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"Raised to Be Poor"

In this episode of Rule Breaker Investing, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner shares some campfire stories. He talks about the lesson he learned from his only interaction with Steve Jobs, how he got his foot in his mouth at arguably the most prestigious journalism school in the country, and much more. A listener also shares her story.

Also, discover what's in store for next week's show and what's on David's wish list for a birthday gift.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on May 12, 2020.

David Gardner: I only ever met Steve Jobs face-to-face once. I learned a lesson from that that I've never forgotten. And good news, I get to share that with you this week. And then there was the time I stuck my foot in my mouth, at arguably the most prestigious journalism school in the country. Yet, I still don't really regret it. That's a fun story.

In another story -- well, stories. Well, let me not go into it now, because the show is about to begin. And as discerning longtime listeners may recognize, we're about to continue with the fourth volume of one of my long-running series on this podcast, and it is, wait for it -- wait for my Producer, Rick Engdahl, to wheel out the campfire sound -- campfire stories. So, gather around Fools, and gather the kids too.

From time immemorial humans have gathered around campfires and told stories. And I have some humdingers this go-around, including a remarkable contribution from a fellow Fool listener. Speaking of listening, Steve Jobs, are you listening? Only on this week's Rule Breaker Investing.

And welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing, a delight to have you with me this week. I hope you brought your marshmallows and maybe some comfortable socks, pull up next to the fire. I'm not sure if that's the real fire or not, but it sounds like a real fire, doesn't it? And join in for this round of campfire stories.

This is an opportunity for me just to share, often these are kind of personal stories, things that happened in my past that I want to make relevant, that might be fun in some way, shape or form. So, in past volumes, if you ever want to go back through our annals or just google past episodes, I talked about what I learned as a Minnesota Twins' bat boy. What I learned from renting a car at a rental car agency in Damascus, Syria? Or maybe the short-termism that I once encountered when co-hosting the morning show on CNBC.

So, colorful stories, stories I like to look back on, stories I think you'll enjoy, and I hope I have four good ones for you this week. And I will be leading off with my Steve Jobs story, but before we start, I do want to mention what's going to happen next week.

So, yeah, in the next few days, my birthday happens. And I was thinking back to my birthday last year, which always occurs in mid-May, and I was remembering something that I really enjoyed, which is that our social media account just asked -- and this was not timed up, to my knowledge, with any awareness that my birthday was happening a year ago around this week, but our social media folks just said, hey, what have you learned from David Gardner?

And some wonderful tweets came back that week, and I realized that I could string them all together into a show. We entitled it, What Have You Learned from David Gardner. It was one part, a wonderful birthday present to me. Anybody who's ever seen the movie Mr. Holland's Opus will recognize how moved I was and happy I was to hear many of the things that you tweeted back, but I also realized that it could serve as a pretty good summary of a lot of the key points and stories that we make through Rule Breaker Investing; stories about investing, stories about business and stories about life; what you've learned; Lessons that you've learned.

So, I thought, you know, I'd love that birthday present last year. And I want to give myself, and you, my birthday present this year by repeating it. Probably we'll have some of the same points that were made last year, but I know a lot has happened over the last year, so maybe some new ones coming down the pipe as well.

So, let me just put it out there right now. What have you learned from me? What have you learned from this podcast? We'd love to hear from you. Our email address is RBI@Fool.com, certainly @RBIPodcast is our Twitter account, and we'll be tweeting this request from you right there as well. so, you can respond by tweet if that's easier for you. What have you learned? So, we'll put that together with a bow around it for next week's podcast.

Alright then, without further ado, campfire story No. 1. I don't remember exactly what year it is, but I'm going to say something around maybe 1996, 1997, 1998; definitely one of those three years. My brother Tom and I were invited to speak at a Businessweek conference, Businessweek the magazine. It was more of a magazine world back then than it is today certainly, but Businessweek always was a big player in the 60s, 70s, 80s, even into the 90s as a magazine. And they put together a wonderful conference and Tom and I were asked to speak. And I remember John Doar; the wonderful venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, Kleiner Perkins, was speaking there as well, and Steve Jobs was also on the morning docket to address the crowd.

