The transcript from this week’s, MiB: John Hope Bryant, Operation Hope, is below.
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ANNOUNCER: This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
BARRY RITHOLTZ, HOST, MASTERS IN BUSINESS: This week on the podcast, I have an extra special guest. John Hope Bryant is a fascinating entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is the founder of Operation HOPE and one of the leading voices for financial literacy. In America, he was vice chair of President Bush’s Council on Financial Literacy and sat on a similar council on financial capability for President Obama.
He has written five books with more coming. Really a fascinating person who operates in a realm that I think a lot of people in finance overlook. And he’s really moving the needle in terms of having people take control of their own financial life in a way that benefits not just them but the entire economy and all of society. I found our conversation to be just compelling and fascinating and I think you will also.
So with no further ado, my conversation with Operation HOPE’s John Hope Bryant.
JOHN HOPE BRYANT, FOUNDER, OPERATION HOPE: Thank you for having me. I’m honored to be here. By the way, my last book is “Up From Nothing.” That’s my favorite one. That’s my story of my failures, not my successes.
RITHOLTZ: I like that, I like a tale, we tend to learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, but we’ll circle back to that in a bit. Let’s start a little bit with your background. You tell a story in one of your books of a banker who shows up at your elementary school class and that kick-started your interest in finance?
BRYANT: Yes, it was a transformational experience to have this banker come in my classroom on several levels. I had an economics lesson, I had a life lesson, I had an epiphany, I had a race relations lesson, I had a self-esteem and confidence lesson. Those two things finally came together. I had an a-ha about how the world really works. I figured out how to keep my friends from getting murdered in the streets because when I was 9-years-old, a year before this class, actually the same year as this class, my best friend George was murdered on a street in Compton with my next door neighbor, Tweep (ph), selling drugs. Even though he was an A student, he hung out with the wrong character, the wrong kids. And character’s not the most important thing in business or whatever, it’s the only thing really in culture. Culture then informs character.
So culture, in my neighborhood was a thug culture. You were respected if you were hard —
RITHOLTZ: Tough guy.
BRYANT: A tough guy. And so my friend, my best friend who was very, very smart did not have good parents like I had who told me I could do anything I wanted to do and who loved me and told me, my mother, she told me she loved me every day of my life. So there’s a difference, Barry, between being broke and being poor. Being broke is economic, but being poor is a disabling frame of mind, a depressed condition of your spirit. You must vow never to be poor again.
So because I had this self-esteem based on my mother’s love, and I had love, which is not self-confidence, my next door neighbor, well, my best friend had self-confidence, but did not have self-esteem. So he was influenced by those around him. He was murdered. Then, when I was 7-years-old, the guy who saved my life, because long story short, my mother moved away from my father, arguments over money, domestic abuse involving money. When I was 5-years-old, they fought, she moved. We were staying with her relative to save some money for her first home. The guy who was dating, OC, dating my mother’s cousin saved my life on the front porch when I was swallowing my tongue. And I just idolized this guy.
What I didn’t realize was he was ashamed to admit that he could not afford to float the expenses of his immediate family and ours. So he went to go sell drugs also part-time. And he was murdered by the drug dealers for whom this was their territory. They came around the corner in a truck, Barry. I’m sitting on the porch waiting for him to come home. I’m 7-years-old. This is my idol. He saved my life. They hit him in the truck on a bicycle. I can see it in my mind’s eye. They dragged him down the street in front of me until he was dead. They did it in front of our house to send a message.
And so these were two stories, maybe three, before I’m 9-years-old of bad economics, bad culture, and a bad business plan. So now I’m 9-years-old, Barry, and this banker comes in my classroom. It’s home economics class, doesn’t exist anymore.
BRYANT: He’s white, he has a blue suit, a white shirt, a red tie, he’s 6’2”.
And he starts talking about money and free enterprise and capitalism and ownership and balance sheets and all this stuff and I’m sitting there mesmerized.
RITHOLTZ: You’re 9-years-old at the time.
BRYANT: I’m nine and I’m completely entranced and I remember probably the second or third class because by the third class I was actually wearing a suit, the only suit I had, which was my Sunday suit, to school trying to emulate the suit that I saw this guy in. By the way, this was a crushed velvet, three piece suit with a ruffle shirt and a big bow tie. So you can imagine I got beat up when I went to school. So I raised my hand, Barry, and I said, “Excuse me, sir.” I had enough courage to ask this question. “What do you do for a living? “And how’d you get rich legally?”
And Barry, I was dead serious. Like, I was just completely, It was to me a common sense question because everybody in my neighborhood was a thug, a drug dealer, a criminal. Nobody had legit wealth.
RITHOLTZ: So this guy’s a banker talking to a room full of 9 and 10-year-olds. How does he answer the question, what do you do for a living and how do you get rich legally?
BRYANT: He said I’m a banker and I finance entrepreneurs.
And I said, what’s an entrepreneur? I never heard that word my entire life, French word, build something out of nothing. Create value, what’s an entrepreneur? I mean, no one’s ever taught me that. So I went home to the dictionary, for those in the current generation, it’s a Google search, and I opened the dictionary to the word entrepreneur and my whole life changed. And when I came back to school, one more thing, what’s a banker and how many of them are you? And did you say one more time that your job is to lend people like me to be an entrepreneur of money? I can’t place that. I need to get this whole script straight because here my friends were getting murdered and jailed and shot and all this kind of, over economics, over some, trying to sell drugs or sell a TV set or whatever it is in the hood.
RITHOLTZ: Hustle up some money instead of launching something, that was very foreign to that part of the world.
BRYANT: And so when this guy told me that we’re, at that time, 10,000 banks, hundreds of thousands of bankers, 100,000 banks.
RITHOLTZ: Were there banks in your neighborhood or were you an unbanked …
BRYANT: Well, I mean, it was so few you knew where they were, put it that way, right?
BRYANT: And this guy was a banker, to be full disclosure, it was a banker for Bank of America. So I knew what Bank of America was because my mother, it was a big deal to go to the bank and open a passport account, or to go there with my mother every couple weeks, and have, or my dad to make an appointment with a local, the local branch banker might have been the mayor, I mean, he was a very important guy back in those days. But it was a pretty rare occurrence.
So, one, I was shocked that there was an industry whose job it was to lend a risk taker money. Two, I was shocked that it was legal. Three, I was shocked that it was an actual occupation for a guy who was a legitimate hustler. And my whole life changed and I left there. I went, as I said, opened the dictionary. I started seeing the muffler shop as a business. By the way, there’s a difference between an entrepreneur and a businessman or a business woman. Those things are different. Different risk tolerance and different business plan.
But I started seeing the nail salon as a business. I started seeing the barbershop, all these things were businesses. I’d never seen it that way before. And I went back to school, Barry.
“Sir, your business card, can I have one?” Okay. What’s a 16th floor thing? You know there’s no floor above the sixth floor in Compton and that’s a courthouse. What’s on the 16th floor and where is that at? And by the way, how can you show up coming here in the middle of the day? My mother is in an hourly job at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft. She’s got two 15 minute breaks in lunch. How is it that you’re here in the middle of the day? It’s called a salary. You have a white shirt. My father wore a blue shirt. How do you keep this shirt clean? Oh, you just do work with mathematics and intellectual activities. You don’t do any dirty work. And how is it that you, what’s this car that’s in the parking lot, it’s got plates on it and a tag and it’s brand new. Translation, it’s not hot, right?
BRYANT: I mean, and it’s beautiful. What do you do? And this world opened up to me, man, and I was done.
And so Mr. Mack, Mack’s Liquor Store, 6’2”, also 6’2”, black man, owned Mack’s Liquor Store. And I realized for the first time, Barry, this was a businessman. And I went to Mr. Mack. So first of all, I didn’t know there was a black businessman in Compton, so congratulations, “Mr. Mack. You’re selling the wrong kind of candy.” He said, “Excuse me?” I said, “You have a liquor store, you’re probably good at liquor, but you have a candy rack in the liquor store “and you’re selling the wrong kind of candy.” “Go away little boy, I’ve got a college degree.” “That’s nice, I’ve got cavities. You’re selling the wrong kind of candy. I’m nine.” At that point I was 10.
So he said, “Look, you’ve got a lot of chutzpah.”
BRYANT: I’ll hire you, I’m going to put you at the counter. I want you…
RITHOLTZ: You’re in charge of the candy.
BRYANT: Right. I said, “No.” I declined the offer.
He said, “I’m going to pay you top dollar for, you come after school, I’m going to pay you. You’ll be paid more than any of your friends.” I didn’t want to do it. And by the way, Barry, this is analogous today to the basketball player with a contract, to the rapper who can sing really well and is rocking the mic, to a baseball player or anybody who is performing at top dollar but they’re cashing a check, they’re not writing it. And if you’re a great performer, no matter what your industry is, you’ll get paid a lot. You may not build wealth, but you’ll get a lot of income.
