Tony Robbins, America’s most famous and successful nonathletic coach, does not do small.
Everything about him is massive. His hands, perpetually in motion, are the size of skillets. The Oxfords? Sixteens. During an interview, his muscles seem primed to rip, Hulklike, out of his pinstripe suit. His 6-foot-7 frame dwarfs the hotel chair. Sitting seems like punishment for a man who claims to clock 26.5 miles in a day (granted, a 16-hour day), a motivational marathon, pacing an amphitheater stage. Robbins resembles a taller version of Ben Affleck. They share that same improbable cartoon jaw.
Here’s how he sells himself: “I’m a passionate, crazy dude that loves to serve people, who loves to learn, loves to expand, loves to see impact.” Except, he doesn’t actually say “dude.” Think something more, uh, colorful.
In Robbins’s world, there’s never too much. A man with his own Mastery University, he ended his formal studies at high school, but says, “I read 700 books in the area of human development, psychology, physiology, things that I thought could make a difference.”
Why own one company when you can own a dozen? He claims to have “impacted over 50 million people in 100 countries.” Robbins tours the globe with a catalogue of personal empowerment seminars: “Unleash the Power Within” (known in Robbins’s world as UPW), “Date with Destiny,” “Life and Wealth Mastery,” “Business Mastery” and “Leadership Academy.” People pay handsomely for his wisdom: Tickets for his March UPW experience at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J., including the “firewalk experience,” run $650 to $2,995. The more patrons pay, the closer to Robbins they get.
He loves numbers, preferably in the thousands (sizes of paid audiences), millions (money made, lost — $42 million on his divorce alone — then made again, current worth about $480 million) and billions (wealth of friends and clients).
Money has brought Robbins to New York, where he sits for a chat at the Four Seasons Hotel, from his $25 million home in Palm Beach, Fla. Or rather, “Money: Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom.” It’s his first “major” book in 20 years. Spend some time with Robbins — say, five minutes — and you get why he hasn’t written a book in so long. He’s no good at rest. As he notes, “I’m a massive-action guy.”
He wrote the book because he was angry about the 2008 stock market and banking collapse. He was fine, he says, because he gets advice from financial stars who have mastered the game, such as private asset and hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones, “who I’ve been coaching for 21 years, looking at 14 to 16 things I measure daily to maximize his capabilities.” Billionaire investor Ray Dalio gave him “the secret sauce” of an “All Weather” asset location, including investing 55 percent in bonds.
Please don’t call Robbins, 54, a motivator. “If all you do is motivate, without a strategy, it’s like a warm bath,” he says. “It’s nice. It’s not enough.”
So what does he do? “I am able to inspire people.”
This is what keeps him going. “You have to keep growing, keep expanding, keep adding your skills. You got to be fit,” he says. “It’s about impact and it’s all about love for me. Quite frankly, I’m a love bug.”
He traffics in platitudes, such as: “Complexity is the enemy of execution.” Names aren’t dropped so much as hurled at Nolan Ryan speed: Bill Clinton, Andre Agassi, Princess Diana.
Wait, the Princess Diana?
Robbins is not one to coach and tell, but he will impart, “She was trying to make a decision, to give you a sense, and shortly thereafter, she made a decision about what she was going to do with her life, which was different than most people expected.” Oh.
And Clinton? The president calls, invites him to Camp David. “He had run on ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ And he’d lost momentum. The Senate and Congress had been taken from him, and he wanted coaching on what to do.”
Robbins is used to being center stage in stadiums of believers who pay dearly and surround the love bug with love. He rarely makes one point when he can make a rhetorical peregrination of five or six.
Here’s what he says about money: “I think money makes people more of who they are. If you’re mean, you’ve got more to be mean with. If you’re giving, you’ve got more to give. It’s a magnifying device. In today’s world, it’s nothing. It’s ones and zeros. In banks today, it’s not even paper anymore. It’s like a canvas. It’s like a shape-shifter. Whatever you project on it, it’s there. It’s a tool to use for the greater good in your life. It’s a reflection of power. It’s portable power.”
Robbins says all this in a matter of seconds, barely drawing a breath, his bass voice stripped to a sandpaper scratch from 37 years of “full-immersion coaching.”