So, I'm pretty sure Tom and I went first, and I don't exactly remember what we said, but I remember we were trying to make people laugh, because after all, if you're The Motley Fool and you're at this serious conference, you've got your jester caps on, you're some of the younger speakers there, you better be funny. And I think we did an OK job.

But somewhere around lunch time Steve took the floor. And when I say, "took the floor," I mean it quite literally. Because at the start of his presentation, he literally sat on the front edge of the stage and he called out somebody in the second row and harangued him for the first 10 minutes. [laughs] It was, as I recall, Southwestern Bell. So, back when the Bells were reorganized into regional companies. SBC Communications, Southwest Bell, the CEO was sitting in the second row and Steve was deeply upset, calling out the guy for slowing down the internet. Steve said at the time, you know, I had to put a T1 line in my home -- a T1 line was like a high-powered direct internet line -- because you guys, he said, to the CEO of SBC sitting in the second row, are slowing down the internet, you're not embracing broadband and moving things quickly enough, so you forced me, Steve, to have to make this additional investment on my house, but it's not me I'm concerned about, it's everybody else, and you guys are screwing it up.

And I'll never forget just that extended aside that Jobs presented at the start of his lunchtime keynote. But more importantly, and the real story here, is the lesson I learned from his talk.

So, at the time, Steve was doing something pretty remarkable. He was CEO of two different companies. Now, these days we think about people like Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter/CEO of Square; or we think about Elon Musk, CEO of several different companies. And so, we can recognize, this is possible, although, admittedly, very few people take on multiple CEO roles, especially for big companies of consequence.

But Steve Jobs was one such back then. He was back in his seat as CEO at Apple; he'd been turned away, as a younger man, from that position, and left his own company that he had started, but he had come back at this point. He was also, though, the CEO of Pixar, the wonderful company that most of us now know is owned by Disney, the animation superstar company. Toy Story, I think, was a 1990s production, so it had already come out. And there is Steve Jobs, flushed with the success of some of the early Pixar productions, but still early days for Pixar, still an independent company.

And, yeah, Steve was CEO of both Pixar and Apple. And he was talking about Wall Street analysts who were assailing him for splitting his time in the way that he did, but not just between those two companies, there was a third way he was spending his time; and this is where the lesson comes in.

He said, you know, as CEO of Apple and of Pixar, two companies I love, I actually spend one full day a week doing something you wouldn't think the CEO would do for either company; job interviews. I spend one day out of every five interviewing people, new hires. And Wall Street gets after me for trying to be the CEO of two different companies, you can imagine how some of the hedge fund managers, some of the short-termers really don't like it that I'm just sitting there interviewing candidates, which you wouldn't think a CEO would do at the lower levels of the company.

But here's why Steve Jobs said I spend my time doing that. He said most people think somebody who's really great compared to somebody who is average. Most people think, Jobs said, that somebody who's really great is about 3X better than somebody who's average. But he went on, what I've learned is that somebody who's really great is more, like, 30X better than somebody who's average. And so that's why, despite being CEO of two different companies, I spend one day a week just doing job interviews, because finding greatness is worth a lot more than most people realize.

So, there it is. And I don't know what you think about that, but from my standpoint, I walked away with a lesson that day. Jobs who was somebody truly great himself was saying, looking for true greatness is much more valuable than most people realize.

Now, I'm quite sure, we have a wide base of listeners for this podcast, I'm quite sure some of you think that people who are really great might just be 3X average or maybe even less than that, maybe we're all kind of closer to each other than we would realize. And I'm certainly open to that viewpoint. But pretty much from that day forward, I've concluded that Jobs is right, that when you find people who are deeply, deeply gifted, they are in fact much more valuable than most of the rest of us. And it's not to say anything about our value, yours and mine, but it is to say that there is special talent out there and finding it, harnessing it, hiring it and building from it is a real life's calling.

