When Tony Robbins speaks breathlessly on a subject, whether it’s finance or self-improvement, the veins coursing through his neck and forehead tumefy to the point where you are convinced that, should their power be harnessed, they could provide transfusions to a small village.
And following our hour-long discussion, with Tony looking dapper in a bespoke pinstriped suit with custom pocket square—he is promoting a new investment guide, Unshakeable, after all—we are cramped together in a tiny office elevator. There are two nondescript men in sunglasses and suits shadowing him, both of whom rise to his shoulders.
Are these your security guards? I ask him. His laugh practically shakes the elevator. “You’ve noticed they’re smaller than me!” the 6-foot-7 life expert blurts out. “They just help me get from point A to point B.” That is, it seems, Robbins’s objective as well. He hates the terms “guru” and “self-help,” but says his mission in life is to present models to people of proven paths to self-actualization. The 57-year-old has given counsel to many world leaders, including former President Bill Clinton and current one Donald Trump, and delivers wildly popular four-day “Unleash the Power Within” seminars to around 10,000 people. Kanye West and the Kardashian Klan attended the most recent edition this past weekend in Los Angeles.
“I’d rather pull out my eyelashes than write books,” he says firmly—as if he knew any other way. “The real reason is I want to protect people and show them how to take advantage of what’s coming.”
Robbins’s new book, Unshakeable, offers strategies from the world’s top investors, from Jack Bogle to Warren Buffett, on how to invest soundly. It contends that, since we are in the eighth year of a bull market, it’s going to come crashing down soon—and that is precisely the time for nervous millennials or reluctant baby boomers to invest.
Here is a condensed version of our conversation, which touched on everything from the economy to the bizarre quirks of our surprise Commander-in-Chief. As far as Unshakeable goes, what do you think the biggest takeaways are for budding investors?
Well, most people don’t get in the game—maybe a little through their 401(k), but they don’t know what they’re doing unfortunately—and the returns show that. So why don’t they get into the market? There are tons of millennials who have been saying, “The market’s overvalued and it’s gonna crash” for eight years, and they’ve missed out on a 250 percent increase. Or people said, “Trump’s in, it’s going to crash,” and the market’s up since Trump took office. Like Warren Buffett said to me, “Tony, betting against America for two centuries is the dumbest bet you could make,” because we keep becoming more productive, we have population growth that keeps us going, we’ve got inflation, and those things have caused us, in the long-term, to continue to go up. But there hasn’t been one bear market that wasn’t followed instantly by a bull market in the next year. Remember 2008? It went up 69 percent from March 9th to 12 months later. I’m here to show people that it’s more dangerous to not be in the market.
It is pretty bold of you to release this investing book before Trump unveils any sort of tax or economic plan.
I did it for that reason: because I’m concerned. If the president did everything perfectly and you loved the president, we’re still eight years into a bull market, so no matter who’s in charge, there’s going to be a correction at some point. And when the market correct, you want to take advantage of it. The financial markets have gone crazy [with Trump] because they think he’s going to soften the rules, but you don’t know.
A couple of months ago, I had a great conversation with George W. Bush. I said, “I really respect you, and I’ve never heard you attack Obama.” He said, “Tony, I’m not the president of the United States—he is. And whether I picked him or not, he’s your president.” Then I asked him, “Would you still have that mindset today?” and he said, “Obviously, I wish my brother would’ve made it—but he didn’t. People didn’t want him. But this whole idea the world’s ending because Trump is here? I remember when Nixon left office and people said, ‘He’s destroyed the presidency, he’s destroyed America.’ That was totally wrong.” He said, “You know what I’ve learned about being president of the United States? The office is bigger than the occupant.”
But really, how bullish are you about the economy under President Trump?
I’m not bullish about Trump; I’m bullish about the American economy over the long-term. Warren [Buffett] was saying, “Half the people I’ve voted for didn’t become president, and I’m doing fine”—he’s doing more than fine. I’m not a predictor of markets; I’m a student of long-term patterns. You have to go through winter before you get to spring, and winter is coming—and when it comes, instead of freaking out, you want to be by a warm fire with your family.
I know you hate the phrase “self-help,” but as far as the personal enrichment biz goes, Donald Trump is a competitor of yours.
Well, I gave him his first big speech about 17, 18 years ago. He came thinking he was talking to 200 people and we had 10,000. In those days, he wouldn’t shake your hand because he was such a germaphobe, and his whole talk was: “Get a prenup.” He told all these different stories, and they all boiled down to: “Get a prenup.”
So this was right after his divorce from Marla Maples, and before he met Melania.
That’s exactly right. It was the most important thing for him, apparently, at the time.
You gave him that first crowd high.
I did. And now he’s addicted to it—for better or worse.
I read a piece on Jared Kushner about how he didn’t fully buy in to the Trump mania until he attended one of his rallies, and he experienced that high—that evangelical Trump praise—for himself, and it got addictive. A lot of people get high off that. Do you?
