John Hope Bryant is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, Inc. He is also the CEO of Bryant Group Ventures, The Promise Homes Company, and co-founder of Global Dignity. In this episode, he tells us how he did well by doing good with a winner’s mindset. Listen and be inspired and find out how the story of his life can be yours too! | Get his new book starting October 6, 2020: Up From Nothing: The Untold Story of How We All Succeed.
Chris Pratt: We have an extraordinarily esteemed guest today. He is founder and chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Operation HOPE Inc. Operation HOPE has aided over 4 million individuals worldwide and directed more than 3.5 billion dollars. That’s billion with a B in economic activity for the disenfranchised. He is a financial literacy entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, and prominent thought leader on economic empowerment and financial dignity. His name is John Hope Bryant. Welcome to the show, John Hope.
John Hope Bryant: Nice to be with you. Thanks for inviting me.
Chris Pratt: Absolutely. So your story is, uh, really amazing and, uh, the work you’ve done is absolutely phenomenal. I mentioned this to you a little bit before the show. I like to start. I always like to start by just asking a little bit about your background. I heard that you grew up in Compton, California, and you had a story about a white banker from your elementary school there. You want to talk a little bit about your background and that story?
John Hope Bryant: Yeah, I mean, my mom and dad came from the South American South and had limited formal education, mean, sorry, they got the high school that didn’t have higher education, but they’re incredibly smart people. My dad owned his own business as did his dad. It, I guess you call it my great grandfather who was a slave. So I come from a history of business owners, but they were not financially illiterate on that side of the family. So we made it, but couldn’t keep it. And the more money we made in some cases, in some ways the broker we got, my dad would make a dollar and spend a $1.50. Um, my mother was the financial genius in the family, but my dad wouldn’t trust my mother to manage the money. Uh, I don’t know if the chauvinism or pride or whatever, but that was a really bad decision because my mother was again, a financial and economic issues, economic issues, a financial genius.
Her credit score today is, um, is over 847 or something like that. And my mom and dad divorced over money. We owned, at that time, a gas station, a cement contracting business, an eight unit apartment building, and our own home, a nursery. I mean, they were, they were very, very progressive business people at the time. Uh, and then they lost it all arguing over money, uh, and other things. And my mother moved to Compton, California. I’m moved with her. And, um, my mother started building on her own building a network, building a family building wealth, and I went to school in Compton and I went to a home economics class when I was nine years old. And by the time I was nine, I had experienced, um, one death and two murders. Uh, the death of my family’s family structure, divorce and the murder of my best friend, uh, in my play uncle.
Um, but before I was, which I witnessed the murder of my play uncle right in front of me, all this was over. Everything was over money in every instance.
Chris Pratt: Sorry to hear that.
John Hope Bryant: I really wanted to understand the money thing, and I want to understand it. Why, why my friends and family were dying, uh, over it. And why we were struggling because of it. So I was in class in school and this banker is seeing, was forced to come to school to teach us financial literacy. Clearly wasn’t there in his own volition, white banker, white shirt, blue suit, red tie. Nice guy.
Chris Pratt: Do you remember what he was wearing?
John Hope Bryant: Yeah, he was six two. I just, my only, my only my only reservation. My only regret that I did, did he get a business card, but didn’t keep it to this day. Cause I’d love to thank him because he changed my life.
Chris Pratt: Wow.
John Hope Bryant: Um, most of my, so it was home economics. We start talking about financial literacy and this is where the government comes in while I’m all about free enterprise and capitalism. This guy was there because the federal government had passed a law called the Community Reinvestment act, which required him to come in and teach this class, uh, through his employer, which was then Bank of America. And, but by the second or third session, he realized that we weren’t dopes. And we realized that he wasn’t a bad guy, he was actually a good guy. And then he realized that we reminded him of his children to the beautiful coming together of humanity. And by the second or third session, I looked at him and said, sir, what do you do for a living? And how did you get rich? Legally?
Chris Pratt: That’s important.
