The AMERICAN DREAM STILL AT REACH Brian Buffini Shares The Emigrant Edge
At nineteen years of age, Brian Buffini had just hopped on the wildest ride of his life. He was positive he had gotten into the line for the “American Dream.” Somehow the signs had been switched and he found himself in some sort of nightmare. Recently emigrated on a green card from Ireland, Buffini woke up in a hospital bed after slamming his motorcycle into the side of General Motor’s version of American success; a Buick.
His bike was pointed downhill when the collision happened. Thousands of miles away from anyone he knew, he wound up with metal in his broken leg, and medical bills totaling a quarter of a million dollars. Many other people would have stayed down after a catastrophe of such caliber. This is where Buffini is different. Thanks to some good old fashioned grit, generations of wisdom, a real estate license and some divine intervention, Buffini limped back over to the line for the American Dream, hopped on, held on and hasn’t ever let go.
Now a little more than thirty years later, he leads the largest business coaching organization in North America in Buffini & Company. The Carlsbad, California, offices are a beacon of hope to so many who find themselves in dire straights just as its owner once did. With the help of Buffini’s coaching, they begin to experience the type of positive momentum he harnessed all those years ago to develop a multi-million dollar real estate, speaking, and education business. His speaking engagements have inspired and empowered millions to pursue their version of the American Dream.
Buffini’s journey to the top has added a few more scars next to the Buick insignia. Keeping his doors open in the real estate training industry through the largest recession in recent American history left its fair share. Losing a home in a wildfire around that time added a few more and yet, with each challenge, came more resolve and a more wisdom.
This father of six and husband of twenty-seven years has only let it drive him more. Now armed with a rapidly growing podcast in “The Brian Buffini Show” and a newly released New York Times Best-Seller, “The Emigrant Edge” the ride of the American Dream keeps going and growing, despite any of the setbacks. Risen caught up with Buffini at the “BuffCo” headquarters to hear more about his incredible story.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Carlsbad, California
Risen Magazine: Every emigrant’s story starts somewhere. What did your start look like?
Brian Buffini: I’m Irish born; was a driven guy. There is a class system in Europe. Ireland is a country that has a famine in its history. When you lose approximately half of your people, half to starvation and half to emigration, it scars the land. Then you have a country that was inhabited by the English, so you are officially on the wrong side of the tracks. I didn’t know I was poor until I came to America. I never felt that way as a kid though. Growing up, we had five boys in a nine by nine foot bedroom. We had one bathroom. We felt rich because we were the only family on the street that had a phone! So when I have conversations with people from America about what my childhood was like, it’s people who lived in the 40’s that can relate to where Ireland was at in the 80’s. Ireland was a third world economic country and came with this class system. Who your father was, what school you went to, where your church was, dictated where you’d end up. With very few exceptions, that was the case. That’s the case in many European countries.
RM: Even at a young age that must have created quite an impression in you. How so?
BB: It creates this drive in you. I’ve told a story where I was invited to a rich kid’s birthday party and they were playing a game of hide-and-go-seek for money. I was freaking out. Fifty pence pound notes, five pound notes, twenty pound notes; I would work a whole week for fifty cents! I’m running around, literally hyperventilating trying to find people. Eventually, I started running around in a circle, the whole backyard started to spin. Then all of a sudden, I look up and everybody’s laughing because there is no treasure hunt. There is no money. They’re playing a joke on the poor kid from the other side of the tracks. I was twelve years old; I walked home three miles and bawled my eyes out. I remember thinking to myself, “That’ll never happen to me again, and that’ll never happen to any of my children.”
RM: You made a very powerful promise to yourself. How did that start to flesh out when you came to America?
BB: I came to the States on June 4th, of 1986. I was raised Catholic and I had an appreciation for the things of God, but I didn’t have a relationship or connection with God. I came to California and wanted to get a suntan and meet suntanned girls. I’m still pale and I married an African American. If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. I started selling t-shirts at the beach of Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. [San Diego] I’d start at eight in the morning and go to eleven at night. I rented a room from a fellow I met who was a surfer. He was in great shape and was twenty-six, and was a tugboat captain. His name was Dan Cardot.
