Today’s guest and I have something in common. We both worked directly with Tony Robbins, in much different capacities, but that’s where our experiences diverge. My guest found himself on Captain Sully’s Flight 1549 as he was about to crash land in the Hudson River opposite Manhattan. In the freezing cold, he rose to the occasion and will tell us his story of just how he saved dozens of passengers and himself from what could have been instant death for all.
Brace For Impact Because Moments Matter with Dave Sanderson
Welcome, Dave Sanderson, to the show.
Thank you, Mitch. I’m happy and I’m glad to be here with you today.
We’re both talking a little bit about Tony, what an incredible guy he is and how amazing he is. He’s putting these events together and creating an experience for 14,000 people all at the same time. You must have been through so many of those.
I was very honored to be with Tony for about ten years. I think I went over 100 events but every one was unique. He is a master of being able to put people together and share some thoughts and wisdom that hopefully people will take back with them to be able to impart and impact other people’s lives likewise.
Dave, what I’d like to do, because this is a show about business, is I would like to go back to maybe the beginning of your business career and have you help us understand some of the pitfalls and the discoveries you made growing your own company.
When I got out of college, Mitch, it was back in the mid 80s where there weren’t many jobs out there. I give my dad a lot of credit because my dad was a man of his word. When I graduated from college, he told me I had 30 days to get out to get a job or I was going to be out of the house. I had a lot of motivation but I wasn’t as motivated as he was. At 30 days, I didn’t have a job but he helped me get my first job, which was a great lesson for me. He pushed me to that point. I was a restaurant manager. I knew nothing about restaurants. It taught me a new skillset and taught me also how to manage people and be around people. It was a great learning experience. I had a one extreme learning experience during that which helped me when I was having challenges in my business career for the next 30 plus years.
It was Christmas Eve of one year and I was actually managing a restaurant in Vienna, Virginia for Marriott. I love Marriott. They treat their people great. Their headquarters are in Bethesda, Maryland. I didn’t know that because I was pretty young. I thought I was pretty hotshot, everybody does, that they’re bulletproof when they come out of college. I thought I knew everything was going on but I didn’t know that the management of Marriott would make store visits on Christmas Eve. I was the lucky guy.
They visited my store on Christmas Eve right after lunch. It was going crazy. The store was right off in Tysons Corner, which is right off495. It was going crazy. I had Bill Marriott, his entourage, walking through the door. That happened. I knew who he was but I was so out of it because I was running back and forth, front of the house, back of the house. He came up to me and he said, “Do you need any help?” I had to make a decision right there. If I say no, then he’s looking like this guy can’t handle it. If I say yes, he’d be like, “What’s wrong? Can you handle it?” I myself was in a no win situation. I said, “We actually need somebody dropping fries.” He looked at me and he said, “Where’s an apron?” I showed him where the apron was and he put the apron and started dropping fries. All his boys were out front standing. He goes, “Come on guys. Start bussing tables.” I’m like, “Wow.” He’s a CEO and Chairman of the Board of Marriott, helping me do that.
At the end when we got done and started cleaning up, he came out and said, “Remember, my name is on that building. No one’s ever too good to do anything for me. If I can jump in, anybody can jump in.” That was a lesson that taught me something about everything that I did for the rest of my business career until today. I’m not too good to do anything in my business to make sure that the clients are happy. That was a great lesson for me.
That is absolutely such an inspiring story. I’ve never met him. Is he still alive?
He is still alive. He’s no longer I think active in the business. He was a great man when I met him back in 1986, I think it was.
You’re very lucky to have met him. The story speaks volumes of not just him but of his corporation, of his organization. Marriott’s one of my favorite chains. I always try to stay at Marriott’s whenever I travel. That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing that. What did you do after Marriott’s? What was your real next venture?
With Marriott, I was on the fast track. That was in Tysons Corner, my next was really either Baltimore or Philadelphia on $15,300 a year. My fiancée, A) Wants to move North and B) We couldn’t afford to live on $15,000 a year in Philadelphia or Baltimore. I moved back to Charlotte and got into sales. That’s when I started moving into sales. That’s when I started really learning the basics on how things really work in the business and driving revenue and what was important. I started out, I was a copier salesman. I was taking copiers up and down the street in my little minivan and was told not to come back with it. That’s the way I learned how to do sales, door to door.