BRYANT: I didn’t realize what I was doing back then, but I was making a choice. I was like, I don’t want to be a performer. I don’t want to be your performer. You’re the owner and I get to perform, I don’t want that. Tell you what I want. “Make me a box boy.” “Excuse me?” “Yes, I want to do the stocking.” He says “it’s the worst job I got.” “That’s the one I want.” I worked there for three weeks and quit. Because then I knew what the wholesale rate was and the retail rate. I knew what the markup was. I knew what supply and demand looked like, what things were moving, what wasn’t. I quit.
Once I knew where he bought his inventory, he was on the side of the box. I went home, got my mother, I sold my mother on making a $40 investment. She made me pay her back by the way, in my new business and went to Smart and Final, an Irish food store was where he bought his inventory and got put up in business. I actually put him out of the candy business not soon after that. I made $300 a week on a $40 investment.
RITHOLTZ: Wow, that’s amazing.
So let’s talk a little bit about a quote of yours that’s very relevant to this. “Persistence and resilience are more powerful than pedigree and raw intelligence.” Explain what you mean by that. Although I think I have a suspicion as to where that came from.
BRYANT: I think that ties directly into what I said about self-esteem and confidence and the difference. It also ties into the race relations lesson that I got by meeting this white banker who was actually helping me to understand the free enterprise system. So my experience with a white person was different than my — the folks growing up. My folks growing up, my friends growing up, they’d get hit over the head by a police officer pulling them over.
BRYANT: It was a negative experience. As a result of that, they didn’t like white people. They didn’t trust white people. They didn’t want to talk to white people. My experience was this banker who basically opened my head up to a whole new world. And so I wasn’t intimidated by him. I actually found an affinity with him. I didn’t want to be him, I wanted to be me, but I was neither reposed or, you know, I wasn’t trying to be him, nor was I trying to avoid him. I thought he was useful and he had a place in my world.
So that then relates to self-esteem. If I don’t like me, I’m not going to like you. If I don’t feel good about me, I’m not going to feel good about you. If I don’t respect me, then how can I ever respect you? If I don’t have a purpose in my life, I’ll make your life a living hell, whatever goes around comes around. That’s self-esteem.
Self-confidence is competence put into action. So if I’m competent and I execute on that, then I have confidence, and that is where my hustle comes from. That’s where my resiliency comes from. That self-esteem applied with a skill in the marketplace. Over time, you start taking no for vitamins. You start becoming incredibly resilient, hard to hit. It’s hard to hit a moving target, as I said earlier. And if I don’t give up, you can’t beat me. When you’re asleep, I’m working. When you get up, I’m already prepared for the day. When you’re going to chill in the evening, I’m preparing my next business plan. I didn’t have compounded capital, I had compounded hustle.
And so I had time, I didn’t have money, and I decided to use that time in a way that made me bulletproof or harder to compete with because I was going to be smarter than anybody else in the room and I was going to work harder.
So I think that resiliency piece, never giving up, never giving in, redefining, Barry, success as going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm, I think that’s everything.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s take the reverse of that, because I think this other quote is so telling. “The most dangerous person in the world is the one with no hope.” That’s the flip side of resiliency and persistency. What is the challenge when you encounter either a person or an entire region where there’s no hope?
BRYANT: Man, I really wish we had three hours versus 30 minutes to talk about this one topic, because it’s everything, Barry. I won’t go down this rabbit hole, but at another time we should talk about why African American experience is different in this country from even Afro-Caribbean, from those from Africa, or other dark people from around the world. Why is the African American experience different? It was how we were treated. And that treatment messed up our head, our psyche, which is where real wealth sits.
RITHOLTZ: I really like that insight, that your psyche is where real wealth resides.
BRYANT: Yes, I mean…
RITHOLTZ: I’ve never heard it quite phrased that way.
BRYANT: I’ll be even more blunt. Poverty, sustenance poverty is a roof over your head, food on your table, reasonable healthcare, it’s a sustenance, the ability to sustain yourself. All other forms of poverty are mindset based. So whether I believe I can or whether I believe I can’t, I’m right. Is the glass half full or is it half empty? Depends who’s looking at the glass. So when you tell people for 200, when you enslave them for 270 years, you destroy their family structures so they have nothing to believe in. You destroy the ability to protect their mate from harm. So you destroy their self-esteem and their sense of independent, you know.
RITHOLTZ: Agency, sense of agency.
BRYANT: Agency, there you go. You don’t give them education, so they don’t know any, they can’t only have a skillset. You don’t teach them about the free enterprise system. You basically want to use their body and their mind, their body because they’re agricultural geniuses from Africa, they want them to work this land in the South, but you don’t want them thinking, and you certainly don’t want them believing. And you do that for 300 years plus, really, two thirds of American experience, it doesn’t, you can’t help but have a depressed group of people who have low faith, low confidence, low trust, who are cynical, not skeptical, and as a result of that, and who have crappy role models. And if you hang around nine broke people, You’ll be the 10th. So now you have a group of people who don’t know, who are smart, brilliant, amazing.
When the rules are published and the playing field is level, they excel, think about the arts, think about professional sports, think about politics. Rules are published, playing field is level. African Americans in this example kill it. But in capitalism and free enterprise, there is no rule book. And we were denied that whole lesson. And the best we were taught was how to make the dollar, not to how to build it.
And so this hopelessness you talk about comes easily from the population that has that experience and who has descendants who are now looking at parents unsuccessful commercially or economically who did not get a chance or a shot, whose mother was not called “Missus” whose dad was never called “Mister” or “Doctor” or whatever.
And so you have these kids who wake up on a scale of one to 10 on anxiety nine. And they’re on edge, and you do something to that kid, tap him on the shoulder, he may swing on you, now the kid’s in jail, okay? And so the energy’s used for all the wrong stuff. And now you start becoming an expert at things that are going to get you locked up, drug dealing, and underground. So you have genius, you have brilliant, I mean what’s a drug dealer, Barry, if not, I mean, it’s an illegal unethical entrepreneur or business person, you understand? Import, export, finance, marketing, wholesale, retail, customer service, security, territory, logistics. These are not dumb people. They have a dumb business plan. They’re an underground economy because they don’t trust the mainstream economy.
So this hopelessness that you just mentioned is everything for repressing the human spirit. We’ve got to turn that around. My whole life’s work is really summarized in one sentence. To unleash untapped human potential at scale. And you think about if this issue, is racism real? Of course it is. But if the issue —
RITHOLTZ: Is that really a question? I mean, come on.
BRYANT: No, no, no, no. But let’s, no, let’s, no. But here’s a twist, and you may probably never heard this one, African American. But is race the only issue? No. In fact, I’d argue race is not the primary issue today. Not 100 years ago, not 50 years ago. If it was, Barry, you wouldn’t have poor whites, poor whites who are segregated from wealthy whites economically.
BRYANT: You would not have African Caribbeans and Africans from Africa who actually do better in some ways than African Americans on ownership issues. If the issues was just race, all whites would be immensely successful.
BRYANT: all blacks would be immensely repressed. you have the sub-sectors because mindset hasn’t provided a differentiated path. So what I am saying is you can level the playing field with a business plan based on hope.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little bit about what Operation HOPE does, but I want to start by asking, why don’t we teach financial literacy in school? Why isn’t this a core course offering across the entire country?
BRYANT: A couple of very practical reasons. Number one, a school district is a business. And like every business, they want revenue and they’d like to have a surplus profit. What they don’t want is an unfunded mandate. And as well-meaning as financial literacy is, it’s got two problems. One, it doesn’t have a budget allocation from Congress. And the Department of Education does not set curriculum. They’re a budget, they’re a check writing organization. They give you criteria at the state and local level and they give you money, they incentivize you with grant payments from the federal government to meet that criteria. There’s no funding base for financial literacy.
I got President Bush, George W. Bush, to make financial literacy the policy of the US federal government. I was naive, Barry, because I thought, I didn’t realize that when he inserted the word federal government, that just meant government employees. That meant the federal government. I also was naive by thinking that if I wrote a letter, which he allowed me to do, with Charles Schwab, we wrote a letter, he was, Charles Schwab was chairman, I was vice chairman, to everyone in the 14,000 school district superintendents that was around in 2000, I think it was nine or 10, that the school districts would just see the White House letterhead and understand the nobleness of this work.
BRYANT: Oh my God, of course —
RITHOLTZ: You better get on this right away.
BRYANT: Crickets, I got not, we got not one response.
BRYANT: Yes, not one response.
RITHOLTZ: Zero, a letter goes to every school district on White House Stationary.
BRYANT: On White House Stationary signed by the chairman and vice chairman of the President’s Council on Financial Literacy, Crickets, because it was an unfunded mandate in their view. And they’re shaking the paper going…
RITHOLTZ: “Hey, this is nice, but where’s the cash?”
