Articles by Keith J. Cunningham
Anytime you are in a negotiation, you are there for one reason and one reason only: To do better than your alternatives. You are negotiating to see if you can improve upon your existing situation. If you can, then you ar . . .
Robert Kiyosaki, in his book Rich Dad’s Guide to Investing, points out on the opening page, his rich dad’s advice on investing, “Don’t be average.” The same advice can be given to every entrepreneur who dreams of strikin . . .
Keith J. Cunningham's Bio
Business and teaching have been in my blood for as long as I can remember. The business side got an early start … In 1961, to be exact, I started a door-to-door egg delivery business when I was eleven years old. In terms of return on investment and lessons learned, it was by far my best deal. In fact, my egg business is what laid the foundation for me to be able to pay my way through college. I graduated to other money making ideas, including the more typical childhood endeavors of a paper route, mowing yards and baby sitting. Through it all, my Dad had me keep a ledger which recorded all my sales and expenses and profits. He also insisted that I invest some of my profits. I worked my way through the University of Texas and earned two degrees … a BBA in Accounting and an MBA. As I was leaving the University of Texas to look for my first full time job, I had only one requirement, which was to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible about the real world of business and finance. I needed skills and distinctions that only come with a mentor.
After interviewing and receiving job offers from several multinational companies, I happened on two extremely successful business men in Austin, Texas. Bob and Jack had a small struggling Cable Television company and needed some help turning around and growing this business. They promised me that if I took the job, they would teach me everything they knew. There was a catch… they could only afford to pay me about 40% of the going rate for newly minted MBA’s, which in 1973 was $22-24,000/year.
A couple of sleepless nights and lots of soul searching led me to take a job at $9,000 per year and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Having these two experienced men guide and mentor me laid the foundation for the business success I have had and the teaching I do today. I discovered there is no substitute for real world, in the trenches, been there, done that kind of experience and training.
A couple of years went by and I became a partner (a small one at first) with Bob and Jack. We sold the original Cable T.V. business and started another one, which we named Prime Cable. Prime ultimately became one of the largest cable television companies in the United States with operations in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Houston, Chicago and Anchorage.
It was during this time that a couple of my old professors from UT asked me if I would be a guest lecturer at some of their classes. I quickly discovered two things about me and teaching. First, I loved it. I loved preparing and practicing for my presentations. I loved thinking about what I knew and could teach. Second, I wasn’t very good at it. The feedback I received from my initial presentations was dismal at best, which caused me to ask the question: What do I need to learn and practice to get good at this?
By 1983, I had been with Bob and Jack for over 10 years. I had made a serious amount of money and I wanted to do my own deals. At the same time, real estate in Texas was cranking up and I decided to shift my focus from cable television to real estate. Over the next 3 years, I built a very large real estate portfolio and made even more money. In the process, I also personally guaranteed over $100,000,000 in debt.
I never saw it coming. The bottom dropped out of the real estate market so fast and so severely that hundreds of my friends and business associates and lending institutions went bankrupt. I spent four years of my life attempting to repay all the financial institutions and partners I had borrowed money from and although I came close, in the end, the amount of debt forgiveness I received was all taxable income to me, even though I didn’t get the cash. I owed the government millions in taxes on this phantom income, and so, in February 1991, I was forced to declare personal bankruptcy.
I can tell you that was the lowest time of my life. I was supposed to be rich, not broke. My failure in business called into question my self-worth and shook me to my core. I had made the serious mistake of believing that my self worth was dictated by my net worth. I was hurting from the embarrassment as well as the fact that I had squandered millions.
Several things happened almost concurrently which literally started me on a path of re-creating my life. First, I met a man named Robert Kiyosaki, who was teaching a small self- help program called Money & You. I took the course and found out some very profound things about me and my life. Robert and I became close friends for many years, staying at each other’s houses, vacationing together and ultimately teaching together.
Second, I was lying in bed one night, (‘Sleepless in Austin’) glanced at the clock and it was 3:15 a.m. I wasn’t going back to sleep so I flipped on the TV. There was a man, sitting on the beach, grinning from ear to ear, being interviewed about how to turn your life around. I wasn’t so sure I needed my life turned around as I was that I needed to be rich again. I listened for an hour and decided the audio tape series Tony Robbins was offering might do me some good…. My situation certainly couldn’t get much worse! Besides, I was broke, unemployed and in the process of getting a divorce, so maybe this would help the cause. The audio tapes came a few days later in the mail, and I listened to the entire 30 day program in one, long day. I was finding more out about me and how I had gotten into this mess and what I could do to restart my life.
