Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fearless! Robert Herjavec on Talking to Kids About Money

Meet a Fearless Dragon
He's a self-made millionaire. He's a reality TV star north and south of the border. He's a best-selling author and marathon runner. He has more than one mansion and has chatted with Oprah about fiscal responsibility while giving her a ride in his golf cart. But what really impressed me during our brief phone call last week is that he is absolutely fearless when it comes to financial literacy, both his own and that of his three kids.

Do you come from a family in which talking about money can get you expelled from the dinner table? Robert does. Add that to the fact that he didn't take business courses in high school and that eight months into university he dropped out of Commerce to take English and Political Science and you have to wonder how he has become so fluent in the language of money. As Robert told me, it comes down to this: 

There is no such thing as a dumb question. But once you have asked the question, you have to listen and learn.

Robert has taught himself just about everything he knows about money and, apparently, it's a never-ending journey. Just before we spoke he was having lunch with an important investor who mentioned a financial term that Robert was unfamiliar with. Instead of skipping over it and muddling through (like I have done way too many times at the bank), he stopped the conversation and unabashedly asked that scary and often avoided question: what does that mean?

I was actually quite surprised that he told me this story knowing that I would probably put it in my article. Clearly his pursuit of financial knowledge trumps any sense of embarrassment he may have at exposing the limits of his understanding. It's about learning the facts, not about protecting your ego which, as we all know, can really get in the way when it comes to talking about what we know (and don't know) about money. After all, money is not a taboo subject anymore. Or is it?

"Money Just Is"
Growing up, Robert learned that it's rude to talk about money. But he doesn't buy that line of thinking anymore. "Money is not a bad word," he said. "It's a resource. Money just is." And so when his teenage son said that he would like to study whales for a living and wanted to know how much marine biologists make, Robert did some research and found out that they make about forty thousand dollars a year.

Armed with this information, Robert told his son the facts: you can study whales or you can live in a mansion, but you probably can't do both. "The choices we make in life have a price." What a great three-part lesson:
  1. When you don't know something about money ask.
  2. Sometimes the truth about money is not always what you want to hear but you still need to hear it.
  3. Our choices come with a price tag.
Now that's what I call giving your kids a healthy appreciation for the undeniably important role that money plays in our lives. And speaking of kids (and not just Robert's but all Canadian kids) I could not let him get away without asking what he thinks about the role of schools and government in financial literacy.

A Helping Hand for Capitalism
These are exciting times. Flaherty's Task Force on Financial Literacy is due to release its recommendations next month. In Manitoba and Ontario, curriculum writers are hunched over their computers furiously writing brand new financial literacy lesson plans that will be introduced in September 2011. When I asked Robert what he thinks about all this he brought up an interesting point: capitalism sometimes needs a helping hand.

Robert believes that our governments do a good job supporting capitalism by funding initiatives that build our economy. He mentioned the new Business Plan Competition that is on right now at Queen's University. The federal government will provide three $150,000 interest free loans to students, or faculty, who start a business. "This is a great use of public resources," he said.

Robert also thinks that including financial education in schools is another good use of public resources and he has a wish-list for the new curriculum that includes teaching kids about spending wisely and about entrepreneurship. He hopes that kids will learn that "when you spend a dollar on this, you can't spend it on that." He also hopes that kids will be introduced to the possibility of earning a living as an entrepreneur because, as he's read, eighty percent of entrepreneurs have a family member that is already an entrepreneur.

Robert's father was a factory worker. His mother was a secretary. "It's tough to take a chance when you don't see others doing it." Wow. Imagine an education system that teaches kids (every kid, not just the ones who take high school business courses) the difference between being an employee and an entrepreneur? That would be a great use of public funds. But enough wishful thinking...back to Robert.

A Fearless Learner
Robert is immensely successful in business and in life but what struck me the most during our short conversation is how much he cares about financial literacy. He is completely open and honest about money with his kids. He doesn't shut down or "fake it" when the limits of his financial knowledge are reached. He is fearless when it comes to learning the language of money. Isn't that just as impressive as owning mansions and knowing Oprah? I think so.

Not only am I going to keep talking to my daughter about money, I am going to talk to her about all the stuff I don't know about money. That way we can explore and acquire the language together. And, the next time I'm at the bank, I'm going to speak up when I don't know what a word means. I mean, seriously, if Robert Herjavec can admit when he doesn't know something about money, so can I.

Copyright 2010. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.
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  1. Awesome post :) loved how you focused so much on Robert as a father and a risk taker. Many people just sit back and let others take the lead when it comes to money and that needs to stop. Take the lead! Get in control and learn :) what a perfect message :)


  2. Fantastic post Laura. It's wonderful to hear Robert's message about asking when you don't understand. So often the ego leads people of all ages to do the opposite and remain quiet when there is a great learning opportunity before them. And yes, it's nice to hear he is still willing to ask even though he's considered an "expert." Clearly evidence of a life ling learner. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Great blog post. I came across this post from a retweet and enjoyed it. There is this huge stigma around money being evil and as he said money just is, it's a resource. It really depends on how people use money.

    As the first person commented, it was also great that you showed his family side, a side we don't really get to see.


  4. Thanks, Shaun. I was inspired too by his comment that "money just is." I love that.

  5. Just curious ,how much does it take to satisfy a rich man??I heard just a little bit more..
    When do you stop to rest and invest in others