John Hope Bryant: Yes. Well, no, nobody in my neighborhood got rich legally. It wasn’t, I wasn’t how we came up. My new book coming out next month is Up From Nothing. The Untold Story of How We All Succeed and how the ladder is now broken. And, and so I was trying to figure out how this guy did it legally. I mean, what, what, what was it, how, how did he, you know, make money? And no one was chasing him. He wasn’t chasing anybody. You know, it seemed to all be above board. And he said, I’m a banker. And I finance entrepreneurs. And I said, sir, I don’t know what an entrepreneur is, but if you’re financing them, I’m going, I’m going to be one. And that was it. That was, that was, that was when all the lights came on and I go home and looked up a different definition of the word entrepreneur. I decided I wanted to be one.
Chris Pratt: Hmm. Yeah. And, and, uh, uh, that’ll do it. And that, I mean, that was in elementary school. Right. So that was really early on in your life.
John Hope Bryant: It was, um, but didn’t know that that’s where most of your values get that your, your culture, your whole environment gets got of course at a young age.
Chris Pratt: Yeah. The reason I bring that up is because I think, you know, a lot of people have dreams when they’re kids and some are maybe less rational than others. And as they grow up, they tend to, uh, uh, conform to reality, right? Life happens, things happen and, and, you know, they shift your perspective and, and they can scare you, you know, bad things happen as you mentioned, uh, about your family. And I’m so sorry about that. And so on this show, I really like to understand, like, how do you go from that really early vision and dream? And like, I know I want to do something, to actually doing it and actually building that financial literacy and financial knowledge with respect to this show, but just in general, succeeding in whatever it is that you want to do. So could you walk me through, like, I don’t know, high school, uh, in onwards, what you did to get to where you are today?
John Hope Bryant: Well, fear, fear of death and fear of failure. Fear of being broke are great motivators. Uh, so I didn’t have a comfort. Like, I mean, I felt sorry for a lot of my well-to-do friends today who, if they succeed, if they don’t, they’ll be okay if they work or they don’t, they’ll be okay if they hustle, they don’t, someone’s going to save them. It was, uh, I mean, let’s, I want to go work for McDonald Douglas aircraft, which is where my mother worked as a same. She was making $18 an hour. That wasn’t my vision. But unless I wanted to do that, I’ll go to work as a manual labor of my father for his construction company. I didn’t want to do that. Then I needed to figure out in our, unless I wanted up dead on a street corner, uh, selling drugs, whatever my family would have murdered me before the streets did, but that was at least an option.
I didn’t want to do that. So I just was trying to figure out like, how do I fulfill my dreams to me was pretty practical. And what I knew was that none of the stuff that my friends were doing in the neighborhood was getting him anywhere. It was prison, probation, parole, death. And I just figured that was just all a really bad business plan. And so I just decided to reverse engineer myself into a plan that was legal and scalable, where I could access the mainstream banking system where a low cost money existed because of my neighborhood at these check cashers and payday loan lenders and rent to all stores and title lenders and liquor stores. And he was really bad capitalism and expensive money. Uh, I mean, it was, it was very expensive to be poor. So, I mean, I almost intentionally didn’t ask, answer the question exactly the way you asked it, because the answer, the question of, well, what did you do to get through high school? Would we be here all day? Um, but you know, it, it was this Rubik’s cube of how do I walk myself back through the limitations of my life and, and for all the things that aren’t working for me and my family and my friends, and end up with a new model, a new business model and no one ever tried before. And that’s what I ultimately tripped upon people call it that,
Chris Pratt: Yeah. The first thing I want to address is you mentioned this, this notion of, of bad capital and a good capital, and we’ve talked about this quite a bit on, on our show and different people have different definitions of kind of where the threshold is, but could you talk a little bit just generally about what you mean? You mentioned payday loans in some other, um, kind of bad debts,
John Hope Bryant: Uh, no pass, bad capitalism. I mean, there’s good debt and bad debt. It’s a different thing. I mean, things that appreciate are good debt, things that depreciate my opinion are bad debt. That’s a different conversation. It’s similar, but it’s different. Good capitalism is where I succeed, but you do better and bad capitalism is where I’ve succeed and you pay the price for it. So, you know, drug dealing is an example of bad capitalism. I succeed and you die. Um, I succeed in your addicted, prostitution being a pimp, bad capitalism, I succeed and you’re, you’re deep, deep de-dignified, and your life is ruined and so and so forth. Um, gangsterism, I mean, these are pretty dramatic examples of selling somebody, somebody, a subprime mortgage on wall street in 2008 at that capitalism, when you knew that they couldn’t pay you back, this subprime is nothing wrong, but predatory subprime is bad capitalism sub projects that we need less than crime rates are less than prime credit. I’ve been subprime my whole lot, most of America subprime, but predatory subprime is a negative thing, right? So I just wanted to prove that you can be a capitalist and not be a jerk. I wanted to prove that you could embrace good capitalism and succeed broadly and at scale, and then went on to define one, you know, I, I went on to another level and said, well then can you do well and do good. Yes. Can you do well by doing good? Yes.