I think it was one of the best learning experiences I had because it really taught you how to communicate with people effectively because you had a lot of rejection. You also learn at that point, don’t take rejection personally, which is another great lesson that I learned. That’s where I started my sales career and I moved not only through the copiers and hard products. I went to the data processing. Back then, it was called data processing, to outsourcing, to software and then consulting. My last position when I was in sales was with Oracle when I was in-charge of the consumer package goods area for the Southeast. That’s what I was doing that day when we were up in Brooklyn, what happened on January 15, 2009.
Leading up until that day as you were building your own business, Oracle in particular, give us a little bit of information about what it was like to get started and then from there pretty much take it as your own business inside of a business and make that grow.
That’s exactly what I did. How I learned that, Mitch, was back in my second sales position, which was my first really outside of hard copiers. I met a guy by the name of Tom Hopkins. I started reading his books. I went to his seminar. I became a top salesperson in learning those techniques and strategies on how to really build your own business. He was in real estate. They had their own business. I was working for a company but I took the mentality of being entrepreneur within that company of, “I’ll build my own little business so give me anything.” I asked, “Give me South Carolina,” and no one had been to South Carolina. They had no office presence, no presence at all. I said, “I’ll start this from scratch.” That’s what I did. That’s how I became the top salesperson within the second, third, fourth, fifth year I was in that company because I took it as an opportunity as, “I’ll build this thing from scratch and that way no one can tell me what to do.”
That’s the classic entrepreneurial move. Take something that no one’s ever done or open up a shop in no place that has ever been before and build it from scratch. What was that like?
First, it was still tough sledding. I took the mentality like I was in copiers. I will go door to door. I would meet as many people as I possibly could. I started using third party reference, people like bankers and CPAs and get me involved in the community because they are very well-respected in the community. The first thing I did was reach out to bankers and CPAs to build my reference base of credibility. That’s one thing that I learned from Tom Hopkins and when I first went to my first Tony Robbins’ seminar, is influence. I had to have a center of influence and I had no influence. I was a young guy. Part of that story is one of the first people I called was the State of South Carolina. I said, “I might as well go big.”
I called on the State of South Carolina and I got a meeting with the comptroller of the State of South Carolina. Here I am, 27, 28 years old, pretty much a hotshot thinking I’m owning the world. I’m sitting with the comptroller of South Carolina. I go into this meeting and I’m not prepared at all. This guy is old curmudgeon, had been there for 30 years. He controls all these funds in the State. He looked at me and said, “Son, I’m thinking about doing something a few years from now.” I’m like, “Thinking about doing?, sir, we’re not doing anything.” He said, “No. You’ve got ten years before you’ve got to earn this opportunity.” It was a lesson. If you think you know what you’re talking about, you’ve got to put your time in. That was another great lesson I had. I had to put the time and not look at immediate results. Delayed gratification was something that I learned during that experience, which was also great for entrepreneurs because you’re not going to get immediate results. You’ve got to put your time in.
From myself, I transitioned from being in engineering into sales. I had to fight to get a sales job at this rep company. When I got there, it turns out that I was lied to about the size of my territory. Instead of getting a territory worth several million dollars in output, it turns out that my territory comprised of all the scraps from the other sales people that didn’t want to call in any of those accounts. It took me fourteen months before I earned a commission check but I didn’t care. I knew I needed to prove myself and I just kept plugging along. I was earning about a quarter of what I was earning before. Thank God I had a little savings. It wasn’t until I finally broke through at that fourteenth month that I started generating $34,000 a month in sales commissions back then so many years ago because I had taken a much different selling approach than my contemporaries. It sounds like you did the same. As you were approaching and building that territory, what was it like? What other lessons did you learn, particularly in selling?
I think selling is the fastest way to not only earn a living but also develop as a person. One of the first people I got involved with was Tom Hopkins but then I was becoming unsatiated for, “How can I learn more?” That’s where I got involved with Tony Robbins and attended one of his seminars. It was by a lark because I didn’t know who Tony was. My first mentor’s name was Bill. When I met Bill, all I knew about Bill was he drove a pick-up truck and wore a flannel shirt. I knew nothing about Bill but I found out Bill owned 80 movie theaters in North and South Carolina. Bill was a multimillionaire and Bill was the Sam Walton of Charlotte. No one knew who Bill was but he had more money than everybody. He took me under his wing. I called him one day and asked him and said, “How does one become a leader?” I was young. I was on the fast track. “How does someone become a leader?” I just got into business. I wanted to be in management. It’s a track they try to put you on.