Third, I was introduced to the single most powerful book I have ever read – A Course in Miracles. I credit this book and the work I have done with this book for the last 15 years as the fulcrum that turned my life around.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had started a sabbatical that ultimately lasted 18 months. I didn’t work, I just read. I studied the world’s religions and philosophies. I read over 180 books and I listened to every self-help speaker I could find. I was determined to figure out and change my life. I never did figure it out, but I did change.
Being on a sabbatical was like being in a safe, little cocoon. All I wanted to do was make up for lost time and learn the secrets of living a successful life. I probably would have stayed in my ‘monkdom’ forever were it not for the pressing need to make some money again. I knew I had the skills to be successful, but my confidence was in serious need of a couple of wins.
Once again, several things pushed me from my self-imposed exile from life. First, I had been asking myself the question: How do I win this game? I was referring to the game of life. I never could figure out that question and it turns out, it was a sorry question to begin with. After 18 months, I asked a different question: How do I want to play the second half? And, once I changed the question, the answers started flowing. I also asked myself the most powerful question I have ever heard: If I could have just one last thought, and then I died, what would I want that last thought to be? It was this question that has propelled me for the last 15 years of my life.
My answer: “WHOA!!!! That was SPECTACULAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is my life, and I’m proud of it and I would gladly live it again if only given the opportunity! WHOA!” Lights out. Game over. Game won.
Second, a dear friend of mine called needing some expert advice in turning around his company. He knew I had just performed major surgery on my own situation and that I knew how to solve very thorny business and financial problems. I agreed to become the CEO of his company and I fixed it. Over the next 3 years, I kept getting calls from other people who had heard about me and my ability to solve massive business problems. Because of the way I structured my compensation, I got very handsomely rewarded if I fixed the business and made nothing if I didn’t. I quickly rebuilt my net worth.
Another notable event was that Robert Kiyosaki asked me to write a course called Stop Wasting Time. This 4 ½ day seminar wasn’t about “time” but rather what I knew about personal finance and getting out of the rat race. I wrote the course and taught it solo and then with Robert in several cities. Robert asked me if he could have the course as his own, which I agreed to and he wrote a couple of books, the most famous of which is Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
I am grateful to Robert for asking me to write the seminar because it morphed into a book that has changed millions of lives. I am also thankful because it started me down a path of even more teaching and financial education. I was teaching the 10 Biggest Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make at another Kiyosaki event in 2001. As I was coming off stage, a crowd of people surrounded me and said they wanted more. I told them I don’t do more. They said, “Wrong answer!” I asked what they wanted and over lunch, they said they wanted a Mentoring Program. They said they wanted to be able to ask questions and get real world answers from someone who had scars and gray hair… someone who had been there and done that.
In 2002, we started our first Business Mentoring/Business Mastery program for 20 people. Since then I have literally taught thousands of entrepreneurs and business people around the world the skills and tools used by the pros to start, analyze, invest in, grow, manage, turnaround, finance, hire, build teams, marketing and sales, negotiate, create a niche and sustainable competitive advantage, read and understand financial statements, financial literacy and virtually every other critical business skill you need to be able to not only make, but also keep money.
Robert also asked me to write a book teaching entrepreneurs how to raise money to fund their business ideas. It was to have been part of the Rich Dad book series. Unfortunately, it took three years to write this book and the opportunity to be a part of the Rich Dad collection had passed. As I was finishing the book, I decided that entrepreneur’s biggest problem wasn’t how to raise the money but rather how to create a “clear sustainable path to profitability”. It seemed to me that raising the money got a whole lot easier if the path to profitability was clear, so I rewrote the book. I named it Keys to the Vault… Lessons from the Pros on Finding the Money and Igniting Your Business.
Today, I regularly teach at Tony Robbins events, T. Harv Eker seminars and have shared the stage with industry giants, like Brian Tracy and Robert Kiyosaki. Annually, I present in front of thousands of people. I have never wanted to start a “seminar” company, but I do want to teach. So, our marketing consists of word of mouth and teaching at other people’s programs. I deliver content and skills and this approach has attracted thousands of students…. Thank you!
Along the way, I have also been buying and growing operating businesses, and I am still actively looking for investments today.