You know, I haven't been watching the Michael Jordan series, The Last Dance, which has gotten great plaudits and a huge amount of buzz in the last few weeks. I have friends saying, "Hey, Dave, have you watched The Last Dance, the Jordan story, it's great?" And I say to them, "Well, no, I haven't, because I'm not really looking for new streaming shows, [laughs] I'm already up to my ears in shows I haven't watched." I'm also not a big Jordan fan, even though I'm a University of North Carolina graduate. He kind of came before I went to the school. I was cheering against North Carolina during his Carolina years, and I never really followed the NBA because I do love college basketball. So, for a variety of reasons, I say back to friends, I haven't watched the series.

But I'm pretty sure one of the conclusions that you'll draw from it is that people like Michael Jordan, even within his discipline, surrounded by other NBA players, he is just vastly greater than most of the other players in his league, even though they're all high-paid professionals. And I think a lot of people would say the same thing about LeBron James today.

And when I look at stocks and I think about the stock market and the CEOs that power them, but forget about the CEOs and the human capital for a second, let's just look at the stocks. There are stocks that go up, in our lifetimes, 500X in value, most people can't imagine that whatever be the case. Most people think, well, most stocks perform about average and I should just buy the average by buying an index fund and pay a very low price to just own a whole bunch of stocks. But I hope most of my career, my legacy, will be defined by finding companies that were 30X better than other stocks, 30X, 300Xs. And if Amazon keeps rising over time, it'll be more than a 600-bagger that it is today for me. So, I want to make sure your eyes are opened to truly how great greatness can look. As Steve Jobs opened my eyes to that view years and years ago.

So, I've always remembered that talk, and if it helps you think more clearly going forward or inspires you in any way today, I'm glad I got to share it with you around the campfire.

You know, Steve Jobs died in October of 2011. So, almost nine years ago. A lot of people thought at the time that Apple would never be the same, and in many ways, it can't be when you lose a Founder of that much charisma and that much value, because he added so much value to Apple. And yet, look how well Tim Cook and team have done. The stock is way higher today than it was back in 2011. So, that is itself a great lesson.

But I did write a letter from me to Steve, he never got to read it, I'm not sure he would have found it anyway on the internet, but I wrote it two years after his death. I see it here for February 24, 2013. It's a little bit more of an extended reflection on the story I just shared with you, but if anybody is interested you can just google "Dear Steve, thank you" it's a letter from David Gardner to Steve Jobs. But I wrote that February 2013. In fact, it would have been his 58th birthday the day that I wrote that.

I learned a lot from the guy; I think we all should.

Alright. Campfire story No. 2. We need to fast-forward a few years. I think the year was somewhere maybe 1999-2000. And I received a speaking invitation to the Columbia School of Journalism. Now, I think a lot of people would say Columbia University has the nation's foremost school of journalism. I do believe that the University of North Carolina ranks way up there, and so, some of my Tar Heel friends will be saying, "Hey, come on! don't forget about UNC School of Journalism." Regardless, this story isn't about who's No. 1, it's about me putting my foot in my mouth in front of a bunch of talented young people.

So, the setting was once again a stage in front of people, but in this case, it was all of the graduate students of the Columbia School of Journalism. And it was a conference that was about the state of investing in the world that day, though, the world of business, of course, awash in dot-coms that would in many cases soon become dot-bombs, but they were heady days for the stock market.

And I remember floating in on the red wine of that glorious, one of the early stage bigtime start-ups, The Motley Fool was punching well above its weight-class. We had taken in venture capital, many people knew our name and I got to sit down in front of the students and share some of my thoughts. And the one I primarily wanted to share, I have mixed feelings about, I still kind of stand by what I said, but it wasn't that well-received, and I guess thereby hangs a tale, as Shakespeare wrote.

