88: Model What Works with Rennie Gabriel


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From the time he was young, Rennie Gabriel was struggling with how to handle money effectively. It was definitely not taught in schools and the CPAs he approached certainly did not have personal budgeting information that they could teach. When he got deeper in debt even though he made more money, it finally dawned on him that more money was not going to solve a problem of mismanagement. He began to model what works and started hanging around with people who had the attitudes he needed to adopt. Rennie started copying what the wealthy did and started understanding the attitudes that wealthy people operated by. That’s what led him to start a program called Debtors Anonymous, a twelve-step program for people who can’t handle money to find mental, emotional, and psychological support from other people who’ve been through the same things.

Model What Works with Rennie Gabriel

The truth will set you free. It’s not always the easiest thing to handle. It may frustrate you. It may anger you or may embarrass you, but it will set you free. The most important truth is the truth about ourselves. One thing most of us know about ourselves is that we need help with our finances. We need someone to show us the way so we can decide for ourselves what is right for us. My guest in this episode is in a unique position to provide financial guidance. He’s gone from boom to bust and back again several times until he learned the secret he’s about to share with us. He thought the traditional financial education path would work and he invested in all the credentials and licenses, only to realize that it still did not teach him the way to freedom. He lives completely on his investment income and he’s going to show us exactly how we can too. Welcome, Rennie Gabriel, to the show.

Thank you, Mitch.

There’s so much hope and optimism in the air about our economy, about our businesses. I would like to understand exactly what you went through in order to come to this point in time where you’re able to be 100% self-sufficient. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us exactly how you came across and integrated the information that you’re going to share.

From the time that I was young, I was struggling with how to handle money effectively. What I eventually learned is that none of us are taught in school how to handle money effectively. Maybe 5% of the population, that’s not significant enough. Maybe another 5% got information from their parents, but I don’t blame people’s parents for not teaching them about money. They can’t teach what they don’t know. What became even more frustrating to me was that the financial professionals I would turn to weren’t of any more help. I found that certified public accountants, CPAs, do not have anything in their coursework for individuals to handle money effectively. No personal budgeting information that they could teach.

I became a certified financial planner and it wasn’t in my coursework either. It was so frustrating. I recall situations where, although I’ve been a serial entrepreneur, handling the money didn’t work well. I would think, “If I made more money, things would work out.” All I found out was the more I made, the deeper in debt that I got because my standard of living would rise faster than the money that was coming in. There were times where I had to collect soda pop bottles and cans to get the money to buy food for my family. I recall taking photographs back when people had film and not wanting to take a lot of photos because I didn’t have the money to have the film developed. We’re talking about $3 to $5. These are the wounds that hurt when other people around you seem to have no problem handling money.

There’s a very deep psychological connection to what you shared. There’s more to it than just wanting to make more money. It’s the wounds of not feeling good enough or adequate. Those are the things that make it difficult for us to see ourselves as successful. You mentioned being a certified financial planner, but you didn’t learn how to create wealth or preserve wealth as a certified financial planner. You should have been taught that information. That’s what these people are supposed to be able to do for us. Don’t you agree?

I could save thousands of dollars in taxes for individuals. I could guide them to various investment options but the education was limited to stocks, bonds and mutual funds. What I discovered is that isn’t what the wealthy do. When I started copying what the wealthy did, when I started understanding the attitudes that wealthy people operated by, how to use the forms that most of us are aware of, whether it’s an income and expense or a balance sheet, I saw that the attitudes and the approaches the wealthy took toward these items were completely different. Tony Robbins has a great expression. He says, “Model what works,” and that’s what I began to do.

Tony is an example of a person who has modeled what works all his life. Let’s go back to that part in your life when you were making money and then unfortunately disappeared, somehow vanished. Tell us a little bit about that experience.

I was making more money and it wasn’t making any difference in my standard of living. I started out by teaching at school. I was earning about $6,500 a year. This is all the way back in 1972. Even $6,500 a year isn’t going to take care of someone even back then, especially married with a child. I figured if I had another $200 a month that would solve it. A couple of years later, I’m earning$12,000 a year and I’m short by a thousand a month instead of a couple of hundred a month. I kept earning more and more money. I went into the insurance industry. One of my best years, I was earning $102,000 and I was short by about $20,000 that year. It finally dawned on me that more money was not going to solve a problem of mismanagement. I needed to learn how.

