Success in many different aspects of life requires time, effort, and lots of patience. Coming to America with only $50 in his pocket, Dr. Nido Qubein, now known as an educator, President of High Point University, and a business leader, shares his amazing success story and the fundamentals of business that got him to where he is today. He talks with Michelle Seiler Tucker on the importance of following these fundamentals in order to create the structure of life that goes hand-in-hand with his end goal of success, especially when it comes to business. Get inspired and start your journey to success when you learn the fundamentals of business that led Dr. Nido to his incredible achievement.
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Business Fundamentals For Success With Dr. Nido Qubein
I’m so excited to introduce a very special friend of mine. Our Exit Rich guest is an accomplished University President and a nationally recognized author, speaker and leader, Dr. Nido Qubein. He came to the United States with $50 in his pockets and a few words of English in his vocabulary yet, he went on to become one of America’s most sought–after speakers and consultants. As a University President, the story of his tenure at High Point University is known to many. In less than a decade, he led the institution to phenomenal growth with over 5,000 students and significant academic advancement, tripling its size and moving it to the number one spot amongst the Best Colleges in the South.
He is a member of the International Speakers Hall of Fame and has served as a President of the National Speakers Association. As a business leader, he is the Chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company with 220 stores in 43 states. He serves on the boards of several national organizations including Trust, a Fortune 500 company with $430 billion in assets, the La-Z-Boy Corporation and nThrive, which is a leading healthcare company.
President Qubein is the author of a dozen books and scores of leadership audio and visual recordings translated in many languages. The Biography Channel televised his Emmy-nominated life story titled, A Life of Success and Significance. His foundation has invested millions in scholarships for deserving young people and his family has been among the largest benefactors to High Point University and other organizations. Welcome to the show, Dr. Nido Qubein, my very good friend. Thank you so much for joining me.
Michelle, it’s my pleasure to being with you. I have known you for a long time. Every time I see you have done new things, you have helped more people, you have been to more places, you are a testimony to this country and business in general and I know you are helping a lot of people with your writings, speeches and coaching. I salute you and appreciate you.
Thank you so much and likewise. I miss seeing you. I miss us speaking together on stage and seeing each other at all these events. I remember when I first started speaking, my husband used to say, “Michelle, you need to speak like Dr. Qubein. You need to watch him, listen to him, emulate what he does.” I remember hearing your story about how you came to this country speaking no English at all, basically teaching yourself English on index cards. If I remember correctly, you came when you were in high school. Finishing high school, going into college without speaking any English, teaching yourself the English language on one index card at a time and becoming one of the world’s best speakers of all time. You have won so many different awards and accolades. How did you do that?
If one has a clear vision, a solid strategy and willing to employ practical systems, not just have an idea but have a plan and execute on it and not give up, if one acknowledges that there are no such thing as unrealistic dreams, only unrealistic timelines, that the circumstances we find ourselves in do not define where we end up, you only determined where we start. The art of the possible takes over. It permeates our being, our brain but our heart and soul as well. All of a sudden, adversity turns into abundance. Fear turns into focus. Challenges turn into opportunities. This is simply what I’m talking about yet, so many of us human beings overlook, deny or ignore that.
Life is not that difficult. First of all, we all have a gift that we paid nothing for. It’s called oxygen. We should thank God every day that we have oxygen that gives us the breath of life. We all have friends and family. We all live in a wonderful country. We have no excuse for not doing our best. I get up every single morning and I say, “I am a believer.” Your beliefs lead to your behaviors, lead to results. I’m a believer that there is a way for every program, plan and task. Whether it’s High Point University, whether when I helped start a bank or whether when I owned companies, I have always followed the fundamentals.
I don’t care what sector, business or market piece we are talking about. The reality of it is, there is this common thread that’s called fundamentals. It’s like buying a company. You look for the fundamentals. Is this good? Is that good? Is the other thing good? Where are the risks? How can I mitigate them? How can I move forward? I think I have an understanding of the fundamentals of business, success and more importantly, sustainability. Whatever it is you want to do to create longevity of the plan and the success. I don’t deviate from that, Michelle. I’m always highly focused. Focus is more important than intelligence, as I say. The question is, what are we focused on?
This is why we need coaches like you. That’s why we need to read books like yours. This is why we have to enlighten our minds because garbage in, garbage stays. Eventually, it becomes garbage dumps if we say bad things to ourselves. Now, wisdom in, wisdom stays. As we grow older, we should become wiser. As we become wiser, we should be able to be more first. Being comes ahead of doing. Do more, give more, serve more.