By the way, as Shakespeare wrote in the very same scene Act 2, Scene 7 of As You Like It, from where our Motley Fool name comes, in that same speech, it ends with " ... and thereby hangs a tale." Anyway, here's the tale.

It begins, in many ways, with my frustration around a lot of the negativity and bleeds it leads headlines that seem to power journalism not just back then in the 1990s or early '00s, but sure enough today in 2020. Probably in 1920 and 1720 as well. I think clickbait headlines and negativity have always probably been bedfellows not particularly strange to each other either.

And I remember going to Columbia that day thinking, you know, I want to say something about that. But beyond just that, I felt at the time as if the concept of investigative journalism had all the sex appeal and most of the ambition in the room. So, most of those students, in my mind anyway, I don't know if that was fair to them back then or is it still fair today or not -- investigative journalism seemed to be the highest calling. And while it certainly has its place in characters like Woodward and Bernstein, who helped break the story around Watergate, will always be remembered fondly by history and celebrated for the important work they do. And certainly, we need just as much good investigative journalism today as any other day.

But I also think there's another form of journalism that gets underplayed, and this is what I was trying to convey that day in New York City.

So, what I said in so many words was, while many of you are probably dreaming of being great investigative journalists, I think there is a whole another approach you could take, which it seems to me I was saying, it doesn't seem like anybody takes, and that is, to look for what's working in the world. Who is succeeding? Why are they succeeding? What about a new form of journalism that tries to find what's working and tells that story? I said, that seems to me just as admirable as investigative journalism.

And in a lot of ways, though I didn't know about Martin Seligman and his work in positivity within psychology coming out of the University of Pennsylvania back then. But in the same way that psychology itself for decades was mainly studying dysfunction, from Freud going forward, it isn't until relatively recently that the science and psychology of positivity were rather than look what's wrong with all of us humans, we started looking at what's right and teaching about that analyzing, understanding and spreading that.

I now realize, in retrospect, I was kind of feeling the same way about journalism. There should be, in a sense, a journalism of positivity that is predicated on teaching us lessons about what's working.

And my rather naïve younger self at the time thought that this would be well-received at the Columbia School of Journalism. Well, I definitely got fairly hammered in the Q&A session that followed the talk. And the next day, in The Village Voice, the New York City newspaper, I got criticized for what I had said that day.

And so now, in retrospect, I think, sometimes I overstep my bounds. I remember once I was on the radio show Mitch Albom, the talented writer, he's the author of the book Tuesdays with Morrie, he's also longtime ESPN commentator, and I was on his talk show once on WJR, I think, in Detroit, and I stepped away from my main subject, which is investing, in order to talk about sports analysis, a lot of you know that I love Bill James and sabermetrics, and so I was kind of taking Mitch and his ilk to task for what I consider to be some inadequate use of statistics as they report on sports.

So, I kind of stepped out of my role, took my jester cap off, probably got a little bit more serious. I just remember talking too long on Mitch's show about sports statistics, I remember him looking over at me going, "Do we need to do that, why do we do that?"

And so maybe I was doing this again in Colombia, but even still thinking back to today, well, my feelings still remain the same for the most part. I hope that I've learned a little bit more emotional intelligence in the meantime and that The Village Voice would take a kinder view if I went back and spoke sometime at the Columbia School of Journalism.

But, yeah, to close. Well, I don't expect fluff pieces or PR pieces around the things that are working in our society, I would like to see some really deep analytics. In the same way that sports has gotten smarter and smarter with statistics, and now these days in baseball, things that Bill James was writing years ago that seemed like heresy are now de facto standards as we use statistics to analyze baseball. I think some of that same analysis of what's working at the best companies were in the minds of the best CEOs or the best innovative cultures or what's working in innovation. That kind of journalism, I welcome.

