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In this podcast I talk to financial planner David Zoellner of Zoellner Whole Financial located in Waterford, MI about the principles of Napoleon Hill and how he has applied Hill’s principles to his business and his life.  Napoleon Hill’s effort to articulate the first practical guides to the psychology of achievement serves as foundational documentation to anyone seeking to improve themselves professionally and personally.

Innovating Life with Jon Sabes

by Jon Sabes | Podcast

Jon: Alright, so thank you and welcome to another Innovating Life podcast. Today I am joined by my good friend David Zoellner from Zoellner Financial out of Detroit, Michigan, right?

David: We’re actually in Waterford, Michigan.

Jon: Waterford, Michigan. Where is that?

David: It’s about 40 minutes northwest of Detroit.

Jon: Got it. Ok, cool. So David and I met several years ago. I haven’t seen him in a while, and he joins us in Minneapolis, so great to have you hear in the office, David.

David: Well thanks for having me. It’s my pleasure.

Jon: Yeah. David and I shared when we first met immediately a kinship of sorts, and the one thing I loved most about David, among many things–

David: Thank you.

Jon: Yeah — is his study of Napoleon Hill. And he was just sharing with me this amazing story of when he really got into it. Could you repeat that? Could you talk a little bit about that? It was really interesting.

David: Sure. Well, I started my new company, and whenever you’re starting something new, there’s frustration, and you want to stay motivated so you keep pushing forward, keep setting bigger goals. And a very good friend of mine that I’ve been friends with since college does motivational training, tapes motivational speakers, and does streaming of it, and I said I need something motivating to read, what do we have here? And he said, well, go through my library. Take anything that’s not signed by the author to me, and I pulled out a copy of Think and Grow Rich, the original manuscript. He said, sure go ahead. In college I think I read it once, but after I read it through the first time, I got a lot out of it, and I read it again. I actually ended up reading it seventeen times in a row in one year. The first seven times was all the way through, and then I said, I don’t need to hear the stories anymore because I already believe all the principles. I just want to memorize the text. So on the seventh time I just started highlighting all of the text, and then I could read the whole book in just a couple of days. And so what I really wanted to do was get the principles down to my DNA level, so I could share it with the employees at my company, so I could impart it on them. We just did an accredited seminar for higher net worth individuals, and we used as many of the thirteen principles in planning for this next event, so we’d stay as pure to Think and Grow Rich that Napoleon put together for even just one of those tasks. So, it’s not just about running the company or our daily lives, but even specific tasks, we’re looking to make the most of it, and use motivation to keep us going.

Jon: Interesting. Well, first of all, really interesting. Seventeen times in a year, and then how you highlighted the text to the important, sort of the crystallized ideas where he sometimes goes off onto some of these stories. You got right there, and then you focused on that, and you memorized. Did you memorize it?

David: Did I memorize the book?

Jon: Yeah, the text. Do you have it memorized? Pieces of it?

David: Well, in 2014 was the year I read it seventeen times, so as a matter of fact, I was reading it just this week. You know, I said, I’m going to read another chapter, just the highlighted parts. And even now I’m still learning more from what I’ve had before because then I’ve used the learnings, and I see it in my business and my life, and then it kind of opens up another door to, I didn’t really think of it that way before. And now we’re getting even more out of it, even though I’ve already read it, and I’m on my eighteenth reading.

Jon: Unbelievable. So I want to go back to how you use it in your business. Let’s first talk about how you use the thirteen principles in the presentation itself. Did you incorporate the principles in the presentation, or did you just use them in building the presentation? The reason I’m asking is I was recently challenged to create a presentation that embodied some of those principles. I think you saw pieces of that today, which were going an extra mile, teamwork, and definite, major purpose. So did you incorporate those principles in the presentation of your information, or were you more using it to craft the presentation itself?

David: Let me be real specific. So, one, we weren’t using the principles in the presentation.

Jon: Ok.

David: But because it’s a part of the way we think every day, it’s always incorporated in everything that we’re doing.

