Howard H. White on Setting Audacious Goals and Writing a Best-Selling Business Book

Howard_H_WhiteMichael Jordan credits Howard H. White with supporting him throughout his 15-year career and helping him beyond the game of basketball.

He’s Nike’s liaison for athletes such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. White is also the author of the popular business book Believe to Achieve.

In this interview, he explains:

  • How he wrote a popular business book
  • His process for setting big audacious goals
  • What he learnt from Michael Jordan

And lots more.

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Transcript Below

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan Collins: I love a good business book. Hi there, this is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become A Writer Today podcast. I recently read the business book Believe to Achieve: See the Invisible, Do the Impossible by Howard H. white or H. And Howard has spent a career mentoring athletes like Michael Jordan, yes, that Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, and he’s also built a successful career in the corporate world working for Nike and more recently he’s turned his experiences into the business book, Belief to Achieve. The book will help you with things like goal setting, putting your best foot forward on making it happen but I started by asking, H, why he wrote the book in the first place?

Howard H. White: I realized that I would not be where I am today if there had not been people who, and I like to say, people who could see more in me than I could see in myself at the time, people who put a lot of their energies, and time, and efforts really just into helping me see a bigger part of life, a bigger picture. And as I grew, you know, when I was in college, there were always been people that just took an interest in me, I started playing basketball because my father who had left home, and we had really nowhere to go and by that time, I was the youngest in the family. My older brother had gone into this service, my oldest sister, she had gotten married. It was me and my other sister who she wasn’t there that long. We had nowhere to go and my mother’s sister’s husband had just passed.

Howard H. White: They had no family, no kids, so we got to move in with her and she lived on a little farm in the middle of the woods and this was right around 1966, the beginning of integration. One day a couple of friends came by and down one end of the woods, it was a pretty racist reality, they practically… It was all white, wasn’t practically it was all white, and a new school had opened up integration, I think my friends were a little older, so they were at that high school. I was in the eighth grade going to school across town, so they said they let you play basketball down at the new gym, a few miles away, and so we rode our bicycles down, walked in that gym and there were no kids in the gym, but there were three men, and they were down the other end shooting around, when they saw as they asked us did we want to play a game, and we ended up playing with them.

Howard H. White: They beat us pretty bad but afterwards this man walked up, and he introduced himself and said hey son, my name is James Hathaway, I’m the coach at [inaudible 00:03:23] high school. He said have you ever heard of the Big O? Everybody had heard of the Big O, it’s like asking somebody if they’ve heard of Michael Jordan? And I said yes. He said if you listen to everything I tell you, you could be just like the Big O, and again, I couldn’t even play basketball, but I was dumb enough to listen to someone who saw more in me than I could see in myself. And I think that’s really all my journey has been. How do I make and help people see more in themselves that they are equipped to see? And once you see something in yourself, your subconscious reality, you know, [inaudible 00:04:08] digs and wants it to happen so if people did that for me all along my path, I felt that the least I do was give some of that back.

Bryan Collins: And the Big O, of course, is Oscar Robertson, is that correct?

Howard H. White: Oscar Robertson. Correct.

Bryan Collins: And part of your journey has involved you working with athletes like Michael Jordan. I’m wondering if you could, if you could tell me a little more about what it was like to coach or mentor Michael Jordan.

Howard H. White: You know, I think it easy when people say you mentored Michael Jordan, well Michael Jordan knew one thing he had going for him and still has today he listens, I mean he literally listens so from the time we were together and for most people their belief, because these are celebrities and superstars, they don’t really see them as real people. They see them as celebrities and superstars, but really they’re just normal people, and I think deep inside they’re really looking for people that’s going to treat them like that, that’s going to tell them when they’re doing something that might be wrong, that’s going to steer them in the right direction. People that they can depend on for advice and people that’s going to be brutally honest with them, whether they like it or not. You know, Charles Barkley and Charles can be a bit of a wild guy, but he’s one of the best people on the planet. I would see Charles on Christmas mornings, he would get up, and he would take an early trip to a children’s hospital to spend time with those children before he would go home with his own family.