And before we move on to the campfire story No. 3, I want to mention I got a lovely email in the past week from Jason [Pete Myer] a longtime listener. And Jason was mentioning Peter Diamandis who is the creator of the X Prize, some of you may know, and Singularity University, very much a future thinker, somebody that I admire, although I've never met. And he's talking about Peter Diamandis' relatively new news-based website, I'll just put in a quick plug, I liked it, I took a quick look at this last week. It's kind of in start-up mode, but it's called FutureLoop. So, if you google FutureLoop, you're going to find basically, kind of, what I was asking Colombia to produce a couple of decades ago, which is, kind of a positive news-based website, one that's a pleasure to click into, that's not trying to be lurid and that's talking about the good things in the world, especially given FutureLoop orientation, especially around technology. Anyway, that might be of interest to some of our listeners.

Alright. Campfire story No. 3, and this one's not mine, as I mentioned at the top, this one comes from a listener. And there's just a little bit of backstory to this one before I present it.

So, I first read this story in July of last year. This was a cover letter for a job application here at The Motley Fool, and I reached back out to this applicant just this week to make sure it was OK with her if I shared her story. She said, "Well, withhold my name, ... " which I'm always happy to do, " ... but you're welcome to share the story." And it is my delight to share this, because it's so well-written and contains a strong viewpoint that I bet will be informative for many of you. I thought it's a beautiful cover letter and lesson in life.

So, here we go, campfire story No. 3 and it starts with an epigraph that's a quote pulled from Fyodor Dostoevsky. It reads, "The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a Fool at least once a month." Well, thank you for that, Dostoevsky. So, this story starts, "Dear masters Gardner," It's written to me and my brother Tom. "I was raised to be poor. Not dumpster-diving poor but the kind of poor that comes from a heartfelt, undying commitment to a financial trajectory that plants one squarely in the lower-middle class caste. I did absolutely everything right to amass as little personal wealth as possible. I was raised in and around the Mennonite faith, long since abandoned in practice, that holds with an iron man grip to survival with minimal resources and assets, aversion to flaunting wealth, and above all else, giving to others. Frugalness is next to godliness. My family line includes mostly black bumper Mennonites, so called because the chrome bumpers of the buggies used even today as the family car, were dutifully painted black by the assigned straw-hat wearing, black suspendered, plain white cotton buttoned down shirted family male, so as to obscure even the slightest impression of distasteful affluence."

"At a family reunion, I sat with a group of second cousins eight times removed, kind of relatives, farmers with precisely six grown children all working the farm together to make their lives sustainable. These are impressive and happy people. Happy because of hard work, newsfeed self-sequestering, freedom from technology, a fear of hell and a diet dedicated to all-organic before it was cool, homegrown, homemade scrapple and shoofly pie. They give generously to those in need in negligible amounts. They have righteous calluses from their fingertips to their elbows and sun-leathered skin from hours, days and years of farming. They were raised to be poor."

"My parents are a product of this mindset. They attended grade school together in a one-room schoolhouse where the teacher was my healthily rotund great aunt Elizabeth, who incidentally worked for many years collecting and sending books abroad to truly poor families and children in African countries, predominantly Bibles."

"There was an acceptable list of appropriate and honorable professions from which my father chose to become a doctor. Once he finished school and residencies, he promptly joined the public health service now called the Indian Health Service. Undoubtedly, he could have made a far greater salary had he chosen private practice, but he was raised to be poor too."

"I remember during my teenage years, my father taking me to the back of a grocery store to seek out a vagrant who was scavenging for discarded and stale dated food and then directing me to go inside, purchase a variety of food items to turn over to the beleaguered man, who presumably was also raised to be poor. I remember making hundreds of sandwiches once-a-month within a group of church folks. Well, it was far better to be on bologna duty than P&J duty. And after we were done, we all carted those sandwiches to the Brother Francis Shelter to give to the homeless, who, by the way, had all been raised to be poor. We got back into our low-cost Yugos and Hondas and returned to our middle-income, modest homes and watched The Day After on our 15" black-and-white RCA TV."