I love the words of William Barclay, the Scottish theologian, who once said, “Always give without remembering. Always receive without forgetting.” As long as we give, you have been giving all your life. As long as you give of yourself, your intellect, resources, friendship, guidance, coaching and you don’t remember, you plant a good seed in the hearts of others. I can’t explain it but it comes back at you in bountiful ways.
Let’s talk a little bit about the fundamentals of business and what makes a successful business. You have your fundamentals, I have the 6 Ps that I talk about in my book, Exit Rich.
Number one, one has a very clear vision. If you don’t have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, you will not speak with clarity. You will not think clearly and you will make terrible mistakes. What is it I want to do? Who is it I want to do it? Why should they find value in it? Remember this, value alone is not enough. I will give you an example. Take Pepsi–Cola, it is a big company and provides a lot of value. For me, it has no value. Why? It’s because I don’t like Pepsi. If I were to drink a soda once in a great while, I will drink a Diet Coke. If Pepsi were putting resources trying to appeal to me, persuade me, advertise for me, they are wasting their resources because while the company has a lot of value and provides value, it’s not appreciated value. In other words, I don’t need it. I can’t use it. It does not fulfill my needs. It does not help me get my goals. It does not help me get my aspirations or overcome my fear. Therefore, it’s not appreciated value.
Life is about creating appreciated value, not merely value. Every human being has some degree of value. Every product has some big real value. To create appreciated value is to get people to sit up and notice. Think of it this way. A doctor may have gone to fifteen different medical schools. You don’t care. If you were sick, God forbid and you go see a doctor and the doctor says, “Michelle, I know exactly what the issue is and I know what to do for it so your pain can go away.” That, my friend, is appreciated value. To me, you must have clarity for what you do.
Second, fundamental is that we have to learn how to manage risks. Life is not about risk avoidance. Life is about risk management. If you take the risk out of life, you take opportunity out of life. The question becomes, “How do you manage your risk?” I have a simple formula. You may have heard me share it. The formula simply goes something like this. Before I invest any money, I would run it through the same mechanism. I ask three questions and then one more and I make my decision.
The questions are these. “What is the best thing that can happen as a result of taking this action?” I’m thinking about starting a dentistry school. The risk factor, the front end is $60 million. I’m going to do a pro forma. I’m going to look at the numbers. I’m going to study the people who are going to help me get it done and all of that. In the end, what I’m going to say is, “What is the best thing that can happen as a result of starting school?” The next question is, “What is the most likely thing to happen as a result of taking this action?” The last question is, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Here’s how I make my decision. This is about risk management. I say, “If the most likely things to happen will get me closer to my goals and if I’m willing to deal with the worst thing that can happen, I go for it. If the most likely thing to happen does not get me closer to my goal, why am I even bothering with it? If I’m not willing to deal with the worst thing that can happen, that means I’m not prepared. I don’t have a backup plan. I better run and run as fast as I can.” I cannot tell you, Michelle, how many deals I have done in my life and how carefully thoughtful I have been following this simple formula.
Life is about having a clear vision of what you want to do in life, whether it’s business or whatever. It’s learning about risk management. Life is also about understanding the 5 or 6 capitals. When we talk about capital, we are talking about financial capital. In other words, you have to have money to invest in something and money to buy something. You go to the bank to borrow capital to start a business. Number one is financial capital but not particularly in this order. Number two is educational capital. You have to be educated. School is never out for the pro. Someone has to read Exit Rich if they want to be educated continually about how to succeed in business and life. The third is reputational capital. Michelle, nothing matters if your reputation on merit is terrible.
We are human beings living on Earth with other human beings. I’m not suggesting we have to be paranoid about what people think of us. I can’t please all the people all the time and I don’t try. I’m not going to do anything to get my reputation damaged. I will not do ill upon any human being. I don’t want to take a penny I have not earned. I don’t want to take something from you that I don’t give yourself in return for equal or greater value. That’s how we build a reputation. We help other people. Service is the rent we pay for occupying space on this Earth.
Another one is physical capital. You have always been very focused on health. I know that being healthy because health gives us energy. Without energy, we can’t do anything. I sleep about five hours a night and I work. I love my work. I work a lot of hours. Here on the East Coast, it’s about 2:30 in the afternoon. I still have another three hours or so before I call it a day and I have a lot of energy. I’m enjoying talking with you. You give me energy. It’s easier to talk with you and give back energy.