I was going to the beach everyday. I was drinking pretty good at the time. I was Irish even then! But I would get up every morning six o’clock to go work out, and this guy would be sitting in the corner, in his living room, reading his Bible. I’d come back and he’d just be finishing up reading it. I just had never seen a young person so enthusiastic after reading his Bible. I always knew it as the “Holy Bible.” This big blue, two-foot by two-foot thing in the church where I grew up in Ireland, [and it] was in a box with a lock on it. It was for the priest to read to interpret and tell you what it said.
[Eventually], I would start sitting down with Dan every morning, make him a coffee and make myself a tea and start asking him questions. One day after months of this routine, he says to me, “Would you like to pray with me?” I only knew how to say the Our Father, but this was the first time I ever had a conversation with God. Well, that lead to many more conversations and on October 7th, 1986, I gave my life to Christ.
Over the course of six months, I basically got a seminary education. And out of those six months came a foundational period of my life that is the grounding of my life.
RM: People have many different experiences in coming to know God. What do you attribute yours to?
BB: It was by this man’s example. He had this beautiful girlfriend. They had made a commitment to stay pure until they were married, and I lived with him so I saw that to be true. He was this stud and she was gorgeous, but I would see her go home every night. I saw his example. Then he brought me to church and I saw people who were on fire, worshiping to modern music, raising their hands. It opened up my whole world. I was like, “This is great! I’m in the new world. I’ve met these awesome people. I’m a very passionate Irish man with an Italian last name.” I was going to go back home and be the next Saint Patrick!
RM: Well we know from the end of the story that this isn’t what happened! What did take place next?
BB: Well, twenty-three days later, I’m driving home on a motorcycle, back from a painting job, and a car blindsides me as I’m going 45-mph downhill. That led me on a journey that was quite amazing. I ended up having a compound fracture in my leg and getting gangrene; they were going to amputate my leg. I was in and out of hospital over the next two years with over $250,000 of medical bills. They put rods and screws in my legs and I couldn’t go home. I was a green card holder, so I wasn’t entitled to anything. I didn’t know anybody, I was living alone, and I didn’t have any money. I was really in a bad state.
RM: Many would stay down in that type of situation. What helped you to put back on your boots and begin to pull yourself back up?
BB: I finally just figured it out. I took the right pedal off my bicycle so I could ride it with the half cast I had gotten down to. I was doing paint jobs and odd jobs and started digging out of the hole. As I was doing that, I decided that I was going to get my real estate license. I met a man, I only met him once, his name was Tom Stephenson, and he changed my life. I was enrolled in Westminster Seminary in Escondido at the time. Well when I met with Tom he said to me, “Brian, I get in to homes everyday that will never turn on a Christian radio station. They’ll never turn on a TV pastor. But I get to deal with something that’s crucial and important to people and I get to serve them while I’m serving God.” I went, “Wow, that sounds like me.”
So I started to study for my real estate license. At that time, it took a while to get it. So while I was waiting to get my license, I got discipled by a guy who was a Postal worker who led a Bible study. We would meet twice a week, and we would start at 6 p.m., and go until one of us fell asleep. And he was a very deep thinker and had great passion for Theology. He would recommend a book, I would read the book and that inspired him to keep referring me more books. Over the course of six months, I basically got a seminary education. And out of those six months came a foundational period of my life that is the grounding of my life. Today I speak to hundreds of thousands of people all over the world trying to share wisdom from God’s perspective to the business community packaged in a way that they can digest. But that all comes, almost everything I got comes from that six-month period when I was nineteen to twenty years old.
I got my real estate license, jumped into real estate and became the Rookie of the Year for a company called ERA. Within a few more years, I was in the top five in the state of California. I was helping my clients to buy and sell real estate and then living very frugally within my means and buying my own real estate. By the time I was twenty-six, I was debt free and a millionaire. In the midst of that time I was asked by the church I went to, to teach the principles behind that success in business. I went on to find and teach seven biblical principles on how to succeed in business. What was interesting is as I was teaching that, I felt some conviction every Sunday because I thought, “I need to up my game.” I was living it, but not to the degree I was teaching it. Once I applied those principles myself in a vigorous way, my own business doubled at a very minimum every year for the next five years.
