Margie Goldsmith met Number 1 New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur, philanthropist and life coach Tony Robbins.
Six-foot-seven, 57-year old Tony Robbins is a Number 1 New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Known for his life empowerment seminars, he has coached more than 50 million people from 100 countries. Past clients include former president Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and Serena Williams.
CEOs pay seven-figure annual fees to retain him as a life and business strategist/personal coach – not bad for a man from an impoverished and abusive family, who never went to college and whose first job was as a janitor. Today, Robbins is chairman of a dozen privately held businesses, with combined sales exceeding $5 billion per year.
Robbins is also a recognised authority on the psychology of leadership, negotiations and organisational turnaround. Fortune magazine calls him the ‘CEO Whisperer’ and he was included in the top 50 of Worth magazine’s 100 most powerful people in global finance in 2015 and 2016. America’s Best 401k, in which Robbins partners, provides free side-by-side fee comparisons to business owners, helping them determine how much they are paying in fees and provides income solutions for plan participants entering retirement.
A huge believer in philanthropy, in 2015 Robbins partnered with Feeding America to create the 100 Million Meals Challenge. In its first year, he personally gifted 59 million meals and matched funds for 102 million total meals, surpassing the goal. To date, his challenge has provided over 200 million meals and is on track to hit 1 billion meals by 2025.
He has also initiated programmes in more than 1,500 schools and 1,600 correction facilities, and provided support to 2,000 health and humanitarian organisations. He provides fresh water to 250,000 people a day in India, fighting waterborne diseases, the number one killer of children in the country.
We caught up with the busy entrepreneur in New York, where he was promoting his new book, UNSHAKEABLE: Your Financial Freedom Playbook.
How do you stay ‘unshakeable’ if the markets go tumbling downwards?
By understanding the nature of the markets, by understanding the facts instead of just the emotion. We’re eight years into this bull market, the second largest in history. I wanted to write a book that would protect people because the crash is coming. Here’s what you do so you don’t get hurt. Staying out of the market is not the answer, because that will hurt you more. The crash is the next opportunity to leapfrog from where you are right now financially, to where you want to be.
Trying to time the market is the biggest disaster in the world. Warren Buffett told me, “All these market forecasters you see on TV, their only purpose is to make fortune tellers look good. No one can call the market, you just want to own the index.”
Who has had most financial influence on you?
There are several, including Paul Tudor Jones, who I coached for 24 years; he hasn’t lost money in all that time, which very few people could say. He also uses his wealth for good, which is the way I look at it. And Ray Dalio, the most successful hedge fund man in history. He’s produced more returns for people than anybody else. He won’t talk to you unless you have a net worth of $5 billion.
Carl Icahn is the activist investor; he buys the stock and influences the CEO and team members to make changes or else. Then someone like Sir John Templeton, who I interviewed before he passed away in 2008, his whole thing was when there’s blood in the streets you buy cheap and hang onto it until its worth more.
They all had the obsession of not losing money, asymmetrical risk reward. The best investors are all obsessed with, “What’s the least amount of risk I can take to get the greatest level of reward?” American hedge fund manager Kyle Bass took $30 million and turned it into $2 billion in the middle of 2008 and 2009. No one’s done that in history. He bet against the real estate market, but what really made him brilliant was asymmetrical risk reward. He never risked more than six cents to make a dollar.
These are the people who’ve inspired me, who’ve done it. I teach their most important principles in the book, so you can use it as your own checklist on how to design something that you want to move forward with.
What did you learn from Warren Buffett?
His entire focus is that today, no one is going to beat the market. He said, “Bet on America. Don’t be a consumer. Own the index.” He also said the best investment of all is the investment in your own development. I asked what was his best investment and he said, “Going to Dale Carnegie,” and that with all his number knowledge, he wouldn’t be who he was if he hadn’t done that. He said, “Improving yourself is the most important investment of all.”
What was your childhood like?
Rough. I had four different fathers and my mom was an alcoholic pill-popper, a very intense lady. None of my fathers could support us financially, and when I was eleven years old we had no money for food. But at Thanksgiving, an anonymous man sent my family a meal. We never knew who he was, but it changed my life completely because my father had taught us no one gives a damn. What looked like the worst day of my life turned out to be the best, because it changed my entire belief.
I thought, “If strangers care about me, I must care about strangers.” I promised myself I would eventually help other families. When I was 17 I fed two families, then four, then eight, and eventually, a million people a year, then two million. And then, by matching personally what I did through my foundation, we fed four million people a year. With Feeding America, I’m going to feed 100 million this year. 100% of the profits of this book go to support that. To write a book and have it change people’s financial lives is one thing, but to have it change the lives of people who could never afford the book, that’s the beauty of what I’m able to do.
I understand you were abused as a kid?
I never talked about it until one day I was in New York doing a programme for a group of physically abused children. I’m a 6ft 7in white guy and I’ve done well financially, and I could just see that me telling these kids what they could get through meant nothing to them. So I told them my mom used to bash my head against the wall till I bled, she used to pour liquid soap down my throat because she thought I was lying. Yet I love my mother more than anybody. She couldn’t leave the house. She was totally dependent upon me, so I grew up very, very quickly.
Then I became a practical psychologist to make sure my brother and sister never got hurt. Most of my skills were based on: “How do I manage my mother so she doesn’t hurt my brother and sister?” I grew from that. Would I do all these things if I had not suffered? I don’t think so.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a fireman, I wanted to be a police artist because I wanted to catch the bad guys, and I wanted to be a rock star, although I couldn’t sing for squat. But I managed to merge those things. I help people, I turn them around, and I get to do rock shows with 12,000 people, but instead of two hours, mine are 50-hour shows.