Jon: Sure.

David: But what we really wanted to have was a successful marketing event. We’re marketing to high net worth people to come to our event. Our goal, our major definite purpose was to get people at the event.

Jon: Got it.

David: And so we went through the principles, do we have everything in order, so we can have a successful event. And we did have a very successful event. The event started at six. We actually created a chef’s table at this restaurant. The menu that we had wasn’t something they sold. We had a private event. And we just kind of sat down and talked with some wealthy couples about durable income strategies, and then we had a couple of sponsors, investment sponsors, talk about theirs. And then we had to kind of shut everyone down at quarter to eleven. People were having such a good time, they just wouldn’t, for lack of a better word, shut up.

Jon: (laughs)

David: But I mean it was amazing how everybody, who were strangers beforehand, except for me, were getting along so well and having such a good time. It was a really great event. And so we do credit the fact that we think about Think and Grow Rich on a daily basis, but try to use it as much as possible for success. Like our major, definite purpose. My firm, we want to manage a billion dollars. That is a deep goal, so we always have a direction to go toward. We can always be improving every single day on every single event, every phone call, really, because we have such a lofty major, definite purpose. For me, I have a large family, and I really don’t care about the money as much myself, but I want my children and their children to have security and a business to go into that we built together, my sons and I.

Jon: Fantastic. Are you inspired at all to incorporate the concepts, the teachings of the principles, when you actually present to the folks? I mean, I get it. First of all, it’s no surprise that you had such a tremendous event when you incorporate these principles into the activity that you’re seeking to achieve. And I know here at this company, that’s what we’re doing here, which is, we’re trying to take those principles to achieve and be the best versions of ourselves, be the best business that we can be, every single day. But just kind of stepping back from that for a minute, do you have any desire, or any thoughts on incorporating the principles themselves when you present durable income, which I know is the key focus of your firm. How does that strike you? Does it mix or not?

David: Like I said before, it’s in a part of our DNA. It just happens. It just happens automatically. A lot of the times, like we have copies of the book that we give our prospects. We’ll just hand them out. Often times when we’re talking to brand new people we want to bring as a client, we venture hither and yon. Eventually we may talk about Napoleon Hill, so I’ll recommend that they read Think and Grow Rich or Outwitting the Devil for their benefit, so they can really be on lines and see how I am thinking, and of course, I feel like they need it too.

Jon: Yeah. So then let’s go to your practice. We were talking a little bit about how you incorporate the principles with your team members, and you ask them to memorize thirteen principles, and you really have brought that down to a science. I know here we do some of that as well, and just what you were saying, it creates a common framework, so people will understand how I’m thinking, and they don’t have to guess, well, why is Jon behaving this way, why is he reacting this way. Well, it’s because these are the principles, you’re not in alignment with the purpose, you aren’t maintaining a mastermind alliance. In your own practice, what are you doing on a daily basis to keep those elements alive and well and part of your culture?

David: Well, one of the things I do is I ask my employees what they want. I want them to have a burning desire for something. I want them to have a burning desire to achieve something, so I’ll give an example like this. If we land this major account, and we have a five hundred million dollar deal that we’re working on. So we land that account, and we get a finder’s fee for having that sale completed, how much do you think that I should pay you? And I ask them, what would be the amount that I’m going to give you, and I want them to tell me, write it down, tell me what you expect. And in one instance– my sister works for me, she’s an administrative person there– she wrote down fifty thousand. I said, wow, that’s great because I was going to give you two hundred. Why didn’t you write down two hundred thousand, instead of fifty thousand? She goes, I didn’t think that big. I said, well, that’s what we’re doing here. What’s our major, definite purpose at Zoellner Whole Financial? A billion dollars in our management. We’re thinking big. We all need to be thinking big. And I want you to think about, not as someone who’s waiting to get a task to do from me, think of it as your company. And when you think of this as your company, your imagination will explode on what you would do if this was your own business. And so trying to get them to think of it as their own business, because they share in the profits. It is their business.

