Rod Cook, president of America’s MLM Consultants, Inc., talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about how he became a watchdog for the multilevel marketing industry, some of the scams he has helped to expose and why he believes network marketing is the last chance in America for the “little guy."
If you Google the name “Rod Cook” you will discover no less than 600 pages of Internet content—mostly singing his praises for the work he has done to right the wrongs and extoll the virtues of the multilevel marketing (MLM) industry. And behind just about any current booming MLM company in the United States—market leaders such as Life Force, Legacy USA, Xango, Travelogia and others—is Cook’s influence. “My credibility is why my program works,” says Cook, who is considered the industry go-to source and often humorously referred to as the “Godfather” or the “Oracle” of MLM. “Saving people from scams and working on trying to keep companies more balanced in how they treat their distributors is my life’s work.”
Opportunist: How did you become involved in multilevel marketing?
Cook: I got started in MLM while a starving college student after I came back from Vietnam. A neighbor woman had a garage full of soap and she would give it to me on consignment. Then I would go sell this soap, known as ‘Swipe,’ door-to-door and take all the money back to her and collect my share. The funny thing is I didn’t even know it was MLM for over a year.
Opportunist: No kidding?
Cook: Whenever I stopped by with my earnings she was really friendly and would offer me coffee and cookies. I thought: Boy, she is really generous. But then I stopped by one evening during Christmas and saw her and her friends drawing circles and arrows and other calculations. I wondered what was up—I had no earthly idea what MLM was—and they showed me how I could make more money with MLM than I could selling stuff door-to-door. I got hooked, and by late-1970 I was making a high six-figure income with this opportunity.
Opportunist: You really made over $100,000 selling a soap product?
Cook: I really loved the product. It was the best soap. You could squirt it on a dirty car engine and wash it off in five minutes and that engine would be clean and shiny. If you left it on for 30 minutes, it would take the paint off so you could repaint it. Customers would use it in their kitchen—white enamel was popular back then—to clean their walls with a little Swipe on a rag. The only problem was if you did one patch of wall, you’d have to buy more Swipe to clean the rest so all the walls would match. [Laughs] It was that good. I even introduced the product in Japan. Years later, unfortunately, the EPA stopped it because they said it had environmentally harmful ingredients. I sure wished I had stocked up on that stuff.
Opportunist: How did you get the product to Japan?
Cook: Years before, when I was hospitalized in Japan after getting blown up in Vietnam, I had made friends with a bunch of doctors and lawyers. We would sit around playing Pachinko and I would bring some Johnnie Walker Black, which I could buy for $6 a bottle at the PX. Needless to say, I was very popular at parties. [Laughs] Anyway, there I was back in the states selling Swipe when my Japanese friends called and invited me to come for a visit. I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford the plane fare, but they insisted and paid for my ticket. So, I flew to Japan with a couple cases of Swipe and ended up hooking up Japan to MLM—before Amway got there.
Not too long after that, I got my first legal education in MLM. Remember the nice lady with the garage full of soap? Turns out, the company had filled thousands of other garages with soap and the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] accused them of being a pyramid scheme and shut them down. So the $380,000 I made that year (equal to about $1 million today) vanished.
Opportunist: What did you do after that?
Cook: I graduated from college and went back in the Army to fly med ships and work a secondary as an intelligence officer/spy. I also tried quite a few different MLM companies because they were a good part-time job. The distributors in those companies wanted to know how the MLM Compensation Plan they were working with paid the most. I loved calculating MLM pay plans for them. That experience later led to my starting Americas MLM Consultants.
Opportunist: Are there any network marketing opportunities that you regret missing out on?
Cook: I haven’t really seen any missed opportunities. I was around for the founding of Herbalife and, of course, I went through Amway. I had written training books and everything but I wasn’t a Diamond so they wouldn’t let me sell my training books. So I left Amway.
Opportunist: Can you share some other highlights of your career?
Cook: While in the Army I started my own MLM Company called Golden Opportunity, which was a print and mail magazine for lead generation. In six months I went from 500 distributors to 60,000. It was crazy. I was building a big down-line of 5,000-plus people in Slick 50—an engine oil treatment to get better gas mileage—while giving the Army their eight hours a day, running Golden Opportunity and sometimes actually sleeping. [Laughs] This was where the MLM Watchdog was born— inside Golden Opportunity magazine. I started writing a section about bad companies to help my readers protect themselves.
Two friends of mine came along from Forever Living, an MLM company that sells nutritional supplements and personal care products and said if I would replace the ugly Slick 50 photos with some of their aloe-vera product photos they could increase the size of my MLM company. I innocently agreed, and six months later we grew to 60,000 distributors. I eventually sold the magazine to the printer and concentrated on working Slick 50. It’s still on the shelves today, although it has changed ownership several times.
There is an interesting side story that goes along with Slick 50 as well.
Opportunist: Please tell us more.
