Zig Ziglar

(1926–2012) Motivational Speaker and Businessperson

Zig Ziglar founded a motivational speaking institution that claims to have reached more than 250 million people. His “Ziglar Way” combines marketing skills, personal improvement strategy, and Christian doctrine, and he shared his approach with a deep, drawling voice and frequent witticisms: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.”

Hilary Hinton Ziglar was born in Coffee County, Alabama, on 6 November 1926 and moved with his family to Yazoo City when he was five. His father died the following year, leaving Ziglar’s mother and their twelve children in impoverished circumstances. By age six, Ziglar was selling peanuts on the Yazoo City streets for six cents a bag. He honed this salesmanship through a series of jobs as a young adult and then while serving in the US Navy during World War II. In the 1950s Ziglar took his first motivational speaking engagements; his animated approach and distinguishable southern baritone soon earned him full-time work.

Along with spiritual belief and drawing from the lessons of America’s Founding Fathers, Ziglar’s success strategies were often packaged in folksiness. Many centered on everyday, domestic situations or humorous anecdotes. On stage, Ziglar referred to his wife as “the Redhead” and utilized sayings such as “grinning so wide you could eat a banana whole.” He also employed biographical events to effect, whether noting his “death” at nine days old or his immersion in Christianity after Sister Jessie, an elderly African American woman who was a guest in his home in 1972, witnessed to him. The Ziglar Way continues to stress principles and slogans such as “Will, skill, refill.”

After establishing himself in the 1970s, Ziglar wrote nearly thirty books, several of which became New York Times best sellers. He appeared on national television and met with former presidents, lawmakers, and celebrities. Ziglar’s corporation, Ziglar, now includes family members and former students. The enterprise offers a range of corporate training and consulting services and is operated in part by his son, Tom, and daughters, Julie and Cindy. Among other options, clients can choose whether to include or exclude the religious component of the presentation.

Ziglar met the woman who later became his wife, Jean Abernathy, in Jackson when the two were still teenagers, and they married on 26 November 1946. Though they moved with their family to Dallas, Texas, in the late 1960s, he always maintained his connections to Mississippi: as he noted of Yazoo City in 2011, “My roots in that small Mississippi Delta town run deep, and the things I remember from my time there are still as fresh as yesterday.” Ziglar died in Plano, Texas, on 28 November 2012.


Further Reading

  • Darren Grem, The Blessings of Business: How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity (2016)
  • Teresa Nicholas, Delta Magazine (September–October 2011)
  • Jon Vanderlaan, Plano Star-Courier (11 September 2010)
  • Zig Ziglar, Zig: The Autobiography of Zig Ziglar (2004)
  • William Yardley, New York Times (28 November 2012); Ziglar website, www.ziglar.com

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Zig Ziglar
  • Coverage 1926–2012
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date April 5, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 15, 2018