Momentum Podcast: 223
My Most Important Mentors
by Alex Charfen
I'd like to answer a question I got the other day. To be honest, it's hard for me to pick just one. I've studied entrepreneurs and people for years so let me share with you what I think of when I think mentors.
Full Audio Transcript
I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creators of all kinds. Those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to, we challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum, so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution.
Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny, we define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop, and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average, and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future.
Instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution, and we always will be.
My most important mentors, today I'm going to answer a question that I got on Facebook. It's from Daniel Nunez. He says, "Who is your favorite mentor, and the nugget that stood out to you the most?" When I look at my favorite mentors, first, it's so hard to choose. You know, as a kid I always knew I was fundamentally different. I was so different that I didn't really feel like I belonged anywhere. I didn't feel like I belonged in school. I didn't feel like I belonged in any of the cliques of other kids. I didn't really understand where to go for help, so I just started reading obsessively.
A lot of you know this from listening to the podcast. I read personal development at first, then I started reading life histories, I read autobiographies, and the more I read, the more I found these spiritual mentors that changed my life. One of the first ones, one of the greatest philosophers, we know him as a physicist, but he's one of the greatest philosophers ever. Einstein.
When I found out that Einstein failed algebra the first time, didn't talk until he was four, couldn't tie his shoes his whole life, I found a kindred spirit. I knew that if I could be like Einstein then maybe there was hope for me. I remember reading about Thomas Edison getting kicked out of school at five years old and that fact gave me hope that maybe I could turn into something.
I remember reading about Newton who discovered gravity by sitting under an apple tree, but what we don't talk about with Newton is that he was so anti-social, that was the reason he was under the apple tree alone, and he was one of those people that made this discovery that had a hard time communicating it, because he didn't know how to talk to other human beings.
So, the more I read, the more I found mentors throughout history, kindred spirits throughout history, entrepreneurial personality types, evolutionary hunters that were just like me. Every time I found someone who had done something extraordinary, but at the same token had shown up in a way that did not make them look strong, like not being able to pass algebra, being anti-social, every time it made me feel like there was hope for me.
So I persisted and I pressed forward. As a kid, I found this incredible world called business where I started feeling like I really belonged. The one thing that came natural to me my whole life was failing. I was terrible in school, I was terrible at sports, I was completely and totally socially awkward. I didn't have a lot a friends, not that it bothered me. I'm not looking for sympathy, I'm just saying I really didn't have a lot of friends. I wasn't good at what most kids are good at.
But when I was young, my parents experienced a serious financial setback. My dad lost a construction business in the early 80s, and I started working with my dad in a flea market. My dad and I would go and we would sell small goods that he would go buy in LA, or we would go buy in LA, and we would go sell them at a swap meet. I remember the first time that happened somebody walked up to the table, we were selling little miniature calculators and pens with an LCD clock in them ... Let's remember, this is the 80s. That was really high technology.
I remember a woman walked up, asked me a few questions, I answered them, and then she bought something from me. It was this feeling of having accomplished something, having done something. There was this clear achievement that had just happened, and it was me. Nobody else was there. I had that woman buy something. I helped her buy something. I made something work. It was this place where I might be able to create success.
From that point forward, most of my life has been an obsession around how do you make business grow because this is an ecosystem. This is an environment that I understand. In business, I can be successful. When I was in my early teens, I found what has become one of the most important spiritual and strategic mentors to me in my life, this incredible human being named Peter Drucker, who when I started reading Drucker, I found this kindred spirit that looked at business the same way I do.
You know, I have an entire shelf of Peter Drucker books in my office. I have a hard time thinking about him without getting emotional. He wrote over 30 books about business. He sat down and said, "This thing called business, not only can we categorize and then write about it and figure it out, but we can make it better. We can show people how to succeed. It doesn't have to be as hard as it is. We can make it so that people understand the rules and the guidelines to creating success."
When I look at his books, I'm looking at them right now, The Effective Executive, and The Essential Drucker, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and The Practices of Management. Just his book, Management, where he sat down and said, "I'm going to write about every facet of running a business, and write the definitive work from the inside out on how you make something called a business successful."
I remember getting emotional as I read that book because here was another human being who saw the same importance in this concept called business that I did, so much so that he was willing to sit down and write the Bible for business called Management. And anyone whose in business, who hasn't read Drucker, you don't know what you're missing because here's an individual who before the Internet, before technology, before anything else, recognized the importance of business, recognized how businesses change lives, change worlds, evolve the world, change the entire planet and globe around us, and he put his time into making it better for all of us.
So, my first most important mentor is Peter Drucker for everything that he wrote, for the shortcuts he left behind, for the time he put into his career, making sure that every one of us has more information, has a better chance, has more than he had when he was starting. There's no question, Drucker is one of my top three.
The second person is Napoleon Hill. Now, he wrote a book called Thinking Grow Rich, which has to be the most purchased and least read book of all times. I've probably read it 200 or 300 times. In fact, downstairs I have one of the first edition, original copies, that Cadey bought me in our fireproof safe. It's one of the most prized possessions I have. I like to go down and take out that first edition and just read it because there's a different feeling. There's like this energy comes off of it. I can feel the vibrations of every person who's owned that book before me, and I know how much success it has created out in the world.
When I read it, it feels so confirming because that book has meant so much to me throughout my life. It's like a direction manual for how you can be successful. In 2007 Cadey and I were running a massive eight figure real estate empire, and making a ton of money. The entire market came crashing down right on top of us. We owned all of our property in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county Florida, which was literally Ground Zero for the foreclosure crisis. We lost everything.