Cook: I was a 7-digit earner with Slick 50 when the owners sold it to a major retail company, and hundreds of other distributors and I were thrown out on the street and terminated with all income shut off without warning. It was devastating because one of my friends, whom I had brought into Slick 50, committed suicide. That gave me the determination to start the Distributor Rights Association, which is now a major division of the Association of Network Marketing Professionals [ANMP] and embraces both top MLM Distributors and MLM companies that are friendly to their independent contractor distributors. I feel proud of its influence. In fact, the ANMP gave me a unique award last year: The MLM Humanitarian of the Century Award.
Opportunist: Congratulations! Talk about karma…
Cook: The original Slick 50 eventually got hit by the FTC for making their gasoline additive, and the big oil company out of Houston that bought them out hired me back as a consultant to do testing. We got some fairly good results at a lab where they do testing for NASA and actually ended up helping the people who killed off my $1.2 million earnings. It’s a strange world. [Laughs]
I believe everybody needs to do good in the world—through either charity or good deeds—to counterbalance some of the evil. What I decided to do with Watchdog was to chase down some of these scammers that hurt people and hurt the reputation of the MLM market. Every time somebody gets taken in by a scam they automatically believe all MLM companies are crooks. They weren’t in a legitimate MLM company; they were in a scam. That is what pushed me to do the MLM Watchdog …to protect the industry.
Opportunist: Tell us more about MLM Watchdog.
Cook: It moved to another magazine and was featured by ABC’s ‘20/20’ on a company named Equinox—a company with 10 digits and up to join—and also ‘Nightline,’ which featured the Global Prosperity tax evasion scam. We have also been featured for busting other scams and been given credit by major newspapers and magazines. In 1997, I moved the MLM Watchdog online. Over the years I have developed quite a diverse reporting staff that includes attorneys general investigators and secretaries, some people from the federal government, plus a lot of honest, good folks. Some of the interesting ones are ex-MLM company owners that are what I call ‘half billionaires.’ [Laughs]
Opportunist: You are also known for your top-notch training and lecture series and public speaking engagements. Please tell us about those.
Cook: Back in the 1990s I created an Internet training program called The Power Online Workshop that was really the first training program for Internet Marketing. This was run by our America’s MLM Consultants. We toured the United States, teaching thousands of individuals and MLM Company groups. I also did meetings for the MLM Community on the Good Bad and Ugly of Network Marketing, which was a spin-off of the MLM Watchdog.
Opportunist: What inspired you to write your books?
Cook: My experience with Swipe inspired me to write one of my first books, called MLM Law State and Federal, which many of the MLM attorney specialists still keep handy today as a desk reference. Another popular book of mine is the MLM Compensation Plan Book, which is fully illustrated and has sold over 30,000 copies on Amazon. How To Start Your Network Marketing, Modern Party Plan or Web Affiliate Company is a 300-page monster I wrote that has sold tens of thousands of copies globally. In fact, it is so good that my MLM consultant competitors have ripped it off! But they have a problem because they can’t get rewritten rights.
Opportunist: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Cook: Getting out in the trenches and finding the bad guys. Protecting what I think is a good industry. MLM is the last chance in America for the little guy. Oh, and most of all I get inspiration from my brilliant and beautiful wife, Marcie, who is also my partner and CEO of America’s MLM Consultants. I call her ‘Magnificent Marcie.’
Opportunist: Have you made any enemies along the way?
Cook: If I don’t get a death threat a month, I get depressed. [Laughs]
Cook: Oh yes—especially when people have their little scam exposed. Global Prosperity was a really bad one. They encouraged tax evasion—citing the 16th Amendment—and taught their people that paying taxes wasn’t a legal requirement. There were a bunch of them in Corpus Christi, which is only about 100 miles away from me in San Antonio. I had been getting threatening telephone calls, presumably from some of those guys, and one day I was driving down the street in my Mercedes convertible when I heard a loud ‘bump, bump.’ I didn’t think anything of it until I got home and discovered two bullet holes on the trunk of my car and realized someone had been shooting at me. I thought, Wow, those people have no good sense of humor.
Opportunist: You were awfully calm for someone who just got shot at.
Rod: Well, I am 6 feet 5 inches tall and I weigh about 240 pounds. And when I was in the military, I used to kill people for a living. So, you know, I’m sitting here and I’ve got loaded guns all around me and an arsenal in the closet. So I’m kind of like ‘OK, come and get me!’ Do I feel safe? Oh yeah.
Opportunist: What happened to Global Prosperity?
Cook: In the Global Prosperity case, I was assigned an FBI handler to report to. A lot of the time regulatory assistants will call just to ask me my opinion.
The founders went to prison, but what was so terrible about it was they took a bunch of innocent people down with them. Doctors and lawyers and countless others got sucked into their scheme and had their lives ruined.
Opportunist: Where do you see the MLM industry headed in the coming years?
Cook: Network marketing is still growing, and with new health care costs facing many companies MLM – Network Marketing as a form of distribution of products and services is looking better and better to both large and small companies.
Opportunist: How did you overcome the Great Recession?
Cook: It slowed down the number of new startup MLM Companies because capital has been harder to come by. However, America’s MLM Consultants has prospered because we diversified to include finding funding for new MLM companies that gave us another income stream to make up for the slowdown.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area.
Rod Cook’s Websites