Howard H. White: And in most of these guys, whether it’s Michael, whether it’s Charles, whether it’s Moses Malone, their mothers, and possibly because my mother was so close to me, I became extremely close to their mothers and that’s how when I was a recruiter, when I was in college, I recruited because my mom has meant so much to me. I felt that they were just really mama’s boys too, and I always was very close, whether it was Mama J with Michael, Granny with Charles or mama Woods with Tiger. So these people aren’t so much different than the people that we know, the people that we’ve grown up with, it’s just that they have accomplished things that most of the average people would never accomplish.

Bryan Collins: And how much of that do you think is down to one luck or two natural talent?

Howard H. White: Well, obviously natural talent has a great deal to do with it, but I think still there’s that stroke of genius or luck that you’re in the right place at the right time, and you learn things. When I was young, and it was interesting when you’re out playing, and I was always out with the older guys in the neighborhood, and we would be out playing some pickup basketball, football and you knew you had to be home for dinner, supposed to be home for dinner at like five. And actually, I would get upset because they didn’t have to be home, and I wanted to hang out with them. And I remember one day, one of the guys, he said why are you so upset? I said because I want to just stay out here with you all, I don’t want to go home.

Howard H. White: And he said well, why is your mother… Why is she calling you, why do you have to be home at five? I said for dinner and he said well, let me tell you something you think we have such a glamorous life, but before I left home my wife said you know the baby needs diapers you’ve got to go pick some diapers up, you know we need some milk in the house, you know we need x, Y, Z, you know we need this, and he said that someone is actually calling you home for dinner. He said boy, you better get on home and have your dinner, but really stop thinking that we have this tremendous life and that stuck with me. This older guy was telling me that, let’s look at where you are today and let’s stop looking at who you think and what you think we are because you have it so well and you don’t even know it.

Bryan Collins: One thing that stands out is the work ethic of people you’ve worked with like Michael Jordan and it’s actually something you talk about a lot in your book. You have a whole section dedicated to making it happen and putting your best foot forward so what separates somebody from who is successful and somebody who’s not successful in terms of their work ethic or how would you, how would you recommend somebody who’s struggling to cultivate a work ethic that they could stick to it?

Howard H. White: Well, Bryan, you know, here it is there are plenty of people with talent, and it goes far beyond athletic talent. It might be a gift for math, it might be a gift for music, it might be some gift that they really can’t unlock because they aren’t willing to put what it takes. They aren’t willing to sit at the feet of a master and learn and learn and relearn. I told a group of kids one night that I was speaking I said wow I used to look at people and say, boy, they’re really old and now when I look in the mirror, I found myself being one of those old people but what I realized was I would not be where I am today if I had not listened to them. So if you want to do something great, find you an old person and sit at their feet and learn.

Bryan Collins: And what if you feel like you don’t have that person within your immediate social network? For example, if I am a writer, and I wanted to study how to be a successful writer, but it might be very hard for me to sit at Stephen King’s feet, so to speak and learn from him, what would you suggest that I do?

Howard H. White: It’s a fact if you’re young and writer, you go and start with… It don’t have to be Stephen King you start with a teacher and it’s funny once you let people know that you are interested in what they do, they usually bend over backwards to help you. Now if you’re older here is the beauty of the world we live in today, which was not the world that I grew up in you can read, you can go to the Internet, you can plant seeds in you and they can be the strongest seeds ever by keep going and doing this, you water them every day. So I’m a firm stickler of structure, habit, and discipline so as a general rule I ask kids, did you make your bed up today? And you know, you get most of the time you get no, and I tell them, I said if you really want to be something like, do something like, make your bed up every day because it creates habit, discipline, and structure.

Howard H. White: And if you can create habit, discipline, and structure you can do anything in the world. Now, a lot of people say, well, I don’t have time to sit down and read, I don’t have time to go and find out things and my answer becomes everybody in life wants something they’re just very few people willing to give up anything to get it. So I always start out with first, have a vision, have something that you see crystal clear. Number two, write it down somewhere because they say only 20 percent of the people in the world have written definite positive goals. Number three, decide what you’re willing to sacrifice, decide what you’re willing to give up to make that reality come true. And number four every day you wake up, be about the business of making your dream come true.