BRYANT: Where’s the check? Is there a check attached to this? And number two, and I think that they were like, I’m sure there’s a note coming after this with a congressional allocation, and it never came.
BRYANT: Number two, money is emotional.
BRYANT: So money, unlike math, money is highly emotional. And people want to spend money, they don’t want to talk about it. Including teachers, superintendents, school board members, city council people, members of Congress, people are, most people have too much month at the end of their money.
RITHOLTZ: Too much month at the end of their money.
BRYANT: Yes sir.
RITHOLTZ: Yes, that makes sense.
BRYANT: They’re living from paycheck to paycheck, 70% of the US economy. It’s been recently shown, I think it was a Bloomberg report, actually that half of all people in this country making $100,000 a year paycheck to paycheck, a third of those making a quarter million dollars a year living from paycheck to paycheck. So this is not just poor people, it’s now almost everybody is struggling with cash flow, but they want to look good, they want to look successful, they want to go on a vacation, they want to go shopping. So people think, they’d like to think that credit cards are cash, and they don’t want anybody to disavow them with that belief. I can’t be broke, I still have checks left.
RITHOLTZ: Right, right.
BRYANT: They want to be able to say yes to their children, yes to their wives or spouse. That insecurity, if you will, of wanting to say yes and live the life conflicts with a budget, conflicts with a limit, conflicts with having to sit down and understand if your outflow exceeds your inflow then your overhead will be your downfall. This was my dad’s problem. My dad thought that cash flow was profit. He had a construction company and he’d bid a job at $1,000, it cost $1,200, but he’d outbid the other guy who was bidding the job at $1,400. He thought he was successful.
BRYANT: Well, the more you, if you live that way, you make a dollar, spend a dollar 50, the more money you make, the broker you get. So by the end of my dad’s life, I was taking care of a man who had a gas station, an eight unit apartment building, our own home, a nursery business, a cement contracting business, I probably missed a couple, but he lost it all, all of our generational wealth, because when you don’t know better, you can’t do better.
And my dad didn’t know what he didn’t know. Goes back to what I was saying earlier, about that slave experience. My dad’s dad was a sharecropper, probably born into slavery in 1871 in Mississippi, was certainly a sharecropper. My dad was a businessman, I’m an entrepreneur. I’m obsessed with financial literacy because I think it’s the civil rights issue of this generation. –
RITHOLTZ: Say that again, financial literacy is the civil rights issue of this generation. That’s a fascinating take on that. Go into more detail about that because I’ve never, again, I’ve never heard anyone quite hone in just that way. –
BRYANT: Look at where we are right now.
RITHOLTZ: In the center of one of the wealthiest cities in the wealthiest country in the world.
BRYANT: And in the center of a studio made by an entrepreneur.
BRYANT: And this whole thing works on money. This whole city works on money. It sets public policy in many ways in the world because it’s the center of money. Even slavery, real talk, was about money.
RITHOLTZ: Of course.
BRYANT: Everything is not about God or love, it’s probably about money. But do we understand money? What did I say about how, I mean Malcolm X said, we’ve been bamboozled, we’ve been tricked, we’ve been fooled. You can say, you know, what Andrew Young said, who was Dr. King’s right arm, that “To live in a system of free enterprise and not to understand the rules of free enterprise must be the very definition of slavery.”
So if you’re in a system and you don’t understand how it works and you think the cash flow is profit or getting that bag, getting that dollar, getting that money is actually going to advance you when in reality inflation is outrunning your ability to even compete on a wage basis, you’re not going to build wealth, you have a lifestyle, but you build wealth in your sleep. In your sleep, that’s compounding.
But 41% of black folks own a home. 75% of white folks own a home. There’s a delta, 35, 30, 35% of natural home ownership that black folks are missing, because no one taught, gave us a memo on money and wealth creation. We don’t own stocks, we don’t own bonds. We’re not starting businesses with employees and technology. 96% of black businesses don’t have an employee. I mean, and how do you build a business in, how do you build wealth in America? How do you build wealth in America? Business creation is a primary portal. That’s what my Jewish friends did, by the way, is to level the playing field in an unleveled world, is they became owners, and that gave them a different version of social justice.
And I think that’s a model, by the way, for African Americans and other groups trying to come up from nothing. To me, the color’s not white or black. It’s not red or blue. It’s green. Actually, as in the color of US currency, Barry, it’s always been green, is my point. But we just never got the memo. That’s my book, the third book, I think.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s keep this at the school level. How do we teach financial literacy in schools? How do we get that funded? And at what grade should we be starting that process?
BRYANT: We should be starting as early as possible.
RITHOLTZ: Fifth grade, sixth grade?
BRYANT: Kindergarten. We are the —
BRYANT: Yes, yes, Operation HOPE is the official kids accounts manager for the Atlanta Public School System and the Atlanta City Council funded us a few million dollars to open kindergarten accounts.
RITHOLTZ: Meaning what? What do kindergartners get through Operation HOPE?
BRYANT: Underprivileged kids in kindergarten will get a bank account, a savings account, to start for 50 bucks. We will match it for 50 bucks. And then wrap financial literacy around that for every kid in kindergarten all the way through middle school. And the reason that this is so important studies have already proven that if a kid has a bank account at kindergarten they’re half as likely, sorry, 50% likely to go to college if you have money.
RITHOLTZ: 50% more likely to go to college just because you have a bank account at kindergarten.
BRYANT: That’s right. An aspiration, a target.
RITHOLTZ: Is that driven because the family has money or is it driven because of a whole philosophical viewpoint that oh I understand how the economy works, how the market works, and I want to advance myself.
BRYANT: That’s what you said earlier, Barry. It’s the difference between being broken and being poor. The difference between being sustenance, poverty, and mindset. Now, your mindset is connecting the dots between education and aspiration.
Why am I going to school? What’s the point of all this? Oh, of a bank account. What’s the point of the bank account? Oh, the bank account is tied to a salary or …
BRYANT: Okay, so I’m in an economy …
RITHOLTZ: It’s a whole financial world that you might not have known about otherwise.
BRYANT: And your mind opens up, right? And you’re two-thirds more likely to graduate from college if there’s money in the account. This is unbelievable. And it’s so low-hanging fruit. It changes the endorphins in the right side of your brain where hope, well-being, faith, confidence, joy, and what did slavery rob? It robbed hope, it robbed self-esteem, it robbed belief, it robbed confidence. Now you’ve gone from a thriving and a winning mentality to a surviving mentality where your life is ready, fire, aim, and now the world’s got you distracted with your survival and your surviving, now you’re not competing with the capitalists.
And what this does is get people at the bottom of the rung competing with the capitalists, which is, by the way, what this country needs every 100 years is a new Henry Ford. This country needs a new Steve Jobs or a new Tony Ressler or a new, you know, whoever your hero or shero is. This country needs, every big business wants a small one. Goldman Sachs, there was a guy named Goldman and a guy named Sachs selling financial services door to door. Where’s the black version of that? Where’s the Latino version of that? Where’s the Indian version of that? Where’s the poor white version of that? By the way, NASCAR came from moonshine runners. In the Appalachian Mountains, these guys realize I can’t keep running from the police and selling moonshine, but I drive really well. That’s NASCAR, we have to legitimize the hustle.
RITHOLTZ: The right business model, not an illegal one.
BRYANT: That’s it, that’s what happened to me with that banker in my classroom. So it has to be, you can’t just be a curriculum, Barry, on your point of how to teach it. It has to be a real life exploration of connecting education with aspiration. It has to be life experiences that the kid and the parents and the family can relate to. And you have to have a role model that experiences that with that kid in the classroom who looks like the person that we’re trying to emulate, right? So you need that banker or that entrepreneur or that business person or a Barry or a John to come in at least three or four times during the coursework to invite the endorphins in this guy’s, this kid’s, male or female’s head about wow, it was role modeling, this is who I could be.
Because in my household, my guess is there’s somebody in the household who we could emulate. But most of these kids, 70% of black households don’t have a man at home. So, and your mother is working two jobs, so you don’t see her, she’s trying to keep the lights on. You don’t see a positive role model who’s male. So where’s your role models? In the streets.
I mean it makes perfect sense, so why do you want to be a rap star, an athlete, or a drug dealer in the hood? Because that’s what you see.
BRYANT: So we’ve got to give kids something different to see. This could literally reset everything. And I believe you do this right. In urban black and brown neighborhoods, white, poor, rural neighborhoods, struggling actually working class neighborhoods, You add two to three percent of GDP in five to 10 years for America as a country, because the bottom of the pyramid gets rehabilitated. You get them back in the game of economic value creation. Get their credit score up through our coaching at Operation HOPE, which we’re raising credit scores at Hope, 54 points in six months, 120 points in 24 months. Nothing changes your life more than God or love than moving your credit score 120 points.
BRYANT: We’re reducing debt by 3,500 bucks in a year. We’re increasing savings $500 to $1500 in that same year for somebody making $48,000 a year.
