell the Minnesota Twins baseball team to outside investors who would move the team elsewhere. In order for Griffith to sell the team back to Minneapolis, Mackay and Bill Veeck had to sell 2.4 million tickets. As it turns out, the Twins was sold to Minneapolis, the team was not removed, and that was that. Mackay’s efforts to save the Twins paid off. He says that most business problems can be solved if you can look beyond the money. Money is not the root of why certain people do things.

The closing line of the chapter tells us what the rest of the book is about. Its about how successful people got that way and how we can be successful, too. Mackay breaks the book down into a few major sections. The chapters on salesmanship, negotiation, and management are broken down into lessons. Following the lessons are what Mackay calls “quickies.” The Quickies are just small, straight-to-the-point chapters. The final two chapters discuss, simply put, perseverance and determination.

II. Harvey Mackay’s Short Course in Salesmanship

Knowing Something About Your Customer Is Just as Important as Knowing Everything About Your Product

Before you decide which approach to use with a customer, you first have to know who your customer is. When you know your customer you will always have something to talk to them about. Knowing your customer means knowing what your customer really wants. When you know what your customer wants it makes for an easier sale. You are able to provide them the service that they need.

The Mackay 66

Mackay says that it is critical to know your customer. When you know your customer you can outsell, outmanage, outmotivate, and outnegotiate your competition. You get most of the information about your customer from personal contact and from observation. Other resources can be gained from suppliers, publications, and assistants.

This information is compiled into one form: The 66-Question Customer Profile. The profile is valuable because, as salespeople leave, it prevents their accounts from leaving with them. The Mackay 66 asks a battery of questions relating to the customer, such as personal information, as well as education, family, business background, special interests, and lifestyle questions.

What Every Salesperson—And Not Enough Entrepreneurs—Know

The main point of this lesson is to know who it is you are working with. Mackay describes a headmaster of a private school who learned the names of every kid who attended his school. It makes a difference to the customers when you take a personal interest in them.

Believe in Yourself, Even When No One Else Does

This lesson tells you to never quit. You can accomplish anything if you believe in yourself. Experts said that the human body was incapable of running a mile in four minutes. No one had accomplished it until Roger Bannister. The only reason why he completed the four minute mile was because of his attitude. Training, obviously, played a big part. But, because he thought he could do it, he broke the mold and proved everyone wrong.

Seek Role Models

Mackay continues talking about Bannister’s feat. After Bannister had succeeded in the four minute mile, many other people were able to run it, too. Bannister was a role model. He proved that it could be done. Mackay continues that you are the way you are because you were most likely trying to be like someone you admired. He says that you never stop needing role models. You want to be like the people you admire.

III. Harvey Mackay’s Short Course on Negotiation

Smile and Say No Until Your Tongue Bleeds

Mackay asks the reader to identify how many banks failed in 1986 because the banker said NO to too many loans. The answer is none. The longer you take to make a deal, the longer you are in control. Sellers always want you to buy now. If you wait, they are going to have to give you a better deal. No seller wants to do that. Your waiting pays off significantly when terms improve because you said no. You must be prepared to say no. If you feel like you can get a better deal, do not settle or be taken advantage of because good things come to those who wait.

The Single Most Powerful Tool for Winning a Negotiation Is the Ability to Walk Away

from the Table Without a Deal

This lesson is really just a continuation of the previous one. Mackay states that just

because it is negotiable does not mean it has to be negotiated. You have to be prepared to say no and walk away from the table. You also have to mean it. Just because you said no, you will still be able to go back to the table and get even better terms.

Send in the Clones

Mackay suggests that before you go try to make a negotiation, send someone in before you. This person is your substitute, your clone. They feel out the seller and their terms. Your ringer pretends to be interested in whatever it is the seller is selling. They give you information on how low or how high the seller is willing to negotiate. This all allows you to see what the real price is and has conditioned the seller to expect a lower price than what they had originally advertized.