"We were taught with great glee about the importance of choosing an honorable or at least respectable profession you love, and I left for college to pursue a degree in teaching music. I met my current and only husband while in school and we continue to talk about doing what we loved. I initially worked in the public schools and then shifted to retail and nonprofit management; a difficult career with limited income potential and virtually no benefits. My husband pursued his love of music, eventually receiving a student debt cement shod doctoral degree in classical clarineting. We had two children and we began to raise them to be poor too."

"In the last two years, now with an empty nest, we have had an awakening about how we were raised and how the heck we're going to collect enough retirement income so as not to be a burden to our poor children. If we had chosen a different thesis for our life investments, we would potentially have all kinds of wealth to support our nasty philanthropic habits and to be able to do more of the things that we love. This has sparked a late attention to how we invest our savings. My husband has sworn off to licorice stick addiction, although he still performs from time-to-time, and he's now inundating me with conversation about highs, lows, calls, puts, splits, candlesticks, recessions and advice resources like The Motley Fool. He is starting to make money. Why doesn't everyone do this?" "Because ... " said the fool, " ... they were raised to be poor."

"When I look back on the guidance that we had growing up, sure, there were personal finance and economics classes in high school, but no one really tutored us in financial literacy, no one. Not our schools, parents or colleagues. Sure, my father has enough in insurance policies and annuities to fund his own extended care. On that count, we are lucky. I suspect he made millions during his lifetime and at no point did he waver from saving only enough for practical essentials. He is engaged in many Mother Teresa activities in his lifetime, giving away a lot of money and resources, giving away money, cars and homes. But think how many people he could have helped if he had amassed enough wealth for himself over the years to spare. He could have made a substantial difference for those around him who were raised to be poor."

So, now in conclusion, she writes, "So, now I know I've been a fool. I may need to continue to work for the next 25 years, but now there is this chance to eliminate that prospect for others while there is still time. That desire to care for and help those around me can translate into making a profound difference for the financial future of thousands." She signs it, "Thank you for your consideration," and again the name withheld.

Well, my first reaction as I think back on that story, one I just shared with you, is wow! I'm sure that provoked some strong reactions among some of us. The concept of being raised to be poor, I don't know if that agrees with some of you, maybe you hear your own story in that or you might object to that phrase; I'm not quite sure. I know for me, personally, I'm thinking about so much of what she described that we all admire, I hope, I sure do. The hard work of farmers. People who save, who are net savers, and then who give.

Although, certainly a line that has to jump out to each of us, to quote it again, "They give generously to those in need ... " she was writing " ... in negligible amounts." I guess I would say from my own standpoint, I was not raised to be poor, so I think I'm always presenting a viewpoint that, well, I want for you abundance, that's what I want for every one of our members, every one of my listeners, everybody I come into contact with. I mean, The Motley Fool's purpose after all is to make the world smarter, happier and richer, all three, never one without the other two, never two without the third. Smarter, happier and richer. That's a world of abundance.

So, I guess I would say, I want for every one of you, unless you do not wish it yourself, I want for every one of you, prosperity. And in my personal experience, some of the richest people I know also happen to be some of the most generous people that you'd ever meet and often they do it anonymously.

Well, anyway, I want to thank you again, my correspondent, for allowing me to share her viewpoint and her story with you. I bet it opened some eyes, maybe raised some eyebrows too. My pleasure to share it; probably the strongest of the four campfire stories this go around.

Alright, well, campfire story No. 4, and I want to thank in passing, once again, my talented producer Rick Engdahl for all of our campfire ambiance.

So, I try to have a new Fool coffee with pretty much every new employee who comes to the company. And I think both Tom and I have done that for most of our 27 years, if not all of them. And while I don't have a single story or stump speech that I give at each new Fool coffees, I've often found myself telling this story, the one I'm going to share with you now.