He said, “If you want to be anything in your life, put yourself around the peer group that you want to be like.” I said, “How can I fast track this thing?” I go to a business seminar for leaders and it was Tony Robbins’ event. I signed up and paid $4,000 back then, which was a lot of money. It still is a lot of money to go to a seminar. I got involved and I started implementing what I learned. All those lessons in sales you have from influence, to state management to being able to focus. All these things that I was learning, I implemented and became the top sales producer. The cycle that Tony teaches is one of things I talk about now, that’s success cycle. When you have the potential but then you have to put the action but then all of a sudden you get some results and then you get belief so you do it again and again and all of a sudden this keeps going. That’s what I did. That’s some of the biggest lessons I learned. Thanks to my first mentor, Bill.
Let’s talk about Bill for a second here. How did you find the mentor? Why did he agree to mentor you?
I actually met Bill at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. I was eating there. He would go there. I found out later he’d go there every day to get coffee and have some toast and read his newspaper every morning. I was just sitting there one day eating. I said, “I see you here every day, sir. I don’t know what you do but I just like to say hello to you.” He said, “Sit down.” I sat down and started talking to him. I didn’t know anything about Bill. He started telling me a little bit about his life and his wife. I remember it like it was yesterday because it was a week to two weeks before Christmas when I first met him. He said, “You see that blue Corvette out there?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “You need one of those.” I said, “I can’t even afford my Datsun B210. I’m just lucky to make my $200 monthly payment.” He walked me out and said, “Sit in this car. We’re going to take a ride.” He put me in the car and said, “I’m going to tell you one thing about a Corvette. Make sure it’s pointed in the right direction because as soon as you touch it, it’s going.” I sat in there. I took off. He said, “You need one of this.” I said, “I don’t know how to do it.” He goes, “I’ll teach you how to do it. Anytime you see me, just come up and just talk to me.” I think he’s looking for someone just to talk to.
Bill would just give me these insights on these little things that he learned picking up what he did and all of a sudden I started finding out about Bill. I’m like, “How can he come here every morning and have coffee and toast and afford to do that?” It’s because he owned all these theaters and residual income coming in constantly. He built his empire and he drove a pickup truck. He was such a good old boy. He told me, “If you ever needed anything, just call me.” Back then, we didn’t have cellphones, so you had to make an effort to call somebody. I would call him when I had these questions. He’s the one that gave me that thing about in the business that you put yourself around the peer group. That’s how he grew. That’s how I got to be with Tony and all of a sudden that peer group started influencing many more things in my life.
What I take from the story, and I think what hopefully listeners are taking from the story as well, is that you took the trouble to introduce yourself and maybe even a risk in walking over to a stranger and saying hello where I think a lot of people are reluctant to do something like that. Look at the rich life that it led you into because you had the gumption, if you will, to walk over and just introduce yourself. Really well done on that. Not a lot of people would do that.
I was in Charlotte, North Carolina and I was out here by myself. My family was all over the place. I always connected with older people. I just had that connection. I have always taken the thing, “Don’t ever be afraid to say hello to somebody.” I don’t care who you are. Everybody puts their pants on the same way, the way I look at it. Some of them have some better pants than I have but they put them all the same way. Back then when you’re 26, 27, you think you’re bulletproof. What do you have to lose?
Now leading to up to how you met Tony and how that meeting led to a decade-long relationship. How did that happen?
I went to his first seminar in La Costa. I was just a participant at that point. I went up to him because he only had 300 people. He had no security back then. I just went up to him and I said, “Could you sign my book?” I had his Unlimited Power book. He signed it for me and said, “Thank you,” and went away. That’s pretty nice of the guy. He’s on stage doing his stuff but I didn’t think too much. I went to the next seminar, which was out in Hawaii. I went to it and I said, “I need more of this.” I volunteered the next event so I didn’t have to pay. I could go, be around, but then I have to be this guy putting brochures down at midnight. That’s what you do as you volunteer. You give your time up. What happened at the third event I went to and this was when everything started coming together for was in Maui.
His former wife was in a corner with a couple of guys talking and I couldn’t tell whether she was stuck or whatever but I went up to her and said, “Ma’am, Mr. Robbins said he needs you back there in the green room.” She said, “Thank you.” I walked her back. She said, “You did that pretty well. Do you want to be on Tony’s security team?” I said, “That’s a lot better than putting brochures down.” Anything just to get out of this. She put me in the green room for Tony. I sat at the door of the green room for one week and didn’t move and basically just watched people and watched how everything went. All of a sudden, he started getting more comfortable with me because I always would come say hello and stuff. He offered and said, “Do you want to sit on stage and have my back?” I went to the left side of the stage and sat there for probably two or three years, didn’t move. I went to every event. I didn’t move. I did exactly what he asked me to do. No one got to him. He got comfortable with me. He asked me if I would travel with him and then he said can I manage the stage. I was the assistant then, there was another gentleman who was managing the whole thing. I was managing the stage and then a couple of years later, he said, “I really appreciate if you would be my security director. Travel with me. You handle the team and you handle me.”