Jon: Right.

David: We all work together. We all need to be, you know, in our company we’re a mastermind group. I want them to be thinking, how can we push forward and meet our major, definite goal. Let’s try something completely new that we’ve never done before. Let’s be creative about this. Let’s use the specialized knowledge that we have. Let’s mastermind this. Let’s be persistent in what we’re going after. So much of that happens once a month we’re talking about this. We have a list in our office, a giant whiteboard, and we will tell them, all the areas that we’re going to be marketing. So one of things that I say is that we need to work at a steady pace, prioritize, but don’t miss any areas of marketing in any one month. We want to make sure we’re covering all the bases because you never know when an opportunity is going to come your way from something that you tried, and you said, that’s kind of a little different from something that we’re doing, but that’s how we ended up with this major deal that’s part of our company at the present moment. We tried something different, and now we’ve got a great opportunity.

Jon: That’s awesome. I love that. I really do. It’s really interesting to see other entrepreneurs take these practices and put them into action. That burning desire, it’s a real interesting one that I know I try to instill on the team, not to take anything for granted. And going back to the source of that, which is, again, energizing your mind in a way to have a deep passion toward something, to transmute it into a tangible goal that you want for your firm. And there you’ve created durable income, which is a lasting ideal that many people seek and need. So really interesting application of the science. We were talking about it earlier. I love the example of when Hill will talk about courting, and the amount of energy one puts towards courting your girlfriend, dating, courting back in his time. And I know my own instance, my wife of now twenty five years, how many nights that I could stay up late to chase her and to take her wherever she wanted to go, without any loss of energy or enthusiasm, and so turning that energy towards other things that are equally important, your career, your business, to be able to afford to have a home, to eat, have shelter, so that’s a really important thing. We talk about it here when we study Hill, which is that burning desire to maintain a burning desire to have those things that are so important to having a good life, because you don’t want to be living on the streets.

David: Right, but more than that, Jon, I’ve got twenty seven years in the financial service industry. When I land a new account, we get excited. We are jumping up and down, pumping our fists if we just do a great service to one of our clients. I mean that’s that burning desire to keep moving forward. If you have a major, definite purpose that’s way out in the future, you’re not going to get satiated with one little victory, or maybe five or six victories. We keep pushing it out so we keep going forward. Just talking to my sisters, when we were kids, we really didn’t get along. We get along great in the office, and actually become a role model for her, because she’s sees how excited I am to come into the office everyday. Twenty seven years of doing the business, and we just have a blast, block and tackling every single day, and we hit these little victories, and it’s great to go into work and have groups of people that are like minded that want to do something special and having fun along. It’s not, geez, it’s five o’clock, when am I getting out of here. We don’t have that in our office. Everyone’s loving being there, and that’s what makes my firm and the work we’re doing daily so much fun for everybody.

Jon: That’s special, not easy to do.

David: Not easy to do. Purposeful. And everybody doesn’t know what we know about Napoleon Hill and the thirteen principles. And so, sometimes it’s the first time they’ve ever heard it, and they don’t believe that they deserve more or get more, because of the mindset they’ve had. When Napoleon Hill’s talking about, you can use it for the sixth sense and avoid problems, or you can use the subliminal mind in that you’re bringing bad things to you all the time. And so we change the knowledge level. Once they get the knowledge, then you know, it is tough to think. Thinking is not easy. Let’s face it, thinking forwards, it’s not easy. It takes work.

Jon: Controlling your thoughts. Intentional in controlling your thoughts, moment to moment.

David: Exactly, but if you never knew you should be trying that, you’re just wallowing around. You don’t know why things are not working out.

Jon: You’re drifting.

David: You’re drifting, the biggest sin. That’s the biggest sin, drifting. So we help them not drift. We give them a major, definite purpose. Our reason to sharpen their skills, because we obviously don’t all do the same thing at my firm at Zoellner Whole Financial. Each person has their own role, and in fact, we’re expanding. I’m bringing another son in because we need another marketer just to keep up with that part of our business. So I can’t wait for my next son to come, but he’s already read Think and Grow Rich several times.