You are all about energy management, not time management. You schedule everything in five-minute units.
There are 168 hours in a week but your energy does not equal. You have to sleep, eat, rest and walk. We have a lot less than that. All these people teach you there are 168 hours, look what you can do. Not really, you only have a portion of that with high energy. Your energy drops at certain times of the day. You want to take the time that gives you the greatest energy to do the most important things. That’s all physical stuff.
Another one is spiritual. People who believe that they are it. They have all the answers. They can solve every problem. I am God and God is me. These people are fools. God forbid until they have some illness or lose somebody they love and find that they are devoid of true love, compassion or empathy. You have to have spiritual strength in your life. Finally, as you said, in relational capital, we are as good as the people in our circle of influence. If your circle of influence is not filled with wonderful people who can feed us, help us, be with us and feed us intellectually and in other ways then we don’t have a circle of influence. We have a circle of concern. We don’t want circles of concern. I don’t want to be worried all the time. Relationships are very important.
I tell our students at High Point University that your income will equal the average income of the five people you spend the most time with. If someone says, “I want to be a millionaire but they are hanging around people making $40,000 a year, this is not going to fly. There’s nothing wrong with people making $40,000 a year. They are some of the greatest people in the world. Think of a teacher who knows she or he’s going to be overworked and underpaid but they want to teach. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. All I’m saying is, if your goal is to be a millionaire, you better think like a millionaire. How do you think like a millionaire? You hang around some. You read their books. You read the Exit Rich. You figure it out and you feed your soul. That’s what I mean by relational capital to be able to build bridges of understanding with other people.
We always say your network equals your net worth. Talk to us about High Point University because you came in and turned High Point University. You went to school at High Point University.
Yes, I did. Undergrad, I went to High Point University. I was going to be the Chairman of the Board of High Point University back in ’04 or ’05. The president, who was here for a long time, retired. The school was in really bad shape, dropping enrollment down to about 1,400. It was landlocked, 91 acres. You couldn’t grow so there’s no hope. It had no revenues but $28 million in revenues. Net assets were 56 million in total and the reputation was not great. US News & World Report had us as number seventeen. That’s pretty bad on that rating. The grade was 63 out of 100. They talked me into becoming President instead of becoming Chairman.
When I came here several years ago, I was at the Zenith of my success. I had 1,000 people a year who want me to speak at pretty high fees. People were buying my books, CDs, DVDs and coaching in large numbers. I was then as I am serving on four Fortune 500 companies, large corporate boards. I owned 2 or 3 companies. I had 30 to 40 sources of revenue. I was floating on cloud nine and beyond. Sometimes we are inspired to throw the box outside the window, not to think outside the box. If you think outside the box, you are still using the box as your standard of comparison. Throw it outside the window and just say, “The heck with it.” Don’t even open the windows. Throw it through the glass. In other words, lose yourself in the transformative spirit. Transformation is about achieving our fullest potential.
I don’t want to be creative. Creativity is by doing something different. Innovation is about doing something better. I want to be innovative. To be innovative, you must be transformed. I prayed about it, thought about it and realized that I have done pretty well in life and I can afford to do something exceptionally different. I came to become President and the world opened up its double doors for me on a red carpet and said, “Come hither, my boy. There’s going to be a great future here.” What have we done here? We went from 1,400 students to 5,600, from 91 acres to 500.
How did you go from 91 to 500 when you were landlocked?
We bought 1,200 houses in the residential area and we made everybody richer. We reclaimed the land and put our buildings on it. We only had about eighteen buildings. We built 112 buildings. I’m talking about $50 million to $175 million.
Only in the last 13 to 14 years. It’s unbelievable. We did in a dozen years what takes universities 150 years. We moved. I’m a business guy. I’m an entrepreneur. I go, “Let’s come up with a plan. Let’s assess our risks. Let’s mitigate those risks. Let’s get the right people with us on the team and let’s go onward and forward with gusto.” That’s what we did. Our net assets, remember we were $56 million. Now at $1.2 billion and we are number 1 for 9 years in a row among Best Colleges in the South according to US News & World Report.
I can go on and on about High Point University. The category is called Best Colleges in the South. There’s another one called Best Universities in the South as well as national. In that category, we are number one. We are in the top 386 colleges, according to the Princeton Review. Remember that more than 5,000 colleges in America. We are riding high and we have attracted people from all over the world. We have 15,000 applications a year. We have Graduate programs and Doctoral programs. We have a Doctor of Pharmacy, Doctor of Dentistry, Doctor of Ophthalmology and Doctor of Physical Therapy. You get the idea.