Bryan Collins: That’s good advice I can think of a time when I wasn’t writing that much, and I gave up spending time playing computer games for example, to find more time to write in the morning. Another thing I’m struck by is how failure is a big part of putting your best foot forward so Michael Jordan has that famous quote about losing more than 300 games and overcoming setbacks is perhaps a lesson that people have to learn along their journey. And I know in the book you did talk about it, a setback during your corporate career and how you overcame it and how you’ve turned that into a teaching experience, I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little?

Howard H. White: Yeah. You know, I put a blog out yesterday. I don’t know if it’s been posted yet, but it was about being on top, really what it was about. Beyonce has a song [inaudible 00:14:05] He still loves me and it says, “You go to bed on top of the world and you wake up and the world is on top of you.” And as I look at the things that my life, after that man told me that I could be just like the Big O. Man, I went out and cut some trees down, I went and found some soda bottles and I took them to the store and cash the in and I bought me a goal and a ball just built me a little basketball court and I played a lot of basketball, and I was in the eighth grade. I changed schools following this girl and I went to this school and [inaudible 00:14:46], the school had only three blacks in the entire school.

Howard H. White: The girl that I changed for she was not one of them. So here I was at this school alone, pretty disappointing and my mom said let me go to this school because my sister had told her that education was the important part. So wherever I could get this education, she should let me do it. So, I could not go to her and say, Mama, I can’t get an education at that school because the girl wasn’t there, I couldn’t convince her that I shouldn’t be there either. So, here I was at this school I did not know a single soul but I got to play basketball. I wasn’t any good, they weren’t any good, and I would have never played at black school that I was attending but I got to be on the basketball team at this school, voted most popular boy in school that year.

Howard H. White: Went to that high school, with that coach the next year and in a short time I became an all American, by senior year I’d tore my knee up, pretty disappointed, but I still got a scholarship, went to college and then started playing there was the only a big H on the back of my uniforms. Everything was going great, on top of the world, we won the NIT championship we were picked to compete for the national championship the next year and my knee, I tore the other knee up and as devastating as that was basketball just wasn’t any fun. When I graduated the coach had said I got drafted but basketball wasn’t funny he asked me had I ever thought about coaching and all of a sudden I said no, but maybe that wouldn’t be bad. So I got to dream about something all over again got involved with, at that time the greatest player in the world, in high school who was Moses Malone.

Howard H. White: So Moses and I became extraordinarily tight, he signed to go to Maryland, but he was only there one day because they drafted him to go into the Crows to play for the Utah Stars. So that was a disappointing thing and after a while I got out of the coaching and all of a sudden the guy that had taken my place, he’d started in my place when I got hurt after 10 years, he saw me and he said you know, I think there’s this great job at Nike, you’d love it. And I said what is Nike? What are you talking about? He said you’d love it, you’ll love it. He asked his wife, he said wouldn’t he love it? He’s oh he’d love that job. There’s half of his sister was going with the guy that was the east coast field rep, the guy had to come back out to Oregon, so he’d left a job there and I saw the guy’s name and the telephone book, I didn’t know who the heck it was.

Howard H. White: John had told me the guy’s name was Kenny White, so I looked in the telephone book one day at the Insurance Company and I saw all these Kenny Whites, but there was a funny spelled, Kenny White, K-H-E-N-I. I said I bet that’s the guy, I called the number showing up, it was the guy he told me to stop by they were having a going away party and I did. He said send him a resume and I did then he called me and said well, they’re giving the job to somebody else, they’re changing the direction it. Later, he called and said when can you start? I started at Nike and the first person that had to be with and mentor as a client was Moses Malone, he and [inaudible 00:18:22] had came to Nike. So here I was with Moses Malone again several years after that because me and Mo were still close several years after that here comes a young kid named Michael Jordan in Barclay.

Howard H. White: So when I look at the raise, the rise in power in that and then years down the road when I was on top of the world where I have the greatest athletes that Nike has, then there’s this FAI investigation and they go through the whole FBI investigation and all of a sudden when that’s over, the founder says I realize and understand, if you don’t want to be here anymore more you can take the greatest severance in the history of mankind. And I looked at him and said you asked me to come here and help you build something we haven’t finished yet. So reality says there are things in your life, there are dreams that will be broken, there are dreams that will die and I always tell people when someone calls and says, H, would you talk to my mother she just left their job or lost or job, H, would you talk to my sister because this just happened to her and it’s hard for her to bear.

