Date of Interview: 04/08/2008
© 2008 Clayton Perry
In America, anything is possible. (All naysayers should consider the life of Farrah Gray.)
At the age of 14, Farrah Gray became a self-made millionaire, despite being raised in the impoverished South Side of Chicago. And in less than a decade, his entrepreneurial talents have allowed him to oversee a $30 million asset management company, become a syndicated columnist with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), publish two best-selling books and receive an Honorary Doctorate degree of Humane Letters from Allen University.
At the age of 21, Farrah Gray was named as one of the most influential Black men in America by the National Urban League’s Urban Influence Magazine. And in March 2008, after a decade of entrepreneurial success, Farrah Gray was featured as a member of “O” – The Oprah Magazine‘s Dream Team of Financial Experts.
If Farrah Gray can succeed, why can’t we?
On December 27, 2007, Farrah Gray published his second book, Get Real, Get Rich: Conquer the 7 Lies Blocking You from Success, under the Dutton imprint. Upon review of Get Real, Get Rich, Farrah Gray managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on race, “lie-abilities,” and the keys to success.
Clayton Perry: How did the Get Real, Get Rich philosophy originate?
Farrah Gray: I have about 150 speaking engagements a year. After each speech, I always take time sit down and talk to members of the audience. Time and time again, I found that people held onto similar beliefs about what it takes to be successful. Get Real, Get Rich covers seven lies that block many people from success, like “It takes money to make money.” That’s not necessarily true. “When you work hard, you’re guaranteed to be successful” – that’s not true. The “born lucky” lie is also untrue – I’m sure you know a lot of people who were born into privilege and amounted to absolutely nothing. We all have greatness within us. So it is really important for everyone to figure out what God put us on Earth to do, and steer clear of the seven pervasive lies that often blindside people. I firmly believe that the two most important times in a person’s life are when they are born and when they find out why they were born.
Clayton Perry: Of the seven lies that you present in Get Real, Get Rich, which do you find to be the most pervasive?
Farrah Gray: The “hard work” lie. People often say, “If you work hard, then you have the key to success.” But let’s keep it real. When your bill collectors call, can you tell them, “I work hard”? If you go to the bank and say, “I would like to make a hard work deposit,” it’s not going to work. They want a cash deposit. A person can work for 160 hours a month and maybe, as Oprah said, get a “thank you” upon retirement. Again, it’s not about working hard. It’s about finding what God put you here to do. Once, a 75-year-old guy called me and said, “Dr. Gray, I’ve been working all my **** life. Why am I broke and you’re rich? I’ve been working hard. Everybody says if I work hard, I’d be successful.” “Oh, no, sir. You’ve never heard me say that. I believe it’s about finding what God put you here to do.” He said, “I know what God put me here to do. I’m a singer.” I said, “All right. Well, sing.” He started to sing. I listened. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I said, “You’re not a singer. That’s not what God put you here to do.” If you want to find what God put you here to do, ask yourself three questions. First question: What comes easy to you but harder to other people? The second question is: What would you do for years and never have to get paid for it? Third, ask yourself: How can you be of service? Once you answer those three questions, your work will become your play. You’ll never have to “work hard” another day of your life because you’ll love what you’re doing. The world and the marketplace will open up for you, your gifts and your talents. The guy who called me became a painter after asking himself those three questions—eventually selling one of his paintings for almost $5,000. That’s what he was here to do. He wasn’t the kind of artist he thought he was. So it’s very important to find what God put you here to do.
Clayton Perry: That is a lesson that I am still growing into. What lessons are you still learning? In the introduction of Get Real, Get Rich you state, “We are all students of life until the lights go out on us.”
Farrah Gray: Patience. Being an impatient person, I wanted to do what my grandmother said: “Do as much as you can as fast as you can; be as productive as possible.” But you must be patient. So I have struggled to balance patience with being an impatient person, and trying to find a happy medium. I also believe that my personal mission in life is to grow and contribute, so I am learning and growing every day. Going back to the “work hard” lie in your previous question: Dr. Deepak Chopra talks about the law of least effort. Sometimes you’re pushing and what you want to do is not coming with ease; doors are not opening. A lot of times we’re pushing against resistance. If one looks closely, there is often a message in that resistance: “Wait a minute, maybe it’s not what you’re supposed to be doing.” Bottom line is, if you want to know the difference between good resistance and bad resistance, decipher skill versus desire. If you want to be a basketball player, yet you shoot bricks, it’s not going to happen.