I started a program called Debtors Anonymous, a 12-step program for people who can’t handle money. I re-read books like The Richest Man in Babylon, Think and Grow Rich, Somewhere Around My Learning Curve, Rich Dad Poor Dad, books by Barbara Sher in terms of changing attitude. Jim Rowan has a great expression. He says, “Your income will be the average of the five people you hang around with most.” I realized I needed to hang around people who are doing far better. They weren’t in Debtors Anonymous. I sought out hanging around with people who had the kind of attitudes I needed to adapt with the books and my starting to implement that stuff started to work. One of the most important things that I tell everyone is that creating wealth is a team sport, not a solo sport.

Not only do you want to have the mental, emotional, and psychological support from other people in terms of attitudes, but you don’t have to go into projects by yourself. The last time I had gone broke, I was 50. It was after my second divorce and one business failure. That’s how I went broke. I was doing business coaching. I didn’t know how to coach other people to perform. I was earning about $5,000 a month. The richest man in Babylon says set aside 10% of your income, and I did. I set aside $500 a month. After about three years I’d accumulated about $18,000.

That was the one of the first times in my life I had that much money in savings, that wasn’t spent, didn’t need to sit on credit cards. Then my wife and her real estate partner said, “We found this little triplex we’d like to buy.” The down payment was $68,000. I could buy it with them and my $18,000 was a quarter of the down payment. The three of us bought it. I managed it because I’d taken a class in UCLA, How to Manage Rental Properties. One partner found it, I managed it and my wife just contributed some money. About six years later we were able to sell it for $520,000 profit.

Because you did it as a group, you were able to get involved in something that would not have been available to you had you not found this group of investors to join in with. Would you say that when this happened, a lot of your attitudes about wealth changed?

What I realized was that here was an area where I could do well that I actually enjoyed. What I did was I borrowed more money so that I could make down payments with them in more apartment buildings. We got up to about 50 rental properties. A total value at the time would have probably been about an $8 million net worth.

For the whole group or just for you?

The whole group. My wife’s real estate partner had some diagnosed emotional problems. It became very frustrating to work with him. After about eight years, we decided to buy him out, which is what we did. We gave him half the properties and some money. We took half the properties and continued to go on our own. My wife and I found more property to buy and improved what we did. We did tax deferred exchanges, which was available under the law. We built up from about a $4 million net worth to $10 million.

Tax deferred exchange is when someone can take the profits from one property and use it to buy another within a specified period of time. Typically 60 to 90 days. Is that right?

Within six months they need to close escrow on a new property and it’s called a like-kind exchange, meaning you sell a piece of investment property and within that period of time you must close on another piece of investment property. You have 45 days to identify it, but I can sell an apartment building and buy a strip mall, an office building, a trailer park, whatever. You sell one type of investment property, you must buy another type of investment property.

FTC 88 | Model What Works
Model What Works: Wealth is a team sport, not a solo sport.

Real estate is well-known to be the path to wealth for a lot of people. We’ve had several people on the show who have made money using real estate in various ways. We had a gentleman named Mike Wolf. He uses income properties to make money. We’ve had others who use income property in a different way than you and Mike do. We have one gentleman who would buy homes and then find additional buyers who wanted to purchase the homes from him.

He would become the bank. All of his money is not in the value of the real estate, it’s in the value of the interest payments that come from the properties that he has under agreement. There are many different ways to use real estate to make money. In your situation, is it more the traditional way where you buy, hold, rent, collect the monthly income, and then depreciation takes over and you sell?

Yes, very traditional approach, very vanilla. The only small twist to that was if a broker was advertising a building that said pride of ownership, I had nothing to do with it. What we needed to find and what we did find were buildings that had both deferred maintenance and were mismanaged. That’s how we created the profit. We would bring improvements to the building, both from the standpoint of the physical property of the building where there was a roof, a plumbing, electrical remodeling, whatever and bring to it effective management. I love my tenants. I take excellent care of them. The reviews on my website for the apartment buildings show that they feel they’re cared for and it’s absolutely correct because my tenants are buying my real estate for me.