Howard H. White: I always come back to the same thing when you can look in the mirror and say, why not me? If you accept it as, well, how could this happen to me, or woe is me, I can’t believe they would do that to me, then you’re already defeated. When you can say, why couldn’t this happen to me? Now you can figure out how you have to deal with it.

Bryan Collins: And how do you go about focusing on a long-term goal? Let’s say you could be ethical or writing a book or starting a business and you have to work on it for a year or three years or five years, how would you go about focusing on something like this?

Howard H. White: You know, I think what one must do, Bryan, what happens is we look at things in a sense, the big picture, so we really say we want to do something and then we want to eat the whole elephant right then and there. You have to do it in sections, and I remember Michael Jordan, MJ said one time, he said if my goal is to score 30 points a game, 30 points a game is pretty tough but if I break that down to what I have to do in a quarter and in that quarter I can score a couple of baskets I know I can do that. And then you know, I gotta add in, okay, score a couple of baskets, two baskets that’s four points if I score three baskets, that six points. I’m add and I’m going to get fouled a few times. All of a sudden that’s eight points and then I do that the next quarter and then I do that the next quarter. Then that do that the next quarter.

Howard H. White: So that goal that has been so out of reach has simply been broken down to bite size pieces. It has been broken down to things that you actually can do and once those things become habit within you, its set in stone within you, you find out that the big audacious goal is only comprised of little spontaneous combustible habits.

Bryan Collins: And that could be habits like 300 words a day, for example.

Howard H. White: Exactly you just break it down. You know, here it is a single spark can burn down an entire forest. See, when you see the forest fire raging, no one usually goes back to that single spark could’ve been a bolt of lightning, it could be somebody dropped a match there, it could be a campfire, so that’s really that combustion, but you go back and set things that you know you can do. It might simply be 20 words and you said boy I handled that pretty good, I bet I could get 50 here and once you start achieving these things really what that does is give you more confidence and if you have enough confidence because that’s what people buy, they buy the confidence that they see in you. It’s often not the product it’s the confidence that one sees and there you have it. They’ll build it up slowly.

Bryan Collins: And how did you find turning your experiences into a book? Like the actual process of creating a book itself or did you take away from it?

Howard H. White: Well, what happened with me when I go back to that ninth grade year when I went to the new school and got to play basketball, there was an English teacher Nancy Knewstep, Nancy Knewstep would tell me she said I take your papers home, and I read them to my mother every night you are a great writer and Nancy always told me that. So you start buying into these things because she started creating this confidence in me that I could write now Nancy Knewstep, that ninth grade English teacher, we have a book club today. We pick books, we read books together and that’s my way of telling her thank you for believing in me, that coach that said in the eighth grade, if you listened to everything I tell you, you could be just like the Big O. We still have a great relationship today.

Howard H. White: My leadership teacher in college, she pulled me after class one day, and she told me that… She asked me what did I want from that class and being a kid, I said… I was a junior I said I want an A she said no, you should want to learn, and she said that I’ve only known two people in my life that could command the attention of an entire class. One was personally she knew when she taught at temple, and she said the other one is Howard White. I said who you talk about? She said you. She said but here’s the difference the other person was from the city when he spoke everybody knew what he was saying, she said you have a southern dialect when you speak I don’t know what you talk about half the time. So she wrote her name down, and she said you contact her and tell her and I told you to call. Took me a while but finally I did call, and it was ask, acts, at, a, as, she taught me how to enunciate and pronunciation.

Howard H. White: I found that teacher after I had written the book. She was an adjunct professor at the University of Georgia and I finally found her and I kept calling and kept calling until she answered, and I said Dr. Leddy she said this is Charlotte, I said Dr. Leddy she said this is Charlotte, who am I speaking with? I said this is a voice from your past, she said who is this Eddie? I said no, ma’am you said there were two she said Howard White. She said Howard White I was just telling a group of students about you just the other day, I said Dr. Leddy, you haven’t seen me in over 35 years you’re lying. She said no, I’m telling you the truth, tell me what you’re doing.