Clayton Perry: You say everything we want is on the other side of fear. How do you combat fear?
Farrah Gray: Everyone feels what could be called fear. But the coward turns away and says, “I can’t deal with this.” We have to learn to face our fears and push ourselves. If you’re living on earth and you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. When you push past the fear and realize that what you feared was not a big deal, you gain more confidence.
Clayton Perry: You also say that comfort is the enemy of achievement. What kept pushing you, as a successful businessman, once you had achieved a certain level of comfort?
Farrah Gray: We have to find areas in our lives that we feel most uncomfortable about and want to change. I decided to push myself because it allowed me—as I talked about in the three questions—to give back. I have a scholarship program. When I found out the average age of a homeless person is 9½ years old, I said there must be something that I can do. Now, I am the spokesman for the National Coalition for the Homeless. I am also the spokesman for the National Marrow Donor Program. Anyone who has any form of blood cancer is going to need a transplant. We have tens of thousands of people dying annually because they cannot find a bone marrow transplant that will match exactly – what we a call a 10 out of 10 match—which would give them the highest prognosis for life. I lost my sister because we couldn’t find a match. We lost Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes to blood cancer. We lost Nelly’s sister Jackie Donahue to blood cancer. That is what pushes me: knowing that there are homeless 9-year-olds and people on their deathbeds waiting for solutions. It is very hard not to be of service when I have been blessed with the financial means to give back. The more we give, the more we receive. It’s important to give back, because the seeds you plant today, you will harvest tomorrow.
Clayton Perry: What keeps you grounded and in tune with the spirit? Hearing you speak, it doesn’t seem like success or money has gotten to your head.
Farrah Gray: That’s another lie. Money doesn’t change who you are; it magnifies who you really are. Money has not changed me. When I look at money, each dollar represents an option of something I could not do yesterday. Money lets you enjoy the finer things of life, but it doesn’t change who you are. It magnifies and brings into fruition the things that you want to hide most. It is a mask for insecurities as well. I will give you a prime example. I have a friend who came into some money. You couldn’t tell her anything. “I’m going to live like the rich people live. I’m going to buy up some Christian DEENOR, Louis VEETON.” [laughing] She couldn’t pronounce it, but she knew she had to have it. I asked her, “Are you going to get some GODEEVA chocolate now? Are you too good for Hershey?” [laughing continues] What was funny to me was the fact that she could not pronounce the designers’ names, but society has made her feel that she had to have their things. I call such things “lie-abilities” – things that are in style today and will go out of style tomorrow. We end up sitting on our assets lying about our ability.
Clayton Perry: According to a 2005 report by the National Urban League, “One in 20 black men are incarcerated, while one in 155 men are, and for every three black men in college, four are incarcerated. Political correspondent Keli Goff has even gone on to describe the current generation – the hip hop generation – as part hip hop, part Huxtable. She states that in America, racism exists but so does Oprah Winfrey. Considering your success, as a product of the post-civil rights generation and member of the current “hip-hop generation,” what is your perspective on race in America, and how has race impacted your business pursuits?
Farrah Gray: Without a doubt, racism has become institutionalized. I own a real estate asset management company where I manage over $30 million of assets for major financial institutions. Looking at my own success, one could say that racism does not exist, but look at one of the biggest financial crises this country is facing in the sub-prime market and the methodology used by major financial institutions in loaning money. A lot of African-Americans, when their credit profiles were pulled, qualified for what’s called A-paper loans but were put into bad loans, the sub-prime market. They were taken advantage of. When we look at education dollars that were cut, who did it affect? It affected HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Who goes to HBCUs? Black people. I had an office on Wall Street for nine years. There were people who did not even speak to me in the elevator. They are the wall of Wall Street. I do not think that it is a coincidence that there are more of us, as the old saying goes, at state pen than in Penn State. So we have to look at the fact that racism exists and that a Dr. Farrah Gray or an Oprah Winfrey or a Bob Johnson does not erase racism. It is not possible for us to erase racism just because African-Americans have reached a level of financial success and crossover appeal. I have book sales in Russia, Indonesia, Canada, Australia but they took my picture off the book in the Russian version of Reallionaire. That was amazing to me. It’s selling and they said, “We have to take his picture off because we are uncertain about how he will be received.”
Clayton Perry: You mention Oprah Winfrey and Bob Johnson, who else do you admire in the business world, and what is it about them that you try to emulate?