Jon: (laughs)

David: David junior.

Jon: David junior. That’s awesome. You shared with me a personal story the other day, again, just an application outside of business, but of family and relationships. There was a tragedy in your family, and it was interesting. You were able to, again, transmutation of a situation that was hard, and you were able to really flip that around for someone very special for yourself and for them, that took a really challenging situation and made it a great situation, really something to build on.

David: Well, here’s the story that was really to you, Jon, that my father-in-law was due for some heart work. He was going into heart surgery. I’m divorced, and during the course of divorce, and that was about nine years ago. So my ex-wife calls up, and says, look, we’re going to bring all the kids in for grandpa, and he’s asked, would you come to the hospital to. I said, sure, you know, bygones be bygones. We were all there. We had a great time. So our kids came from Michigan and Illinois, so we had our whole extended family there by grandpa’s side, who was up and around, joking and laughing, and we had a great time. The surgery was a success. They sent him home in a couple of days, but then grandpa was just walking across to get himself a cup of coffee, and he fell down. And his wife couldn’t pick him up, so she called my ex-wife, and sent my youngest son, Zachary, over to the house to help grandma get grandpa up onto a chair, and they really didn’t have the strength to pick up grandpa. My son’s a strapping young boy, but I think grandpa’s closer to two hundred pounds. In any event, grandpa grabbed his chest, he slumped down on the ground, said call 911. And he passed away right there in front of my son.

Jon: Very traumatic.

David: Yeah, and I was out of state. I was in Florida. I was out on a fishing trip. When I got the news, I talked to my son Zachary, and I said, Zach, you know, what you did was a tremendous thing. Can you imagine how grandma would have felt all by herself with grandpa, and the fact that you were there to comfort her. We never know when we are going to step up, or be forced to step up, and play a big role in other people’s lives, and because you were there, it was a much better situation. And so, we wanted him to think about it as being a great help, and not a victim of unusual and frightening circumstance. It’s really how they thought about it. They could have turned about it into a horrible, monstrous, terrible tragedy.

Jon: Scary

David: And scarred for life. It turned out to be a beautiful thing that they all have to share together. And so it really was about proper thinking.

Jon: You helped your son so quickly to change that way of thinking, and I love that lesson, which is you can take something, and if you learn to think about it correctly, and you learn to help them correctly, it becomes a pillar of his life, rather than a thorn or a burden for the rest of his life.

David: That’s right, and it sounds a little bit strange to say this, but I think — and I have seven kids — but a couple of my sons were a little bit jealous over Zachary, because he was there and they were not.

Jon: The other thing too which you mentioned was the notion that you buried some pride, if you will, and you had the opportunity to bring your family together at a time where people hadn’t seen everyone together and happy, and how that worked too.

David: Right. Well, so, we’re at the hospital, and from the divorce, all the kids and the parents, my ex-wife and I, weren’t in the same room nine years. And here we found ourselves all together as a family with grandpa, his wife, and we were yuking it up, having a really good time. Afterwards I took them all– because this was downtown Detroit, Henry Ford hospital– there’s a lot of nice restaurants down there. I said let’s go out to eat. We all had a nice meal, and my ex’s mother-in-law, Natalie, she was telling the story at the funeral that a lady in the same hospital across the hall was asking her about. Everyone was there. She goes, did we disturb you, were we too loud. She goes, no, we loved it. You were having such a good time, so what a strong family you are, and she was telling us that Gene was very proud of that. He was very happy. There was a sense of pride in that. Everyone came together, and it was another wonderful memory of the family being together, and being recognized by a complete stranger, who felt the love.
Jon: After nine years. And you, really again, being mindfulness to know what was going on, and to continue the party, taking everyone out for dinner, showing them what it meant to be in the moment like that, and to instill on them that they can and should do the same for others.