Chris Pratt: Right. So how did you, how did you prove that to yourself? Like where did you first, you know, because it’s one thing to say that and to, and to have that dream and that goal. And I think, you know, a lot of people have some kind of vision like that and they’re well meaning, and they want to do good and benefit themselves while also benefiting others. But I find that the vast majority of people don’t know how to do that in an actionable way. So I’m just curious, like where did, where did you first prove that to yourself mean?
John Hope Bryant: This is just all hustle. I mean, uh, I started my first business when I was 10 years old neighborhood candy house, put the liquor store out of the candy business when I was 10 years old. And there’s an example of capitalism and I did it legally. I did it honestly. Uh, I did it in broad daylight, the bright light of day. I did it with hustle. I did it with smart. Um, and I had a range of other businesses, a hundred different business ideas from age 10, age 20. I ended up homeless when I was 18 years old for believing too much in my own press and being so focused on busy-ness not business and not taking care of the numbers and so on and so forth. But then, um, recovered from that and ran a finance company. When I was 19 years old, 19 eight, 23, grew that to $24 million a year in business. I did manage from the bottom of my former employer, that was ultimately good capitalism.
Chris Pratt: Right. So that, so that business, when, when you were 19, how did that start?
John Hope Bryant: Uh, uh, each one of these stories is, uh, an hour long podcast. Uh, how did that start?
Chris Pratt: Was it that you met someone?
John Hope Bryant: Yeah. That’s the story of all of our lives, right? Why you’re a drug dealer, you met someone. Why do you work in Silicone Valley? You met someone, you know, why did you, why did you get the biggest grade book of your life? You met someone. Why, why are you married? You met someone. If you hang around nine broke people, you’ll be the 10th, uh, and so you know what kind of people you’re meeting.
Chris Pratt: People, people want to know who did you meet and where did you meet them? And how did you, you get to meet them.
John Hope Bryant: But none of that, but none of that stuff matters. Like, I mean, I hear what you’re saying, but there’s no, there’s no golden goose for this generation is like, there’s no only in the dictionary, does the word success come before the word work because it’s alphabetical. Right. Um, and every other, place is just hustle. It’s just work. I mean, I just outrun failure, you know, when I get up in the morning, I don’t want the devil to say, Oh, crap, he’s up. I mean, I just hustled. And so if you compound, if you have compound or hustle, you’re going to end up running into somebody ultimately after the hundredth time, the 200 time, the 300 time of doing the same thing in this particular case, uh, I think, uh, well, one story leads another. I was a waiter in Malibu, California ended up working for the guy who owned the restaurant because I bugged them 400 times nonstop. And I went from being a waiter to a personal assistant, to Harvey Baskin. I was working there a couple of hundred million dollars a day. And then I learned sort of out of the deal,
Chris Pratt: You said you bugged someone non stop, who did you bug nonstop?
John Hope Bryant: Harvey Baskin. And all this is in my book, the Up From Nothing, The Untold Story comes out in October. All this stuff I unpack in great detail, but this guy Harvey Baskin, owner of Geoffrey’s restaurant, who owned Geoffrey’s restaurant got arrested. So you know about them because before the internet, you can’t search them and find out much. But I bugged them and I was tenacious and unrelenting. It’s just that my number one trait in my life is I’m unrelenting because I just never give up.