Farrah Gray: One of the people that I have respected, and one of the people I have learned so much from studying, is Reggie Lewis. But I never give credit to just one person, never. I give credit to everyone, from Madam C. J. Walker to the Freedmen. They say black people do not save, but that is not true. In fact, many of the freedmen in the South bought themselves out of slavery by saving their money. A lot of our people are unaware of that. I look back to those days and get quite a bit of inspiration.
Clayton Perry: As a young, African-American entrepreneur, success came to you at an early age, with your first million secured at the age of 14. Now that you are older and have expanded your fortunes into a lot of different ventures, how would you want to be remembered? In time, what legacy do you want to leave behind?
Farrah Gray: I am looking to leave an inspirational legacy of what is possible. When I go to college campuses, when I do any kind of public appearance or interview, I speak to generations yet unborn. That is why I own a magazine. Prominent Magazine has a demographic of 18-49. Its tag line is “the ultimate entertainment and empowerment magazine.” By God’s grace, I’ve been more successful in my older years, in my earlier 20s, than I was in my teens. I am currently overseeing a $30 million asset management company with Ronald Branch. He was the former president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers and he is my business partner as well. He was named one of the 25 Most Influential People in Real Estate. I am also a syndicated columnist. My weekly column reaches close to 15 million readers through the Newspaper Publishers Association. So I am looking to inspire our people beyond. There is a group in Africa called the Akan people and whenever they put someone in a position of power, say a chief or a king, they are given a statue of a hand wrapped around an egg. The hand represents the power the individual. The egg represents the people. You can be selfish and crack the egg and make scrambled eggs for yourself. You can be too rough with it and crush it. Or you can nurture that egg to grow. So when people listen to people like me, those of us who have a platform, we have to say things that speak truth. We have to empower, inspire, build, and launch the next generation of world solutions that will positively contribute to our economic, political and social fabric and—hopefully—improve the entire nation and the world.
Clayton Perry: What do you value most in life? Is there anything that you have come to value more as a result of your success?
Farrah Gray: I’ve lost quite a few family members. My father has been deceased for about 7 – 7½ years now. I lost my sister to leukemia. I lost other family members who are near and dear to me, lost a brother. At this point, it is just my mother and my grandmother and my fiancée.
Clayton Perry: Will wedding bells be ringing any time soon?
Farrah Gray: Yes, one day soon. She is a wonderful woman. Phenomenal. We have been together for several years now. I like to say we have a Jay-Z and Beyoncé thing going on! [laughing] Recently, I escorted my fiancée Alicia on the red carpet at an event and the press just hounded her. People are so nosy. You kind of want a private life.
Clayton Perry: Well, once you go on Oprah, it’s a wrap! [laughing] People across the globe know you now. As a public figure, how hard is it to maintain a private life?
Farrah Gray: Very hard. If you make too many things too public, then you end up living your life before the court of public opinion. I try to keep those things private. Just this year, my mother came to a speaking engagement of mine for the first time. She had never heard me speak.
Clayton Perry: Well, you have certainly made her proud.
Farrah Gray: It was such a special moment. I take her on tour with me now after losing my sister, then losing my brother.
Clayton Perry: If you had to pick a turning point that led you from failure toward success, what would it be?
Farrah Gray: I will never forget it. I was about seven. My teacher asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up: A teacher, doctor, attorney…?” I said, “Well, I’m going to be a millionaire entrepreneur one day.” She looked at me and chuckled. “No, you’re not,” she said. “You’re poor and your family’s poor. You better go find somebody to work for.” I was just shocked. I remember I tried to get her fired. I went home to my grandma and said, “Grandma, am I really not smart enough and good enough to be an entrepreneur?” I had already launched a campaign for my company. I was selling door-to-door. My grandma is a very sweet lady, but she has a quick right hand and a temper, so I learned that the hard way a couple of times. She said, “Listen, I want to tell you something. I do not want to hear you say that again, ever. Do not let anyone tell you what you can be. Do not let anyone tell you that you are not good enough or smart enough. Remember that nobody is better than you. Everybody puts on their pants one leg at a time. I want you to wake up every morning and say, “Why not me?” I’ve lived that attitude ever since. If you see somebody else that has something, why not you? If you want millions, if you want a mansion, if you want to put an end to homelessness, why not you?
For more information on Farrah Gray, visit his official website: http://www.drfarrahgray.com