Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rich Dad, Piss-Poor Role Model?

See note at bottom
So Rich Dad, Poor Dad author and self-proclaimed wealth-building-guru Robert Kiyosaki has taken one of his companies into bankruptcy rather than live up to his promises to The Learning Annex, an early mega-promoter of his rockstar-like public appearances. This past April the Annex won a $23.7 million judgment against Kiyosaki, after a New York jury bought Annex founder Bill Zanker's argument that his firm helped give Kiyosaki the enormous platform he today enjoys in peddling his wealth-building wares. "I took Kiyosaki's brand and made it bigger," Zanker told The New York Post. "The deal was I would get a percentage, and he reneged... We put his Rich Dad brand on a stage. We truly prepared him for great fame and riches. But when it was time for him to pay up, he said 'no.' "

And lest you feel a measure of sorrow for Kiyosaki, this is a corporate bankruptcy, not a personal one. He has other significant business interests that will endure, and in any case the Annex judgment does not put any of Kiyosaki's (sheltered) seven-figure personal holdings in jeopardy.

Forbes put the imbroglio in perspective like so:
"Robert Kiyosaki, author of the bestselling Rich, Dad, Poor Dad series of financial advice books, is offering his fans yet another lesson in how the rich are different than you and me: they file for bankruptcy not because of ill health or unemployment-related issues, but instead as a strategic business move."
Like many in SHAMland's get-rich-quick wing, Robert (don't call me "Bob") Kiyosaki appears to have gotten rich by writing a book that promises to teach other people how to get rich. In  Rich Dad, Kiyosaki oozed a smarmy all-knowing tone that made it sound as if he were deigning to admit lesser-born readers to the sanctum sanctorum of financial security just for a little peek. He often seemed to be poking fun at those poor benighted plebes who took actual 9-to-5 jobs and lived within their current means. People, that is, like his father, the titular "Poor Dad."

And yet there's little or no documented evidence that Kiyosaki himself has ever successfully implemented the enrichment formula that he urges on his readers. Before hitting on the authorial path to fame and fortune, this unflinching advocate for the Ownership Class, who derides the value of education and portrays the working man as a sucker and a slave, failed at several prior tries at entrepreneurship (firms that made t-shirts and Velcro wallet, to name two). Further, the vastness of Kiyosaki's claimed real-estate empire has been widely disputed if not debunked (by SmartMoney and others), while he has steadfastly refused to provide any proof (addresses, deeds, etc.); he says he's afraid of attracting lawsuits from tenants and others who covet a piece of the action. That alone raises doubts about the eight-figure net worth he supposedly had amassed prior to Rich Dad.

But an even bigger red flagand a telling insight into the character of the, well, character we're dealing with hereis the fact that so much of what Kiyosaki espouses is either unethical or plainly illegal. For starters, his "screw you!" attitude towards those to whom he's indebted should come as no surprise, because in the original Rich Dad, he writes:
When I occasionally come up short, I still pay myself first. I let the creditors and even the government scream.
Such an outlook might easily slip in under the radar or even be mistaken merely for an admirable commitment to saving money. (And let's face it, we're all a bit fed up with banks and other lenders these days, and with good reason, given what went on during the run-up to 2008's financial crisis.) So let's put the scenario in more personal terms: Say I've made a vow that I'll save $100 out of every paycheck, and let's also say that I've borrowed $100 from you and promised to pay you back next payday. When that payday arrives I decide that I'm a little "short," I put the $100 in the bank and leave you Kiyosaki suggests. In effect, if not in fact, that's really your $100 in my bank. Though that may sound like no big deal, in other settings it would constitute the crime of conversion.

To that same point, a few years ago Kiyosaki settled a lawsuit with his former Rich Dad partner, CPA Sharon Lechter, who accused him of diverting joint assets to his personal use (I haven't read the lawsuit, but the word skimming comes to mind). The Lechter matter strikes me as an object lesson in Kiyosaki's inclination to pay himself first...and suggests that he's even willing to cheat long-time business partners to do it.

And that's hardly the worst of Kiyosaki's game plan. In Rich Dad, he also counsels you, the reader, to cultivate an ever-growing circle of well-heeled corporate honchosnot so much so that you can learn from their example, but so that you can cull secret/private info on which to base sure bets in the stock market. Indeed, he concludes cynically, in sharp reproach to the Dionne Warwick hit*, "That is what friends are for." 'Fraid not, folks; in reality, that's insider trading and it's a felony.