RM: That’s so convicting for everyone. What were some of the ways you saw living your faith in business play out?
BB: For example, I decided I was going to take every Sunday off, yet seventy percent of my business happened on a Sunday. I made a commitment that I had to change, not in a legalistic way, but just that me and my family were going to serve the Lord on that day. The tests came right away! Two weeks later I got the biggest referral I ever got and the only day he could meet was Sunday. I had to call him and say, “I made a commitment to my family and I don’t work Sundays.” He said, “Well that’s great to hear. When are you available?” And that man bought a multi-million-dollar house from me, and referred me many multi-million-dollar buyers. It doesn’t always work out like that, but God was telling me to stick by my guns.
Another [example] I can think of happened when I was six years into real estate. I got a referral from a friend of mine. It was a couple and it looked like they were going to get a divorce. Real estate is really tricky in a divorce because of the housing. So I go over to this house and I walk in the door. I was there to sell their house and make a commission on their house. They were sitting at different sides of the kitchen table. I could sense the hurt, but as I would engage them in conversation I could see that they still really cared for each other. So I put my book down and I said, “You know, this is none of my business, and it’s probably not even appropriate to say, but it seems like you both really care for each other, and it seems like this real estate thing is forcing you to make a decision neither one of you is really sure you want to make. I have this friend who’s a counselor. Would you go and meet with him? I’d rather [see] a couple that really cared about each other stay together than I care about getting a commission on a house.” And they were both kind of stunned. They couldn’t believe I was saying this to them. They even let me pray for them and I remember putting a hand on each of their shoulders and sensing the tears running down their faces. When I was done, they had reached across and were holding hands. I remember walking away from that appointment and going, That’s the best thing that ever happened to me in business. But in my mind, I thought to myself, I wonder if I can do in a ballroom with five hundred people, what I was able to do in a living room with one couple. And that’s where the juice came from.
Jesus also talked to farmers about farming stories and fishermen about fishing stories. He talked about things that they could relate to.
RM: So once again, it was expanding on your principles and experiences that led to the next step in business. How did getting started in the real estate seminar business go?
BB: The real estate industry has always had seminars that come with it. At the time, the lead trainer in real estate had a saying, “Find em. Fleece em. Forget em.” And here I come with a system that revolves around serving your client and exceeding their expectations, and I’m killing it. So they bring me in to share the system I was using and after I was done speaking, there’d be a line of people out the door waiting to talk to me. I realized there was a need there. So in 1995, I started a company called Providence Seminars. It was dedicated to the Lord, but there was a big bank in New England who didn’t like us using the same name, so we ended up having to change the name. Buffini & Company had been my family’s painting business for generations so I thought, they can’t take that away.
RM: You’ve gotten to live out the great quote, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” What would you say is the role of the Christian in the marketplace?
BB: Well first of all I’ll tell you this. I don’t have a fish on my business card because I don’t want you to do business with me just because I’m a Christian. If people are using I’m a Christian, as a soft sell into why you can trust me, I think it’s a mistake. I’ll take it a step further. I had a very influential broker come to me who represents hundreds of agents and he told me he wanted to join my coaching program because I was a Christian man with a Christian company. I told him that there is no such thing as a Christian company, because a company is a business. The Christian is a person. I then told him that if he signed up for coaching because I was a Christian, then I thought that was a lousy reason. I want you to sign up for our coaching program because we are the best coaching company in North America. I do everything to the glory of God. But I want the market to say we are the best at it. I understand the need to align with other Christians because people can feel comfortable and the philosophies align with what you believe, but you need to make a business decision that you are working with the best in the business. The fact I’m a Christian is an additional bonus.
It’s impossible to have gratitude and entitlement in your heart at the same time. It’s impossible to express gratitude and complain at the same time.
RM: Not only have you reached millions through seminars, speaking tours and coaching programs, but now you’re launching into the podcast business. Tell us about that.