He Who Burns His Bridges Better Be a Damn Good Swimmer

This lesson describes a man who owned a chain of hotels. The man was years behind on

the mortgage and the insurance company had come to collect. The insurance rep announced that the company would take over the operation of the hotel the following Monday. The man replied that the guests would not have anywhere to park their cars because he owns the parking lot behind the hotel and he was going to fence it off if they took over. He mentioned that there was no other adequate parking for a three-block radius. The insurance company decided it could live with his payment practices.

The company was going to come in and take over the business before it realized they would not have a parking lot. Had they gone through with the deal, the hotel chain would have failed. Like the lesson title says: he who burns his bridges better be a damn good swimmer.

Everything’s Negotiable

According to the dictionary capitalism is an economic system based on a free market, open competition, profit motive and private ownership of the means of production. Capitalism encourages private investment and business, compared to a government-controlled economy. Investors in these private companies, such as shareholders, also own the firms and are known as capitalists.

Mackay defines capitalism as a system in which everything is for sale. He goes on to say

that if the opposite party can see it to their benefit then a deal can always be made. Whatever it is you are trying to buy or sell can be bought or sold when the other side sees how the deal can work to their advantage.

IV. Harvey Mackay’s Short Course in Management

Little Things Don’t Mean a Lot; They Mean Everything

In order to avoid screw-ups a manager needs to pay more attention to detail and common courtesy. Leading by example is huge when it comes to managers. Use the little things to score big. The smallest details could mean the difference between keeping a customer forever and losing them.

Never Let Anyone, Particularly a Superstar, Pick His or Her Own Successor

Mackay says that when managers choose their predecessor they try to ensure that they are incompetent. He suggests that whoever he recommends, to smile and cross that name off your list. They do not always choose the best successor. They usually choose someone who will fail and will make them look good. Mackay stated that anyone who thinks he or she is indispensable should stick a finger into a bowl of water and notice the hole it leaves when it’s pulled out.

Owning 1 Percent of Something Is Worth More Than Managing 100 Percent of Anything

An entrepreneur’s employee was the best he had. When the manager asked for a share of the company, about one percent, the entrepreneur turned him down. The manager quit and the man hired another employee. The new employee was even more demanding and the entrepreneur was trying to keep from being thrown out of business. If only the entrepreneur had let his best manager have one percent, he would still have the safety of his company. The moral of this lesson is that it is better to give up owning one percent than face losing it all. Do not be selfish when it comes to ownership.

Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty

Mackay made Bill Jacobs an owner of Mackay Envelope when he saw how effectively he was running it. Some of the major competitors have offered him jobs, but he will not take them up on it. It is smarter to act when you see value long before it is recognized in the marketplace rather than buy when everyone else is bidding.

V. Quickies

Buy Cheap Cars and Expensive Houses

Mackay says that it is not as impressive to own a prestige car as long as anyone can buy them. If you can afford a fancy car, it makes a bigger impact when you drive an ordinary one, such as a Chevy. Cars depreciate, and houses appreciate. Cars are a necessity, but they aren’t worth anything when you pay them off. Houses, on the other hand, can be sold at the buying price or higher because the value of a house goes up.

“Nothing Is Greater to One Than One’s Self Is”

The higher self-esteem someone has, the more he or she gets along with his- or herself, with others, and the more he or she will accomplish. Will Rogers once said, “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.” One should feel a sense of accomplishment and be proud when a rough task is completed. Being optimistic about completing a task that is not supposed to be accomplished gives a person high self-esteem. Having optimism is a more productive than having humility.

To a Normal Person, $10 Million Will Seem Like Enough

Mackay has only a quote by magazine publisher James K. Glassman as a lesson. “But anyone who thinks that’s enough is not the type who can acquire that much in the first place.” You have to draw your own conclusions to what this means. Reach for the stars. $10 million may be enough to live off of, but when it comes to a business, do not stop there.