I was now managing his team of people, which I was one for four or five years. He got comfortable with me. I would pick him up at the airport. I would do all these things and make sure people were squared away where they needed to be. He got a lot of trust in me so we became good friends. We went out and did a lot of things together. The big thing I think that really changed our relationship was when I went to Fiji with him for a week. He and I were just guys playing basketball and talking and stuff. I learned so much that week just by being around that level of person. It was a tremendous learning experience for me. The things that I used on January 15, I gave him a lot of credit because I implemented what he taught me that day. It turned out pretty well for all us but clearly turned really well for me because that relationship was something I treasure until today.
Now that we are transitioning to it through your story, why don’t we get to that day? That day was such a powerful experience for the world to understand human bravery and the gift of survival. How did you even begin to be on that plane? What was the story behind that?
I wasn’t supposed to be on that plane. I was at the end of a three-day business trip for Oracle and my third city was Brooklyn. We started our day at 5 AM because we were going to work in a warehouse doing warehouse systems. The warehouse has opened up, distributions centers opened up at 2:00 in the morning. That’s why we started so early so we got done early. My strategy back then was I always booked the last flight out because you never know how the day’s going to go. It could go long. We got done at 10:00 and that’s where I called our corporate travel agent. She put me on Flight 1549. I tell people, I think I was supposed to be on that plane for a reason because there’s no reason I should be on that plane because I wasn’t scheduled to be on it originally. That’s how I got on the plane and I gave up a first class seat at 5:00 for that seat 15A on that flight. I think things happened that way.
Nothing extraordinary about the day; it was eleven degrees of snowing. It was in New York in the middle of January. What do you expect? It was a cold day. We were a little delayed getting out but nothing extraordinary. I got boarded with the first group because back then I was a chairman because I flew so often. I had a top tier so I get to board early. I did exactly what I did every single time and I did not pay attention to instruction. That’s one of my big messages I talked about today, is awareness because I wasn’t aware. I thought I knew everything. You go on a plane, you fly so often, and that’s going to happen. You don’t know what’s going on. All of a sudden, something goes on and now you’ve got to start rallying pretty quick. You’ve got to figure the stuff out.
Here you are, you’re in your first class seat and you ended up having to move. Did you give up your seat to somebody else? Why did that happen?
I had the first class seat on the 5:00 flight that I was previously scheduled on. She put me on an earlier flight and said, “I can’t get you first class.” I said, “Just get me on a window seat.” That’s how I got 15A. I was already in 15A with the ticket that she changed from the later flight to get me on earlier flight.
Now you’re on the plane and you are taking off from LaGuardia. The plane is pretty much climbing and probably by now you’re not even thinking about the flight at all. Is that right?
No. No big deal, nothing extraordinary. You just take off like you usually take off. I was reading my magazine just like I always did. No big deal, didn’t pay attention, didn’t listen to the instructions at all.
What was the first hint that possibly something was wrong?
It was about 60 to 70 seconds when I heard the explosion. It was a loud explosion. I had never heard anything on the plane like that before. I started looking up and I’m like, “What’s going on? Is it a terrorist attack?” You don’t know. I looked out the window and I saw fire coming out in its left wing. I knew that something had happened because I heard the explosion. I saw the fire. I had flew so often which is that planes have multiple engines. This one has at least two engines. I was like, “It has another engine. He’s going to go back. We’re going to be delayed.” That’s exactly what I thought. No one knew in the plane except for the captain or first officer at that moment what happened on the left side of the plane where I was simultaneously happened on the right side of the plane. There was one explosion.
A lot of people don’t want to talk about this but if there would have been like, “Boom, boom,” people then would probably understood what was going on. Since there was one everybody thought, “There’s another engine.” The passenger make-up on the plane made a whole lot of difference in the outcome because about 90% of the people were business people flying. Business people usually take care of themselves. They fly a lot. They don’t get too nervous usually because you’re flying a lot. Everybody thought that I talked to thought, “We have another engine.” When he started banking, I thought he was going back to LaGuardia. That’s a natural thing I thought, “He was going back to the airport. Go get another plane.”