When I was in junior high school I was already Mr Solution. I was a voracious reader and consumed 700 books in seven years, all on human development, psychology and physiology – if you had a problem I was the guy to see. It started with that and became my career.
Your first job was as a janitor?
I was going to school and my uncle gave me a part-time job as a janitor, and I was paid for the result, not the time. It was the first time I realised the value of performing and getting paid for results rather than hours.
And then what happened?
My speech teacher, Mr Cobb, said I had a gift. He handed me a speech called The Will to Win, said it was my life, and told me to memorise it. He put me in a competition for persuasive oratory. I won first place. And then I won first place again, at the state level and found I had a gift that I was unaware of. Mr Cobb saw more in me than I saw in myself. And that’s my job now, seeing more in people than they see in themselves.
I went to a seminar by Jim Rhon, a personal development speaker. I sat there for three and half hours mesmerised by this man, and came out of it deciding this is what I wanted to do. I started speaking and went to work for Rhon. I’d do speeches to teach groups – a stock brokerage or real estate office. I’d teach people that by improving themselves they could improve their income. I’d share a series of principles and inspire them, and invite them to come to Jim Rhon’s seminar.
Eventually, he invited me to open my own office. I’d talk to four groups of people a month and enrol them in Rhon’s other classes, but now I had to fill an entire seminar myself with a thousand people. So, to do it and not fail, I learned how to use language to change people’s conditioning.
I worked with people who were massively overweight and I worked with addiction issues. I also worked with Andre Agassi, Princess Diana, and Mother Theresa.
Now I have 31 companies in seven different industries, from stem cells, through virtual reality and education, to financial businesses, and we do $5 billion in sales every year. I’ve got 1,200 employees and I had none of this background before. I developed it because I wanted to deliver things that would be life changing for people; and then I got good at building businesses as well.
Now you fly around the world a lot. How do you fly?
I’m very privileged to have my own Global Express, so I can go non-stop to China and most places in the world. But I began chartering when I was 30 because I finished a seminar at two in the morning and had to be in Edmonton, Alberta the next morning at 8:30 for another. I needed to fly there, but there were no flights.
So, I called and said, “Find the cheapest Learjet that exists.” It was a Lear 25. I said, “Put a bed in it.” The man replied, “There’s no room for a bed.” I said, “What if I was dying? Get me one of those long hospital gurneys because I have to get a few hours’ sleep before I get on stage.” I did it and I was hooked.
I started chartering 100% of the time domestically, but the cost to charter to London or Australia is $400,000. It just like didn’t make sense. About two years ago I sold one of my companies for a couple of hundred million dollars, and realised I was spending half my time flying commercial overseas. So, I bought the Global XRS that changed my life.
It’s a privilege to have a ten-foot bed and great food, and I can take all my co-workers and people to m y office in the sky. It’s changed my life in such a beautiful way. Most of my friends would give up all the things they have before they give up their jet.
What does flying privately do for you?
It allows me to sleep and be productive and it puts so many days back on my calendar. There’s a group of people I’m involved with called the Underground Railroad. I provided my plane and flew all these former CIA, FBI and Navy SEALs to a place where we ended up freeing 36 children age 9-13 who’d been forced into sexual slavery.
Do you charter it when you’re not using your plane?
The owner of the Miami Heat basketball team and Carnival Cruises once owned my plane. He used to charter it to some of his celebrity friends and I still charter it to a few of them, but 95% of the time we keep it for ourselves because I travel so much.
Americraft Management Company manages it; how close an eye do you keep on expenses?
My CFO’s focus is every financial part of my life, including the plane. But what’s cool is I own the plane and yet spend the same amount of money as I did when I was chartering. So, it’s been economically productive as well.
And if you were to buy a new jet, which would it be and why?
Gulfstreams are beautiful planes, but I took a Gulfstream from Palm Beach, Florida to Poland. I was testing it for the first time before I made the purchase. We had to stop in Newfoundland. The ailerons where we stopped froze, and it took 22 hours to get to Poland. I could’ve flown commercial and gotten there in nine hours. So, that’s when I said, “No more. I’m either getting a GV or doing a Global. And the difference for me is I’m tall and there’s nothing quite like a Global from that perspective. I’d have to say Gulfstream does a better job of supporting and maintaining their planes, Bombardier is still working on that, but I’m a fan because the plane is just amazing.
Any regrets about anything you’ve done?
It’s not that I haven’t done anything stupid or messed up, but what good is regret? I’d rather learn from it and make it better the next time. I’m not the regret kind of guy. And I also surround myself with people I respect who can tell me if I’ve messed up something. And they know I want them to tell me.
What’s left for you to do?
I’m going to feed 1 billion people. I’m presently providing fresh water to 250,000 Indians a day because the number one killer of children in India is waterborne disease. I’m going to get that to a million.
In the next two years, I’m also going to free 1,000 girls from sexual slavery.
I helped create an XPRIZE with Elon Musk and Peter Diamandis for education, because one out of every seven human beings worldwide, and 250 million children, are illiterate. We’re working to create open source software to teach a child to read, write and do basic arithmetic without a teacher. Most of my goals are more philanthropic.
What’s leadership to you?
It’s the ability to influence the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions of another human being with integrity. And if your motive is to help your community, you have the capability to have a real impact.