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The Memo You May Have Missed: John Hope Bryant’s Five Rules For Financial Freedom

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John Hope Bryant, The Memo

With John Hope Bryant, Entrepreneur, Activist, and Author of How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class, Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World, and The Memo: Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation

The Memo

In his third interview with poverty activist, entrepreneur, and best-selling author, John Hope Bryant, Steve discusses John’s new book, The Memo: Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation, on how average Americans can achieve personal economic liberation and success.  The book’s starting premise is that most people are going down the wrong road in their quest for financial success, and the faster they go down the wrong road, the farther they get from being successful.

John wants people to understand that they live in a free enterprise world where they pay for everything they use, where they are being preyed on for profit, where money makes the world go around.  So, he wants people to understand how to get money and how to use it to their advantage.

Free Enterprise

Steve attributes some of this lack of understanding money to whether a person has come from a culture ingrained in business or mercantilism or not and confirms that teaching this culture of money and free enterprise is the first step in John Hope Bryant’s five-part memo for economic liberation.

Thriving Mindset

His second rule is about having a money mindset that determines if you make or lose money and wealth.  John likens it to the difference between having a surviving mentality and a thriving mentality and believes the history of slavery in America made most African-Americans focus on survival, till this date.  While Abraham Lincoln formed the Freedman’s Bank in 1875 to teach freed men (former slaves) about money, Lincoln’s assassination led to the bank’s ultimate premature closure.

Build Relationships

Steve likes one of the quotes in John Hope Bryant’s Memo which says,

“If you don’t know who you are at 9 am, by dinnertime someone’s going to tell you who you are.”

Steve then moves to Rule #3 which is that the relationships you build in life are vitally important and are investments in your future success.  John cites the idea that just going to Harvard University doesn’t make you that much smarter but gives you a lifetime of invaluable connections.  For example, President Obama attended Harvard University and 73% of his administration came from Harvard and Yale.

John talks of nurturing relationships and about how he sent Steve a signed copy of his book, The Memo: Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation, signaling that he wanted to develop a relationship beyond the transactional interview and urges others to do the same because, in an enterprise economy, people like to do business with their friends, and people they like, know, and respect.  So, the best way for poor people to leverage up and move towards economic liberation is to build relationship capital wherever they can.

Be Entrepreneurial

Rule #4 in John Hope Bryant’s Memo is to not just get a job but to be entrepreneurial.  He wants people to take “can’t” and “impossible” out of their dictionaries so they can develop their entrepreneurial dreams.  Steve segues to add that “real” wealth is created by owning your own business and developing a revenue stream that you can sell at a later date, at a profitable multiple, either to private buyers or by taking your company public.

That said, Steve warns listeners of the perils of entrepreneurship through the following quote in John’s Memo:

“Success will come from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

John enthusiastically agrees and attributes his own success and economic liberation to resilience through the many failures he’s had along the way.  He says there’s not much one can do to abuse him, frustrate him, or keep him from his goals, and this persistence ultimately leads to success.

Steve wraps up the conversation by recommending John’s book, The Memo: Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation, to his listeners, and saying that he plans to add the book to the Recommended Reading section of Steve’s website.


Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital.  Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions.  Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances.  The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.

Read The Entire Transcript Here

Steve Pomeranz: This is my third interview with poverty activist and entrepreneur John Hope Bryant. Bryant is the author of bestsellers Love Leadership and How the Poor Can Save Capitalism, which we interviewed him on on my very first interview with John. It was a terrific interview. John grew up in Compton in South Central, Los Angeles, and he now directs Operation HOPE from Atlanta. I’ve been eagerly awaiting his new book entitled The Memo: Five Rules for your Economic Liberation, and he joins me now so we can both dig into it. Hey, John, welcome back.

John Hope Bryant: Hey man, good to be with you, Steve. I really admire the work that you guys do.

Steve Pomeranz: Thanks. Thank you so much. So your idea is that personal economic liberation and success comes to those that have gotten what you say is “the memo”, you know, and that the vast majority of people around the world have not gotten this memo. What is this memo you’re talking about?

John Hope Bryant: Well, I got to find a more elegant way of saying this, it’s almost like I’m delivering blunt force love. Like not blunt force trauma, but blunt force love. I’m saying that you’re digging in the wrong dang on holes. The whole country is digging in the wrong holes.