Fifty thousand applicants a year. How many students do you take?
The freshman class would take 1,400.
What is your selection process like for 50,000?
I’ve got 2,000 employees here. This is a well-oiled machine. We look at everything here thoughtfully and carefully. We know what we are doing. We say this is a God, family and country school. We think the word profit is a good word, not a bad word. We think personal initiative is a good thing, not a bad thing. I’m all for the small government, not the large government. I’m all for saying, “Have an idea, take a risk, commit your resources, give it all you’ve got.” You ought to benefit from that. Michelle, you have done it in your own life. When you benefit and let’s say you make money, what do you do with the money? You invest it. You invest it in stocks, which gives capital to companies, which means they hire employees, they buy equipment, which means you create more jobs, which means you pay more taxes.
I’m like you. I’m a believer in entrepreneurial spirit and in making good things happen. There’s a pandemic. We just had a pandemic for a year. I didn’t close the school. It stayed open the entire time. In the United States of America, you will not believe this statistic. This past fall, colleges and universities in America collectively had on average a reduction in enrollment of 14.2%. At High Point University, we went up 5.6%.
Did you go to online classes or was this still in person?
No, everything’s going on right here in person. Even graduation is in person.
You also have a business school. You focus on entrepreneurship. You have a whole entrepreneurship program.
We have a center for entrepreneurship, a center for sales, big business school.
I also remember because you are all about the customer experience, the student experience, the parents’ experience. You have a Director of Wow because you are all about creating Wow experiences. You also, if I remember correctly, have a director of UNWOW.
Yes. The whole idea of the Wow was to focus on the UNWOW. I’m glad you remembered all that because the way to improve a business, an organization or a person is to say, what are the UNWOWs that are irritating our customers? The challenge is if you focus on UNWOWs, you can become a negative person. People could say, “She only sees the glass that’s empty.” You have to focus on Wows, too. I tell people the Wows should be a part of your unconscious competency. It’s there. You appreciate it. You see it and you get engaged in it. The UNWOW is your conscience competence. You have to consciously look for them.
What did we do at High Point University? This applies to any business and anybody reading. Number one, we created value. You have to have value, whether it’s appreciated or not. You have great value. Number two, we interpreted the value. That’s where appreciative value comes in. When you interpret the value, it’s like buying a chair from me. I can say, “Look at this chair. It’s beautiful. There are a lot of value. It will look beautiful in your home.” I go to interpretation of value. This chair is made of fabric that doesn’t burn. This chair is made of fabric that could be wiped if you have little children. You can wipe it up very easily. It’s different. This chair is made of the finest wood. It’s made by handcrafted experts who know this. Now, I’m interpreting the value. The price of the chair in your mind, the appreciated value just shoots up.
Third, what we did is we’ve got rid of the irritants. When I’m speaking with CEOs, I will say, “Pick a piece of paper and a pen and write for me in the next 30 seconds three things that irritate your customers about you. What are they?” Do you know that most CEOs never call their reception desk? They have no idea or even that recording now that you have, what that sounds like. They have a direct line to the VP and so on. They were not walking in the shoes of the customer, Michelle. How do you improve if you don’t do that? The last one is we add Wow to the experience. The Wow was not always in the physical. The Wow was quite often as in the service, as you outlined how people feel, here’s the most important question of communicating with people. How much this person feels first? This person will do what you want them to do. The moment you accomplished that, you are home-free.
I remember all the stories that you used to tell on stage. I like the shower was leaking, the director of Wow will show up with a basket of their favorite food. One of the intakes that you do when you bring students in, not you but one of your staff is asking, “What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite soft drink?” and then deliver a basket to create that Wow experience and then Wow occur. I remember the washing machine incident, too. Remember what was left of the washing machine? The boys were coming in and taking the girls’ clothes. Some things never change for boys. What did you do? You enter it like a GPS on the washer and dryer that would ring to the student’s phone. The student will know when loads were done. It’s simple as that.
That’s for energy management so you can find it on your computer and see which machine is available. Go down, put this stuff, and then it shoots you an email two minutes before it finishes so you can go pick it up.
I have been to High Point University. I think the steakhouse is incredible.