David: We set an example, and maybe they’ll set an example for their own children. But honestly, I didn’t think that Gene was going to suffer. I thought that he would get the surgery, and be perfectly fine. And we were quite shocked, even though it was heart surgery, that passed away. But it was my ex-wife that really had the forethought to bring my kids in, you know, paying for their travel to get there and being all together. She deserves a lot of credit too for just the thought to do it, bring everyone in.

Jon: Well, thanks for sharing that. I know that’s personal, but I found that to be pretty moving and interesting, and I think people can learn from that in their own dealings with their own family members, despite whatever grudges, you know, challenges that they’ve had in the past. There is a time, and Hill does talk quite a bit about that, you cannot let pride, a little thing like pride, get in the way, of again, controlling your thoughts and doing what’s right for the benefit of others. David, you’re an incredible individual. Every time I’m with you, I thrive on that, man, the passion and energy you bring, and your sophistication as to your understanding of the underlying principles, and the application, and your discipline to it. It’s inspiring.

David: Well, I appreciate you saying that, but I kind of feel like a fish in a fishbowl. We’re surrounded with our thoughts of Napoleon, but we can’t see it. You know, fish doesn’t know he’s in water, and so just acting normally of what we’ve learned. That’s why I wanted to read it seventeen times, so it’s ingrained in my cells’ DNA, so I didn’t have to think about it. I would just naturally act in that way. But we’re still training our minds to think properly, stay off the negative, and only think and talk about the things that we desire and want, and helping others, and of course, ultimately being grateful for the gifts that we’ve been given.

Jon: My technique has been to listen. I like the audio. It works for me better to hear it than to read it, and so my favorite is In His Own Words, and it’s a lecture that he gave in Chicago in 1953, I believe. It’s that lecture In His Own Words in his own voice with all the intonations and speech that he does. I’ve listen to that hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of times, and I’m so always interested. I’m still finding new things in it. And each word is so carefully selected. It’s almost amazing to me, the particularity to which he chooses his words, and how he presents them and controls his mind in doing so.

David: Right, and it’s great to hear him in his mental point of view about his era in time. The word choices that he had was appropriate for that time, may not be the same that we use today, but it’s really interesting to hear that part of the history lesson. So you go on YouTube, and just put in Napoleon Hill, and he’s got a lot of speeches you can hear.

Jon: It’s amazing.

David: It is.

Jon: He’s got that television show he almost filmed, you know, series, where he sort of looks like Johnny Carson-esque.

David: I don’t recall that one, but I know when he’s talking about Clement Stone, an insurance company, and those things.

Jon: Yeah. Well, we love it here too because it is about insurance, life insurance. I love when he does in His Own Words, he talks about selling insurance, and that he taught at the Million Dollar Round Table, that life insurance is something that needs to be sold. It’s never purchased.

David: In the Three Feet From Gold.

Jon: Three Feet From Gold.

David: Three Feet From Gold, we say that, we talk about that a lot, to continually being persistent. You know, the people that we bring in that become our clients, a lot of time we’re surprised. A lot of times we’re surprised that something we said two years ago impacted them, and then we get a call, hey, you said something that struck me, and now I’d like to come in and see you. You don’t know who’s going to be your next client.

Jon: For our listener, explain Three Feet from Gold.

David: Back when the gold rush was on, everybody wanted to strike gold, and this one particular person found some gold, covered up his tracks, went back to his hometown, borrowed money from neighbors, relatives, so they could really do a big job extracting the gold. And so they were successful, they got a big chunk of gold out, and all of a sudden, the vein dried up. As much as they tried, they couldn’t find anymore gold to be mined, and so, he gave up. This individual gave up, went back home, sold all the equipment to a junkyard man. And he eventually paid back all the money that he had borrowed, but the junkyard guy called an expert, who had specialized knowledge, and three feet from where they stopped digging was where the vein began again. And the junkyard man got all the riches. He stopped three feet from gold. And that guy became an insurance agent, and he said he would never let that happen again, and he became a member of the Round Table because he never took no for an answer when people said, no, I don’t want the insurance. He would keep selling, and he became a Million Dollar Round Table member, because he wouldn’t let that three feet from gold hit him twice.