So the faster you go down the wrong road, the further you get with being lost. And then you get frustrated because nothing’s working, like why isn’t my life working? The reality is we don’t live in a civil rights environment. We don’t live in a social justice environment. We should. We should have a society that’s … We should have an economy that’s inside of our society, not a society that’s inside of our economy. But what we have is, for better for worse, a society that’s inside of our economy.

So, you live in a free enterprise world. Get with it. Understand it, and understand how people are preying on you, whether you know it or not. So, do you want to be preyed upon or do you want to be a builder? Do you want to-

Steve Pomeranz: John, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Hold on a second. So prove to me on a daily basis, from the moment you wake up in the morning, that we’re in a free enterprise environment.

John Hope Bryant: Alright. You wake up in the morning and you brush your teeth. No socialist government gave you the toothpaste and the toothbrush, you went and bought it from the grocery store. You turn on the faucet, well, the water that came out is tied to a water bill that you or somebody in your household is paying. You then put some facial cream on; well, you got that facial cream from the local grocery store or wherever you shop, Costco or whatever. You then went and got yourself some breakfast. Well, somebody went grocery shopping and got some groceries, and you’re using pots and pans you bought from Walmart or wherever. You get dressed; well, somebody bought those clothes. I can keep riffing. You get in your car, you left the house, not only is that a house note, you paid for the lot.

Steve Pomeranz: So money-

John Hope Bryant: Everywhere.

Steve Pomeranz: Is everywhere. Makes the world go round. It’s the fabric of our existence in a free enterprise system. So, if you’re not tuned into money and understand money and how to use it and how to get it, then what happens to you?

John Hope Bryant: You become at worst a victim. You become the thing that you actually are narrating that you don’t want anybody to be in society, which is victim and victimized versus being a victor and victorious because you had never got … And that’s where Ambassador Andrew Young says this, “To live in a system of free enterprise and not to understand the rules of free enterprise, must be the very definition of slavery.”

Steve Pomeranz: Okay.

John Hope Bryant: And so, the trend line of how you look at this philosophy, how you look at this new wiring … My book is like The Matrix. You know the movie The Matrix?

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.

John Hope Bryant: Is the red pill or the blue pill. That’s it. That’s the only question, is do you take the red pill or the blue pill? Depending on which pill you took is how you see the world.

Steve Pomeranz: Okay, so you know in interviews past that you and I have had, we’ve talked about this idea of coming up from a culture of business or mercantilism, that some cultures have that already built in because there’s thousands of years of that, and others don’t, and so those that don’t have got to somehow be educated on what it means and how to begin and own a business, and to start figuring out how wealth is created. Is that part of the memo here, is this idea about teaching others how to do this, how to live in this free enterprise system?

John Hope Bryant: Yeah. Let me just not give you a fish, let me teach you how to fish, let me teach you how to then own the lake, let me teach you how to buy some boats to put on the lake, so that you can create wealth, so you can create jobs for people who live around the lake. And then create an environment of justice for all because now people are employed, there’s food enough for everybody, there’s enough money people are making to have some philanthropy, they can give back to others. To quote Shimon Peres, “Even if you wanted to distribute money like a socialist, you’ve got to first collect money like a capitalist.”

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I’ve heard that. I’ve heard that. If you want a socialist society, you’ve got to start with a capitalist society. Something’s got to build the wealth before it starts to get distributed. Alright, so that’s rule number one or memo I should say, memo number one of the five of The Memo. Getting The Memo, there’s five rules for economic liberation. We live in a free enterprise system, so we’ve gotten that. Rule number two—your mindset makes or loses money and wealth, you choose. Tell us about that.

John Hope Bryant: Yeah, yeah. Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you’re absolutely right. So is the glass half full or is it half empty? Are you a victim or are you a victor? Here’s a big one, Steve; are you in a survivor’s mentality? Are you in a surviving mentality or thriving mentality? If you live in a survivor’s mentality, you’re screwed.