RITHOLTZ: This is Operation HOPE, this is what you’re doing. So let’s talk about where you operate, how many people you reach. This started in Atlanta.
BRYANT: No, no, it started in South Central Los Angeles.
RITHOLTZ: Oh, okay, so it started on the West Coast.
BRYANT: Rodney King riots, 1992.
RITHOLTZ: That was the initial motivation.
BRYANT: The network started in Atlanta.
RITHOLTZ: Okay, what brought you to Atlanta originally?
BRYANT: Andrew Young. Andrew J. Young, ambassador, mayor, civil rights icon, Andrew J. Young, the guy who was on the balcony with Dr. King when he was assassinated in ’68. He became a mentor and a role model to me. He was the only black man, one of two, who was international when I was 20, 25-years-old, who happened to be black. I was like, I want to be an international businessman.
RITHOLTZ: The other being who?
BRYANT: Quincy Jones. Now this is sad. Here I have, I don’t have like a, you know in this example, I don’t have a Bloomberg as my role model who’s a businessman or a Tony Ressler or whoever you’re, or Michael Arougheti, whoever your mindset is, Henry Kravis, whatever, I had an entertainment genius, Quincy Jones, and I had a civil rights icon, Andrew Young. So here you go again, I’m starving for role models. I went with what I had, but the only two international people I knew at that time who were black were these two icons.
RITHOLTZ: You could do worse than Quincy Jones and Andrew Young.
BRYANT: I could do worse.
RITHOLTZ: Not bad role models, just not enough of them.
BRYANT: And not rightly positioned in capitalism and free enterprise, not squarely.
By the way, they would admit it. And so I became good friends with Quincy Jones. I became dear, almost family with Andrew Young. Thank God it changed my life. And so I remember Quincy told me, if you think you’re in the music business, and you don’t own music rights, publishing rights, licensing rights.
RITHOLTZ: Then you’re not in the music business.
BRYANT: You’re just a temporary performer.
BRYANT: And I’ve already given you a quote from Andrew Young who shows you, I mean he built the 10th large economy in the country, the only international city in the south, Atlanta, Georgia, on the bones of diversity and inclusion as an economic model. And of course, we can see today that the moral capital in America, which is Atlanta, is also the largest economic engine in the South built on, like New York, diversity and inclusion and good common sense.
So I moved to Atlanta for a number of reasons, but I remember one conversation in particular, Barry. There was a city of, there was a mayor, I don’t want to mention his name, but there was a mayor in LA who saw me as a threat about my age. And he asked me to schedule a meeting with Andrew Young because he knew that Andrew Young was my mentor. I did that. There was a meeting in LA and I was sitting on the floor because this particular mayor was sending a message to me. There was no seat for me, so I sat on the floor. It was fine with me, I didn’t care. And by the way, I should say for the audience, this was, they don’t want to try to guess this, this was 20 years ago, so nobody thinks it was recent.
And after the meeting, Andrew Young was at the airport and he said to me, “You know you got to move out of LA.”
Either they see you as a threat, think you want to become mayor or they’re going to treat you like a child for the rest of your life because you grew up here. And he said, “John, a prophet is only without honor in his hometown.” That’s biblical. And he said in Atlanta, they called Dr. King in Atlanta, Marty, M.L., Michael, his original name. They were digging at him. That’s why staff called him Dr. King, to give him gravitas at 28, 30-years-old. He was only 5’7”. Dr. King was 5’7” 150 pounds. So he was like, we had to give him some gravitas. You got to move out of this city and come back as an honor citizen later on. He was completely right. And the other thing was, history in LA is 2-years-old. I don’t mean as a diss. I mean, LA is a place where you reinvent yourself.
BRYANT: Constantly reinvent you. So it’s great for an entrepreneur who’s trying to make it. Well, I had already made it to a certain degree. What I was looking for now was purpose. And Atlanta was steeped in purpose and civil rights history.
So I went there and created Silver Rights, from civil rights in the streets to Silver Rights in the C-suites. This is an extension of Dr. King and Andrew Young’s unfinished work, an extension of what Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were doing in 1865 with the Freedmen’s Bank. It was an extension from the streets to the suites, a discussion about green, free enterprise, capitalism, economics, ownership, and wealth creation at scale to set people free using the free enterprise system.
RITHOLTZ: So let me jump in here. We’re talking about Atlanta. You set up Operation HOPE, or you expand Operation HOPE in Atlanta. How many students are you reaching, and how large would you like to see this get?
BRYANT: So the student piece is cool, but it’s almost like a pilot project, given all our larger work. I mean, there’s 50,000 kids in the Atlanta public school system, so you can do the math there.
You know, we’ve got 10% of that in the kindergarten kids as a target. But a million, we taught a million kids financial literacy, that’s still to be very small, beans with our target. There are 40 million black people in this country, there are 100 million blacks and poor whites in this country, you have 130 million people who are financially bruised in this country, including working class, middle class people. My goal is to become America’s financial coach. My goal has become the Starbucks of financial inclusion, the Walmart of financial literacy at scale, the Federal Reserve of the hood. I have 245 locations today, Barry. 245 locations in 46 states.
RITHOLTZ: How many people in total have you worked with through Operation HOPE?
BRYANT: We’ve had over 4 million clients, and we have 245 locations in 46 states. We’re the largest financial inclusion and financial literacy coaching organization in the country.
We are inside also, well we’re the only non-profit allowed to operate inside of a bank branch in US history. We’re the only non-profit in Fortune 500 companies doing financial coaching for employees, including Delta Airlines, all 90,000 of their employees. So much so that Delta CEO has given $1,000 emergency savings account to everybody who goes through our financial coaching work, all of his 90,000 employees. That’s how much he believes. I can’t go to a Delta terminal without people talking about their financial coaching and the $1,000 savings account that they’ve got. And I can’t go to an airport without a TSA agent screaming out their credit score.
RITHOLTZ: What, you’ve worked with TSA and all their staff members doing this?
BRYANT: No, these are just my clients who happen to be working at TSA. But we are a coach for UPS. We are a coach for Harley-Davidson. We are a coach for the Venetian Hotel employees in Las Vegas. We are a coach, I’ve already mentioned Delta Airlines. We have a big, I can’t mention it, but there’s a big company today, one of the top five employers in the country has just signed up with us.
So we’re in banks, whether it’s Truist or Wells Fargo or Bank of America, and they order over 100 branches from us, you know, that’s business. 100 branches is a business decision, not a charity decision. And we’re getting the bank out of the no business, Barry, and back into the yes business.
In other words, if I can get your criteria sorted, get your savings account up, get your debt down, get your credit score up, the bank can say yes.
RITHOLTZ: That’s an attractive customer to anybody.
BRYANT: Voila. So that’s why I’m saying this is a business case, not a charity case that we’re making.
RITHOLTZ: So let me focus on the financial literacy side. There’s been some academic research that shows financial literacy is a tendency to fade over time. How do you keep this front of mind with people? How do you not let the hard-won skills atrophy over time?
BRYANT: Put your credit score on your phone. Let’s start there. Because it lives.
BRYANT: Oh my God, yes. It’s like a complete living barometer of how you’re doing. We have a credit score index that’s powered by Experian, as an example, their data from Experian. I’ve measured every zip code in America by credit score. You tell me your zip code, I’ll tell you how you’re living.
RITHOLTZ: The average credit score within a zip code will give you a standard of living for that space, for that region.
BRYANT: Oh, it’ll tell you how long you’re going to live.
RITHOLTZ: Really? That’s pretty impressive.
BRYANT: So in a 580 credit score neighborhood, you’ll live to 61.
RITHOLTZ: That doesn’t sound like a very attractive life span.
BRYANT: Social Security is 65. In a 580 credit score neighborhood, you’ll have a high school education. 61% of people, I’m sorry, 61% of people have a high school education in one parent household. These are the averages in a 580 credit score neighborhood. In a 580 credit score neighborhood, the violent crimes per thousand is off the charts. All the negatives explode. Home ownership level is sub 40%, 20%, 25%.
BRYANT: unemployment’s through the roof. It’s all predictable, right? You go into a 700 credit score neighborhood of any race.
RITHOLTZ: Now that’s good, but what do credit scores go to, like 820?
BRYANT: Yes, but anything above 700 is freedom.
RITHOLTZ: Is fine, yes.
BRYANT: Banks say yes to you at 700. You go to 700, Barry, you live to 81-years-old.
BRYANT: 10 minutes away. Chicago, these zip codes are 10 minutes away. In, I mean, most cities, Manhattan’s boroughs which is slightly different, but most cities, these zip codes are 10 minutes away, these realities. So a 700 credit score neighborhood, you live to 90, sorry, to 81 plus. You have a high school graduation rate of over 90%. They’re going to college. You have two parent households. Violent crimes are non-existent. It’s a complete reality.
RITHOLTZ: Different world.
