Goofy sits in a toy roadster mounted upside down on a high, arched ceiling looking down at Blake Roney, sitting behind a cluttered desk surrounded by numerous other trinkets in his expansive office.
Though Roney, the top dog at wildly prosperous Nu Skin Enterprises, bears no physical resemblance to the guffawing Disney character with the self-describing name, he does goofy things.Take, for example, two years ago when Nu Skin was attempting to move from a privately held company to a publicly traded company. Roney grew tired of giving the same spiel over and over again to potential investors throughout the country.
So the next time he made the pitch to some corporate bigwigs, it came out in song.
"He kind of has a falsetto opera voice," said Nu Skin Enterprises President and CEO Steve Lund, who had warning the aria was coming but refused to sing backup.
Although the stuffed shirts from Merrill Lynch weren't impressed, one man in the room became one of Nu Skin's biggest shareholders.
Anyone who knows the low-profile Roney says such off-the-wall behavior isn't out of character. He wasn't cracking under the pressure of heading a billion-dollar company, a company that has been much maligned since he founded it in 1984.
"He doesn't take himself too seriously," said Neil Offen, president of Direct Selling Association, based in Washington, D.C. He has met Roney and heard him speak several times.
Roney, a Southern California native, seems like a Beach Boys tune, "Fun, fun, fun"; a Frank Sinatra song, "My Way"; and like one of the many traditional Norman Rockwell paintings that adorn his office .
The interview for this story didn't take place in Roney's penthouse office - a floor he shares only with his close friend Lund and vice president Sandy Tillotson - in the 10-story Nu Skin building in downtown Provo. It was set up for Lund's office with the understanding that Roney, who eschews interviews, might drop in.
"The overview is I'm a regular, average guy, but quite mischievous," Roney, 40, says after unexpectedly showing up wearing a creamy button-down shirt and blue jeans on casual Wednesday at Nu Skin. A fan of 10-minute meetings, he seems to think the synopsis of his life will suffice.
Lund woke up this past Christmas morning to find a 30-year-old clunker station wagon parked in his driveway courtesy of Roney, his next-door neighbor. Lund intended to get even by having some Nu Skin fleet services workers register it in Roney's name and abandon it at Brigham Young University. But the workers shunned the shenanigans, knowing Roney usually gets the better of anyone who crosses him in the prank department.
Roney deflects any accolades for the success of Nu Skin to his colleagues. He prefers to use "we" rather than "I." He says he's not the mastermind behind what has become a global enterprise. Roney credits company executives like Tillotson and especially Lund.
"You have to go next door and check in with the other half of your mind once in a while," Roney says.
Although a team might manage the company, a former Nu Skin vice president said Roney is very much in charge, although he allows others in his corporate down line to make most of the decisions.
"They are saying to themselves, "What would Blake do?" said John C. Lewis, director of alumni and public relations at BYU's Marriott School of Management. "He calls the most critical shots."
Offen, of the Direct Selling Association, said he admires what Roney and his partners have done at Nu Skin and calls him "first among equals."
During the interview, Roney attempted to shift the focus from himself to Lund.
"I don't like the attention that you're trying to give me," he said. "I'd rather be the guy no one has heard of."
That's rather difficult for a man who, in Nu Skin circles, has become somewhat akin to a rock star - especially among Asian distributors of the company's health and beauty products. Despite efforts to keep Nu Skin from becoming a personality cult, mobbings and autograph seekers aren't uncommon when prematurely gray-haired Roney travels abroad.
Everyone who sells Nu Skin wants to touch the force behind Nu Skin's "All of the good, none of the bad" catch phrase.
"He can't escape that. I think he'd like to," Lewis said.
Adoring Nu Skin distributors don't get rah-rah speeches from the self-effacing Roney. His pep talks at conventions and conferences sound like gentle sermons he might preach from the pulpit of the LDS Church ward in which he serves as bishop. It's more Golden Rule than he who has the gold rules.
"Now you would expect the CEO to deliver a message about boosting profits, increasing efficiency, cornering the market - you know, that sort of thing. But Blake didn't speak about that. Instead, like this evening, he challenged everyone to become just a little bit better as a person.
"That's pretty nice, isn't it?," supermodel and Nu Skin pitch-woman Christie Brinkley said at a distributor conference in Dallas last year.
At the multilevel marketing company's convention in Salt Lake City this past March, Roney told 13,000 distributors - Nu Skin has about 500,000 worldwide - to be wary of the kind of people they sign up.
"Do not sponsor yucky people. By yucky, I mean dishonest, mean, selfish," he said.
When was the last time a corporate executive uttered the word "yucky" in a speech? The word, however, is one the father of six children ages 3 to 13, might routinely use.
Roney works hard to balance home and work. He's known to skip out on meetings to spend an evening with his wife, Nancy, or attend a PTA conference. Many of his speeches focus on the family.
"Blake is strong enough to run a billion-dollar business, but he's grounded enough to run a Scout troop," Lund said.
Beneath that aw-shucks demeanor, though, lies a now well-seasoned businessman. Lewis describes Roney as a shrewd negotiator. He's quick to sift through information and grasp the bottom line. He uses his boyishness to his advantage.
"You would think he would be easy to dismiss," Lewis said. "I think he likes it that way."
Roney was quite the underdog when he, his sister Nedra, and Tillotson tried to get Nu Skin off the ground with $500 in 1984. Business professors at BYU, where Roney graduated in finance, told him he had little chance of marketing skin-care products in the manner he envisioned.
Roney cold-called every cosmetics manufacturer in the country until he eventually found one willing to make the formula he and his young partners invented. They doled out the first shipments of skin cream from gallon containers to customers who brought their own baby food jars and TicTac containers.
It sold out in two hours.
"I thought it would be very successful, but in retrospect I was naive. I didn't know there would be that many obstacles," he said.
Nu Skin's rapid sales through multilevel marketing drew the attention of get-rich-quick artists and government regulators alike. Attorneys general nationwide accused the company of running an illegal pyramid scheme. The Federal Trade Commission questioned ingredients in some products.
The company has cleared those hurdles and continues to grow and expand with Roney at the helm.
"He's a numbers guy, but he's an idea guy. He's a very creative thinker. He's the archetypical entrepreneur," Lund said.
And never too far out of touch with his goofy side.