You are the property manager and many of the people I speak to who use real estate as a wealth of vehicle, at some point bring in a third-party to be the property manager. You chose to handle that yourself.

I had taken a class at UCLA probably in the 1980s on How to Manage Rental Properties Effectively. I used that in both the communications with the tenants, in the systems I created, and the workers that I would hire, so that I would have a structure that worked efficiently. Rental properties is a business like any other business. If I had a retail store, I’d want to have the appropriate methods for keeping track of inventory and collecting on my sales. It’s the same thing with the apartment buildings. I had heard stories of management companies. Fortunately, none that I ever ran across that would tell the owner that the property had a vacancy, but it was the tenant paying the rent in cash that wasn’t getting to the owner.

The plumber that was being sent out to a building and the owner was billed $120 an hour for the plumbing work, but the plumber was only charging $80 an hour and the management company picked up the extra $40 an hour. I’ve had experiences where a plumber would go out to a property and say, “I need to replace a toilet.” I was away on vacation and didn’t check it. I’d say, “It will wait until I come back,” and I’d come back and find all I needed to do was bend the little rod in the toilet tank and that’s why it wasn’t shutting off. I literally had no parts that needed to be replaced. It was nothing but bending the little rod to shut off the water but the plumber wanted me to replace the toilet.

You have your own crews as opposed to using outside crews.

They’re all independent contractors, but there are people that I’ve worked with or have worked with me for twenty years or longer.

Here’s the downside. You have a job. You’ve basically created a building maintenance manager position for yourself. You’re being very well paid for it, but there are a lot of people that don’t want to do that. Why should somebody do this if they don’t want to and if they don’t want to, what are the alternatives?

One of them is that because of the money traumas that I had when I was young and not having enough money. I was coming from a scarcity mentality and had to take care of the properties on my own because of a fear of being taken advantage of and not having enough money. At this point in time, I absolutely can choose whether I send the plumber there or I go do the work myself. In my UCLA class, I actually show the students, primarily women, that there are things that they can do that gives them more self confidence that they don’t have to hire someone for, such as changing the locks.

When a property turns over and a new tenant moves in, I show them it takes a screwdriver and two screws to change the locks and they can do it in fifteen minutes. I have someone with no skills do it in front of the class and it’s amazing the transformation that takes place. They realize that the little things they were afraid of are no big deal. The alternative for people is hire a management company. For 5% of the gross rents, you can have someone else take care of everything. I am finally willing to see how that would work for me. I picked up a five-unit property that’s 85 miles away. All my buildings up to this point have been as close as eleven miles to my home.

It’s something that you’re keeping local. It’s something that you know you can wrap your arms around. 85 miles is pretty far compared to your other properties.

It’s not something I’m going to run to and take care of. I’m experimenting with how well I’m going to be able to manage a manager because that is what it requires. I had a job for seven years working seven days a week, but at the age of 50 and broke, I didn’t see a lot of other choices. At this point in time, it requires one to two hours a week of my time for what is a multi-six-figure annual income.

You’re a real estate investor and you’ve had some success. Have you lived through one of the crushing real estate busts that have affected us over the course of the last 50 years?

Yes, I’ve lived through two of them. The nice thing that I noticed was that while property values in one of those downturns dropped by 40%, it had no impact on my rental income and I live on the income, not the equity.

Anyone might argue in fact that because property values dropped, the rest of the economy is dropping, which means less people can buy homes and more people want to rent anyway.

There were a couple of people, so it was very few that I rented to, who had lost their homes in the economy. It was 2008. Things were tough. They still had fair credit. They had some money. I could tell they were quality people. I run credit checks. I run criminal background checks on people. I could tell these were still decent people. I would even check Facebook to see what information I could find about prospective tenants. There are people I did not rent to base on what I saw on Facebook.

It’s one of the tips that I give all my clients before they hire anybody is to do a full social media audit. I guess it works for tenants, too. Let’s talk a little bit more about the type of work that you do outside of renting and outside of properties. We’ve had a lot of real estate investors on this show. There is no doubt that people can make money if they are willing to go through the process of learning how to buy and hold and maintain real estate. The real question is financial education. Let’s talk about what it is that I need to learn in order for me to manage my money better. I am a real estate investor. I invest through REITs. For me, that works best because I get to take advantage of some income and some appreciation without any of the trouble or risk of buying a property and not knowing how.

