I have been fascinated with Ron Carson for many years, not just because he is at the top of his game in the financial advisory profession, but also because of how he got there.
Ron Carson has gone from Nebraska farm boy to Barron’s Hall of Fame Advisor. Their family farm ultimately went bankrupt, but from those humble beginnings Ron went on to college and launched his financial advisory business from his dorm room in 1983. He grew it to the $10 billion RIA it is today. He was raised by a hard-working father, and a mother who Ron says, was the “wind in my sails.” She taught him the power of believing in himself and his dreams. She had a “we haven’t failed until we quit trying” philosophy, and Ron kept on trying. He became a finalist for the Ernst and Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” and his firm has been named to the “Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company” three years in a row since 2017.
After reading his book, Tested in the Trenches, and researching everything about him that the online world could provide, I concluded that Ron was beyond my reach and expected to admire him from afar through his books, videos, and articles.
In 2015, a series of events involving Ron proved to be life-changing for me. First, Ron commented on an article I had published on LinkedIn. That started an exchange which led to my interviewing him, followed by my writing an article about the interview experience and his recently published book, The Sustainable Edge. As a result, Ron comped a ticket for me and my friend to attend his Excell Conference to meet him in-person, which led to a hiking trip together. Our friendship grew and eventually led to a partnership. Most recently, I had the opportunity of spending a day and a half shadowing him.
During my recent shadow experience, I asked him, “What role has generosity played in your life?” He paused for a moment before he answered, “Being generous gives me a rush of happiness, a high of emotion. There is nothing better than doing something nice for someone who never expected it and who cannot repay you.” I believe his generosity is not only the foundation of our relationship, but it also seems to be the foundation of his success.
What is a typical day like with Ron Carson?
According to the schedule, Ron was going to pick me up at my hotel on Thursday morning at 7 a.m. I received a text from him at 6:42 a.m. saying “I am out front, and way early, so take your time.” That was when I discovered that being early is being on time for Ron and was a common theme I experienced over and over during the day and a half I spent with him. The night before we were to meet, he texted me a picture of his schedule, which was hand-written on a legal pad. It was common to see a time like “4:29 a.m.” or “3:10 p.m.” Minutes are important to Ron, and each one had a clear purpose. Included on his planning page was his “Essential Six and Most Vital” (I noticed he repeatedly practiced what he preached from a planning perspective). I asked him why he writes out his schedule and plans by hand. He said his executive assistant maintains his electronic schedule, but pen to paper is how he gets his creative and deep-thinking juices flowing.
The first morning consisted of a partner-wide, nationwide investment phone call, followed by a meeting with his sales team and then a meeting with a fintech entrepreneur. His first meal of the day was lunch. One of his goals is longevity (to die young at an old age), which is the reason why he practices intermittent fasting almost every day.
Ron’s ability to listen, pick up on details, and ask meaningful questions is impressive. I observed during morning meetings that Ron was completely focused on the speaker; he was doing nothing else. Occasionally, he would pick up his pen and write a quick note on a piece of paper. There was no laptop and no screen in front of him during any meeting, just a pen and paper, and he asked more questions than anyone else. After one session, I mentioned to him that there was something discussed in the meeting that I disagreed with and gave him my reasoning. He quickly answered, “Why didn’t you ask a question about that?”
After lunch, he joined a conference call with a strategic partner and his COO. Following the one-hour conference call, he did a video shoot for the new Carson Headquarters building that is being built there in Omaha, Nebraska. I immediately noticed that the crew that had been hired to film the video were ready and waiting when Ron arrived and assumed they too were aware of Ron’s habit of punctuality. The shoot went off as seamlessly as all the rest of the day’s meetings. Following the video shoot, we went to his office and met with his executive assistant to plan. They were planning out to September 2019. It became apparent to me that Ron’s executive assistant is vital to his organization and success.
At 3:10 p.m., we drove Ron’s truck to a small airport near Omaha, parked in the Carson hangar, and boarded Ron’s private jet. We flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where we were met by a driver who took us to the Cedar Rapids Country Club (for a Carson Partner client event), arriving about 4:25 p.m. The event was fantastic! After it was over, about 8 p.m., the driver took us back to the airport. We flew back to Omaha and Ron dropped me off at my hotel at 9 p.m. Between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., there was not one idle moment. Wow!