He claims to have long wanted to help others, a pattern that began in high school. “I became Mr. Solution. You had the problem, I had the solution.” Also, it helped him meet girls.
Last year, to escape the punitive taxes of his native California (Chapter 3.7, “Change your life — and lifestyle — for the better”), Robbins and his second wife, Sage (“She’s the greatest gift that ever happened in my life”), looked at 88 properties in three states in three weeks before moving to Palm Beach, because Florida is one of seven states without an income tax. Somehow, South Dakota wasn’t going to make the cut. Robbins also owns a resort in Fiji, where his company offers “Life and Wealth Mastery” in March and May, which can easily cost patrons five figures.
It was in a large, mostly empty room at his new spread that Robbins wrote his book in an unorthodox fashion: He created a chapel of Post-it Notes placed all over the room, insights from interviewing 50 “of the most brilliant minds in the world, people who started with nothing and became self-made billionaires, top hedge fund guys as well as Nobel laureates.”
He’s no fan of the writing process. “Being stationary, there’s no one there. But the way I overcame this is I had all sorts of people — millennials, older people — read to me out loud. I could hear where they got excited, where they got confused.” Then, he would reorganize, because “I’m a syntactician. I believe sequence matters. I laid out sequence to create meaning.”
The 656-page book, No. 1 on the Publishers Weekly nonfiction and Amazon self-help lists, takes a while to impart meaning, offering such advice as: Save more, compound your savings, hire a fiduciary instead of a stockbroker. The reader gets a ton of Tony — the legend of his hard-luck childhood, abandonment by four fathers, no money, no food, no college, a janitor at 17, the grace of generosity. There’s a sea of bold type. “Repetition is the mother of skill,” Robbins writes, and, “There will be a lot of exclamation points!” He delivers handily on both.
Book sales may be brisk, but initial reviews have been brutal. Bloomberg View’s Barry Ritholtz notes that in 2010, Robbins’s “money-losing advice to the public was awful. I expect the All Weather Portfolio to perform as poorly.” Britain’s Guardian newspaper warns: “Infomercial king Tony Robbins wants to tell you what to do with your money. Be very afraid.”
Robbins is all about banishing the negative, so it’s unlikely that such comments affect him. He’s forever on the move, on a plane every four days. His company believes in 50 hours of coaching (or more!), because Robbins believes that “when you link emotion with enough repetition, you get physical mastery. That’s immersion.”
He says that his company “does $5 billion annually in sales.” Charity motivates him; “contribution” is the last of his “six human needs.” And he says he won’t see a dime from the new book. “I’m giving away all the profits. I’ve provided 50 million meals. I hope to give away 100 million with matching funds.”
Robbins doesn’t just have an assistant. He has a personal assistant, a communications assistant, a creative team. Mary Buckheit works communications, having moved from serving as senior creative specialist. Applying for a position — “I didn’t really know anything about Tony” — she took the required DISC personality test, then was asked to fly to Australia the day after the results to interview with Robbins.
She loves working for him. She even got a small trampoline, a rebounder, because Robbins is big on using one to “lymphasize” — i.e., get the blood circulating through the lymphatic system. But, she also notes, the boss “is completely unreasonable.”
He heartily concurs. “I am unreasonable in what I expect of myself, and that’s how you get people to change. If you’re reasonable, you adapt to the world.”
Many stories make up the Robbins legend. Here’s one: When he was in his early 20s, Robbins finished a seminar in Atlanta, then went to the basketball arena to see Bruce Springsteen perform. “I went from totally excited to depressed,” he says. “I’m not doing anything. There were 15,000 people there yelling for Bruce, and I’m working with 120 people. Then I realized, everyone has their gig. I’m working with people to change their bodies, change their relationships, change their lives.”
The story doesn’t end there.
“Less than a decade later, I was in that same place with 15,000 people,” Robbins said, “and I wasn’t onstage for two or three hours. I was onstage for 10 to 12 hours. So I got to do my form of a concert.”
That’s what inspires the coach who inspires millions. “You can be a movie star or a rock star, and people want to be with you,” he says.
He’s an ideas star. “What I do for people, 10 or 12 years later, they say, ‘You changed my life.’ And I say, ‘No, you did, but thanks for the credit.’ ”