BRYANT: So here’s what you see in a 580 credit score neighborhood, right? Check casher, next to a payday loan lender, next to a rent-to-own store, next to a title lender, next to a liquor store, next to a pawn shop. And by the way, Barry, it’s not just black and brown urban neighborhoods, it’s poor white rural.
BRYANT: See, you got me, you finished the sentence for me.
RITHOLTZ: I’m very well aware that people seem to be, you know, whenever we look at entitlement spending and some people think there’s a racial component, the biggest consumer of government assistance are poor rural whites in America.
BRYANT: And the number one group dying in America is a high school educated white man, dying of essentially–
RITHOLTZ: Of drug overdose, fentanyl, yes.
BRYANT: Opioid addiction, depression. So what I’m doing is taking the emotion out of this conversation. I believe I love math because it doesn’t have an opinion, that’s a Melody Hobson quote. And if I can replace the emotion with a science, with a mathematical equation, with a credit score, okay, and that credit score changes, it’s dynamic, it changes every week. That keeps your attention. That keeps you, it’s an individual scorecard.
I can’t, here’s what’s beautiful if you’re an underserved person or somebody who’s used to being, used to racism dogging you or sexism dogging you. I can’t get in your heart and change how you feel about me. I can get into my own head and change my credit score. It’s control of my own destiny. And the credit score is a trending indicator for all other things, hope, faith, belief, confidence, well-being, trust. These things you need to access banking, financial services, market economy, investors.
So I believe that we found a Burning Bush. You move, I’m going to say something on your podcast that I rarely say it to anybody. You move credit scores 100 points in this country. You stabilize this country.
RITHOLTZ: We’re talking unemployment, poverty, crime…
RITHOLTZ: Health and life expectancy. All tied to a credit.
BRYANT: Plus economic vitality, prosperity, business creation, stable families. I’ve got five pillars of success in my newest book, “Up From Nothing” here’s the five things you need to succeed. As much education as you can shove down your throat. Understanding financial literacy, how the economy works, the math of the matter, family structure and resiliency, self-esteem and confidence, role models in the environment. You have five of those things, you’re going to be immensely successful. You have four of those things, you’re going to be very successful. You have three of those things, you will pop your head over failure.
You have less than three of those things, you’re stuck. Who has less than three of those five things? Poor whites, African Americans, Native American Indians.
RITHOLTZ: So you were recognized by Oprah Winfrey’s quote, “Use Your Life” award, and you were also named American Banker’s Innovator of the Year award. What do these recognitions mean to you, given what you’ve done in your life to move the needle for so many people?
BRYANT: You combine those recognitions with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies today suggesting that I’m a conscious on capitalism, which several big time CEOs have said, including the CEO of Walmart and Delta, et cetera.
And it says this is a bit of my, this is my version of a Nobel Peace Prize, which is really a gateway or substitution clause for having this conversation with mainstream power structure. When you have these recognitions, it allows you, it gives you entree into a door or doors in the C-suites where you can have a conversation as a peer, as an equal.
So I’m not talking at people anymore, I’m talking with people. And they understand they have value and they have credibility and success, but they also value in a different way my credibility and success.
And I’ve had enough private sector success also in growing and building enterprises. They know I’m a legit capitalist. I mean, I’ve clipped a coupon on Wall Street, I’ve done, I’ve run a balance sheet in an income statement, et cetera, et cetera. So there’s respect and consideration, not just for my beliefs, but for what my, I guess what we have built and how we performed, which allows us to have a conversation that’s different, that allows us to create a coalition of the willing of leaders, which we’re building now.
I mean, CEO of Walmart and I are co-chairing financial literacy for all. Doug McMillan. Our goal is to get 80% of the Fortune 500 by 2025 to embed financial literacy into its business plan, not to its philanthropy plan, its business plan, just like healthcare was 40 years ago.
So our mission in schools is to get financial literacy funded by Congress, K through college. So to answer that question you mentioned earlier, I’m Vice Chairman of No Labels now as of two months ago. My mission there is to be the voice of the underserved the voice of the voiceless, try to get 58, to be very practical, get 58 US senators to agree on a bipartisan basis to pass the civil rights bill of this generation, financial literacy.
Then that’ll get us into schools, and I’ve got a plan for the banking and financial services system, I mentioned that, HOPE Inside, I’ve got a plan for workplace, which I’ve just discussed, but financial literacy for all is really about building this culture amongst Fortune 500 companies, which is where you spend most of your time working, well living if you’re, you know, you spend most of your time at work if you’re an employee, and changing the culture and the places that change America.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk a little bit about Promise Homes. Where did this idea come from and what’s the company’s purpose. And to reiterate, this is a for-profit company, this is not a philanthropy.
BRYANT: Right. It’s a for-profit company, and coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous, I guess.
I wanted to build wealth for myself so that I did not have to continue to go begging to a philanthropist to help Operation HOPE with its growth. I wanted to be able to reach into my own pocketbook and to write my own check, which meant I needed assets. I needed a business that didn’t conflict with Operation HOPE. So there’s a lot of things I couldn’t do. I couldn’t do banking, couldn’t do brokerage, I couldn’t do a lot of things. Single family residential rentals was a business I thought I could be in that had no conflict with my philanthropy.
It also, oddly enough, Barry, was a business that Frederick Douglass was in.
RITHOLTZ: Oh really?
BRYANT: He owned $6 million worth of real estate, rental real estate, in Baltimore, Maryland. He rented it out to working class blacks. That gave him the financial freedom to be a civil rights leader and an abolitionist. People don’t know that story, but he was a capitalists. And actually Frederick Douglass ran the Freedman’s Bank for Abraham Lincoln in 1865 that was chartered to teach free slaves about money. So he was both financial literacy champion.
RITHOLTZ: Pioneer, yes.
BRYANT: Pioneer, and he was an asset owner. And in many ways, I am literally replicating his business model. But it wasn’t intentional. This is just sort of tripped on to this same narrative. –
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk about this business model a little bit because private equity has moved into this space. There’s been lots of criticism that big money is pushing out smaller potential home buyers. Tell us a little bit about how Promise Homes operate, where you’re operating, and how large do you want to get this?
BRYANT: So I think that this can be a game changer. And I mean some of this criticism is legitimate. That a lot of folks who own these homes are sitting in office buildings pushing a basically a financial formula. They’re not connecting this to the emotions of somebody’s most prized asset, which is where they live.
They’re not connecting this to the human experience. And they probably shouldn’t be in the business of owning homes in low wealth neighborhoods unless they are fully committed beyond a balance sheet investment. You’ll get your return. But really, should you be? Should this be the business that you’re in if you don’t really care? We care. And let me go back a little bit, the story, because the origin story is a little interesting. I went to Tony Ressler of Aries Management and Mike Arougheti had this idea.
So Michael said he’s going to put up a few million bucks to partner with me. I went to go see Tony about supporting Operation HOPE and I asked him for $50,000. He said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes. What’s in your other pocket?” “Excuse me?” He said, “Look, you got $50,000 out of me philanthropically, but you’re a smart guy. What are you making in the other pocket because you just took money out of my left pocket.”
So I said, “Well, I got this business idea.” He said, “I’m in.” –
RITHOLTZ: Just like that.
BRYANT: Yes, I’m in.
RITHOLTZ: Side on scene, you didn’t even pitch him.
BRYANT: No, yes, I shared my vision. And three minutes into it, he said, “That makes sense to me, I’m in.” I said, “Well, you can’t be in. “I’ve already got a partner.” “Well, who’s your partner?” Told him who it was. “Well, he works with me. Tell him I’m in.”
About a week later, I’m in New York, and we’re having a conference call. He said, “I’ve thought about this. “Why do three million when you can do 30 million? It’s a great idea. Why do 30 million when you do 130 million? Let’s do 130 million.
And we built this company over five years from zero to 120 million. And I paid all the bankers off, all the Freddie Mac, City National Bank, these other banks, First Republic Bank. I paid Tony and Michael off, plus their coupon. I was so proud to be a black man in America who came from nothing. And I paid all of my debts off, dollar for dollar, under agreement. And I own the company, and I was teaching, and we did this honorably because I was doing financial literacy for the residents, free financial literacy.
If you made your payments on time, we rewarded you. If you had a credit score of 600 or 580, you had to go into financial counseling and coaching with my organization, Operation HOPE. If you raised your credit score to 700, I would reduce your rent by 10%, as long as you kept the credit score above 700.
We made sure that the vendors that did the work on maintenance, plumbing, heating, lighting, landscaping, roofing, et cetera, that we gave a shot to minority and women owned businesses. So 55% of all of my merchants, my vendors, were minority and women. If I was not a black guy owning this company, I don’t think anybody else would have done that. I was sensitive to it because of course I am it. And then we gave a path to home ownership, from rent to own, for people who said, “I love this experience, I’ve been paying rent on time, “can you help me become a homeowner?” That caught the attention of the media. And so media started saying, well, is this a model of going from rent to own? And can you actually treat people like residents and not just renters? And can this business be also a catalyst for social justice through living wage jobs and contracts?