Michelle, you’ve got to come back. We built a $170 million hotel conference center and arena. You are a woman of great style. It would knock your socks off. You will be able to see the beauty through your lenses differently than other people perhaps might see them. Some people don’t appreciate the finer things in life. You will be able to spot those very quickly. We have a Hospitality major and an Events Planning major. We wanted to create a laboratory for them. The next time you come here, it’s a small boutique hotel but everything is right there. It’s gorgeous. It has a new restaurant called Alo, similar to the steakhouse that you remember. It’s pretty cool.
We tell students, “Don’t come to High Point University unless you want to succeed in life.” That’s why we are the premier life skills university. We make sure that you learn what you must learn inside the classroom to master your discipline but that’s not enough. You’ve got to be prepared for life. It’s called life skills. It’s not soft skills. Every employer will tell you that those life skills are of great importance. New college graduates failed because they were not coachable. They fail because they don’t know how to think. They failed because they are not ready for the world as it is going to be, not as it was, not as it is. You and I are focused on the future, not on the past and the world is moving so fast.
You have to have me come back and speak. Let’s talk about the habits of super successful people. Maybe share some of your habits. I love the five–minute units but share some of your daily routines and your daily habits?
I have a very focused and disciplined life. It’s also a lot of fun and relaxation in my life. I have plenty of time for everything I do. I’m engaged in my community in my region, in the country, several organizations, I chair boards, I volunteer in many different ways and so on. I believe that to whom much is given, much is indeed required. We have to demonstrate it in everything that we do. That doesn’t just have to do with money. It has a lot to do with service, complimenting others and encouraging, being an encourager to others, not putting people down but lifting people up. We all want to be lifted up. We don’t need to help people out. We need to help them up so that they can have a life filled with success and framed with significance.
I go to sleep every night at 9:00. I watch about fifteen minutes of television unless it’s a ball game, in which case I might watch longer. I read two books a week. I wake up about 3:00 every single morning. I woke up at 1:00. I went to bed at 9:00, woke up at 1:00. I had enough sleep and I worked from 1:00 until 6:00 by my fireplace in my home. Whether I’m in High Point, North Carolina or on a private island where I have a home right smack dab on the ocean. I like my fireplace. It could be summertime. It doesn’t matter. The fireplace is not about the heat. It’s about inspiration. I work from 3:00 to 6:00. At 6:00, I walk with one of my buddies for one hour in the neighborhood. Fast walk for about 3.5 miles then I come back and get ready to come to work.
At work, I do the most important things first. These typically have to do with me talking to my levers. Even though I have 2,000 employees, I have about ten levers. Think of a seesaw that has a lever. What individual has the leverage to make your business grow or make your business go backward? First thing in the morning, I’m meeting with my folks. I don’t bring them to my office. I walk to their office. That way I can stand up and leave when I’m ready to leave. They have all learned how to deal with me. They make the stack of the stuff that they want to show me or a list, 1, 2, 3, 4 and we go bam.
I have clarity of thought. Therefore, I can make decisions very quickly and usually done with intentional congruence that my decisions are congruent with our goals, mission, vision and values. I have some meetings and so on throughout the days like that. It’s meetings. It’s decision-making. It’s doing my emails. I do all my personal emails. I get about 300 a day. I answer them all myself. I don’t have a neutral email that goes to a secretary or an admin. I answer quickly with 5 words or 2 lines. I tell people, “When you write me, write me six lines or less. Don’t send me these long essays. This is not a doctoral dissertation. If you do that, I will print it out, put it in my stack, read it the next morning between 3:00 and 6:00.”
I go home roughly 6:00 unless there is a game or something I need to go support students. I go home. I sit down with my wife. We have one glass of wine or sometimes two and we insist on good wine. I don’t drink cheap wine. Cheap wine gives you a headache. I drink good wine and I always like to have it with some peanuts or some green olives or something like that. We chit–chat about the day. At about 8:15, I will go upstairs and get myself ready for the next day.
Here’s a crazy thing about me. When I go upstairs, I take my clothes off and I put out my clothes for the next morning, right down to the stain in the shirt and cufflink in the cuff of my shirt and my socks. I will tell you something about me nobody knows. The tie I wear, I never take it off like undo it. When I pick the stuff, I loosen it up, pull it over my head and hang it up. That’s from years and years of traveling every single day to speak, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. When I get to the hotel, you are tired. You go to sleep. Get up the next morning. You’ve got a thousand people waiting for you. I don’t want to stand there and try to do the tire and it doesn’t work so now I’m upset. The day hasn’t even started yet. I have learned to take all these irritants out of the system. I don’t want to get up the next morning and say, “What shirt? What tie? What suit?” I look at the weather and I prepare it. I take my vitamins and stuff. I go to sleep. That’s the routine of my day.