Kiyosaki also tells you to form (shell?) corporations so that you can write off all of your exotic vacations to the business. Sigh. You can only get away with that if there is an actual, existing business, and if the principal purpose of your vacation is to hold a board meeting or convention or some such...and even then you can only write off the portion of the trip that relates to business... So if you do go to Fiji or Paris or wherever, you'd better have a bunch of bona fide board members and/or employees along with you, and you'd better be able to prove that some legitimate business purpose was served. Or else you've now committed tax fraud and possibly other white-collar crimes as well, and you'll end up sharing a cell in Dennis Kozlowski's block.

There are also things in Kiyosaki's bio, as stated by him personally, that not only don't add up, but raise questions about the entire Rich Dad program. Kiyosaki tells us that during his formative years he was lucky enough to to shake off the ruinous influence of his PhD "Poor Dad" and soak up the genius of his "Rich Dad" (a boyhood friend's father, who may well be apocryphal, as the man has never been identified to anyone's satisfaction). This supposed epiphany, which took place in the mid-50s, when Kiyosaki would've been 8 or 9, is the entire basis of the book. (According to his official bio, he was born in Hawaii on April 8, 1947.) But if that is so, then how come Kiyosaki admits that he found himself homeless and bankrupt three decades later? Even though there are questions about whether that, too, is true, for the sake of argument, let's take Kiyosaki at his word. If the guy was homeless and bankrupt a good three decades after learning the most important secrets of True Wealth...then how brilliant could that advice have been? If you buy the book today, do you want to picture yourself homeless and bankrupt in 2040?

Of course, the Kiyosaki empire doesn't end with his book. This site is a meeting place for one-time fans who feel they were ripped off via Rich Dad upsells. The site's author describes a descent into self-help hell at the hands of one of the companies Kiyosaki has used to furnish intensive training to those who were seduced by the book and/or one of Kiyosaki's entry-level seminars. The course, the author alleges, was "Sold to me by Rich Dad Education, LLC with Wealth Intelligence Academy, Inc.which used to be called Whitney Education Group, Inc and is now called Tigrent, Inc.they keep changing their name so that the tons of complaints against them are filed under different names." I don't know whether, in fact, there are "tons of complaints" filed, but I'm less than shocked by allegations that Kiyosaki's business ventures may have taken advantage of people.

Remember that in any publicly promoted wealth-building enterprise, the firstand sometimes the onlyperson whose wealth will be built is the trainer's.


And now I discover that Kiyosaki has the nerve to post this, his way of thumbing his nose at "tormentors" like the Annex, as well as turning his own bankruptcy filing into a life lesson about hiding and shielding assets. Among other things, Kiyosaki writes, "Now more than ever, if you have money, people will come after you.... Everybody wants a piece of your action. The rich hide much of their wealth using vehicles such as corporations and trusts to protect their assets from creditors. When someone sues a wealthy individual, they are often met with layers of legal protection and often find that the wealthy person actually owns nothing. They control everything, but own nothing...." Picture our hero smirking disdainfully at those, like Annex's Zanker, who actually thought they had a legit business deal when they shook Kiyosaki's unctuous hand.

You know what, Bob? Maybe if people "come after you," it's because they believed that they were legally entitled to the money you owed them? Maybe people want the "piece of your action" that you promised to them? One is reminded of the Big Spender who runs up all his charge cards before filing Chapter 11 and turning his back on his creditors: What schmucks, he thinks. If those idiots were dumb enough to extend me credit, then they deserve what they got!

There is an important life lesson to be learned here, however: Sometimes it's fairly easy to accumulate large sums of money, for a while anyway, if you're an irredeemable scumbag. I've seen this principle in action myself, in recent times.

NOTE: Why A Bronx Tale? The mob drama-cum-morality play's central tension pitted bus driver Robert DeNiro against mob boss (Sonny) Chazz Palminteri for the admiration, heart and soul of DeNiro's movie son, Colagero. Who can forget young Colagero's heartbreaking soliloquy wherein he tells off his Dad, "Sonny was right, the working man is a sucker!" Sound familiar? (See the film if you haven't.)

 * Yes, I know there are many covers of the song, which was actually written by Burt Bacharach for the hilarious film Night Shift.


a/good/lysstener said...

It's good to see you posting again after a ridiculously long hiatus. Where did you go??

This is one of those posts that has much more to say than just the nominal topic you're writing on. It really made me think about values and greed and commitments.

On a side note A Bronx Tale is one of my fave movies, and not just because the Sonny character is so hot. That tension you mention between humble virtue and flamboyantly successful evil is dead-on for this topic.

roger o'keefe said...

Steve, since you and the lovely Alyssa have come out of hiding I guess I might as well too.