How to Beat the Law of Supply and Demand

Two scenarios are used in this quickie. The first scenario is about a sports franchise whose ticket holders cancelled their season tickets. They ran false ads in the paper in order to sell the tickets so that the general public would not find out about the cancellations.

The second scenario was of a restaurant chain that in the first two months tells half of the people who call for reservations that they are full and to call back. Both of these stories create the illusion of demand. Something will not sell if it is too easy to get; and if it is in demand and one cannot get it, then everyone wants it. This creates the illusion of demand regardless of supply.

VI. Helping Your Kids Beat the Odds

Don’t Plan on Sticking Around Just to Collect the Gold Watch

This lesson in disguise says that you need to challenge yourself in your career. The example of medical treatments works very well here. Treatments are constantly being improved so you need to keep learning and never stop. If you do not then the world will keep moving forward without you.

Find Something You Like to Do and Make It Pay

This section instructs you to do something you like. Mackay says that if you like something, you can make it pay no matter what business you are in. When you take the time to enjoy your work, it does not seem like work anymore.

There’s No Future in Saying It Can’t Be Done

The old saying is that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The people who make it big are the ones who fix it before it is broke. The section goes on with quotes from different individuals. Harry Warner, president of Warner Brothers in 1927, said at the time talking pictures were coming onscreen, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Nobel Prize winner Robert Millikan said, “There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.” And in 1899 Charles Duell of the US Patent Office said, “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” All three of them were wrong. We need to take chances. There is less to lose attempting change than to stay hung up in old ways in a new system that rewards change.

VII. The Closer: How to Succeed

How to Succeed

Determination is what it takes to succeed. Mackay tells the story of his late father and how his determination turned him into who he was. He tells us to not throw in the towel no matter how rough the waters get. Do not quit. The magic formula for success includes determination.

Success is executing determination, goal-setting, and concentration. The capitalist economy provides opportunities for those who possess these three skills. There is always a good chance you can go all the way to the top. Armed with what you learned in this book, there is no reason you cannot be successful.

Personal Insights

Why I think:

The author is one of the most brilliant people around…or is full of $%&#, because:

The author is one of the most brilliant people around because he wrote this book on the tactics he used in order to be successful. The prices of cars and houses and other things are always going to go up, but the fundamental aspects of what he talks about will stay the same. What the author wrote is always going to be true. He speaks of management and negotiation and how to both of them well to be successful.

If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1. I would have combined a few of the lessons. To me, they seemed a bit repetitive. I would have enjoyed the book just as much if some things were only said once.

2. I loved the examples Mackay gave, but I had to draw my own conclusions on what some of the lessons meant. I had to more or less read between the lines of what he was saying rather than being driven straight to the point.

3. I would have focused a little more on external aspects of business success.

Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1. There are so many methods to get to know customers. I never realized that a few hand-picked questions could tell you what you need to know about your most important buyers.

2. The little things count for most of what you do in business. It is the little things that mean the most.

3. You have to dig your well before you are thirsty. You have to be able to see value long before it is recognized in the marketplace.

I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1. I know now what it takes to be successful. Just by reading this book, I outlined what I need to do in order to succeed.

2. I know that I need to show leadership in every little thing that I do.

3. I know that I can be successful. I just have to have determination, goal-setting, and concentration.

Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

I have not read any bad reviews of this book. I absolutely loved it and I think most people who have read it did too. One reviewer said that the title says it all. They say that it can be used both inside the business world and in your personal life. Another reviewer said that this book is great if you’re an MBA or someone trying to benefit on everyday life.

The back of the jacket on the book has more than a dozen rave reviews. Ted Koppel says it is an “…easy reader ride to success in the business world.” Bob Knight stated that it is “…a great text…I thoroughly enjoyed it…” Billy Graham says “Harvey’s business acumen shows on every page…”


Mackay, Harvey. Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1988.


Contact Info: To contact the author of this book summary and review, please email Ainsley Bossom .

David C. Wyld ( is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at

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