On Saturdays, I typically will read a book. I have read several good books lately. I read a book called 2030 being predictive about the next decade. I read a book called Think Again, which is a good book by Adam Grant. It’s a book about always double–check your premises. Don’t assume something is because it was. Always dig deeper. I say it this way, “Don’t be a horizontal thinker. Be a vertical and diagonal thinker.” You can see the interrelationships with all your thoughts. I like to study a lot and I read good books. I don’t read Mickey Mouse stuff. I read solid stuff. Sunday is usually my day off. If I’m at the beach, I’m walking every day on the beach. I’m on a private beach and a few other homes there and hardly ever anybody walking on the beach. It’s like privacy. I ride my bike a lot. I don’t play golf. Therefore, I have a lot of time.
Probably because it wastes too much time. I live on a golf course. I don’t play golf. I tried. It’s a big-time waster. Did you read one book every Saturday?
I read a book a week, sometimes two. If I’m at the beach, I read at least two books a week. I always have a stack of books and people send me a book. I love that. People who know me know that if they are going to give me a gift, they give me a good bottle of wine or a book. These are the two things. I always have an ample supply of good wine. One of my good friends is the lady who is a Chair of the Board of a company called MyEyeDr. They have 800 locations. She sends me all these sunglasses. She sent me three pairs, one of them was a Ferragamo pair of glasses. She sends me nice glasses. I always get compliments on my sunglasses. There’s a lesson in that. I jokingly say, “Among the friends that you have, make sure some of them are rich.” It’s for your benefit. They give you nice gifts and have nice dinner parties. You enter rich and you exit rich.
That’s why I’m helping more and more people exit rich. What is it like to sit on the Board of La-Z-Boy, nThrive and some of these major Fortune 500 companies?
I sit on the board of the six largest financial institutions in the United States. It’s $500 billion in assets, about 60,000 employees. I’m the longest-serving Director on that board. I have been on the board for many years. It came from me starting a bank with a couple of guys and then selling it and become as a merger. What can I tell you? Usually, I’m the pick and I always make it to the next level. It’s an amazing thing because, on the one hand, you must bring forth appreciated value. You must be a contributor. You must understand the business. You must be a leader, a person of value. Second, you learn so much because of these mega boards and they are bringing the finest in the country. You are going to learn about eCommerce. You are going to learn about cybersecurity, marketing and risk management. I’m a learner. I love to learn. It’s terrific.
By the way, these boards pay you a handsome fee as well. For me, it was never enough the fee because when I would go to a board meeting six times a year, I would give up six presentations, real speeches where I would make a lot more money. I didn’t do it for the money. I even didn’t do it for the prestige. I did it because I believe that the circle of influence, the zone in which you reside, influences, impacts and affects the person you become. You want to be in a zone that lifts you up, nurtures you, that nourishes you and that keeps moving forward. These boards, as you know, tend to have some of the great leaders of the country on them.
What were you like as a little boy?
I was rambunctious. That’s what I was. I gave my mom a hard time. I’m 1 of 5. My father died when I was six years of age and my mother was widowed at age 40 or 42. We didn’t have any money and she had to learn to become a seamstress. She made clothes for people and worked day and night to feed us and clothe us. My mom never told me, “We can’t afford that, son.” I never heard those words. I wrote a book with learning from my mom called Uncommon Sense. My mom had an uncommon sense. She had fourth–grade education but she knew her stuff. I learned so much from her. She would say to me, “Who you spend time with is who you become.” Great lesson. What you choose is what you get. You are responsible for your own choices. How you change is how you succeed. You don’t want to change? Forget it. Life is moving fast. You are going to be left behind. I was the youngest of the five. My next brother was thirteen years older than me. Maybe I was like an only child. I was very naughty. My mom had a time with me and I didn’t appreciate how sacrificial she was until much later in life. You know how we are, we don’t acknowledge what our parents do until we become adults.
It was all boys. No girls?
It’s 3 boys, 2 girls in the family. I finished high school. I always liked girls so that caused a lot of problems with my mom. I hung around with girls and so on, sometimes girls with different religions. Going back a few years, that wasn’t a cool thing to do especially in the Middle East. She sent me to America because she wanted me to have a better life. I came to this country at age seventeen and it’s interesting.
You came by yourself, right?
