Ep 056

Overcoming Addiction & Learning to Let Go of Control

With

Triad Member - Russ Ross

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Inside This Episode

Today, I’m sitting down with Triad Member Russ Ross for an honest and raw discussion about overcoming adversity and navigating the stressful environment of financial services.

Russ is the president and founder of Russ Ross Wealth Group, where he specializes in helping his clients navigate the phases of their retirements. Together with his wife Michele, Russ also focuses on helping educators in the 403(b) space.

In today’s episode, Russ and I get real. As advisors and entrepreneurs in a high-stress industry, we know the temptation of unhealthy coping mechanisms. Russ takes us through the struggles he’s witnessed and lived — and advice for anyone who needs to overcome their own challenges.

You’ll also hear insights on running a practice with your spouse, how to improve client relationships and inspire referrals, and how to make sure your work doesn’t swallow your personal life.

3 of the biggest insights from Russ Ross

  • #1  From addiction to alcoholism, unhealthy coping mechanisms are a harsh reality in our industry. Hear how Russ worked through his struggles and found healthy outlets for stress management.

  • #2 Russ and his wife Michele are one of many husband-and-wife teams in financial services. Listen as he shares his advice on how to run a business together while staying happily married.

  • #3 Put the phone down and be present. Get strategies for drawing clear lines between work and life so you can be available for your family.

KEY TAKEAWAYS: 

  • How Russ got into financial services
  • Navigating the 403(b) space
  • The danger of self-medicating
  • Advice for anyone struggling with addiction
  • Hobbies as a healthy outlet
  • Letting go to grow your practice
  • Running a business with your spouse
  • Why to set boundaries with your work hours
  • Overcoming serious health issues
  • Strengthening client bonds with personal touch
  • Russ’s definition of “Do Business. Do Life.”

WHY YOUR FINANCIAL ADVISOR BUSINESS WON’T GROW

HOW TO BALANCE WORK AND FAMILY

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE: 

PEOPLE MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE:

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MIC DROP MOMENTS WITH RUSS ROSS

  • We are in control about when we’re going to be worked up and we just say no. That would probably be one of the biggest things that I could tell somebody that’s younger. The faster you adopt that attitude, the lower your blood pressure is going to be.” – Russ Ross

  • “One of the reasons why we’ve survived in a business that has a 99% failure rate is because I’ve always treated people like they’re family members of mine.” – Russ Ross

  • “One of my steps in recovery says that if you want to stay sober, you have to give it away. You have to help others.” – Russ Ross

  • “If you want something different, you’ve got to do something different.” – Russ Ross

  • “Professionals don’t respond to fires outside of business hours because it’s not necessary.” – Russ Ross

Brad Johnson: Welcome back to another episode of Do Business Do Life. Excited for today. We have another Triad member spotlight. Russ Ross, welcome to the show.

Russ Ross: Thanks for having me, Brad.

Brad Johnson: Well, you know, as I was thinking about how to kick this one off, there are sometimes these just serendipity moments in life. And you’ve been an early member at Triad, Russ. And we had, I guess, it was just over a year ago now, we kick off our year with the big launch experience. And this was how we kicked off 2023. And you and your wife, Michele, are there and we’re just kind of showing up to awards night, a really cool little, I call it a hole in the wall but it’s bigger than a hole in the wall. But a place called the Coppertank in Austin, Texas. And we’re on the red carpet kind of walking in and you shared a story with me, and I just thought that that’d be a fun place because, obviously, you have a family practice that you and your wife working together, building the business together. And almost three decades later, we’re walking into an evening and you dropped the story on me. So, why don’t you share that? Because that’s a fun way to start.

Russ Ross: I had just moved to Austin two days prior to showing up at the Coppertank with a few friends of mine. And this bar happened to be the place where all the Dallas Cowboys would hang out at night because in those days, that’s where the training camp was, was in Austin. So, Michele was there with some of her friends, and we kind of got a mutual introduction and everything. And almost exactly 365 days later, we made it official and got married. So, we’ve been married then 29 years this year and never looked back.