Chris Pratt: Right.
John Hope Bryant: I ran into the owner of another business in Malibu, which was Malibu cinema, Dave Omera. And, uh, I used to go to him at the end of the night when he finishes his movie, playing his movies. And I just sit and talk to him and learn about business. And ultimately he said, Hey, you know, I’ll back your business ideas.
So, and he did, and they didn’t work out so well. So after the third business idea, he backed, he’s like, look, you need to pay my money back and you don’t have a job. Let me help you get you a job. That’s what introduced me to a guy named David Cotter Miller, who owned an investment bank in West LA. And so I went to go work for interview with David Cotter Miller for a job. And I sat there and I told him, I don’t really want a job. I want to be an entrepreneur. So he offered me a job with a salary and a car allowance, all that stuff. And I said, why don’t you keep all that make me a partner in your company.
Chris Pratt: Wow.
John Hope Bryant: Now mind you, I was only there, but I was only there because I owe his friend money for a job. But I told him, I wasn’t really interested in the job. I’d do it. If there was no other alternative, I really wanted to be a partner in his company. He laughed me out of the office.
Chris Pratt: This is stuff that’s really important because most people would not do that. Right. They’re ignoring all the other stuff before. If someone said, Hey, I got a job for you. You go in and interview. They might, you know, look up how to interview for this job, but they’re not going to go into that job and say, Hey, I don’t really want this job. I want to be an entrepreneur. And I want you to help me do that. Right? Like people don’t, most people don’t do that. So that’s what I was trying to get at. Like, what do you do differently that most people aren’t doing to get to where you are, right. Because yeah. And so, okay. So continue, he laughed you out of the room.
John Hope Bryant: Yeah. He laughed me out of the room and uh, but I didn’t leave. He, he, uh, he attempted to laugh me out of the room and I just sat there and I said, I’m serious. And, and he said, look, you know, I’m only, I’m just interviewing you because you’re a friend of my friend. And, uh, so I said, well, look, what do you have to lose? You’re going to give me the salary and all this kind of stuff. But if you make me a partner in your company, you have to pay me anything. And, uh, I’m going to work hard and you’ll get half of what I heard. He said, well, what would you do? And so I found him, well, there’s this business called Swing, get loan financing, short term financing. I know these actors in Hollywood used to be one who, who make money, but are between movies.
And they don’t have, they don’t have any active cash flow, but they’ve got lots of assets and we can make them short term loans. And for one or two years, and unlike the loans you want to relay to poor people, these people will pay you back. So he said, okay, let’s try that. Get out of my office. And the first year I had a fellow as a passive real estate test in California, which I failed the first time. The second time, the third time, you can only do it four times before they sent you too stupid to take the cash. Then why don’t you take it a third, a fourth time? If you fail it, I passed it. I think the third time and everybody in the office pretty much laughed at me that first year. And the guy Miller was getting a new, uh, a, basically a free employee.
So he didn’t care. But the second year I did 9 million in business. The third year I did 15 million in the fourth year at 24 million in business. Then I did it. Then the parent company got into trouble. The company that hired me, got into trouble with some of their investors. Um, and I had a chance to buy my fruition, which infuriated, the guy who originally had hired me. Um, and he said, you know, you’re not who you, who are you to want to buy this company? I said, I’m an entrepreneur. He said, you’re not an entrepreneur. You’re just lucky. So, I went to a law firm in Century city to check on how to buy this company. And I just literally opened up what was in the yellow pages. We didn’t have the internet back then. And I found the largest ad for a business law firm in Century city.
It was a Butler, Jeffer Mangles Butler Marmaro. And I couldn’t say Jeffers. I couldn’t say Marmaro. I couldn’t say mangoes without mangling the word I could say Butler. So I called him after the partner, Jim Butler, and he answered the phone and I tell him, I want to buy this company. And he laughed at me. It became quite the consistent theme in my life. And he said, I know that company, who are you to buy that company? And I told him, I was, and he hung up the phone, took my number. He called me back and he says, well, this is really funny, my friend, Steve Miller is really upset with you because he is trying to sell this company to a company,a buyer in London, and you won’t sign the employment agreement. I said, yeah, I keep telling them I’m not an employee.