FTC 88 | Model What Works
Wealth on Any Income: 12 Steps to Freedom

I also have REITs, I have triple net leases, I have second and first trust deeds. I invest in all sorts of real estate areas, but the wealth was created from buying and managing apartment buildings. I created a program to teach these basics to everyone else. How to do an income and expense statement, how to track your money when you spend it in as little as five to ten seconds to see if what you’re doing is one, in alignment with the goals that you set and two, if you’re getting the level of pleasure that you paid for when you purchase something.

An important question when you spend money is, “Are you getting what you paid for emotionally?”About twenty years ago, I wrote a book called Wealth on Any Income. I was only earning $5,000 a month and I created a multi-million-dollar net worth. That’s why the book is called Wealth on Any Income. It is the system that I followed and the first third of it is the emotional component because all of us have various scars or emotional blocks that can get in the way of doing anything, whether it’s dieting, quitting smoking, creating wealth, getting a promotion at work, it doesn’t make any difference.

Until we deal with that emotional baggage or blocks that are in the way, all the great tips and techniques that I might provide in the latter part of the book is just a waste of breath. I use an example of someone who’s obese. I ask, “Do you know what it takes to lose weight?” They say, “Yes, eating less and exercising.” I said, “Do you think there’s an obese person who doesn’t already know that?” “I guess they know that, yes.” Knowledge is irrelevant. Knowledge is the booby prize. Knowledge is not going to change anything. It’s putting it into action. Unless you find out what’s in the way of putting into action, nothing’s going to change it. That’s the attitude, that’s the blocks. It’s the emotional baggage that has to be dealt with before anyone can make a change.

I want to know how to deal with the emotional baggage. I want you to walk us through exactly how we would determine whether we got the expected pleasure. We all buy things and we all expect something as a result of our purchase. How do we know if we got enough pleasure from our purchase?

You have to examine it based on the situation you’re in. I have several exercises in the book. One Is like a word identification where a psychologist says, “What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when I say black and white?” It identifies whether someone is operating from a poverty or prosperity consciousness. Two, I have questions from a book that I published. I used to have a book publishing company and the first one we published was called Couples and Money by a psychologist Dr. Victoria Felton Collins.

There’s a series of questions such as, “When I was growing up, what was my mother’s role in the family regarding money and how am I similar to her role as an adult? What was my father’s role? How am I similar to him? Were there arguments around money when I was growing up?” I have to bring up the conscious things that happened while we were a child to determine where some of these attitudes came from. Is money the cause of arguments? Do you get expressions when you’re growing up that money doesn’t grow on trees? Money’s hard to make. Until we openly examine these things, we can’t go anywhere. It’s like asking someone for directions. Their first question is, “Where are you?” Until we know where we’re starting, we can’t move forward.

I want you to demonstrate exactly how this works. I’ll start with my own background. I was raised by parents who survived the depression. My dad tells his famous stories about how he wandered the neighborhood looking for discarded milk containers so he could melt the lead out of the containers and then sell it in order to buy three or four ears of corn to feed the family that night. As a little boy he did this. We were brought up with the stories of money doesn’t grow on trees. One of my father’s famous phrases is, “Money is round. It rolls in and it rolls out.” You can imagine the background that I have growing up with a dad like that, so tell me what that means?

It means that you need to go back, examine and then choose if those are valid ways of living for yourself. People have values they received from their parents and one of two things occur. Either if you’re blindly following their parents or you’re rebelling. My mom was frugal and I chose to be frugal. I also didn’t have enough to be anything else. Or they rebel against what was going on in their household. In neither situations are you choosing freely. With the stories from your father, the question then becomes, “How did that impact you?” When you open up that, “How can you have exploration?” You have the ability to choose, “I’m not willing to have that run my life anymore.” What will you choose instead?

One of the people that I’ve been listening to is a fellow by the name of David Bayer, who’s done a lot of research in this area. I’m finding it fascinating from the standpoint of how he looks at the beliefs that we’re operating by, which are nothing more than decisions we’ve made. The decision can be, “I’ll buy into it or I may choose a different decision.” A lot of people realize they can’t change their beliefs, but we all know we can change our decisions. He ties those two together, which allows people to choose different decisions, such as, “That’s how it worked for my dad, here’s how it’s going to work for me.”

