Keith Cunningham lost his entire $300 million fortune at 40 and then made it all back. Now, he’s giving lessons in “wealth mastery”, writes Niamh Hooper.Half of all businesses started today will not last beyond two years, and 80 per cent will not last beyond five years.
As we face into an economic downturn, thousands of Irish businesses are digesting these statistics and are looking for help. Some turn to American entrepreneur, author and businessman Keith Cunningham for tips on “wealth mastery”.
Regarded as a world authority on business turnaround, Cunningham claims to be the “Rich Dad” in the international Rich Dad, Poor Dad book series that has sold over 26 million copies worldwide.
In the four years since the first book was published, it has proved to be the most popular book series in Ireland on “getting money to work for you, rather than you working for money”.
Nice concept. But in Cunningham’s company, it’s more than a concept.
In an interview with The Sunday Business Post before giving his Igniting Your Business seminar to a sell-out audience of 550 people in Dublin, Cunningham said success was determined by one thing. Commitment to mastery.
The 57-year-old straight-talking Texan’s story is an inspiring one. Having started out in business at 11 with his own profitable door-to-door egg delivery service, he went on to create a $300 million business in Cable TV and real estate.
By 40, he had lost it all. His money, his wife, his kids – everything. “I got cocky, I think pride was my downfall, I got complacent.” He declared personal bankruptcy in 1991 and took an 18-month sabbatical.
“On my think time, I studied all the world’s religions, all the “ologys”, read 180 books and attended many seminars. I began re-evaluating who I am, what I stand for and what my life is about. I had stopped learning, stopped growing. I re-emerged with a commitment to mastery.”
“The most powerful thought for most people is that hell on earth would be to meet the person you could have been.”
During his time off, he met and mentored Robert Kiyosaki, providing the business information in the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books. “I got him interested in business and he got me interested in teaching”, he said.
Within three years of his return, Cunningham had rebuilt his net worth. In recent years, he has mentored thousands of successful business people, sharing with them his mistakes and learnings of the past 35 years in business. He has also written the book Keys to the Vault.
The concept of mastery – “what you learn when you think you know it all” – comes down to three things, he said.
First, you’ve got to decide what you want, what you stand for. Make a commitment. Without it, nothing is possible.
Secondly, learning and practice. If you’re unwilling to learn the critical skills and tools, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be successful.
Thirdly, a commitment to correcting. Most people hate the idea of being wrong. The need to be right is part of the human condition, but it is that need to be right that makes you obsolete, Cunningham said.
The need to be right is what causes people to stop listening, to stop learning. I believe people have a choice – you can be right or you can be rich, but you can’t be both. It’s impossible. People who are rich are all about finding out what other people want, then they go and get it and they give it to them.
But most business people have such a need to be right – they force their “good idea” onto the consumer, as opposed to asking what the consumer wants.
If you look at the best in the world, at what they do, none of them got there by being comfortable, Cunningham said. They have taken risks and learned critical skills and tools.
Not a fan of the millionaire and get-rich-quick books on the market, he said the only people getting rich from them were their authors.
He doubted whether they could point to any student who had been successful using their method.
“The whole idea of passive income advocated in many of these books makes no sense. If you look at Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Michael Dell and Richard Branson – did any of them create or get to keep their wealth by being passive?
As soon as we start talking about putting in 50 per cent and hoping to get 100 per cent, putting in the least to get the most, it doesn’t work.”
In giving advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Cunningham keeps it simple: start by being an apprentice.
“We’ve lost the idea in the 20th and 21st century of being an apprentice under someone who is a master, someone who can teach the mistakes and the things not to do. If you’ve got to rely on trial and error, you’ll never get there.
Everything you want in your life lies outside of your comfort zones – it lies the other side of fear.
If you could have what you wanted by staying within your comfort zone, you would already have it,” he said.