You’re in the air and you hear this explosion. You look out the window and you see fire on the wing. I guess what happens inside most of our minds, not all of us, but many of us think, “This probably is okay,” because we’re being optimistic. We’re for life not against life so we think, “There’s another engine so we’re probably okay.” Then you heard and you watched and felt as the plane was banking. When did you notice the silence of no engines at all?
When he banked and then he started going down to the Hudson and you could hear nothing. It was so quite. I tell people it was so quite you could hear a pin drop on that plane because no one was talking, no engines, no rumblings, nothing. At that point, we don’t have any power. I’ve never seen that flight pattern before. I flew to New York once maybe every month. I knew the flight pattern coming out of LaGuardia back to Charlotte, come down to the ocean side and come back to New Jersey, but we were going down the Hudson River. The word I used was serious; the word Captain Sullenberger used was dire, when he crossed over to George Washington. He was roughly 400 plus feet up because the bridge is roughly 600 feet up. He was roughly a thousand feet at that point. I looked out on the window and peoples’ faces were looking straight up at us and we were looking down. You could see their faces. We’re pretty low. That’s when he made his famous words, “This is your captain. Brace for impact.” That’s when we all heard that, as soon as he crossed over to George Washington.
Now you hear those words, what’s going on inside the plane when you heard those words?
We heard the flight attendants going, “Brace, brace, brace.” That’s all you really heard at that point in time. No one was losing it because I think people at that point resigned this is probably not going to turn out well. My thought was, “I better get my stuff straight. I better get this cleaned up with my Creator pretty quick.” Everything that I ever knew about a plane crash never ended up very well. I think everybody who at least I’ve talked to that had been around were either texting their loved ones, calling their loved ones or doing some praying like I was. All you heard on the plane was, “Brace, brace, brace.” That was from the flight attendants.
At this point, the plane is not pointing down. It’s gliding down. I know it must be happening very quickly but it wasn’t like you were doing a dive bomb into the river. We saw that plane floating, sitting on the top of the river based on the skill of Captain Sully. Tell us now as you’re approaching the water, what you’re seeing, what people are doing, what’s going on inside of that plane?
It was roughly 60 to 70 seconds after he crossed the bridge is when he hit the water. At that point, the people were really quiet. There were some people crying. There were people on phones. I was praying. We were all trying to brace because who reads the instructions knows how to brace. I didn’t know how to brace. I just did what I thought was best. Because I was on the window seat, I kept looking out the window as we were descending because it was pretty rapid. I tell people, that last minute it slows down for you. I’ll give you an example. I had a friend from our church who was in the earthquake in Haiti. She survived and I asked her and I said, “What was that last minute like?” She goes, “I had a lot of clarity. I knew exactly why I was here.” I said, “That’s exactly what happened to me.”
I saw the movie of my life flashing before my eyes. I saw things I never had seen for 30, 40, 50 years. I knew exactly why I was on here. I knew my mission at that point. I knew if I survive then I have not only a story to tell but I’d be able to impact people’s lives. She said she had the same thing. She’s now a minister. She’s down in the Florida region right now. I think people who face that last minute, they think of their impending death, that’s when you started seeing everything come together. It was like, “Now, I get it. This is why everything happened the way it happened and hopefully I could do something better with it if I get a shot.”
In that moment when the plane made contact with the river itself, what did you feel sitting there? What did it feel like, a plane, an airliner landing on the water?
It was a hard hit. He hit it perfectly. The way he hit it was back side, front side and then it twisted. I was towards the back of the plane so we hit the first but it was a hard hit. When I went hit, I went forward and then backward in my seat. When I went backward in my seat, the seat broke back a little bit, shifted a little bit, and the guy sitting in front of me did the same thing. Some of the seats shook, some of the seats broke and some of the seats didn’t. That’s what happened. It was a hard hit. When I looked back up, I started to open my eyes and looked out the window, I saw light coming through the window. I tell people I think it was a metaphor. There’s a light. I have a shot but we’re not out. If you saw how the plane landed, the bottom of the plane was stripped off by the impact. The flight crew, which is the closest exit behind them, tried to open up that door so water started coming immediately from both the back and the bottom of the plane. Now, you’ve got water from ankle to waist deep immediately.
You’re in seat 15A and now a door gets opened and water is entering the plane. This has to be as surreal as it gets to look down at your feet sitting there on the river itself and seeing the water start to flood by your shoes. Tell me what’s going on in your mind at this point and what is it that you are going to do next?
