You may consider it odd, but Dave Ramsey and I have both been writing and speaking on the topic of Christian finance for more than twenty years, but until ten days ago we had never met. I received a personal e mail from Dave a few weeks ago inviting me to visit his offices in Nashville and get an inside look at his operation. There is a very funny backstory here that I must share to give context to our meeting. Dave had become aware of some negative blog posts about him and the blogger had a very similar website address to ChristianMoney.com. Dave's invitation was prompted, in part, by his belief that I had written these critical articles. In fact, it was not until the evening after I had left Dave's office that we all figured out that this was a total misunderstanding. I remember laughing out loud after piecing it all together. Dave and I exchanged e mails, both very amused by the mistake.
Even though during my entire visit (unbeknownst to me), I was understood to be the guy writing hit pieces on Dave, everyone treated me with such warm Christian hospitality. Dave walked up to me that morning, dressed in cowboy boots and jeans, flashed a big smile, and offered a heartfelt welcome. He shared with me that he is in the midst of launching a new training program for those that have completed Financial Peace University (FPU). I called it FPU 201, but the official name is 'Legacy.' As a good writer who is always looking for an interesting angle, there it was - "What is Dave Ramsey's legacy?"
Dave's story is very much the same as my own. We both went bankrupt, we both used that learning experience to launch our teaching and writing careers, and I could tell from my personal time with him that we share the same battle scars. He exudes the one-on-one people skills that you will not find often in those of his stature. I have been around a lot of big name celebrities and know the drill of no eye contact, one word answers to questions, and the 'I am better than you, stop talking to me' treatment. Even though we just met, I felt like Dave was an old friend. Dave's lobby is open to fans that come in and watch him do his live show. Dave takes time during breaks to come out and greet them, take pictures, etc... Dave's 'Andy Griffith like' charm could be witnessed as he greeted each one of his fans with the same genuineness that he had greeted me (some travel hundreds of miles to do their 'debt free scream' from a live microphone in the Financial Peace Plaza lobby).
In addition to a hug from Dave, visitors will also meet 'Martha' (if we can continue the Mayberry metaphor - Aunt Bea), who offers cookies, coffee, and other snacks in the main lobby. My first thought after being offered a freshly baked cookie and a mug of hot cocoa was, "Where do I get a job application?"
What Is Dave Ramsey's Legacy?
If we were to consider Larry Burkett the 'George Washington' of the Christian financial teaching movement, we would have to consider Dave to be 'Abraham Lincoln.' More than 1.5 million people have gone through the Financial Peace University training. If you are unfamiliar with FPU, it is a thirteen week course presented in 90 minute weekly trainings (Dave on video and led by local volunteer facilitators). The foundation of the program is putting people on a track to become debt free.
Dave's Business Leadership
Dave's legacy would also include his business leadership style. He shares his twenty year journey of building his Nashville based Lampo Group in the book Entre' Leadership. Dave doesn't have employees; he has team members (latest count 360 of them). If you want a job working for Dave, get in line. The Lampo Group has been listed as one of the best companies to work for in Nashville for years. What's more, the interview process is 90 days long. Even if you make the cut, you then face 90 days of probation. Entre' Leadership even gives advice on how and when to terminate unproductive employees (ask someone to leave the team). I loved the premise of the book, which is that each team member is an entrepreneur, bringing their own ideas and energy to the overall mission of the organization. Brent Spicer, an Executive VP with the Lampo Group, told me that whenever plausible team members are paid on a commission basis, truly making them entrepreneurs within Dave's operation.
Dave's Endorsed Local Provider Program (ELP)
If you need to refinance your home, buy life insurance, buy or sell a home, purchase long term care insurance, or even find a financial planner, Dave can give you a referral virtually anywhere in the United States. I have to admit that I was a skeptic of Dave's referral system, wondering how he could really endorse thousands of local service providers nationwide, and do so with any level of reasonable quality control. I had a chance to meet the individuals that run Dave's ELP program and got a real insight on how the program works. The providers do pay for the 'leads' they receive from Dave, but there is a lot more going on than Dave simply selling the names of his followers. Through a carefully crafted system and a room filled with ELP coordinators, Dave's team prequalifies prospective providers and then carefully monitors the experience from start to finish. Providers are not only expected to follow Dave's principles, such as buying term instead of whole life insurance, they are also expected to provide great service as well. It is not easy to get selected to be a Dave Ramsey ELP, but it is easy to be fired. ELP management shared with me their zero tolerance policy for bad customer service or rogue financial advice.
Dave's Daughter Rachel Cruze
I won't be going out on much of a limb in sharing with you that I believe that Dave's Legacy also includes a young lady by the name of Rachel Cruze. Cruze, 24, is the second of Dave's three children. She is every bit the public speaker her father is, and has taken on the mission of bringing the Ramsey principles to college-aged kids around the country. For her young age, she is amazingly articulate and shares her father's passion for the debt free lifesyle. I also had a chance to meet Rachel during my visit.
Watch out Suze Orman, there may soon be a new first lady of finance.
What Else Does Dave Have Cooking?
Not only can we look forward to Dave's new legacy training (expected to become available in the fall of 2013), we get to watch another rising star within Lampo; Jon Acuff. Acuff's new book, "Start" will be released in late April. Contrary to what you might expect, Dave does not seem to mind sharing the limelight with his team members; he even team teaches many of his seminars with them.
Jon Acuff, most well known for his blog 'Stuff Christians Like,' had been a favorite guest speaker at Dave's team member devotionals (yes, Dave shuts the whole company down every Wednesday morning and takes time for a one hour devotional). Acuff has relocated from Atlanta to Nashville to further plug in to Dave's operation.
The Spanish Dave Ramsey?
Just when my head was about to explode trying to absorb it all, they tell me about Andres Gutierrez, who leads Dave's outreach to the Spanish community. In the beginning they tried distributing Dave's audios and videos by overdubbing them in Spanish. Brent Spicer laughed as he shared that with me and how they figured out it was not going to work. The answer: a Spanish speaking Dave Ramsey. Gutierrez, who I did not get a chance to meet, also has his own radio show and studio at the Lampo Group complex.
Dave's Ultimate Legacy?
I won't lie and tell you that I have historically been a regular listener to Dave's radio show. When I get out of my office and turn on the radio, it is usually the 'oldies station' that is playing. Knowing I had the upcoming visit, I tuned in a few times and something caught me a little off guard at the very end of the show. As Dave is closing out the program, he says, "the only way to financial peace is to walk with the Prince of Peace." After I heard that I was very moved. Here is a guy on secular radio who unabashedly shares his status as a follower of Christ. Dave's Marconi award, status as a New York Times best selling author, and numerous other accomplishments, pale in comparison to what I gleaned from this simple statement of faith. Thanks for the inside look Dave!
Helping You Make The Most Of God's Money!