Friday morning, at 4:15 AM, Ron was waiting outside my hotel to pick me up so we could work out together. Ron is nearly twice my age and, I soon discovered, more than twice as strong. Let’s just say that it took all the strength I had to wash my hair in the shower after we were done working out. He clearly outworked me but was kind and positive while encouraging me to push harder than I ever have before.
Friday morning consisted of a Carson-wide weekly call at 7:30 a.m. and the Carson Leadership Team meeting at 9 a.m. Between meetings, we walked around the office and talked to whoever Ron happened to run into. He showed the same interest in the new sales lady as he did in his most senior and trusted executives. Perhaps that is why many of his most productive and trusted stakeholders were once that brand new Carson team member. Ron tells his team that getting hired by Carson is like a life-sentence – he wants the right people to be with him forever.
Live and Breathe Your Vision; If You Don’t Have One, Figure It Out!
Ron’s goals are woven into the fabric of his daily living. That was one of the most obvious things I observed as I watched him. He said he even posts his goals in his shower; he writes them on yellow legal pads and carries them around everywhere he goes. From the time he wakes up until the time he goes to bed, his activities and time are focused on achieving them. In one meeting, he asked the attendees, “On average, how many times do people set a goal before they give up?” The answer is .78. Most people don’t ever set the goal! He continually teaches to set the goal, stay focused, and you will eventually achieve it.
Hundreds, if not thousands of people are loyal to Ron. As I talked with some of them and observed how they feel about him, I recognized that I am not the only person whose relationship with Ron is founded on his generosity. I have come to believe that he affects people so profoundly because he is entirely genuine in his desire to help others.
Progress, Not Perfection
“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate,” is one of Ron’s favorite quotes. Failure teaches us and helps us understand how to improve. Immersing myself in Ron’s world for those two days reinforced something I have long believed: failure isn’t permanent. But unfortunately, many people view it that way. Social media and the internet bombard us with images and messages of perfection. Consciously and subconsciously, we think that perfection is what leads to progress, but nothing could be further from the truth! When we combine a positive view of failure with humility and a dedication to improving, we will win over time.
Attention to Important Details + Intense Drive to Improve + Decades = Results Beyond Imagination
Ron is human, but the last thing he wants to be is an average human, running an average company. His standard of excellence and attention to essential details is always on. He will instantly correct, question or challenge anything that he feels is getting in the way of progress. When we do this with our lives, we become the master of our life. Life is what we make of it. Excuses always hurt; they never help.
Positivity and Patience
One of my favorite parts about shadowing Ron for 21 hours was being in such a positive environment. I am sure Ron has down moments – he is human – but I realized that I could be a whole lot more positive than I am (and I think most people who know me would say I am a positive person). In Ron’s book, The Sustainable Edge, he says, “You will overestimate what you can accomplish in the short-term but underestimate what you can accomplish in the long-term.” Positivity plus patience plus the four other takeaways mentioned above will lead to success and happiness.
Conclusion – “Today is the First Day…”
I’ve come to believe over the course of many years that success is not reserved for just a few. Success, achieving our goals, and making progress is available to everyone. The struggle comes when we self-select average thinking and living. The moment we realize that the way we think, feel, and act, is totally up to us, we begin to change our lives forever.
Ron has a favorite expression he uses often: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Make the most of it.” I have heard that expression countless times in my life. I thought I knew what my parents and teachers were trying to tell me – that today is all any of us have left and to get busy.
During the past few years that I have had the privilege of knowing Ron Carson, my understanding of that expression has deepened, and I no longer believe that the future is all we have left. We still have the lessons of the past – and they mean a great deal.
Ron has taught me that the experiences, problems, and failures of the past are an important part of who I am and where I am today. I’m starting to look at some of the more difficult things I have experienced with a sense of gratitude for the great lessons those struggles have taught me.
We are not limited by our past – quite the opposite. But the past cannot be changed, and the future is not yet available to us. Today, however, is here now and we can choose how we want to live it.
I once heard it said that our life is not a dress rehearsal and that we are living it out this very moment. When we truly realize the choices we have each new day, then we will understand why Ron continually advises that very thing that he lives: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Make the most of it.”
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