As an example, not dealing with money, I realized I’m not a social person. I don’t particularly enjoy parties. I’m more of an introvert. Have the hors d’oeuvres and I’m not going to be talking to a lot of people. It’s who I am. I decided a year ago I will be sociable, and I would talk to the people who were behind the counter at the fast food place or I would strike up conversations with a waiter in a restaurant and say, “What do you do when you’re not working here?” I would talk to people in line at the grocery store. I decided to be sociable and took actions along that line.

I decided long ago that I was not going to be like my father. When you look up frugality in the dictionary, his photograph was right there. He was the definition of cheap. I love my dad very much. He’s 94 years old. He’s still alive and I talk to him every week. He’s at a point now where he has figured out how to survive all these years as a retiree using just his savings. I know his nature and as little boy I struggled a lot with what you’re talking about until I made many of the decisions that you mentioned.

I literally went through a process and it was a time in my life when I had just sold my software company. I was at a point where I was wealthy, but still bankrupt in terms of the way I felt. It was at that time that I had taken steps to truly understand where these feelings came from. For me, it was a great revelation. I’d love to hear the fact that your program covers much of the same material.

The first third of the program deals with this. Until this is dealt with, the tips and techniques about how to invest or how to spend are irrelevant. You can’t put it to use if that emotional baggage is in the way. I definitely had these feelings of not being worthy, of not being effective. The road started to change out of what I said was that Debtors Anonymous program because it was like when I learned that I had to be able to control expenses first and how to do it, that my income jumped from $102,000 to $150,000 that year.

Learning how to control your expenses increased your income. Explain that.

FTC 88 | Model What Works
Model What Works: It’s not making more money first, it’s handling expenses first.

It fits the situation when I felt that I knew how to handle money more effectively, at least from that standpoint. Then the universe said, “Now we can give you more.” It wasn’t going to get squandered. It wasn’t going to increase my standard of living and I’d be farther behind. It was a situation where now that I can handle the expenses. That’s the first step. It’s not making more money first, it’s handling expenses first and then two things will happen. One, you’ll have the emotional strength to allow more money to come into you and you will see the opportunities for more money to show up.

The universe is there to provide everything every one of us needs and wants. All we have to do is allow it in. Most of our mental activity is about denial and about lack, instead of about prosperity and abundance. When I started to change that, when I started to see myself as abundant with what I already had, then the universe felt like it had permission to bring even more into my life. This wasn’t like a decision I made one morning and said, “I think I’m abundant now,” and then all of a sudden money flooded into my life.

It took months of focusing on my gratitude for what I have, the appreciation for the abundance in my life, and also for allowing a power greater than myself, instead of using the word of God, to bring to me exactly what I already owned in my mind into my physical world. This is the way the universe works. Every morning I start with a routine. I get up in the morning, I go make my cup of Bulletproof coffee, I sit down, and I read from something of an ancient document. It’s written before as the Gutenberg press.

I might read the Talmud, I might read Art of War, I might read the Bhagavad Gita. What I’m looking for every day is I’m looking for something that I can write down as a quote. Every day, the first thing I write is, “What am I grateful for today. What is the quote that I found that will inspire me all day long? What is the question that I want to contemplate for the rest of the day?” That question might be tactical, it might be strategic, it might be spiritual. By starting my day with this foundation, I find that it’s much easier for me to keep that abundant mindset.

I would wholly endorse everything that you said and I can see that we’re very much in alignment and on the same page in terms of our operation. One of the things I alluded to where the attitudes of the wealthy. One of the things that you said about your morning practice was what question do you need to be answered that day? That’s how wealthy people operate. They don’t ask a why question because that takes you down the wrong road. They’ll ask questions about, “What do I need to know? Or who do I need to meet? Or how do I put this into place?”It’s those questions that provide the answers that will alter your life. Quality questions produce a quality life. Your practice of looking for that in what the ancient things that you’re reading is excellent. One of the things that I’ve learned a long time ago, from what I’d been reading, is that man has not changed in 5,000 years.

You said you studied what the wealthy do. What do the wealthy do that most of us don’t?