He says, well, the problem is, you’re the only one in the company making any money. That’s why they’re frustrated with you. And they need you to sign this employment agreement so that they can sell this company. I said, I’m not doing it. They said, well, then you buy the company. I said, I’ll be happy to. Well, I can let you do that. I accused him of discrimination. The lawyer, you can’t, you can’t be racist in this industry. I can buy any company, probably about once a week and slow down. I’m trying to help you. If you buy this company, you’re buying nothing by liability. You said you’re the only asset.
Chris Pratt: Wow.
John Hope Bryant: So just by your own division, just they owe you some money. They owed you a couple million bucks, just use these assets. I’ll help you to buy your division and go on about your life. And that’s what I did.
And I created Bryant Group Ventures, Bryant Group Companies, which is now Bryant Group Ventures. Um, and the rest is history as they say, but you know, all of this is through, adversary. everything’s through hustle. There are no straight lines. It’s not this, not some romantic, you know, story where you, you know, you get up in the morning, they meet Joe and introduce you to Jack and you give a little PowerPoint. They fund your loan and the venture capital meeting. It’s not the way it works. So it’s certainly not the way sustainable success works. I mean, I’ve learned much more from my failures than I have from my successes. But I think the reason that this ties into my new book is that there are three types of people. There are survivors of surviving mentality, a thriving mentality, and a winning and talented and surviving is unfortunately what most, mostly in my neighborhood I grew up in had.
And have. A thriving in poverty is what middle-class American tax. They want to get, they want to give, get some income. They want to get some revenue. They want to get a nice car. They want to get a promotion. They want to get a vacation. They want to get opportunity for their, for their children. They want more of the American dream, but a winning mentality is a building mentality. And a winner knew they were a winner before they ever won anything. And that’s a big difference. So I’m really all about, and the message I’m pushing in and up from nothing is Michael Jordan. If you’re a basketball fan of Michael Jordan, if you’re a TV talk show fan is Oprah Winfrey. If you’re, if you’re a Silicon Valley fan, maybe a Steve Jobs or the range of other, I was talking to Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo earlier today, maybe Jerry Yang, maybe it’s Jack Dorsey. And it’s all these different genres, but basically all these people knew they were winners before they won anything, all of them. And that’s what America, that’s what made this country is a group of people who believed they were a winner before they wanted anything. And that’s what we’ve got to get back to.
Chris Pratt: That’s that’s really great. Yeah. And, and I’m really glad that you, uh, shared that story because so people do like consuming content in stories. And of course, everyone loves those romantic, you know, um, uh, movie type stories where this led to that, which led to that, which led to that. I think that obviously in retrospect, you see a straight line, right. And, and it makes sense why you got from A to B, to C, to D and I get, but I get what you’re also saying, which is that, that only happens because you, you, weren’t trying to go, uh, along a straight line. Right. And you were just hustling to meet different people and working and trying different things. Right. And you mentioned that you failed a lot more than you succeeded. So I’m glad that you shared that story because that’s really what I was trying to get at with, with my questions is, you know, people say hustle, but if you just hustle working at a restaurant, 12 hours a night, you don’t talk to anyone you don’t, you know, all you do is, is I don’t know, cook food or wait tables.
And, you know, someone offers you a job opportunity and you turn them down, right. That’s a hustle in my view. And that’s how a lot of people view the word I think, hustle. But, uh, it’s not that entrepreneurial spirit that you’re talking about. So I think it’s really valuable that you share that story. And I’m glad that you’ve put it into, into this book. I’d like to shift gears a little bit to Operation HOPE. Can you talk a little bit about Operation HOPE and why you started it and what it is?
John Hope Bryant: I started Operation HOPE so that people growing up where I grew up or even middle-class America did not end up with frustrated aspirations and frustrating success. I wanted to create the Starbucks of financial inclusion, the Walmart of economic empowerment ad scale America’s financial coach for a hundred million Americans who never got the memo on how this system works. And, um, we’re now the largest, non-governmental nonprofit, financial inclusion organization in America. And we’re in 25 States with 156 physical locations, and a HOPE in hand app in your hand and our national call center. And we’ve advised the last three US presidents on financial literacy and economic empowerment policy. And, um, we’re now in the middle of this call, that crisis, the economic crisis, the four year old social justice reckoning that’s now, before us, the black America, we, uh, we’ve pioneered something called a New Marshall plan, which is the second highest rated.