Howard H. White: And I told her what I was doing, and she said I told you so. I was like, what the hell are you an angel? How would you… And she said knew, I just knew you needed some help because I really couldn’t understand you but when they read your papers… So when I grew up, and I thought that I had something to share with the world, all I can remember was Nancy’s said I was a great writer. So I had literally been in New York and I was doing a Believe to Achieve event and afterwards I stopped in with friends to have dinner.

Howard H. White: We were down in Manhattan, we were having dinner, and his girlfriend stopped by, and she said I’m just stopping by I was on my way to a place. I just knew you were all here, so I just wanted to stop and say, hey and we talked. And I said I think I might want to do a book, and she said well, you should. I said yeah, it’s not as easy as you think. She said it probably is she said I tell you what, why don’t you write it and I’ll edit it, I’m an editor for Doubleday. I said you are a what? She said I’m an editor for Doubleday, which I did not know. So I said are you serious? She said I’m very serious. So I started writing on airplanes, in hotel room, every moment I got I would start writing and then eventually I gave her kind of this manuscript, and she said this is really good.

Howard H. White: She said I can picture this on every kid’s night table and in the book bag she said but what you need, you need a writer you need like a ghost writer. You need somebody that can write and I sent it to a friend, I sent it to the guy Mark who had written in MJ’s book, Mark Vancil. And he said hey, great idea send me a number I’m a find somebody, and he found this woman and what they do, as you well know, you’re a writer they write about two or three chapters, and she called the possibilities, and I thought it was good and then my wife read it, and she said it’s pretty good. I said I thought so. She said but here’s the problem this is an interpretation of what you want to say is not what you want to say is what she thinks you want to say.

Howard H. White: She said exactly so then I started out… I said okay, I’m going to write my own book. Nancy said I was a great writer. I wrote it, I was on an airplane traveling from Portland to Atlanta and I was sitting beside this woman, and she’s staying up, what you read? I said I’m just working on this manuscript. She said well mind if I read it? And she read it, the whole trip she was reading that. Then she said I really liked this She said I tell you what, I’m an engineer, I went to school for engineer also was an English major, I’m a business major, she said so I like this so much if you send it to me, I’ll edit it for you. And Lord behold she did then I took that and then I was with a good friend of mine who was a coach in a college coach Raveling. I’m told he’s an avid reader.

Howard H. White: I said coach read this, this was like on a Thursday or Friday. He called me back that Monday and he said my wife… He said Deedee just read that manuscript, I said oh really? She had just gotten her PhD from USC. She said she wants to help you. So I had a white woman from Tennessee and a black woman of Los Angeles, both editing this book, and the first ones I published myself. I did not know the name for it and I called my brother, and I said you know what, I need a name, I need a name for it, I want them to be like warriors. He said what? I said it kind of like Jedi Knight that’s what I want, I want like Jedi Knight, and my brother was a twelfth degree black belt. He said that’s a pretty hard task.

Howard H. White: I said okay, well that’s what I want and about a month had pass and I forgotten all about it. He called me on Saturday. He said I got it. I said you got what? He said I got it. I said you got what? What are you talking about? He said the book the one you want, these warriors. I said oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. What’d you get? He said UANDI. I said what? He said UANDI I said what are you talking about? He said what have you always wanted to do? I said well, that’s never changed. I want to change the world he said exactly. He said UANDI is U-A-N-D-I a little squiggly or with an N, UANDI. I said that’s Andy he said no, it’s whatever you want it to be. And he says it’s you and I can change the world.

Howard H. White: I said I love it. So the very first book that that did was called the UANDI handbook, which morphed into Believe to Achieve.

Bryan Collins: And where can people find the book now?

Howard H. White: You can find it for international audience, it should be in bookstores, they can go to Amazon. I mean, it should be in lots and lots of places. Matter of fact, Coach Lefty told me that he walked into a bookstore and bought up their four or five copies that they had. He just needs me to sign it, so it should be out there in the universe.

Bryan Collins: And where can people find you, Howard?

Howard H. White: I’m easy, they can always

Speaker 4: I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store and if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit and I’ll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.

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