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Elevate ‘no’ to an art form

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Itinerant actor Mike Rowe came across as a mercenary with a “leave my name off” philosophy. Then he did a little segment for CBS Evening Magazine called “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” about dirty jobs that nobody wants.

Something clicked. Rowe liked the idea of honoring the “men and women who do the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us.”

He made a pilot out of the segment. Nobody wanted it. He brought it to the Discovery Channel twice. They told him, “Mike, it’s a talk show in a sewer.”

Rowe tried Discovery again, this time through a producer he knew. That was the charm, and after a three-episode pilot in 2003, Discovery ordered 10 shows, then 30. At least 24 are on tap for this year. The president of Discovery Communications says Dirty Jobs is Discovery’s leading show: a show about navigating sewers, working on eel boats, peeling roadkill, crawling through caves, castrating horses and hunting vermin.

Hired early on by Whirlpool to endorse a washer-dryer (dirty clothes, get it?) at a Lowe’s in Georgia, the actor was expected to attract a couple hundred customers. A couple thousand came.

So, is the path to the top paved by yes, yes, yes? No, no, no.

When Ford Motor Co. called offering a web campaign, he said no. “I’m interested,” Rowe told the car-maker. “I’m not sure I’m ready for a big national campaign.”

Same thing with NASCAR. Its many fans lured him to the repaving of the Darlington Speedway track. But the job just wasn’t dirty enough. He said no.

Bottom line: Sometimes, no is the best way to yes. A year after turning down Ford, Rowe called Ford back and brought the car-maker to his bosses with “an embarrassingly large deal.” Ford sponsored the show. Rowe’s earlier no paid off.

— Adapted from “The Dirtiest Mind in Business,” Ellen McGirt, Fast Company.

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