Now, who does that relate to? Well, it relates to a lot of people, but the most obvious example, the most damaging example, are African Americans. Why? Because we’re the only ones who were, generations ago, enslaved on American soil, turned into a crop, turned into chattel property, commercialized as human beings, told as a result of that, in order to beat us down so we would cooperate with this behavior, told for 350 years, “You ain’t nothing.” Told for another 100 years through Jim Crow, “I’m going to treat you like nothing.”

As a result of that, you’ve got, I think through 1970, not 1870, 1970, you’ve got really people who are clinically undiagnosed depressed. And so, combine that with the fact that we never got the memo. The Freedman’s Bank of 1865, President Abraham Lincoln created a bank to teach freed slaves about money, that was cratered because Lincoln was killed a month after he created the bank. Frederick Douglass tried to run it. When it failed he said, “The failure of the bank, did more freed slaves, 10 more years of slavery.” So, you combine I didn’t get the memo on money in a free enterprise system, and my confidence and self-esteem is devastated in a type A world of America.

So, another book I’m going to write is called American Exceptionalism, and I’m like, of course, America’s successful, you had all these European immigrants who came from Poland and Ireland and this that place, over plane, train, automobile, bus, saying, “I’m going to come here and live the American dream.” Not everybody came from Poland, right? Not everybody came from Italy. Not everybody came from … Only the high achievers with chutzpah came to America and said, “I’m going to live the American dream.”

So you got all this collection of type A personalities- Steve, in America, who are just like … And I’m here in Manhattan right now. Literally, this is the only place where somebody roots for the failure of their best friend. I mean these people are like ruthlessly focused on their aspiration and success. I’m getting tongue in cheek a little bit about that, but I mean people will climb over you to get to the finish line. You combine that with a population that is depressed and were told, “You aren’t anything, you can’t be successful,” for 400 years, so now their self-esteem and confidence is devastated, and then they never got the memo on how the whole damn place works, which is economics. And now you’re screwed.

Steve Pomeranz: You know, there’s a quote in your book, “If you don’t know who you are at 9 am, by dinnertime someone’s going to tell you who you are.” I thought that was pretty powerful, and I appreciated that. My guest is John Hope Bryant, the book is The Memo: Five Rules for your Economic Liberation, and we’re kind of going through the rules here.

Rule number three: your relationships are investments. Build relationship capital with yourself first. I think that’s a new idea to most of us. The idea that your relationships with others if a form of wealth and a form of capital, so capital’s not just money, it’s relationships too, so build those. Take us through that a little bit.

John Hope Bryant: I’ll give you a really quick example. I ask people, okay, you’ve got an invitation to go to Harvard. Great, fantastic. Now your state university is five times less, but we choose to go to Harvard. Why? Are you telling me when you graduated you made that decision because when you graduated from Harvard you’re going to be five times smarter because you paid five times more? No, that’s not true. We all know that’s not true. You go to Harvard for one simple reason because the class of 2018 is going to hook each other up for 40 years after graduation. Okay? Now nobody talks about that, Steve, it’s sort of unwritten, but that’s the truth. 73% of President Obama’s administration came from Harvard and Yale in the White House.

Steve Pomeranz: Alright, so we get that, but you know there’s a story in the book about how you coming from nothing, made a point to meet Quincy Jones and Andrew Young, and you didn’t have any friends at Harvard to introduce you. So, we don’t really have time to go through that, but there’s a way to break through that because not everybody’s going to get into Harvard.

John Hope Bryant: Yeah, I chased Andrew Young for 10 years, I mean I just wore him down. But I nurtured and, as I do now, I’ve nurtured relationships. Like when you and I met, we could have just done an interview, checked the box, move onto the next thing, but I liked you and I think you tolerated me, so I sent you a note after our interview, it was just a one-line note, right? And then I said it was good to meet you. I sent you a copy of my book, signed, and what that said to you was this guy John Bryant doesn’t want to just have a transaction with me, he wants to have a relationship with me. He sort of likes me, he’s signaling. You know maybe I like him too. If he likes me, maybe I like him. If he wants a relationship with me, maybe I want a relationship with him. If he’s doing a little bit more research on me, or if he invests a little bit more time into me, maybe I’ll invest a little bit more time into him. And so now we’ve got this rapport and relationship that is bordering a legitimate friendship. What do you do for friends? Damn near anything. Who do you do business with? People you like, people you know, people you respect, your friends. Who gets the internship? Your friends, right. That’s the way the world works.