The answer to those questions were all yes. That also, those three things allowed me to access different kinds of capital pools than Wall Street were accessing that were cheaper.
So without getting into a bunch of detail, I found another capital stack that was multiples less expensive than the hot money on Wall Street. And there’s two ways of making money. You make more, you spend less. I was spending less. That allowed me to sell my business at a prime rate. And then I then became an advisor to KKR and their global real estate group because of the philosophy that I had at Promise Homes Company. And now I’ve sold that company into a partnership or I’m growing that company now with new partners, Sean Horowitz and Clayton Wyatt, we’re going to now scale this company from 700 homes to 10,000. And I want to own all of these affordable housing homes that are in the institutional portfolios.
I want them to sell those homes to me, let me treat them as a priority as these are the communities that I love. And I think you can do well and do good too. In fact, I know you can.
So here we have a philanthropic model with Operation HOPE Financial Coaching. And you have a wealth creation and a job creation and home ownership model, affordable choice model with Promise Homes Company. And at some point I’ll get into access to capital, that’s another conversation for another day. But this is my mechanism to uplift the bottom of the economic pyramid.
RITHOLTZ: And it’s a for-profit company. What cities do you want to expand it to?
BRYANT: It’s national, I’ll go every place, but those places that are literally unaffordable for rents. You can’t do it in Manhattan. But you can do it in some of the boroughs. You can’t do it in LA proper, but you can do it in some of the cities around it. Beyond that, almost every place in America does have slots for affordable housing.
What I want to do, I mean there’s only half, there’s about 500,000 homes that are owned institutionally out of 17,000 rental homes. So the concept that institutions are, Wall Street’s owning Main Street is in and of itself a fallacy, but is it true that most of the sales in the last few years have been from institutions, that is true in these underserved neighborhoods.
So what I want to do is buy the homes that have less than a $2,000 a month rent from these institutions, I want to own them. And I want to buy or build homes in other neighborhoods that have sub $2,000 rents.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s address both of those. First, are these big companies willing sellers? Do they want to sell, I don’t know where that falls in their range, but sub $2,000 is in the top of their range.
RITHOLTZ: They might want to get rid of these.
BRYANT: Well, frankly, that’s how Operation HOPE started. That’s how the Promise Homes Company got started.
RITHOLTZ: Was sub 2000 or the bottom of the range.
BRYANT: And institutions that did not really think this was a sweet spot for their portfolio. This was, so you had the 2008, 2009 economic crisis.
BRYANT: They had investors come into their funds to buy assets in a downturn. Five or seven years later, the investor wants out. It’s not that they don’t like the asset, but they’re like we’ve hit our —
RITHOLTZ: Hit our return.
BRYANT: We hit our bogey, we’re done. I was at the door in 2016, knocking on the door, saying …
RITHOLTZ: Good timing.
BRYANT: good timing, and I bought some of these assets at a decent rate when they were trying to exit. And even if they didn’t want to exit their whole portfolio, the one part that they were willing to get rid of was this bottom section.
I think we’re at that point again. I think with where the economy is right now, the next two years, there’ll be a pruning, a refinement, a tightening of institutions business plans, focusing on their sweet spot. And their sweet spot, to be blunt, Barry, is somebody like you and me who has multiples of income over their expenses. They’re looking for that renter. They don’t want a renter who has three times rent, which is a low income, low wealth renter. They don’t want somebody who’s a doctor, I mean not doctor, a Walmart manager or the McDonald’s manager or the police officer, but I do. I want them.
I want, I love these communities. I love these residents as my occupants. I love these neighborhoods that are untapped, underserved, and unseen. And I think my passion for these neighborhoods matches with the strategic interests of institutions who hit their bogey. They’ve hit their number. And the homes are not deferred. They’ve been rehabbed. But it’s headline risk maybe for somebody to own it other than me. Let me own it. Do well and do good.
RITHOLTZ: What about building homes? you want to start doing construction, is there enough land around, there’s lots of regulatory restrictions, there’s lots of NIMBY where people don’t want lower income housing in their neighborhood. How do you operate around that?
BRYANT: You go into existing inner city neighborhoods and you find bum properties. You find property with a tree in the roof or where there’s a, what’s the worst house or houses on the best blocks? Is there crime infested or are there a magnet for problems? partner with the city and say, hey city council person, hey, you know.
RITHOLTZ: We want to take this off your hands.
BRYANT: Can you help us? Oh my God, sure. And you buy it, right? You rehab it with minority vendors, is what we’re doing, and you then either put it back into inventory as affordable rent or you sell it to somebody in the neighborhood. We have all those relationships. We have the credibility, we’ve got the street cred and the institutional cred to get that done and we’re trusted. We’re the honest broker in these neighborhoods because they know me. They’ve seen me there for 30 plus years, so I’m not selling wolf tickets, as they say.
RITHOLTZ: And when you say national, is this a city by city approach or do you roll it out all at once?
BRYANT: No, I think it’s both. If you’re buying portfolios, you may find that you bought homes in six cities. So now, as long as you have enough cities to have property management, that’s really the key.
You want to have centralized property management in a city so you can keep the promises to the residents. I’ve learned a lot in this business. One thing I’ve learned is that no one washes rental cars.
BRYANT: Like, if you don’t own it, if you’re the property management company, you don’t own it. So you’re not going to have the same care for these residents as I would as the owner of the property, it’s myself.
And so you may let that resident call you 6 or 8 or 10 times and not go out to them. You may overcharge on maintenance because you can. So the property management company is really a key part of delivering and keeping the promise to these communities. And if you get lucky, you get a great property manager. If not, you need to do it yourself. So I will roll out in areas when I can keep the promise to my communities and my residents. And we have a formula for that. –
RITHOLTZ: So the pandemic seems to have upended housing. People realize they don’t want to live very far away from where they work, they don’t want a long commute. Housing closer to employment centers tend to be much pricier. What’s the impact of the pandemic been on Promise Homes and how you operate in what appears to be a somewhat new environment?
BRYANT: So you just, I’m smiling because you just hit on a genius part of America’s untapped business plan. and it comes from discrimination. Where’s the inner city in France, Paris? Where is an inner city in the UK, London? You can do this all day. Where’s an inner city in Los Angeles, South Central? 15 minutes from the port, 15 minutes from the beach, 15 minutes from downtown, 10 minutes from jobs, but who lives there? We’ve put inner city, poor struggling people, because in the 50s and 60s and 40s, people wanted to get away from these folks. They built suburbs when traffic was not onerous and moved away.
Now traffic is a pain in the gazonga beans and young people are not afraid of minorities. So young people are moving into inner cities at low rates, rehabbing these properties, building businesses and creating new neighborhoods and communities.
And what I want to make sure that happens is if there’s going to be gentrification, let it be diverse and inclusive gentrification of folks who actually live in these neighborhoods and not just those who can afford to be in these neighborhoods. So basically you have every inner city in America, with the exception of Manhattan, is a gold mine waiting to be tapped.
These are all these neighborhoods, inner city Detroit. I mean, you pick one, it’s right near jobs and or at least economic opportunity and energy waiting to be explored.
I see opportunity everywhere. It’s a guy who went to Africa selling shoes. He wired back three weeks later, boss please send me home, no one here wears shoes. Then they bring Barry and John out there and we get lost in the bush and no one hears from us because we’re exploring the culture and all that stuff and then three weeks later —
RITHOLTZ: Send more shoes.
BRYANT: There you go, Barry.
RITHOLTZ: Everybody here is barefoot, great partner.
BRYANT: Send every shoe you’ve got, no one here wears shoes.
RITHOLTZ: That’s amazing.
Let’s talk about a few of your older books before we get to your most recent one. “The Memo, Five Rules For Your Economic Liberation.” What are the five rules? And I have a feeling, I have an idea what those five pillars are, because you’ve talked about those. But what are the five rules for economic liberation?
BRYANT: Well, let’s talk a little bit about why the book was even necessary.
BRYANT: Who didn’t get the memo? I mean, what is a memo? I mean, when you think about being at Bloomberg, you know, are we open on Christmas or are we open on Thanksgiving? That’s a memo that goes around. Everybody’s on the same page.
BRYANT: What happens if no one sends that memo? Do you either show up for work or don’t know? There’s no direction of what the leadership wants to do or not to do and so you’re sort of on your own. So everybody needs a memo and everybody needs a business plan for their life. And what we found is that after slavery, we were told, African-Americans, we were free, but nobody gave us a memo on the rules of freedom in a free enterprise democracy, a free enterprise system.
And so it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that’s killing you, in a blind town, a one-eyed man’s king…
BRYANT: And when you don’t know better, you can’t do better. So we just found that you had to literally go back to the drawing board and deliver the business plan for a free enterprise success story to successive generations of people who were not giving direction or guidance. And my goal at Operation HOPE was to do that through coaching, but also my goal in the books was to provide literal training grounds, if you want to call it that, so that there was no guesswork anymore around success.