When you looked out the window next, the water is already above the window. We’re at the back. I looked down and the first instinct that I had is I did remember there is a life preserver. I reached down to get it but it was already underwater. I’m like, “I’m out of here.” I got up and I started making my way out to the isle but something happened when I got there that all of a sudden jarred me to do something different. It was my mother. I heard my mother’s voice saying something she told me when I was a child. My mother passed away in 1997 but what I heard in my head was, “If you do the right thing, God will take care of you.” One of the great things about my mother was she would give you a choice. She would help you make a decision but she wouldn’t make the decision for you. The right thing for me was to help other people first. I would have been fine if I just took care of myself likewise but my thought process was I always worked as a team, not only growing up in athletics and Boy Scouts, but I had my Tony Robbins team. My security guys, we’re all part of a team. We had each other’s back. We had Tony’s back. We always took care of each other.
I went towards the back of the plane to see if anybody needed help. There was one elderly lady that needed a little help and a couple of women really did a great job of getting her going. I got behind them and started walking behind them but now you’re waist deep in the water and you’re trying to get out of the plane. The bins had broken open of impact because luggage has flown out. They’re floating in the water and at that point it was dark. You couldn’t see, was it just a piece of luggage or was somebody there? As soon as I saw an opening, it was a 10F on the right, I made my beeline to that. When I got there, I started to get out but it was an amazing sight because there was no room on the wing or the boat. They’re already filled. That’s how I became the last passenger off the plane because I was in the plane for seven minutes waist deep in 36-degree water holding on to the lifeboat keeping it close to the wing.
When you walked through the isle and got to row ten and when you looked to the right, was that open, that exit?
Yes. The two guys who got those doors opened were amazing.
Was water coming in through that door by the time you got there?
A little bit. That was still above water at that point. People’s feet on the wing were underwater but the door was still right about water aligned. It wasn’t coming in that rapidly of it at all.
Did you see Captain Sully at any point in this process?
I didn’t know who he was but I felt somebody walking behind me. I never saw him but I felt someone. Now I know later it was him walking up and down, checking to make sure everybody got out. He walked behind me but never saw him because I was hanging out the door. There was a picture on Good Morning America, me hanging out the door waist deep in 36-degree water on this lifeboat. That was the moment I realized how I became the last passenger off the plane because they had this exclusive picture and that was the first picture that was released in the public, of me holding on to the lifeboat.
Now you’re outside the plane. Are you standing on the wing?
No. I’ve never got on the wing. I was still in the plane. My back side was in the plane. I was reaching out holding the lifeboat and holding on to that so they had the exit out from the lifeboat out to the wing so they can walk out in the wing to get on the ferries. I never got on the wing. I was there about six, seven minutes until I felt the plane shake. I found out later that was the tug boat that hit the front of the plane that made it shake. When I felt it shake, I felt water going on my back and I thought, “This thing is going down.” My immediate thought was, “Don’t be sucked down in the plane.” The first thing I thought was Titanic. If you remember that movie, that boat sucked everything in it down. The worst thing I could think about was being sucked down in the plane on a river. Fire is number one. That’s number two. That’s when I jumped out and swam to the closest boat, the closest ferry at the end of the wing. That’s how I swam to save my life to get to the ferry.
Did you get on to the boat or to the ferry? Was there an interim boat that you jumped on?
No. There was a ferry there. If you saw the movie, they had, the plastic ladders they put down to the side and they’re yelling at me, “Climb, climb, climb.” I yelled, “I can’t.” I heard my mom again. I’ve got the arms up and someone pulled me. Two guys pulled me on the ferry and threw me on the side. That’s how I got on the ferry. You think you got it, you made it, but that’s the moment that all the adrenaline goes and you’re so cold. I couldn’t even barely breathe. That was when I had probably the worst fear I thought I was going to die because I couldn’t feel anything. I was so cold and I was by myself.
That rush of adrenaline, it did its job. It’s basically the most powerful cocktail you’ve ever had in your life that forced you to survive. Then when you realized that you had survived, that’s when reality hit, didn’t it?
Yeah. That’s exactly when it hit. I was not only grateful but that was the point where I was like, “I made it.” Someone who was on the ferry who was dry put his iPhone to my face and they called my wife for me. I left a message on the voicemail in which we got and I share that when I speak is, “This is your dad, I’ve been to plane crash.” That’s all I could get out. My daughter is the one who got the message and communicated that to my family.
Needless to say, Dave Sanderson, that was an amazing, amazing event that you lived through and an incredible performance by a real hero. On behalf of everybody who’s listening, we’re all in awe of what you did. I would imagine that you would attribute a lot of what you did to your training. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that.