So, the best way for poor people to leverage up with no financial assets is to have incredibly wealthy relationship capital and friends everywhere. I mean the most basic example of that is how do you get in the club at night when there’s a line wrapped around the corner? If you know the guy who owns the club or the manager you call him on the phone and say, “Hey I’m outside, can I …” “Oh, yeah, man, come on. Come around the back, I got you.”

Steve Pomeranz: Alright, so I get it, it’s who you know and how you … There’s people in your life that maybe in a sense you’re targeting, it’s someone that you want to meet, you admire them, you want to make them aware of you, and you figure out a way to do that in a healthy way. And sometimes it takes 10 years, but you know, you’re trying to build this relationship capital. I think that’s a point that’s not mentioned in a lot of the books on how to become a successful entrepreneur, how to become a successful person, is relationships. Let’s go to rule number four: don’t just get a job, be entrepreneurial. We hear this message all the time, but describe it from your point of view.

John Hope Bryant: If you can’t get a job, create a job. So, the guy who makes my suits wanted to be a fashion designer. So, he said, “John, I want to get a job working at a fashion house. I’m going to do this, I’ll to do that.” I said, “No you won’t.” He’s like, “What do you mean? Encourage me, man, your name is Mr. Hope.” “Yeah, my middle name is Hope, but my last name is practical. You’re not getting a job in Manhattan, you’re in L.A., nobody knows you.” “It’s racism then.” “No, it’s not racism, this young black man, this is simply relationship-ism. It’s that nobody knows you in these fashion houses. They got to give the internship, the job, the fellowship, to their cousins, to their cousins Booboo or the fashion designer assistant’s nephew.”

Worst case scenario is somebody who fills out an application who probably lives in Manhattan. You’re not getting it. But why do you do that when you can go create your own fashion house? He had never thought about that. He’s like, “I can’t do that.” See, there you go. The fact that … Take can’t and impossible out of your dictionary. Why can’t you do that? Well, he’s doing million and a half dollars a year now with his own fashion house. Right.

Steve Pomeranz: And that’s really, in American, I will tell you, let me just take a little aside here, that is where real wealth is created in your own business because a business in itself separate, can have worth other than the amount of your paycheck. You can sell it to someone at some future date for a multiple of what it’s earning and that creates wealth. I think it’s really the one true way to wealth in this country. I mean just look at obvious examples of any publicly traded company or a Facebook or an Uber or whatever, there’s wealth built up inside these companies has value to someone else who’s willing to pay a premium for it. That money goes into your pocket at the endgame.

John Hope Bryant: Correct.

Steve Pomeranz:  Alright. I like this quote too here, “Success will come from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” There’s a lot of failure in entrepreneurialism, isn’t there?

John Hope Bryant: Oh, my God, I mean I don’t know where I’d be without my failures. I mean at this point, it’s part of my capital. Capital, by the way, comes from a Latin root word capitis, which is knowledge in the head. So part of my capital is my resiliency. So, I’m human capital, human capital, and I’m resilient, which means [inaudible 00:16:05] I’m going to get to it, there’s not much you can do that actually abuses me, frustrates me, keeps me from my goal. So, if you can’t stop me, then that makes me resilient and persistent, and persistence is more important than education or preexisting wealth.

Let me tell you the people who lose money—the third generation of successful people. The first generation makes it, second generation spends it, third generation loses it.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.

John Hope Bryant: That’s right.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. And you know that phrase is said in almost every culture in the world. The Chinese have a phrase, rice paddies to rice paddies in three generations, it’s truly ubiquitous amongst all cultures, it’s amazing. Hey, John, we’re out of time. I want to just really recommend this book to our listeners. It’s called The Memo. We’re going to put this book on our recommended reading section of our site, which is stevepomeranz.com. The Memo: Five Rules for your Economic Liberation. And also there’s wonderful resources in the back of the book, links for you all to search for, things that interest you. John, thank you so much for joining me again today.

John Hope Bryant: My favorite interview this one, for this book so far, Steve, this one, this interview.

Steve Pomeranz: Thanks, man. Appreciate it.

John Hope Bryant: Take care, thanks. Bye.

Steve Pomeranz: Bye.