And each of the books are a bit of touch tones and maybe obvious, but common sense is not so common.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s go over, let’s start with the five rules. What are the five rules that we want to get out to our people?
BRYANT: Rule number one, you live in a free enterprise system. Embrace this.
So people say, “Oh, I hate rich people.” No you don’t. You hate rich people until you become rich.
Oh, we’re socialists. No, no, no, no. As my friend, the late Simone Pereira has said to me, He said, “John, even if folks want to distribute money like a socialist, they have to first collect money like a capitalist.”
BRYANT: So we’re all living in a capitalist system.
If you’re going to work and using your talents to get a paycheck, you’re using your human capital. So let’s stop playing a game. Let’s understand that our freedoms aren’t free and we live in a free enterprise democracy. So that’s number one is you live in a free enterprise system, embrace this, let’s stop playing this stupid game that somehow we don’t.
Number two, are these kids who are railing against capitalism and free enterprise, these rich kids, who are only able to do that on a college campus because their parents are capitalists and could send them to the best colleges in the world. It’s absolutely fascinating to me. Number two, so it’s not just poor people who are under a misnomer, it’s rich kids too. Number two, your mindset makes you lose money or build wealth, you choose.
Number three, relationships are investments. Build relationship capital with yourself first. That’s that self-esteem piece. Number four, be entrepreneurial. Don’t just get a job, maybe create one. So you can write that check, not just cash it. Number four, spiritual capital is a start of true wealth. Own your power.
So I would say that we’re not human beings having a spiritual experience, we’re spiritual beings having a human experience, energy matters, and the most important thing in life probably is becoming reasonably comfortable in your own skin.
When I met you, instantly I could tell that Barry was cool with Barry. Well, if you’re cool with you, then you’ll be cool with me.
RITHOLTZ: That makes a lot of sense.
Let’s talk about Let’s talk about another of your books. I love the title of this, and I’m really curious as to how this can be done. “How the Poor Can Save Capitalism.”
BRYANT: It always has.
RITHOLTZ: It always has.
BRYANT: Of course, all will.
RITHOLTZ: Tell us more. And I say this, by the way, as someone who grew up pretty hardscrabble, always had a job since I was 10, 12-years-old, put myself through school, never thought about capitalism until much later in life, until I was out of college.
RITHOLTZ: How can the poor save capitalism?
BRYANT: Like I said, it always has.
RITHOLTZ: How has it in the past? Give us some examples.
BRYANT: All of the creators of wealth in this country, legitimate wealth, came from poverty. In the 20th century, you think about all these innovators who created companies. I mentioned earlier, this is a good example, because it’s visual here in Manhattan, you have a tower that says Goldman Sachs. Well, 100 plus years ago, there was a guy who was an immigrant named Goldman and another guy who was an immigrant named Sachs and they literally were walking door to door selling financial services out of a briefcase because they couldn’t get a job in the office towers that day because of discrimination.
BRYANT: So they had to go create their own job because no one would hire them for an existing job. And that created an institution today that people think is hotty toddy and hard to access called Goldman Sachs. But whether it’s UPS, and I think his name was Kelly, I think it’s his name, who founded UPS with the Bicycle Messenger Service, or whether it’s Coca-Cola, which is a pharmacist and his son who created that business, and they were dead broke, sold it for 500 bucks, by the way, so the pharmacy formula. You can go on and on and on. Black Enterprise was created by a hardscrabble black entrepreneur, Ebony Magazine. The guy borrowed a few bucks from his mother. So it’s black entrepreneurs, Latino entrepreneurs, white entrepreneurs, it doesn’t matter. All legitimate wealth came from nothing who built something into something, and these are big companies who were once small ones.
And that’s just a historical fact.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk about looking forward. Are you suggesting that we need the poor to continue this process of entrepreneurship and building businesses and creating something from practically nothing? Is that…
BRYANT: I’ll go one step further. My rich friends need my poor friends in order to stay rich. My rich friends need my poor friends to do better.
RITHOLTZ: Explain this.
BRYANT: 70% of the US economy is consumer spending. That’s the guy who’s cleaning this office building, paying rent, paying a car note, buying some food on the corner, paying for a parking ticket, going to a restaurant every now and then with his wife. If without this activity, the economy comes to a grinding stop. Think about the pandemic. Think about what happened in March of 2020.
RITHOLTZ: Everything froze.
BRYANT: Everything froze because the average human being was not out engaging in the economy. So rich people cannot on their own sustain the largest economy on the planet. We literally need each other. So whether you’re a consumer or whether you’re a stakeholder and a builder, you have a role to play. And I’ll say something else that’s maybe shocking to me, it’s common sense. Demographics are destiny. The reason I believe in this business plan today that is about mission and money and morals today, there’s not enough college educated white men to grow the economy for the next 30 or 40 years. It’s just mathematically impossible.
So you need minorities, you need women. We need other people to grow into the economy in a sustainable way in order to keep this thing, this party and this beautiful story of America going and so that China does not get its way of illegitimately becoming the leader of the world by cheating at capitalism and free enterprise with their partner Russia, which is by the way a rounding error economically and a bunch of thugs who can’t do anything legitimately, but China and Russia together want our way of life. They want to be us, and they can’t do it with a fair fight.
We, if we realize we’re better together, probably my next book, by the way, this topic, if we realize we’re better together, and that two plus two has to equal more than four, meaning that’s every good marriage, is that two plus two equals six, eight, or 10, you’re better together, then we can realize that you can’t succeed if there’s a hole in my end of our boat. Like we’re in the same boat.
So we need the bottom of the pyramid to be rehabilitated and engaged in the economy to grow GDP by an extra 2% to 3% sustainably. And black folks are a $1.5 trillion consumer spending force, Barry. That’s one of the largest economies in the world, but we don’t own anything. We spend, we’ve got to move from just being a consumer to a wealth creator.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk about your most recent book, “Up From Nothing, the Untold Story of How We All Succeed.” Tell us a little bit about that.
BRYANT: It’s my failures. It’s, I mean, it’s everything, it’s all my trips, my failings, my fallings, my people who laughed at me, people who rolled their eyes at me, folks who dismissed me. First the world will ignore you, then they’ll criticize you, then they’ll try to copy you, then you win. That was my message.
And I’m just trying to get a whole generation of leaders to understand that just because somebody, the lack of preparation in somebody else’s life does not constitute an emergency in yours. And just because you don’t respect me doesn’t mean I don’t respect myself. And your interpretation of my value is not my reality of my value. And when we start understanding that we are unique in this world and we are powerful in that uniqueness, and that eagles don’t fly in packs, Barry. You’ve never seen a flock of eagles. But buzzards love packs. And turkeys got wings and can’t fly. And if you’re not careful, you’ll get so offended by what turkey, what buzzards say about you, or you’ll be so distracted by what turkeys are laughing at you and saying about you and your family, that you’ll get distracted, get out of your eagle altitude, and you’ll go down and try to show that bird a lesson, and the pig will find you out in the pig pen and throw some mud on your wing and get that eagle down into the mud pit and now the turkey and the buzzard and the pig looking and say, now we got you right where we’ve always wanted you, down here with us.
You got to step over mess and not in it. You got to stay above the fray. You got to understand that the philosophy for success is talk without being offensive, listen without being defensive, and always leave even your adversary with their dignity.
Because if you don’t, they’ll spend the rest of their life trying to make you miserable, it becomes personal. It is not their interpretation of you that matters, it is your interpretation of you that matters. Not one ounce of my self-esteem is dependent upon your acceptance of me. It’s just not.
So why am I spending all my time trying to impress somebody who I do not know with money I do not have in the places they do not want me, with philosophies and things of theirs that don’t work. They’re broke, they’re unhappy, they’re miserable, and I want to be like them?
What — I want to impress them? Why are we spending our time trying to impress somebody we actually even don’t want to be like? All these lessons of wasting time, I don’t mind wasting money every now and then. I don’t want you to abuse and waste my time. I’m trying in this book to short circuit time wasting and energy wasting and depression inducing activity and give you legitimate hope that you can come up from nothing in the greatest economy and I think the greatest creation of democracy, open source democracy in the world, which is America. We’re not perfect, but she’s a country, she’s an idea, not a country. We can make her anything we want. And we can be part of that remaking process up from nothing. I could never be me in Germany or France or China or Japan.
Culturally, I just would not have gone from the bottom to the top.
RITHOLTZ: So I love the message, but let me push back a little bit and say…
BRYANT: Please do.
RITHOLTZ: You know, back when my parents were entering the workforce, there was a decent amount of social mobility in the United States, forget race or religion, just lowest economic strata to the upper economic strata.