That’s what I talk about. That’s why we call my book Moments Matter because one thing I realized when we were putting the book together is all these moments in my life and everybody’s life that you don’t think mean anything and you’re just going about your day, everything has a reason. Every minute, everything you do, every moment has a reason. Those things not only when I was youth and Boy Scouts and teamwork and all that but even with Tony and understanding about how to manage your state, how to break somebody’s pattern, which I had to do because they were stifled, how to focus in and getting the outcome. All these things that I learned, sensory acuity. One thing I really loved talking about is how to communicate with people in their modalities because everybody talks and speaks in a different way where I had to go visual, auditory or kinesthetic very quickly. Knowing how to do that and being able to practice that and doing it at that moment helped me communicate and get things done I think more effectively. If I never had that training, it probably had a similar outcome but helped me dramatically. That’s what I tell people. If you know Tony as I know Tony, one thing Tony wants more than anything is people to take his technologies and use them, implement them. That’s what I did and that’s what I teach people, “Use this stuff because it works.”
No doubt. I have been the guest of Tony’s many events and have learned so much from him. To this day, I’m still learning from him, I’m sure as everyone is. The question now is here you are, did you go through some form of traumatic shock recovery or did you shake it off? Tell us a little bit about your state afterwards.
Everybody kept telling me that I have PTSD, I have depression, I need therapy. US Airways offered all of us therapy. One thing I kept saying is, “I don’t understand that. I’m not depressed.” We found out that Captain Sullenberger was going through something like that through the movie Sully. He was having challenges. I didn’t and I kept growing. I was growing from it and that’s when I started realizing what Tony teaches is correct. Depression is a state. I knew that subconsciously. I was growing from out of a traumatic life while other people are going into depressed or PTSD. What’s the difference? Also, I was approached by AARP magazine to do an interview and I thought I was too young for it anyway. I didn’t know why they want to interview me. They said they realized that I had helped the American Red Cross raise $8 million on a group from a traumatic life event. They want to understand the strategies on how I did that and then they started the term called PTGS, Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome, with me.
We did this interview and I started learning about it. That’s what my TED Talk was about. It was about how do you grow using PTGS instead of going to PTSD. I shared the strategies on how to grow out of a traumatic life event. The things that Tony teaches is common sense but unless you implement it, it’s not. People start chunking things like, “Why does this always happen to me? It always happens. They chunk it so deep in their body, it’s ingrained and they can’t get out so all of a sudden they get depressed. Depression is a state. Just like anything else. You can change this state.
What I’m hearing, and again I’m appreciating so much of what you’re saying, is that really the tapes that you play at the moment of when you need them, can determine the outcome of whatever that is. If the tapes you play are, “Poor me. Look what happened. I got caught in a plane crash.” Or, “Lucky me. I got to save a lot of people and grew from the experience.” Same event, different tape, right?
Exactly right. A gentleman on the plane, he was from Chapel Hill, North Carolina who went into deep depression and lost his job, lost his family because he kept going and running this negative pattern in his head. He came up. He emailed me through our group. He said, “Why can you go and talk about this? How can you go and do this and start a business?” I said, “You had the same experience that I did. You chose the pathway you did. I chose my pathway. My pathway is, “How can I impact people and enjoy the process?” You took it as, “Why did this happen to me?”” He never emailed me back again. I don’t know if I got his attention or pissed him off. That’s exactly what I said, “We both had the same experience. We had different meanings.” That’s one of strategies on how to grow, the meaning you attach to something.
At this point, your story was something that will live on forever, but that doesn’t pay the bills. Tell us a little bit about the events of your life, Dave, how you transitioned from that into what you’re doing now? Tell us what you’re doing now.
It took me about five years, Mitch, because I was still working for Oracle. We still had to put food on the table. I knew I had a calling and a mission because I was out speaking and doing some events and people would ask me to speak and I was getting such great response. The thing that changed everything for me was when I spoke at the Supreme Court. That night, I helped the American Red Cross raise $6 million that one night. That was when I realized, “I can impact people’s lives but I still have to make a living.” It took me a few years until about the fifth year anniversary. I was doing a media tour through New York. CBS was doing something on me. My wife called me that night and asked me if my company, Oracle, had called. I said, “No.” She was, “Maybe you should go out and do this.” I’m like, “Wow.” As soon as she gave me the go ahead, 48 hours later, I gave my notice. I knew this was my mission but I didn’t know how to do it.