Uh, it was a Google search for Marshall plan in the world right now, as far as the thought leadership piece. And we’re tying into that a range of strategies, which we’ll be launching in the next few weeks that operationalize that vision. And we’ll do some of it with government, but, uh, we’ll do a lot of it through the private sector. We’re 90% of all jobs come from. In other words, the phrase that we want to partner with city and state and the federal government, but I don’t want to sit around and wait for somebody to tell me it’s okay for us to do something. So we will be announcing a range of partials with the same entity, same entities that help Dr. Monica King jr. And my play father, civil rights icon ambassador, Andrew Young, the last remaining contenders to dr. King that is alive today and helped them in the sixties and night.
And it’s other stage, which was the private sector. People don’t know that it was a business class. It was business leaders that integrated the South. People don’t know that it was out the government that took down the whites only thought it was business because it was ultimately the color of that currency was not black or white. It was green. So we, we have the same philosophy today that the new color is green and that by focusing on the economics and not the politics, but focusing on the economics and not the product, not the racial, the racial friction, we’re poking on the economics on geographic differences that you can bring this country together because everybody wants a more green. And we can focus on expanding the economic pie versus limited by some kind of a poverty pie. Uh, we all get more of expand opportunity for all.
Chris Pratt: Yeah. So on your, on your website, you mentioned on Operation HOPE. It says that you turn check cashing customers into banking, customers, renters, and homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners, minimum wage workers, into living wage consumers, uh, et cetera. So for people listening, what would be your number one piece of advice? And maybe you don’t like this question, but what would you be your number one piece of advice for starting on that journey of financial dignity?
John Hope Bryant: Oh, be curious. It says, God gave you tutors and one mouth. So you listen twice as much as you talk, don’t take no for an answer. Take no for a vitamin, understand that crazy people change the world. So be crazy. In other words, reimagine everything, figure out what you’re passionate about because that’s what you’re going to be good at. Um, have a builder’s mentality in the beginning was I talking about in the book, the Up from Nothing, the winning mentality, not a getting paid mentality, which is a real obsession with, you know, it’s really a big problem right now. I don’t get up in the morning saying I want to make money. I want to get paid. I want to get rich. I don’t even relate to that. An entrepreneur, a builder, uh, wants to create something meaningful. I want to create something that will change the world.
They want scale. They want change, build a community, build a daycare and network builder, build a technology company, build a church, build a mega church, go to a huge nonprofit buildup, uh, series a network of barbershops, what you build, but build it. Maybe you build that you’ll create well, which will then create income and riches and the other things you want. But there’s so many folks that are really obsessed with money that you win the battle and you lose a war. Even if you tell them, you know, used to be, you listen to love songs. Music used to be about love and care. Now you listen to music and it’s about things. And you look at basketball players and football players. How do we rate them? What’s their contract? How much did they make on their contract? Not, not how great their player they are, how much they love the game. So we sort of lost our storyline. And that’s again, when I talked very passionately about in this new book.
Chris Pratt: Okay. Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. We’re running out of time, but thank you so much for coming on the show to chat with us. I’m sure everyone appreciates getting a chance to listen to you. Again, this is John Hope Bryant. He has a new book called Up from Nothing. The untold story of how we all succeed. It comes out on October 6th. And where can you find that book? It’s on Amazon, where else?
John Hope Bryant: It should be everywhere. Yeah, Amazon and Apple. And they’ll even be an audio version that I voiced myself.
Chris Pratt: Awesome.
John Hope Bryant: If somebody wants to be droned on and bored on, that they can listen to my voice. Go on for about three and a half hours.
Chris Pratt: Even an audio book. I love audio books. So when I’m running or in the car or what not again, thank you so much as John Hope Bryant.
John Hope Bryant: My pleasure.