The economic mobility, at least by the most recent measures, as well as the geographic mobility, both have, it hasn’t gone away, but it’s not nearly as broad as it once was. What’s your response to people who say the American dream isn’t as robust as it once was?
BRYANT: Because small business starts stalled in 2004. And they didn’t actually pick up again until after the pandemic. I mean, that’s almost 20 years.
And by the way, what’s the largest group starting businesses, post-pandemic?
RITHOLTZ: Oh really?
BRYANT: What’s the largest super group amongst all other groups? Black women.
BRYANT: So now you have a group that was thought to be left back, left behind, ignored, who couldn’t get the job, couldn’t get the promotion, ignored in their corporate suite now they’re not going to the corporate suite for two years. They were at home, they got some stimulus money which they call venture capital. And now they’re saying, wait a minute, do I need to go back to that job? Do I need to go back and be a waiter again and have people coughing on me and I don’t have healthcare and I’m not getting good tips and the owner doesn’t really care about me? Do I really need to go to that dead-end job? Do I need to go to that boss that doesn’t care? Maybe I’ll be my own boss. Maybe I’ll create my own way.
And so now you have this surge, this super surge of the thing that made America different from Europe in the first place, Barry, which was business creation. I mean the reason we have celebrity in America is because it was our answer to bling in Europe. Europe had royalty, that was their bling. We didn’t have royalty, we didn’t want it. But celebrity was our desire to have something that sparkled. The real marrow of this country was the first corporation, sorry, the first entity created in this country was a corporation. It was a trading corporation. That then created democracy, not the other way around.
Municipalities came out of trading corporations. So we are in our bones, traders, financiers, business people, entrepreneurs, hustlers, that is in our DNA. And every, I think, 20, 30, 50, certainly every 100 years, you need a generation of strivers who own something, create something, and by the way, create jobs.
So have we become over-dependent upon less than 1,000 companies that employ 10,000 people or more, Fortune 500. Yes, you have all these folks going through college, wanting to go work at, we’re picking Google, whatever the thing is, who’s not hiring, or will fire you at the moment that there is an economic glitch, where most of the businesses, sorry, most of the jobs in this country come from employers with less than 100 employees. Most businesses in LA, 95% of all businesses, have less than 100 employees. Let’s drive down Manhattan and look up in the skyscrapers. That’s a dentist’s office, four people. That’s an architect, eight people. That’s a law firm, 20 people. That’s an analyst’s firm. These are small businesses.
I called a chiropractor yesterday. He’s got him and his secretary. This is what’s driving the economy. It’s so you’re either going to become the business person or you’re going to work for that small business owner who probably is going to pay you more. You have more social mobility in that place than you will in some huge corporation.
I’m not saying don’t go work for the big company. I’m saying that that’s not the way that made America.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s jump to our speed rounds. These are the questions we ask all our guests and plow through very quickly starting with, tell us what you’ve been streaming these days, what’s been keeping you entertained?
BRYANT: “Succession.” Used to be “Billions”, “1828”, I think is the name of the show, “Yellowstone”, the latest, I keep watching the “Matrix” movies, “Ip Man”, which most people listening to your show probably won’t know, it’s a bit of a cult film, but I think everybody needs to watch Ip Man, which supposedly is a martial arts movie, but really it’s a movie about really moral decision making. And this guy, martial arts genius who trained Bruce Lee, but never wanted to fight. You had to force him to fight. Now he’d whip your rear end if you forced him, but he never wanted to fight. When you got the power, you don’t need to use it.
I spend a lot of time late at night on a sort of a mental vacation. I will turn on something online and have my brain completely fantasized. There’s an F1, there’s a series on Netflix that —
RITHOLTZ: “Drive to Survive.”
BRYANT: There you go, it unpacks F1 racing. That is, my sport is auto racing, actually. I have a professional, I’m sorry, a competitive auto racing license. So that is my, one of my passions. A very great movie by Paul Newman that Paul Newman did called “Driving” actually, that he was a great actor but his passion was auto racing. He was the only sport he was elegant at, he said.
So anyway, I can talk, I talk about things I love to watch all day and all night.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk about your mentors, you mentioned a few. Tell us who helped shape your career.
BRYANT: Oh my God. you know, in no particular order, Pastor Andrew Young, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Quincy Jones, this is the moral side of my life. On the business side, again, you know, in no particular order Mike Arougheti, Tony Ressler, Bill Rogers of Truist, I think, you know, Charlie Scharf at Wells Fargo, we call him a mentor, but I tell him an inspired friend, Jamie Dimon, we don’t spend a lot of time together, but I love what he’s built, great guy. I’ve got so many heroes and sheroes that have, I actually had to go sort of like find the road map because it didn’t exist for me where I grew up. So I had these surrogate fathers and mothers, surrogate family that I have literally put around me so I could map out what success looked like.
I probably have 50 of these mentors and mentees, sorry, heroes and sheroes who are mentors that have guided my path forward.
A few of the names I just share with my mother Juanita Smith amongst them.
RITHOLTZ: Really interesting list. Let’s talk about books. What are some of your favorites? What are you reading currently?
BRYANT: “Mere Christianity” is something I read once a year by C.S. Lewis. It’s from the 1940s. The book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle is something I try to, some books I read continuously over and over again. “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” by Deepak Chopra is something I read. It’s only 70 pages. It’s a great primer. It’s worth reading over and over again. I’m reading a book by Greenspan right now on capitalism that I think is really, really very good. I’d encourage everybody to read it.
By the way, you didn’t ask me this, but it’s a documentary that could be a great book called “Easy Money: that just came out. I believe it’s actually in a PBS documentary, you can find it on Amazon’s platform, but it is fascinating, and as much as I think I understand money, it really unpacked what happened in the last 20 years, and I just saw that.
Sometimes you got to watch things two or three times. “The Men Who Built America” an eight-part series, everybody needs to watch that. The only problem I have with it is there’s no blacks or browns, or it’s just a bunch of industrious white people, and that’s just a misnomer that only white men built this country. That’s a whole other podcast for another time. You know, you can’t even get an elevator in this building without a black man’s invention who built the elevator.
BRYANT: So we all had a place. But these are sources of inspiration for me.
RITHOLTZ: Really interesting list. Last two questions. What sort of advice would you give to someone coming out of school who is interested in a career in either finance or investing?
BRYANT: Ignore the noise. There’s be a lot of noise around you. There will be a lot of people around you who are not good role models who want to party all the time, who want to have fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, but only in the dictionary does the word success come before the word work because it’s alphabetical.
Eagles don’t fly in packs. I mentioned that earlier.
So, you know, you can’t expect everybody to get you understand your path. So particularly if you’re a person of color and listening to this podcast, you’re going to need to hyper focused because your white friend with a trust fund can make all kind of mistakes and still land on their feet. You may have to burn the ships behind you and hit that beach like a laser beam and never give up. I am consciously oblivious of all things around me that don’t matter. I am very focused on what I think is super relevant.
If you’re hyper focused, you’re resilient and you never give up, you actually don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. You just outrun failure and at some point you will succeed because failure is lazy and the devil is lazy and fraudsters are lazy and if you’re just not lazy, you’ll succeed.
Be curious. God gave you two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as you talk. Be fascinated. Be super nosy. Be respectful. Be kind. You never know the toe you step on maybe connected to the rear end you got a kiss tomorrow. Just be gracious. If you want to have a little grace, show a little mercy.
RITHOLTZ: I like that line.
And our final question, what do you know about the world of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and just generally the economy today that you wish you knew 30 or so years ago when you were really ramping up?
BRYANT: Everything’s about money.
BRYANT: You know, marriage was originally about unions, different royal houses or whatever, depending on the part of the world you’re talking about. They were trying to protect their economic interests. That’s why they got married. They didn’t even sleep in the same beds or the same houses back in those days. It was families trying to protect each other’s interests.
Love is important, but alignment is also important. Money is, I mean, church, church needs donation. Catholic church is one of the largest owners of land, by the way, in financial services in the world. This is not a criticism, it’s a critique. I’m just saying my observation is that whatever you want requires money and/or an understanding of same in order to live a life that’s free. Freedom today is self-determination. You cannot have self-determination unless you have some level of economic — all money is freedom, that’s what I’m saying. So you shouldn’t pursue money to control other people’s freedom, slavery. But you should understand that if you have money, that no one can control yours.
RITHOLTZ: That’s really quite intriguing. We have been speaking with John Hope Bryant, founder of Operation HOPE and a slew of other companies.
If you enjoy this conversation, be sure and check out all of our previous podcasts. You can find those at YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Sign up for our daily reading list at ritholtz.com. Follow me on Twitter @ritholtz. Follow all of the Bloomberg family of podcasts @podcast.
I would be remiss if I did not thank the crack team that helps with these conversations together each week. Paris Wald is my producer. Atika Valbrun is my project manager. Sean Russo is my researcher. My audio engineer is Sebastian Escobar. I’m Barry Ritholtz. You’ve been listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.