I had the backwards philosophy that most entrepreneurs have or most entrepreneurs have realized. They get through all their stuff together and they have a challenge driving revenue. I could drive revenue. I was in sales but I didn’t have anything put together. I was driving revenue but I was leaking money in the backend. It took me two years to figure out all the strategies on how to put these things together. It took me two years. Now, we have a business where not only do I speak and I write books but I do workshops. We’ll put out some products here shortly for audio and visual products because one of the things I want to be congruent on is one thing that Tony teaches is congruency. I talk sensory acuity, so I want to communicate in auditory, visual and kinesthetic ways so I’ve got to be congruent. That’s what I do right now. Speaking right now is the majority of it. We’re trying to shift that where I can do more one-on-one work and more impact small groups.
Dave, you’re an incredible individual. You’ve come a long way from the time that you were in the Hudson River until today. I’d love to let readers know a little bit more about how to get a hold of you or how to reach you on the internet. What is your website?
My website is DaveSandersonSpeaks.com. There’s no filters. They can email me there. They contact me there. They come straight to me. Some other ways they can get a hold of me is on my Facebook page, @DaveSandersonSpeaks. That’s where I share where I’m going to be in some of my thoughts. LinkedIn, that’s where I do all my business strategy and talks. I write a bi-weekly blog, which I put out on LinkedIn on David Sanderson. It’s @DaveSanderson2 on Twitter and also @DaveSandersonSpeaks on Instagram. Please contact me. If I’m ever in the area, I love to have you as my personal guest in one of my events.
That’s so generous of you, Dave. I really appreciate that. The thing I wanted to ask you about is the process of getting out there with your book. What was that like and where are you now when it comes to the book itself?
We wanted to do a book. I did a book but I didn’t have a real strategy. I was backward. I had people wanting the book who were buying the book. I want to get something out. We did a book launch January 2016 and I did it at Palisades Medical Center up in New Jersey where I went to the hospital and donated all that money we raised that night to them. Right now, we’re in the second raise. We’re going to be putting it out on Amazon here shortly. It’s a physical book right now called Moments Matter. That’s what we’re doing right now. The first book was called Brace for Impact where I was a contributing author. I basically wrote a chapter. This one is totally my book called Moments Matter. We’ll be bringing another book about Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome. The book, you can get on my website right now. One of the things I do which is probably a little different is since I don’t have an Amazon book just yet, if you contact me, I personalize every book for everybody. I’ll give you a nice little thought if you contact me directly and order my book.
Thank you. It’s very generous. Who in all of space and time would you like to have an hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
There are a lot of people but I think the one person if I had the one shot, you only get one shot, would be Jesus. I’d love to have one hour just understand the philosophy one-on-one, instead of having it interpreted through the Bible or other people. Just be able to ask him questions one-on-one, “How did this thing really come together? How did you do this? Why did you do this? What’s the bigger mission?” I think it would be Jesus for one hour in the garden. Have a great opportunity to talk and hear it firsthand, what really, really went down.
I have to tell you, Dave, Jesus is a pretty popular guy on my show. A lot of people request Jesus and I’m working on getting your appointments. Just hang in there.
Not too soon though. We don’t want that too soon. I already had that one opportunity pretty quick. I’m glad that I bypassed that.
We got the grand finale question. This is the question I ask all of my guests because I’m truly interested in not only just helping them but changing the world and that’s what the question is about. What is it that you are doing or would love to do that truly has the power to literally change the world?
I think the thing that I’m doing right now could potentially change the world. Why I did what I did for the TED Talk is helping people understand how to get out of pain and get out of depression. What I’m finding is there are so many people around this world that are upset. They are upset. They are depressed. I tell people even this country in United States, “Nothing’s happened yet. Why is everybody getting all hot and bothered? Nothing has happened.” Being able to share these strategies that I’ve learned and I implemented and how to take any experience you have and grow from it instead of going to a depressed state and get people out of pain. I think that’s one thing where I could change the world dramatically and hopefully through my TED Talk Bouncing Back, it gets the message out so I can talk about it even more. I’ve got the opportunity to go to Columbia, South Carolina and share that to the community of Columbia.
Dave Sanderson, you are changing the world. On behalf of humanity, I want to thank you. I can’t wait to read your book. I really enjoyed my time with you today. I look forward to getting to talk to you again sometime soon.
Same here, Mitch. I hope our paths cross face to face here sometime soon.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Dave Sanderson
- Unlimited Power
- Moments Matter
- TED Talk Bouncing Back
- @DaveSandersonSpeaks – Facebook
- David Sanderson – LinkedIn
- @DaveSanderson2 – Twitter
- @DaveSandersonSpeaks – Instagram
- Brace for Impact