BB: We wanted it to be the mindsets, motivation and methodologies of success. We didn’t just want it to be idea only, but beliefs and things you could apply as well. I also think Jesus used tech. The Sermon on the Mount was positioned so that it was a natural amphitheater. You can speak at the top of the hill and hear it at the bottom. If you go to the Sea of Galilee, it’s astounding. Jesus also talked to farmers about farming stories and fishermen about fishing stories. He talked about things that they could relate to. If Jesus were walking the earth today then he’d definitely be doing video. He’d be telling stories and allegories that people could relate to. So the podcast came out to fish where the fish are biting, but also I wanted to make sure my priorities stayed straight. This isn’t new for us. In 2001, I bought my first jet because I was doing upwards of 150 seminars in a year. That jet wasn’t even economically a smart decision, but our CFO signed off on it because he knew I was a man of my conviction. It gave me fifty-four more days a year at home with the family.
The podcast was just the next step. It allows us to meet where people are consuming information and helps us to be who we are. We started by live streaming seminars. One seminar would stream to 1,000 locations instead of me doing 1,000 live seminars, but then we saw that the podcast was a great way to provide value. It was free, easy to download and we could reach more people. We’re just over a year into it and our podcast right now is in 157 countries. It took us a year to get to a million [downloads], but it increases now by a couple of hundred thousand a month. She’s growing! Seems like people are hungry. I prepare [for the episodes] like my life depends on it. I try to honor everybody in the best way I can. We’ve never gotten a dime for it. The impact that one couple had on me made me want to become a public speaker. Doing thousands of seminars made me into a pretty skilled communicator. Now I’m able to take that skill and sit there in my recording studio and do a podcast. I love it!
RM: You’re radically committed to your family. What does that look like?
BB: We’ve been married for twenty-seven years, but from the beginning we came together and made certain decisions about our finances, and our family. For instance, we homeschooled all six of our kids when it wasn’t exactly popular to do it; but that all came out of our values. We wanted to meet them with an educational style that fit each one of them. They’ve all gone on and continue to do great things. I’m just big into the people who live it. I’d rather say, don’t listen to my mouth, just watch my feet. People have asked us for years to do a children’s conference. I told them we’d do a children’s conference to teach people how to parent by putting our six kids on stools, hand them the microphone, walk out the door and let the audience ask them the questions.
RM: That’s such a crucial example in a day and age where family gets so easily chucked to the back burner. You also recently wrote and released a book? What is that about?
BB: I read a Harvard Institute of Politics report that said fifty percent of Millennials no longer believed the American Dream was possible. Then I read another report that said fifty percent of Baby Boomers don’t believe their kids will have as good an opportunity as they did. It stopped me in my tracks, because I don’t believe it to be true. I said, “Okay, I have to do something about this.” So I wrote it from the classic rags to riches story. Now there’s lots of those stories, but the most common that represents the American Dream is people who came over to this country, with nothing and who went on to be successful.
I wrote not about just my own story, but worked with our own research department here at the company, and researched hundreds and hundreds of the most successful people in America. The Forbes and Fortune lists are filled with people who came over to this country as immigrants. We were able to see that all these stories had seven traits in common. Not all immigrants are successful, but the ones that were, we saw all had some form of these seven traits. We broke it all down in seven elements: A voracious openness to learn, A do-whatever-it-takes mindset, The willingness to outwork others, A heartfelt spirit of gratitude, A boldness to invest, A commitment to delay gratification, and An appreciation for where you came from.
RM: Which one of those areas has meant the most to you as an immigrant?
BB: Asking me which one is my favorite is like asking me which one of my kids is my favorite, but I think a heartfelt spirit of gratitude would be my pick. I thank my customers for being my customers. I thank my employees for doing a great job. I thank waiters and waitresses wherever I go. Cicero Roman politician says that gratitude is not only the chief of all virtues, but the parent of all others. Our kids know that “Please” and “Thank You” are not negotiable words in our family. It’s impossible to have gratitude and entitlement in your heart at the same time. It’s impossible to express gratitude and complain at the same time. I think when you express that level of gratitude it gives you great power. I wrote this book because I wanted people to get an idea of where they came from. I wanted them to know who they are and whose they are. Our ancestors at the very least left everything they loved to come over and get a new chance in America. What would those people do with the opportunities you have in front of you? What would they do with the problems you have? I think if people will tap into that, they’ll fly. Especially as Christians, we have the additional benefit, not only of an adopted country, and culture, but our adopted Father, and the power that comes with that relationship!
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