I did. Sometimes out of adversity can emerge abundance. My life is about turning points. My dad died. That was a turning point. I didn’t have a dad. He was sick and I never experienced a dad. I came to America, turning point. I became President of High Point University, a turning point. The issue about turning points is that enough turning points accumulate slowly and cumulatively. They become your tipping point to think differently, the tipping point to amass wealth, the tipping point to become more successful, the tipping point to be more helpful to others.
I had a speech one time about turning points. I taught these turning points. I would pause and say, “What are the turning points in your life? Remember that time when you failed miserably and you thought your life’s coming to an end? That was a great turning point because if you were smart, you looked at your failures as productive failures. You dissected them. You learn from them. You avoided repeating the same mistake next time. Life is amazing. We screw it up. We make it difficult but that is amazing. The more informed you are, the more you can deal with the difficulty should it come your way.
Were you the only one that came to the US?
My mom came afterward and my brothers came.
You were the first?
You’ve got into High Point University.
I wasn’t a straight–A student. I was having to work all day and what few hours I had left in the week, I told you, my number one interest was girls. I was the coolest foreign student in those days. I had a cute accent. I had the initiative and some charisma. Women like that, I don’t know who chased whom but I had a lot of friends in my life. Life was wonderful.
One of the complex questions sometimes that comes up is, how does somebody like you that has been through all this adversity, come to the United States not speaking any English and you have other people who have had much less adversity, don’t do anything with their life? What is that common denominator? What makes somebody so successful while others are not?
Awareness. One of the greatest gifts you can ever have in your life is the gift of awareness. Some people can walk through the most beautiful garden ever invented and not be aware of its beauty. Some people can listen to the most gorgeous piece of classical music and not even hear it. Some people can have the opportunities on a silver platter and totally ignore them and go on whining about what isn’t instead of focusing on what is. These people are trying to get to no and they are trying to get to yes.
Awareness is important. You learn awareness from the people you hang around with, what you see and what you experience. Once you have awareness, you apply it to all kinds of things. Some people are not aware, for example, that you can succeed or you can improve a lot in your life. They go on complaining about the past and the present without any view of a better future. Guess what the future is going to be like? It’s going to be a duplication of the past.
To complain is to remain.
How do we get awareness? We read books. That’s a great place for awareness. We hang around people who have a sense of awareness. We go to seminars. I always tell people, “If you read a book and you pay $30 or $40 for a book and you read it. All you need is one thing out of that book. One idea. If you go to a seminar, it’s a three-day seminar and you walk away with one idea.” Believe me. It’s worth it.
You used to see me in the front taking notes.
You were always on the front row and by the way, you paid extra for that to be on the front row and that’s what people have to understand. People who have success in life, typically pay their dues to get there. You don’t just win a lottery ticket. You climb the stairs. You didn’t take the elevator up there.
You have been wonderful as always. Any other golden nuggets for our readers that you would like to leave them with?
Just to say that hope is eternal and what comes our way does not have to stick with us forever. If it’s something we don’t like, we can find ways to improve, enhance, increase, decrease it and whatever it is that we leave as appropriate. I have a simple commitment in life, which is I invest 1/3 of my life in earning, 1/3 of my life in learning and 1/3 of my life in serving. I have discovered in my life that the appropriate combination of all these three enrich my life measurably. If I only invested my time in earning, maybe I would have more legal tender but to what purpose, to what end? I want to make sure that I am a holistic person. People who are built from the inside out, typically think that way. They are not just trying to get. They are also trying to give and they are joyful people. Other people want to fake it until they make it. It doesn’t work.
What’s going on with you now in speaking? You used to speak at so many different events and the speaking role stopped.
The pandemic stopped all meetings. I now accept engagements very sporadically and carefully. I have traveled so much of my life that I’m not that interested. I turned down all international engagements. I turned one down because I don’t want to do that. I am writing a couple of books. I am running a successful university. I serve on corporate boards. I am a partner in many businesses and I still speak but I’m not speaking like I used to speak 140 times a year. I’m speaking probably 20 or 25 times a year. I have to be honest. I do miss the kinds of meetings where you and I met and meetings like that. The reason I miss them is that everybody there is a learner. Everybody comes there to learn. They want to suck the knowledge out. That environment is conducive for growth and development. It’s motivating. I have to confess I miss that. I will do some of those meetings I do a lot of YPO with successful presidents, organizations and a lot of corporate meetings.
In the older days, my favorite used to be network marketing companies. I speak at all these big, 10,000 people and you come up on stage and they give you ten minutes of ovation. You haven’t earned it yet. They give you love first. We know you are going to be great so we are loving you already. You get up there and you do your thing. These people stand in line for 2, 3, 4 hours, one-time 5 hours to buy your books, take a picture with you. They weren’t saying, “I care so much about you. You made my life.”