You're being unfair to Kiyosaki, who is simply being a good businessman and taking advantage of the laws that are on the books. The laws are there for a reason, because legislators recognized the need for them. So why shouldn't Kiyosaki avail himself of those laws? And he tells his readers to do the same. Don't you take advantage of the laws that benefit you, writeoffs or breaks that people in your profession get? Or forget about your profession, if you own a home do you take the mortgage deduction?

Don't get ticked at somebody just because he's worked the system to accumulate more wealth than you have. There's too much of that around already.

Jenny said...

I'm glad to see you posting again, too.

A couple of things got my attention:

"A corporation is merely a legal document that creates a legal body without a soul."

No comment needed on that one.

"The poor and middle class try to own everything and lose it to the government or to fellow citizens who like to sue the rich. They learned it from the Robin Hood story: Take from the rich, and give it to the poor."

Really? I've known a few poor people and I suppose I fall into the category "middle class." Never once have I met anyone thus classified who "try to own everything." Also, what is he even talking about here. Ownership implies actually buying (not stealing) something, so why bring up Robin Hood again?

You got me thinking again, Steve. Hope to hear a lot more from you!

RevRon's Rants said...

Call me old fashioned, but in my way of looking at things, declaring bankruptcy while still retaining significant assets is little more than legislatively-endorsed theft. Just because the system has been manipulated in such a manner as to allow one to renege on a contract doesn't make doing so morally right. It merely makes it expedient to abandon one's responsibilities.

I find myself increasingly appalled by the notion that "working the system" and in the process harming others is taken for granted by many of the same folks who insist that those who need assistance in order to survive are parasites. Such a disconnect goes beyond the realm of cognizant dissonance and into the realm of "if I can get away with it, it must be okay." I taught a Political Science class in Social Darwinism many years ago, and historically, any societies that have attempted to adopt such a philosophy have ultimately failed, either under the weight of their own corruption, or due to popular uprisings. I sincerely hope that we avoid such a fate.

RevRon's Rants said...

History books are filled with systems that were manipulated to benefit some, while exploiting others. And with individuals who worked those systems for their own benefit, while ignoring the devastation their actions caused. What amazes me nowadays is how some who work the system to great benefit actually have the nerve to question the character of those who work the same system, albeit on a much smaller scale, merely to survive. Quite telling, in my opinion.

a/good/lysstener said...

Your last line is so true, Ron. What's that quote, to the victor goes the spoils?

Anonymous said...

Steve, Alyssa is right about this post, it has great meaning beyond its literal subject matter. There are so many lessons here about capitalism that I wish people would think about as they make their final choice of a candidate. The race is really tightening up and that concerns me deeply.

Alyssa, how is it possible that you continue to look prettier in each new picture. What a phenomenal looking female you are. No exaggeration you leave me speechless.

Steve Salerno said...

Let me remind, this isn't the Craigslist personals, but there was enough of a point to Anon's comment that I let it slide.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to the party, but this post reminded me of Toni Braxton's recent money problems. She has filed for bankrupcy twice, 1998 and 2010, and recently been charged with hiding assets.

Braxton did an interview where she called Oprah Winfrey "mean." When Winfrey interviewed her after her first bankrupcy and pointed out she had Gucci flatwear. Now I'm not a Winfrey fan, but in this case I think she was right for asking how Braxton could afford Gucci place settings, but not pay her bills.

I think Braxton is a great example of this entitlement mentality going around.

Cosmic Connie said...

And I'm REALLY late to this party (having been fighting some of my own little battles on the Scamworld front), but yes, it really is good to see you blogging again. And ditto what the latest Anon, Ron, et al. have said about the "entitlement mentality" and about people who take full advantage of a system that is rigged in their favor anyway.

I'm reminded of the latest developments in the saga of the infamous Kevin Trudeau, who may or may not be on the verge of being brought to justice at last. At this point it is anyone's guess. Trudeau has a major court hearing November 20, is reportedly currently in Switzerland, and there is buzz that he has no intention of returning to the US for the hearing. Stay tuned.

But Trudeau's fans have apparently supported him in all of his efforts to conceal his wealth from the government -- efforts that have been well documented by the FTC. To the Kool-Aid drinkers it is a pure and simple good-versus-evil fight: the government is the bad guy, and Trudeau is the noble hero fighting for his own rights and all of ours as well.

And BTW, the "Rich Dad" material is still on the reading list for members of what is arguably Trudeau's biggest scam of all, the Global Information Network (GIN). It really is just one big circle jerk.

Steve Salerno said...

Late or not, thank you, Connie. As usual, a comment that rounds out the discussion. I very much appreciate your loyalty to my blog through these years, and especially this past one. It's been a rough go on many fronts.