Coming out of college in the 1980s, I was an aspiring writer and I remember spending one summer in New York City. In fact, it was in between my sophomore and junior years at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, I was on a Morehead scholarship there, it paid for my Summers and we had remarkable Summer experiences, thanks by the way, to the generosity and abundance of John Motley Morehead, who's the one who's funded many people to go through the University of North Carolina and try to add value back to school over decades now.

So, that was my Summer working on Wall Street, and that was the Summer I learned I would never want to work on Wall Street. So, it was a very valuable experience. And since we're about to approach Summer, and I realize some younger people listening to me might still have summer internships, I know a lot of younger people have had them canceled. So, I hope for all of us younger Fools, you're finding a gainful and worthwhile way to spend your summer. And at least for me, thinking back to 1986, I'm so grateful that I took the time to spend time in a world that I thought I wanted to go work in after college. And once I spent that summer at Salomon Brothers, I think Michael Lewis who later wrote Liar's Poker and reflected on his time at Salomon Bros, I think, he might have even been there the same time I was that summer.

But that summer of 1986, well, this is not even a story about Wall Street, just that's why I was there that Summer, this is a story about the girl I was dating at the time who happens today to be my wife. And I found out from her that she had a second cousin who is also a writer and a very accomplished writer. And this is the proponent of new journalism, this is the now dearly departed writer, Tom Wolfe. He of the white suits novels like The Bonfire of the Vanities, but of course, a lot of nonfiction work throughout the 60s and 70s, as he was one of the so-called new journalists. And that movement at the time was still doing journalism -- boy! Journalism comes back once again in this pocket -- still doing journalism, but specially with a literary bent. And Tom Wolfe was a sparkling, scintillating writer, somebody who could really string words and phrases together that would jump off the page and were so engaging to read.

And I found out from my girlfriend that Summer that not only was he her second cousin, but of course, he lived in New York City where he did for so much of his life. And I started thinking, you know, wouldn't it be great if we could go over to his house and have a conversation with him? So, she tapped her family network, and sure enough, she and I were invited to Tom Wolfe's for cocktails and supper one night at a brownstone on the Upper East Side of New York City.

Again, the year was 1986, and my recollection was he had some very young children. There was a baby monitor that was part of our supper that night. and I remember Tom said, would you guys like a drink? And we were of age at the time, so we said, sure. And I remember him going up and down four stories of his brownstone, looking everywhere for a corkscrew, it took about 10 minutes. It was a humorous moment, and I'll circle back to that in just a little bit. But it was a remarkable evening with a truly talented, thinking back to that Steve Jobs line from earlier this podcast, a truly great writer.

And the punchline to the story, I'm going to delay for a bit, because I need to weave in one other quick story, but the punchline is, he wrote us a thank you note, which I'll talk about in just a little bit.

So, now fast-forward some years later to my first job. And I'm writing for Louis Rukeyser. Now, a lot of you will remember Louis Rukeyser as the longtime host of Wall Street Week on PBS. And my first job was as a writer for his financial newsletter, not his television show, his financial newsletter. It was a job that I worked hard to get and only stayed less than a year as it wasn't a great job I discovered at the time. It didn't really have anything to do with Rukeyser, it was just the work was kind of drudgery and I wasn't enjoying the office culture very much. And I'm really glad that I yanked out of that, because I'm not sure The Motley Fool would have started or started when it did, if I didn't resigned that position inside of a year, making myself almost unemployable at that point in my life, kind of, forcing me to need to start something, and The Motley Fool was born.

But one thing in particular bothered me about that job. And it was that Rukeyser had a lot of fans, people had watched him for decades, his wit and wisdom about the markets, he would come in every Friday evening, Wall Street Week on PBS, again the longest-running PBS show at that time. And there was Rukeyser with some market commentary which he would pen with his sometimes poison pen, but always some good wit and he'd bring that to his show, and then each week he'd interview Wall Street people and that was Wall Street Week.

