As I See It

Growing up poor helped make him rich

As I See It

Growing Up Poor Helped Make Him Rich

And a life in ophthalmic sales contributed to his inspiring book

By Paul S. Koch, MD, Editor Emeritus

Picture, if you will, a young boy born to a poor family. I mean really poor, as in they had nothing. They lived in a walk-up apartment without even a doorknob to keep out intruders.

The apartment was so small there was no room for a tub or shower. The only way to wash up was to use a facecloth and the sink. No one in the family could take a bath or a shower, only quickly wipe with soap and water. He had no toothbrush and began losing teeth when still a teen.

His mother had an advanced case of multiple sclerosis and was bedridden. The little boy had to help wash her, care for her, sometimes taking her for a wheelchair ride on the sidewalk.

The father had a rule for the family to follow: Eat without stealing. The little boy did what he could on the streets, finding something here and there, but never once resorting to crime.

School of Hard Knocks

Unfortunately, the need to eat got in the way of going to school and unexpected absences were frequent. After eighth grade, he failed to qualify for the certificate necessary to let him go on to high school. One day, a nun at the school, probably happy to get rid of him, made one up for him and sent him on his way.

Baseball helped give him the discipline he needed to get through high school, but the realities of the street made it hard for him to concentrate, to study, and, for that matter, to care. Senior year ended and he could read and write only at the eighth-grade level.

Luckily, a local college offered a remedial program for underachievers and, in a very fortunate break, he was accepted and returned the favor by playing baseball so well he ended up in the school's hall of fame. Years later, he became a world-class sprinter.

Entry Into Sales

After college, he hoped to be a gym teacher, but there were no openings in town. A friend suggested he try making cold calls to sell life insurance, and that changed his life. It turns out that all the years on the street taught him about a lot about people. His street smarts gave him the skills to be an excellent salesman and he sold $1 million of insurance his very first year.

His years on the street also taught him that bathing, clean clothes, and the opportunity to wear a suit are privileges not available to all. He appreciates what many of us take for granted. To this day, when he works from home he dresses in his suit before making his telephone calls.

One opportunity led to another, and soon he was in ophthalmic sales, selling IOLs for Ioptex Research Inc. Quickly he became one of the top sales reps in the country, all by following the lessons learned from a hard life on the streets. Now a regional manager for another lens company, he remains a top producer by understanding how to get to the truth.

I've known this man for 25 year, always agreeing to terms with a handshake, and always getting a fair deal. A person about as fine as Anthony Belli I have occasionally met, but never any finer.

Now an Amazon Best-seller

Anthony shares his amazing and inspiring life story in a thoroughly fascinating book, The Street-Smart Salesman —How Growing Up Poor Helped Make Me Rich (John Wiley and Sons). It came out a few weeks ago and became a best seller in its class on Amazon.

I recommend it enthusiastically whether you want to read his astonishing life story or learn how a successful salesman in the ophthalmology field sizes us up. I've already bought and shared 14 copies.

If you want it signed, you could bring it to the Hoya booth at the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Chicago and ask him, but do not dilly-dally.

He's not there to chat. He's there to sell stuff. And selling is something he's learned to do very well. OM

Paul S. Koch, MD is editor emeritus of Ophthalmology Management and the medical director of Koch Eye Associates in Warwick, RI. His e-mail is