Discovery's Undercover Billionaire Glenn Stearns reveals how to make a million dollars
WHO COULDN'T USE a million dollars? We don't know a single person that would turn down such a sum of money. What if you were given the keys to a business, which could continuously make that amount for as long as you put in some effort? This is the premise behind Undercover Billionaire, Discovery Channel's (OSN channel 500) latest show to hit the network from today, August 12, at 10pm UAE time.
Maryland native Glenn Stearns is a self-made billionaire with perhaps more of an emphasis on the 'self-made' than others. Growing up in a low-income household, Glenn was just 14 years old when he became a father. A few years ago, he sold his mortgage company for $2.2 billion. Upon cashing in Glenn stated: "if I can do it anyone can." Putting his money where his mouth is, the series airing tonight taps into his expertise to see if it is possible to create a million-dollar company from nothing in 90 days. Here's the twist: Glenn's true identity will remain anonymous to everyone around him. Dropping the entrepreneur off in remote Erie, Pennsylvania with only $100 to his name and no contacts, Glenn quickly needs to build connections, relationships and find a job that pays cash to build a company from scratch in only three months. If he's successful, at the end of the 90 days, he'll turn over the company he built to the people who helped him out along the way - and he'll reveal his identity to those around him. Will he do it? We spoke to Glenn to find out more.
What can you tell us about the show in your own words?
I grew up in an unconventional home. My parents struggled with alcohol and whatnot and I failed fourth grade. I was dyslexic and had a child when I was 14, so there was a lot of adversity in our household. Years later (after the financial success) people would always say, 'you have been so fortunate to be able to build this business.' And I always would say I bet I could do it over again. I wanted a chance to be able to go backwards 30 years, be stripped of my name, my money and contacts, and see if you could really rebuild it.
I put this out there in the universe. Discovery picked up on it and said, 'We'd like to see if you can build a $1 million business in 90 days from scratch with no contacts or money.' And so off I went with $100 and an old beat-up pickup truck to a city I'd never been before.
What made you think you could do it again?
Over 30 years I think there have been a lot of lessons, I guess or just different principles that I had abided by and learned from that had helped me grow my business. And I thought if I could apply these simple concepts in a very focused way, then I think I could build a business and make it worth at least $1 million. Again the 90-day time frame was obviously extremely tight.
It begins with having mentors - people that have already hit their head against the wall a few times and have done well. I surrounded myself with people. I went into the town and started meeting some of the game-changers, some of the people that have been out there and have done well in the city, and I tried to get them on board to believe in a vision of creating another business that could help out their city. And so that was the beginning step for me.
Actually I suppose the beginning step was really surviving. I only had $100, so just living day to day, hand-to-mouth was very difficult. That was an eye-opener.
Are business principles taught or do you think they're innate?
I think they're easily taught if you're willing to learn. Take the competition, for example. It intimidates most people. I've always thought the exact opposite. I've always gone to my competition and said, 'Hey, I'm pretty new in this, is there anything you can teach me? I'd like to be friends'. In the show you will see many examples of how that ended up working out very well. A lot of time people have an issue with showing their weakness.
It seems to be that becoming a millionaire is very much a communal effort?
It's always about gathering a team. No matter what the business, you really need people that can strengthen your weaknesses. I've always led by what, I guess, we call servant leadership. These people have entrusted their lives and their careers to me. And so in turn, I feel like I need to work for them. I ask: 'what can I do to make your job easier and better and faster?' They're on the ground, they know what's going on, so I give them respect and make sure they understand that I'm listening.
Do you think that's lost in the corporate world these days?
Yeah. I think some business cultures say, 'We know more than you and now we don't need to listen.' And when you get there, I think that's when your culture starts to die. If you decide you're big enough that you don't need to listen anymore, I think the company begins to go downhill at that point.
In the show how difficult was it to keep your identity secret?
My full name is Glenn Brian Stearns, so on the show it's Glenn Brian. Everything I told people was true, I mean, everything other than not revealing I had already made it in business. I never told them that I've already run companies. My style has always been one where I come to people in a vulnerable state, meaning I always lead with my imperfections because then they realise you're human.
How welcoming were the people of Erie?
Erie, Pennsylvania had been decimated with unemployment. Lots of big corporations had pulled out and so they had high unemployment. And so they're a very special town because what they've done is they have learned to live "hyperlocal." They don't go to the big chains. They support the local coffee shop, the local grocery store, and the local hardware store. And they pay a little more but they're supporting the people of the community. And I found that fascinating.
I went in and said I want to open a business and I want to create jobs here in Erie and they said, 'Listen as long as you're doing something good for Erie, I love this city and I want to help.' And so that was really nice to see.
You mentioned initially living hand-to-mouth. Were there things you'd forgotten about living a "normal life" now you're a billionaire?
I've been pretty comfortable my whole life without having a lot. I slept on the floor when I was right out of college for a year. I was a waiter, even after I owned my own company. I've never felt the need to be bigger than somebody else, so that wasn't an issue for me. But just getting by, realising I only had $15 in my pocket - and then the next day just trying to clean houses and do whatever I could do, it's how a lot of people live and they can't get out of it.
I used to think, well, just work harder. It's very difficult to get to a place where you can get beyond survival and get to a thriving spot. And so I think what I learned the most is just that we need to help more people - pull them up and give them a helping hand. So I was very surprised that I had forgotten that.