So, he had a lot of fans, right? If you're on television for a few decades, talk to Oprah about this, turns out you can build a pretty big following, because you were there as a face, a moving image that people got to know, it felt like they got to know you over, in this case, decades.

So, we got a lot of fan-mail at his financial newsletter. A lot of it was just reacting to his television show, but letters would come in every day, handwritten notes from around the country of people. And occasionally, I would pop one open, it might be a really heartfelt story, kind of like the one I just shared with you, campfire No. 3, you'd hear a strong viewpoint, somebody who took the time to really put words together and assert something.

But the thing that bothered me about that job and that workplace is there was no plan to respond to any of those letters. Shoeboxes would fill. I was there only probably for about six months, but several big boxes of letters, we just took them in. Again, there was no response mechanism or process in place at all and we just created another empty box, filled it up and then opened up another box and just filled them up.

So, I'm certainly not ultimately faulting Rukeyser, he was operating out of his home and home-office in Greenwich, Connecticut, we were in Alexandria, Virginia, where just blocks away we would start The Motley Fool some months later. But it just really bothered me that nobody ever read, let alone responded, to all of these letters pouring in.

And now let me circle back to Tom Wolfe, because after that lovely evening which I'll never forget, my girlfriend at the time took the time to write a thank you note, which is what you're always supposed to do and admittedly I never do enough, but this shows that I married well because unbeknownst to me she sent off that thank you note. And what it triggered back was a thank you note back from Tom Wolfe.

And while I don't have a lot of correspondence I'm proud of or need to save for the next generation, this would be a letter that I hope we still have somewhere in a box in our house somewhere and we'll give to our kids, because Tom Wolfe wrote us a thank you note to our thank you note. And what my girlfriend had done is she purchased four corkscrews for him. So, he had one corkscrew for each level of his brownstone, so he would never need to run up and down staircases to find a corkscrew.

And to paraphrase his note back it said, in effect, "Corkscrews, corkscrews, everywhere I look now, I can always find a lovely corkscrew. Thank you so much." But what was especially remarkable about this letter is that he was also a talented illustrator, so he fully drew in pencil a seemingly photorealistic rendering of a corkscrew from the upper-left of the thank you note to the lower-right and threaded his words all around it.

So, you think about those two different scenarios. The one, thank you notes coming in, piling on top of each other being put away in boxes never to be dealt with. The other, somebody who is just as busy as anybody else in the world, thanking us for our thank you note and thank you gift and fully illustrating it. And why do I often tell the story at new Fool coffees? Well, it's pretty simple, I just simply look across the table, look across my cup of coffee at my new Fool or new Fools and say, "Which kind of company do you want to be?"

And I should mention, since I'm checking the calendar, it was this week two years ago that Tom Wolfe departed this earth.

Alright. Well, taking a look at the calendar, yep, it is my birthday coming up this coming week. [laughs] So, I'm asking again for a birthday present, what have you learned from me? What have you learned from our podcast? Our email is RBI@Fool.com, I look forward to sharing your lessons, insights and stories on next week's show. Again, RBI@Fool.com is our email address. Of course, you can always tweet us @RBIPodcast.

Well, I'm pretty sure you're supposed to put your campfire out before you leave. So, as we think back on Steve Jobs and the Columbia School of Journalism and being raised poor right through to the contrast between Tom Wolfe and Rukeyser Inc., I hope we left this campsite better than we found it. And thanks for spending time with me this week on Rule Breaker Investing. Looking-forward to being with you next week.

In the meantime, stay safe out there, wash your darn hands, and Fool on!

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. David Gardner owns shares of Amazon, Apple, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Apple, Square, Twitter, and Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney, short September 2020 $70 puts on Square, short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon, long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon, and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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