What they were saying is, “You are a conduit at this point in my life. You are a connector for me. You said, did and taught me something that has connected me with my soul and now I believe I can or now I believe I can move in this direction, that direction.” I always walked away feeling so good that I could help someone. You know my style. I am one of a statesman style on a stage. I don’t push people. I don’t try to sell them stuff. I just want to help. As a result, a lot of people have appreciated that over the years, remember me and in many ways, recommend me to be on this board, to speak over here or even send their students to High Point University, all of which is to the good that I’m deeply grateful.
You have lived an amazing life. Is there anything that you are hoping to achieve? Any one more thing that you haven’t done that you really want to accomplish?
There are a lot of things. For example, in my home city, in 2019, I raised $100 million because our city was not doing very well. It was $100 million to build a baseball stadium with the hope that around it, they will have a lot of economic development. Sure enough, now with those going up, apartments going up, I have loved that. We don’t have a children’s museum in our city so my family and I have built a $30 million museum in High Point, North Carolina for children. I wanted to make it available for those who can and cannot afford it. We have accomplished that. My heart, I believe, is in the right place. I have been so blessed in many ways that I want to give, share, help and plant the seeds of greatness in other people’s lives.
In my home city, I take leadership positions to move our people forward. I’m talking to you, my friend. I have a good reputation. I celebrate that because at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s so important to us? You could have $10 billion but if people don’t like you or respect you, what are you going to do with the money? You are just going to buy a bigger yacht and a bigger house. At some point, money has a definitive place of influence.
We value our relationships. I respect every individual, regardless of who they are or where they come from, whether I agree with them or not and then I value every relationship. You value the relationship based on a win-win, what’s good for them. I don’t want to win and you lose. Frankly, I don’t want to lose and you win. I want a win-win relationship because those are the longer–lasting. You and I haven’t talked for a few years but when you wrote me, I said, “I’ would love to be with you.” You don’t have to see someone every day for them to be a good friend. Friendship has a way of spreading its wings. You and I are helping people every day with things we have learned and committed ourselves to. That, in the end, is what I think makes life worth living.
I feel honored and blessed that you have given me lots of units. Thank you so much for coming to my show. Any last words or how people can get in touch with you? I know you are extremely busy.
Michelle, I have known you for a long time. I have always respected you and admired you for your tenacity, innovation, spirit and desire to learn. You have written a great book and you are doing great things. Be assured that the benefit was all mine for being with you here. I wish you greatness in all you do. I hope that we will see each other in person before too long.
I am looking forward to coming back to High Point University, staying at the boutique hotel and bringing my daughter to the children’s museum.
You are welcome anytime. The red carpet is out for you.
Thank you so much. My husband adores you so I will make sure I bring him, too.
Bring them over, Michelle.
Dr. Nido Qubein, thank you so much for being with us. Thank you to all of my readers.
- Dr. Nido Qubein
- Great Harvest Bread
- A Life of Success and Significance – YouTube
- Exit Rich
- Think Again
- Uncommon Sense
About Dr. Nido Qubein
Dr. Nido Qubein came to the United States as a teenager with little knowledge of English and only $50 in his pocket. His journey has been an amazing success story. The Biography Channel and CNBC aired his life story titled “A Life of Success and Significance.”
As an educator, he is president of High Point University, an undergraduate and graduate institution with 4,300 students from 40 countries. He has authored two dozen books and audio programs distributed worldwide.
As a business leader, he is chairman of the Great Harvest Bread Company with 220 stores in 43 states. He serves on the boards of several national organizations including BB&T (a Fortune 500 company with $185 billion in assets), the La-Z-Boy Corporation (one of the largest and most recognized furniture brands worldwide), and Dots Stores (a chain of fashion boutiques with more than 400 locations across the country).
As a professional speaker, Dr. Qubein has received many distinctions including the Golden Gavel Medal, induction into the International Speaker Hall of Fame, and as the founder of the NSA Foundation in Arizona.
He has been the recipient of many honors including The Ellis Island Medal of Honor (along with four U.S. presidents), The Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans (along with Oprah Winfrey and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas), the DAR Americanism Medal, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, Sales and Marketing International’s Ambassador of Free Enterprise, Leadership North Carolina Governor’s Award, and Citizen of the Year and Philanthropist of the Year in his home city of High Point, North Carolina.
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