We went from being tens of millionaires, to being worth less than zero in less than a year. We went from having hundreds of thousands of dollars of income, to being absolutely bankrupt and trying to figure out how to buy groceries. There was a day where I was in my office a few days after we had met with the attorney and declared bankruptcy, while I still wasn't really able to talk, while I was still in shell shock from having this experience of knowing I was going to go out and publicly and officially declare what a massive failure I was to the world.
I was in a situation where my entire life ... I had been in some tight spots, but I'd always figured a way out, and this time there just wasn't. I remember walking by a shelf that had Thinking Grow Rich on it, a book that I had read hundreds of times, a book that was full of Post-It notes and markings. I have two copies that are pretty much falling apart. I almost have go read the first edition because the modern ones that I have are so marked up and dogeared, they literally don't work anymore.
I opened that book to the passage that said, "In the middle of my bankruptcy, every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater opportunity." I remember thinking, that's where we are. If every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater opportunity, then whatever we do next is going to be massive. As I decided to push the "I believe" button, and just go forward. That moment of reading those words on the page moved me in a direction to where I called a friend of mine and from that point forward started focusing on how we got out of that.
From being in bankruptcy, and having it discharged ... From the date our bankruptcy was discharged, to being liquid millionaires again, was less than one year because I didn't focus on the failure. I focused on finding that equal or greater success from the adversity we were in. I followed the principles in Napoleon Hill's book. If you're willing to sit down and read that book, and put that into your life every single day, it will change everything. The real fact about Thinking Grow Rich is it will do nothing for you if you buy it and put it on a shelf. But if you open up and read it, it will do everything for you.
Then the third most important mentor isn't an author who I didn't meet, isn't someone who I never had the opportunity to be in person with. It's actually a consultant that I worked with probably about seven or eight years ago, and who I quote almost on a daily basis. His name is Mason Ludlow. Mason is one of the wisest and most integral, and most intelligent business people I've ever had the privilege of working with.
In fact, Mason's a pretty unique dude. He was coaching me, and he was also working with the Board of Directors at Walmart. In fact, he was working with John Walton at Walmart when we were working together. At one point, he was in our office and went out to get a TV, and he went to Walmart and got a TV at like a 60% discount. I'm like, "Mason, how do you do this?" He pointed ... Because he turned in the receipt so that we would pay for it. He pointed at the memo on the Walmart receipt, and it said, "John W."
So, that's how intense Mason Ludlow is and was. The key thing that I learned from Mason is that in your business when you have clarity about where you're going, when you understand the plan, when everyone knows their role, and their responsibilities, and you have a scoreboard that matters, you can stand on the gas pedal with both feet. Mason used to tell me, "Line it up. Make sure you have your plan. Make sure everyone knows where you're going, and THEN you push like crazy."
See, he taught me that first you have to know where you're going, have clarity for each person, know what your scoreboards are, and then when you push your team, when you motivate them, when you tell them to go in a direction, they won't just walk, they will run. In fact, Mason used to tell me, "One of the keys to business is to going out and finding people that are just as passionate about what you do as you are, who have a chip on their shoulder, who are looking to make things happen," and he would call them "wall runners".
I remember the first time he said. I said, "What is a wall runner?" He said, "You go out and find someone who's so excited about your outcome that when you point at a wall, they'll go right through it." That advice is so much of what I do today. I go out and I find true believers, who believe in me. It might sound egotistical to say that, but when I hire someone I need to make sure they believe in me because sometimes I need help believing in me. I want my team to believe in me. I want them to know that if we do the right things that what we put out there is going to change the world.
So I want people who believe in me, who I am, and what I do. I want people who believe in our company and the products we put out. I want people who believe in our clients and what they do. When we find that trifecta, we do find wall runners. They will run through any wall no matter how thick, and no matter what it takes, and I'm watching on a daily basis. If you don't have that atmosphere on your team right now, do what Mason told me. Create clear outcomes that everyone understands.
He used to say, "When they can explain it back to you, and you're confident they'll get there, you're good. But make sure everyone on the team know what they're responsible for, what they are accountable to. When people know what they're supposed to do, they will." Last, make sure you have clear scoreboards so every person knows whether they're winning or not, and you will see your entire team transform.
You will see your entire team run through walls. So in my life, I had been affected and changed by the people who I've let in, the people who I've chosen to learn from. I've shared three of them with you today: Peter Drucker, Napoleon Hill, and then Mason Ludlow, who in person, has and continues to change my life. I think every one of us as entrepreneurs needs to have those inspirational mentors, those people in our lives that we look up to that give us momentum.
If you're listening to this podcast, then I want to thank you for letting me be a small part of your life because my whole career I always wanted to be able to help people create more success in their lives and in their business. From a very young age, I wanted to be able to help people do more, and be more, and create more, and have bigger outcomes in the world. Having this podcast and this conversation with you, and this relationship that we're building, means the world to me.
Thank you for being a listener, and for being here with me, and for allowing me into your life. It's an honor and a privilege. If you haven't yet, download a copy of my book and understand the real manifesto behind the Entrepreneurial Personality Type. Let me, in less than 45 minutes ... it's a short book, let me help you understand yourself better, stop limiting behavior, and create unlimited momentum. Go to FreeMomentumBook.com. FreeMomentumBook.com. Download the Entrepreneurial Personality Type, and let me know what you think.