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Describe yourself in one sentence.
I am humble, optimistic and calm with a competitive burn inside that drives me to do my best at whatever challenge I face or take on.
Where did you grow up, and what were you like as a child?
I grew up in Schenectady, New York, which is located about two and a half hours north of New York City. I was a happy kid, constantly on the go, especially interested in any activity that involved a ball. I wanted to try many new things, and my parents encouraged it.
What do you do for a living, and how does it compare to your educational or training background?
I have owned an executive recruiting business, Sales Consultants of Madison, for more than 25 years. I recruit and place sales and marketing executives in key positions at client companies. My management experience in the corporate world beforehand at General Electric and with two software companies, along with my bachelor of arts in business administration from Rutgers University, turned out to be great preparation for a career in recruiting.
What made you decide to write a book?
My original thought was to leave a legacy for my children, grandchildren and close friends by writing about my life. But family and friends told me I had a life story that would be very inspiring to many people because of its positive message. I took their words to heart and considered publishing the book for the public. As I reflected on my life and remembered all the people who were such positive influences, especially my mom, I was inspired to get my story published!
Can you describe the disability you were born with?
I was born with a right leg that was not fully formed and which had to be amputated when I was a year and a half old. My left arm is about half the length of my other arm and my partial left hand has only three deformed fingers. My left foot has a slight deformity. My disability is bilateral (both left and right side affected), which is rare.
How were you treated as a child with disabilities, and how does it impact the way you approach others with disabilities?
On the day I was born, the nurses and family members reacted with sorrow upon learning of my deformities. But when my mom saw me for the first time, as my mom retold it, she smiled at me and said, “I will raise Billy as a normal young boy.” Her response set the tone for my upbringing.
During my childhood, I was treated with respect by my classmates and friends, which gave me a high level of self-confidence and self-esteem. They included me in activities, in part because I was happy and friendly to everyone.
My friends, past and present, have told me they never looked upon me as handicapped or disabled. Whenever I interact with people with disabilities, I treat them in the same way, take interest in them and am an encourager.
How would your family and friends describe you?
A gentleman and friend to all. Courageous, compassionate, competitive, fearless, inspiring, mentor. (These are comments made to me by friends over the years.)
What do you wish you could tell your 16-year-old self?
Enjoy life. Be yourself. Have as many friends as possible. Pursue your interests.
What are we getting right in Madison when it comes to people with disabilities, and where could we be better?
I really can’t speak to how we are doing here, but I have read about many programs in the city that help the disabled function and live productive and happy lives. My hope is that people would treat and interact with the disabled the same as they do with anyone else, and include them in their circle of friends. I would hope others would not underestimate the talents and abilities people with disabilities all have to offer.
Do you have a hidden talent?
I am a good dancer, fast and slow. I also enjoy singing.
What surprises people most about you?
As a kid, it was my athletic ability and my fearlessness. I played most sports (baseball, basketball, touch football) with my friends until around junior high, when I couldn’t keep up with them. I enjoyed swimming and bowling, and my aunt taught me how to play golf at the age of eight. Even now, people are surprised at how well I play golf.
Some people are surprised by my positive attitude. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. I have been truly blessed in my life.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
There are a few that come to mind: Do not be afraid to try anything—you succeed by trying. Put the concerns of others ahead of your own. Be an encouragement to others by the way you live your life.
What’s top on your bucket list?
I would like to become a known inspirational public speaker on the power of encouragement to a number of different audiences—children and people with disabilities, parents of children with special needs, school-age children, athletic teams, faith-based organizations and corporate and civic groups.
You speak at schools, parent networks, service clubs, corporate groups and conferences. What is your key message?
My message centers on the power of encouragement. All of us have different types of gifts and abilities. They need to be nurtured and encouraged by other people—parents, friends, teachers, coaches, bosses.
In talking to school-aged children, I use my own life as an example of how encouragement from my classmates inspired me. Instead of an anti-bullying message to kids, I give them a pro-encouragement one. I tell them that by being an encourager results in building their own character and being a valued friend to others.
My talks to parents focus on loving and encouraging their children and to not underestimate their abilities, to build their self-confidence by introducing them to and allowing them to try new experiences. Let your kids figure out whether they can do it or like it.
What is the most common misperception that you encounter regularly?
I think an inaccurate generalization people make is people with disabilities are not capable of taking on responsibility or having a competitive spirit to lead or a drive to succeed.
Do you live by a creed, motto or catchphrase?
Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
What are your three most prized possessions?
My family and friends, my Bible, my golf clubs.
Where or when were you happiest?
I have had many happy times and moments in my life. But my happiest time is my current stage of life here. I have been married 41 years to the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, [with] two wonderful children and two lively granddaughters, and a loving daughter-in-law. I have a great group of friends and a peace in life that comes from putting my faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
How do you unwind?
Given my involvement in sports and my competitive nature, I love going to Badgers basketball and football games and major league baseball games. I look forward to playing golf with friends. I enjoy having dinners with my wife, Kathy, either at home or eating out. And an occasional afternoon nap doesn’t hurt, either.
What goal are you currently working on?
I have been speaking to a number of Rotary and Optimist clubs, at senior living groups and at schools. With the help of my marketing firm (The Creative Company), we now have a book and public speaking website (short-handedbook.com). My next goal is to speak at conferences and to parents and families of children with disabilities.
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