I have some terrific quotes. One of my favorites is Warren Buffett’s who says, “He’s met jerks who were rich and when they became billionaires, now they were jerks with a billion dollars.” A lot of people have this idea that when they become wealthy that somehow that’s going to corrupt them. The values that they have prior to that are the values that they keep. If they were jerks before, they’ll be jerks afterwards. Those don’t seem to be the people that I run into. In terms of attitudes, another one would have been Andrew Carnegie who said, “The point of becoming wealthy is to give it away.” He established Carnegie Mellon University. He built libraries all over the East Coast. You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you’ve got goals beyond yourself, it becomes really easy.

100% of the profits from my book, from the coaching that I do, from my online program, and teaching others about wealth, I donate to a specific charity called Shelter to Soldier. They take dogs from high kill environments and train them as service animals for soldiers who come back with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress. Our veterans have been committing suicide at the rate of about 22 per day. As far as I know, not one service member has received their dog has committed suicide. This program saves two lives at a time. I’ve got goals and how much money I want to contribute to them. I haven’t reached it yet, but I’m continuing to work on that.

I have something that I’m doing which involves my business called ResultsBreakthrough.com. What we do is like Match.com helps you find a date. ResultsBreakthrough.com helps you find an accountability partnership so that you could work together with another entrepreneur to meet your goals. One of the options every one of my members has is the ability to check a box called the Ten-Minute Mentor Program.

We’re connecting those people who checked that box to an inner-city kid who would love to speak to an adult who has had some success in their life. That they can model that too. This has become one of the highlights of my life. I find that my business is more and more focused on helping these young people more than it was when I launched it, which was all about getting the thing launched and generating some cash. If we become caused-based instead of profit-based, the world opens to us much faster.

A lot of the things you mentioned echo with what we discussed all through the show, which is your accountability program deal with having a team to support you. That accountability structure, having an inner-city kid being able to speak to someone who is where they may want to go. This is all about the team approach, not a solo approach to growth and development and creating wealth and prosperity.

I have a question and this has helped define my guests better than any other question I’ve ever discovered. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?

It would be Bill Gates, who, fortunately, is still here because of the risks that he took, the business he created, how he motivated the people he worked with to create what he created. My belief is, and this is what I’d want to confirm, that his Parkinson’s disease woke him early enough in his life. That may have been the shift to him creating the changes in the world regarding people’s health all over the globe. That’s the case, but that’s what I’d want to talk to him about is how did what happened to him shift where he is donating his money?

I look at two things. Hollywood perpetuating the myth that wealthy people are evil. You look at the biggest movies like Titanic or a Jimmy Stewart’s movie about Christmas and the evil people are the wealthy people. That’s not the experience if you look into Forbes list of 1,300 wealthy people, multi-billionaires, and amounts of money they’re giving away to change the world. It would be with Bill Gates to get his attitudes, how he created what he created, and what caused a shift in his life to be philanthropic in the way that he is.

I spent some time with Bill Gates many years ago. I was in the software business and he was at a convention in Boston. I got to stand next to him at an event and we got a chance to chat. It was a unique experience. I did not like him at all. Found him to be abrasive. I found that he was unable to make eye contact with me. He cut me off whenever I tried to talk or ask him a question. He lied out right out to me.

I asked him about whether he was going to publish accounting software and he goes, “No, we’d never do that. There’s not enough margin. It’s not a very good market for us.” Six weeks later, he does. I didn’t have much of a positive impression of him. His evolution in being the incredible human being he is today came later in life. That’s the Bill Gates I admire.

I am not surprised by what you had to say. Apparently, the experience of meeting him was when he was so fully involved in Microsoft must have been a pivot point somewhere along the line.

Here’s the grand finale question of the show. It’s the change the world question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?

It is the approach that I’ve taken and spreading the word to anyone else who would listen, is that creating wealth is a team sport and out of doing that, everybody has the opportunity to change the world. It’s from the wealth that they create that they have the opportunity to be philanthropists. You can’t be a broke philanthropist.

Rennie Gabriel, this has been an incredible experience for me. I want to thank you for spending time with me. Thank you, Rennie. I look forward to our next conversation.

Thank you so much, Mitch. It’s been my absolute pleasure to share this time with you.

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