Jon: Have you seen The Founder, the story of Ray Kroc?

David: But I’ve heard little excerpts of it.

Jon: Persistence.

David: Persistence.

Jon: Persistence.

David: Not drifting.

Jon: I’ve been banging around the office quite a bit about persistence.

David: As well as the stock market is doing, there’s a lot of struggle going around in our industry. Money’s not moving from one place to the next. People are kind of just satisfied with where it is. The returns have not really been good since 2013, and we’ve got the Trump bump that’s pushed up the markets. I’ve got a buddy who works at UBIS, thirty years in the business. He said that statistically that in 2016, the average UBIS broker opened .8 accounts, not even one account per broker.

Jon: Wow.

David: At UBIS. So that means that a lot of people didn’t open any accounts, or get any referrals. And so, if you go back to 2008, everyone was ditching their broker, their advisor, their financial planner. Now they got the wonder person, wonder boy, wonder girl, and they think, boy, they’re so smart, look at how much money we’re making. It’s probably not them. It’s probably got a lot to do with our central bankers, and all the money they pumped into the United States. But they’re satisfied, and they’re not moving. And so the advisors are becoming a new advisor from cold. It’s got to be very difficult, so you really need that persistence. If you don’t have that burning desire in the faith, and make that decision you’re going to stick with it, and come up with new ideas, and work with your colleagues to form your own mastermind group, and just keep pushing forward, it’s easy to quit. It’s a tough business we’re in. It’s never easy. But even though the markets are high and people think it’s a gravy train for a lot of advisors, money is not moving, and so we need a lot of persistence right now.

Jon: Good words of advice on anything you’re going to achieve in life that is significant is persistence. Don’t quit when you’re three feet away from the gold.

David: That’s right.

Jon: And you never know when you’re three feet away from the gold. Watch The Founder, watch Ray Kroc. He was very persistent until he found the gold.

David: I listen to every morning Darren Hardy, who has a little short video, could be anywhere from two minutes to six minutes, motivational, and Denny Walstrip. He’s a motivational speaker, and he writes something almost every day about being persistent, about grinding through the hard times, and he’s into running, and I know you’ve done some triathlons. So he talks about a lot of athletes and how, in one instance last week, where a guy was best marksman, and lost his shooting hand, and everyone thought he was washed up, and then he came back and won gold eight years later, shooting with his left hand.

Jon: Wow.

David: Talk about persistence. Lost a hand.

Jon: Burning desire.

David: And so, what are we up against that we can’t defeat.

Jon: Right.

David: It’s got to be less than losing a hand.

Jon: I’d like to see the man who could stop me.

David: I’ll be stopped when I’m in the ground. That’s when I’m stopped.

Jon: I want to see the man who could stop me. Well that’s been a great interview. Great podcast. Thank you, David for coming on over here, Minneapolis, Minnesota at GWG HQ, and always great to see you and hear some of your words, and learn from you.

David: Well, thank you for the opportunity. I love your new office, and it was my pleasure.

Jon: Alright, so tuning out, we’ll post some of those links that David mentioned, Darren Hardy and Denny Walstrip, so we’ll post those links in the podcast.

David: I recommend you get them on your phone too.

Jon: I’m going to do that. Little apps?

David: They send an email.

Jon: Good, I’ll sign up. We’ll post those up so people can find them. (music) Ok, well, thank you for listening to another edition of the Innovating Life podcast. Really appreciate David Zoellner being here from Zoellner Financial. Really interesting things to hear from David on Napoleon Hill, the concepts, and more importantly, the application. So I hope you learned something about Hill and the concepts of personal achievement, and how one person, David Zoellner, is applying those to his life and professional practice. As always, keep working hard to be the best version of yourself and hope to hear from you soon. Cheers.