Well, we were all surprised by him being elected. I sure as hell was. I think even he was. I love what I do, but I do it one-on-one, I do it in groups. My average seminar is 10,000 people, but they go four days and nights—it’s not a 2-hour talk, and it’s not an easy thing. I like the impact and I like results.
Let’s talk about results. I’m generally a skeptic, but there are many people who have claimed that you’ve delivered positive results. The problem with Trump-as-guru is there doesn’t seem to be many people who have bought a Trump book, attended a Trump seminar, etc. and seen actual results. Mark Cuban once asked, “Has there been anyone who’s come forth and said, ‘Donald Trump was a great mentor to me, I learned so much and it helped me build my business?’” No. There’s just a long line of people who have claimed that he’s stiffed them, and that have sued him for it.
He’s not a teacher. He learned how to play the real estate game and that’s what he’s best at, and he learned how to be a good promoter. He entered the fray at a time when there was so much anger that he was able to mobilize, and the other side thought that they were going to win and they didn’t maximize on the Midwest or take seriously the anger and upset that was there. I’m not a Trump supporter, but I’m an America supporter and I want the United States to do well, and I find that continually tearing things down is not helping America move forward. He’s certainly not helping with his communication style, to say the least, but I’m confident that the office is bigger than the occupant, and long-term, America will do well regardless of who’s in that office.
How would you compare you two? His brand seems to be selling a lifestyle and pseudo-aspirationalism, whereas you seem to be selling more of a psychological journey that leads you to, hopefully, a better destination.
I don’t know that he’s ever claimed to be a great teacher or a great mentor or any of those things.
You don’t think so? When you open a bogus institution like Trump University and charge people an arm and a leg for your supposed business expertise?
Well, he’s paid a big price for not being able to deliver there, too. And it’s not his expertise to put together a university of that nature and he overpromised and underdelivered. I think the one thing he’s done, and it’s not my place to defend the president—I’m not on his side—is he figured out how to use leverage and debt to produce some great real estate projects, he knew exactly what his niche was (the ultra-wealthy), and he knew how to promote and make money on it. Whether he’ll be a great president or not, I mean, he’s been in office for two months and made a lot of mistakes, so we’ve just got to hope that he’ll learn from those mistakes so as a country we can move forward. Divided it’s pretty hard to achieve anything, and right now we’re massively divided, so we’ll see if we’ll get tired of feeling this way and decide to work together a little bit. The question is whether it will take four years to do that—and by then we’ll have someone new in office—or not.
Confidence is a big part of your program. “Confidence with competence,” as you say. When you look at someone like Vladimir Putin, if you polled a hundred people on the street and asked them how tall he is, they’d all probably say 6’4” and not 5’6”.
I know. That’s because everyone gets on the ground to shoot him! Did you see the photo where they showed President Obama carrying 5-pound weights, and then showed Putin on the back of a horse? He’s cultivated that image and he’s a little guy. He knows how to build identity. Not everybody who’s small has a Napoleon complex, but if you look at his behavior it certainly reflects it.
But would you consider someone like that an “alpha?” They’re fake alphas. It’s a weird thing: they’re an alpha until they get punched in the face, or an alpha until someone takes out their legs. I meet people all the time where you can tell it’s fake confidence but people these days have a huge bullshit meter because even reality television is bullshit.
Look who is president.
Well, most people didn’t vote for the current president—a few million people, truthfully. But there’s anger out there that wasn’t addressed. I was talking to Bill Clinton this past weekend and he was very frustrated that they didn’t take the Midwest serious. He had a very different point of view about where they should have been spending their time, but they just took it for granted. He was not a happy camper. But Hillary’s team wanted to run things their way.
I read about that as well. Back to Trump, though. We were discussing false confidence, and you’ve sat down with Trump, so how would you characterize his level of narcissism? It does seem like its born out of deep insecurity.
It is. His entire life is “you win or you’re nobody.” You’re seen and known. Even if people don’t like you, though he’d prefer to be liked, people will know how you are and respect you. That mentality is a ‘40s/’50s subset that some people have that he was brought up with, and it is him. The level of obsession that he has about the media coverage he gets—if you go to his offices he’s got a room stacked with magazines of everything he’s ever done. I know it sounds absurd, but I feel for the guy in that at any moment, his entire identity can disappear if enough people are upset with him. I hope that he’ll eventually adjust to a CEO mentality and be in a position where he wants to succeed so badly that he’ll do something that’s worthwhile. We’ll see.
Donald Trump also seems to be the No. 1 example right now of money not being able to buy happiness. He doesn’t seem to be a very happy person.
Well, he isn’t. But look: most Americans are not fit, most Americans are not in a passionate long-term relationship, most Americans do not love their work. My obsession is finding the few who do, because if you can figure out that model, you can show people pathways to go from where they are to where they want to be.