Brad Johnson: And then there we were because I guess this would have been 28 years after the fact because this was about a year ago and just out of sheer coincidence, Triad and Kristy in our team who runs our experiences, we picked the Coppertank and it was quite an evening. We had Amos Lee do a private concert, did an awards night. And you literally dropped that on me that night. You’re like this is actually where Michele and I met. And so, that had to be fun. I had to take the night up a couple of notches.

Russ Ross: Small world. Yep.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, speaking of origin stories and there’s a lot of advisors that listen to this show or watch this show. I find it very common. There’s a lot of husband and wife teams out there, which you and Michele definitely are in your business. And so, I would just love to go a little bit down memory lane before we get to all of the success you’ve had in recent years. But how did you stumble into financial services? How did it come to be? I know you were born and raised in Arlington. So, what got you into the business in the first place?

Russ Ross: Well, at that time we were actually living in San Antonio. And my mom, who was an art teacher out in the desert in West Texas, calls me on the phone one day and she says, “Hey, these people came and did a presentation at our faculty meeting, and they happened to live in San Antonio, and they’re looking for advisors. And so, let me give you their name and number so you can call them,” because she knew that I wasn’t really happy with what I was doing. And so, as soon as I hung up with her, literally, Brad, I walked over and I threw the name and number in the garbage can and went about my day. Because parents don’t know anything, right?

Brad Johnson: Right. How old were you at this time?

Russ Ross: Oh, I was 37. No. Let’s see, that was about 2000, year 2000.

Brad Johnson: Oh, wow. Okay.

Russ Ross: Okay. So, two weeks later, she calls. “Hey, Russ, did you call those people?” I said, “Gosh, I’m so glad you called because I lost the number. Can you share that with me again?” And I was really not happy by this time about what I was doing. So, I wrote the number down. I call the people. And within about 2 or 3 days, we were sitting at a coffee shop in San Antonio, talking about the 403(b) marketplace in the K-12 industry, and about 24 hours after that, I was studying for my test.

Brad Johnson: Wow. Russ, I’m picking up a theme in your life when you decide to go for something, whether it’s getting married or changing your career, you just jump right in.

Russ Ross: Well, what I like to tell people is that when I came into the 403(b) deal that failure was not an option for me because all I knew was I had a wife and two starving children at home that needed to be diapered and fed, you know? So, it just wasn’t a choice to fail.

Brad Johnson: Well, we were talking before we hit record here and you said, “Hey, I kind of grew up in this super niche space, the 403(b) market, obviously the educational space. So, that’s kind of a place where I’ve seen a lot of younger advisors cut their teeth. So, what did you learn along the way? What were some lessons that you learned from the early days that carry forward to today?

Russ Ross: Well, one of the first things I learned was that educators only make up about 30% of the working population in any city in the country, big town, small town, whatever. And they need help. And so, it’s a funny thing though that I would kind of, it’s usually the female in the household that’s the educator, would do some good things for her. And then all of a sudden, the husband sitting in front of me wanting to talk about his 401(k). So, some of the largest cases I wrote up until about 5 or 6 years ago were the husbands of my educator clients. So, we’ve chosen, even though we’re much more diversified now, we have chosen to stay close to the educator marketplace because we’ve invested so much of my energy and passion into that because of my mom, that we still have a lot of fish chasing the boat, that people want our help because of our knowledge with the education system and pensions in general.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. And so, I grew up with a grandma that was a grade school teacher. My wife, Sarah, taught before she decided to stay home with our children. Her mom, her grandma taught. So, the 403(b) market does have some of those pension-like qualities. So, what are some things that you had to learn to navigate that was maybe slightly different from the average retiree when you were dealing with those financial plans?

Russ Ross: Well, obviously, gaining access to the employees during school hours is very tricky but I never really chose to go that course anyway. I never sat in the lounge helping to bother people when they came in to take a break between classes or whatever. So, we learned pretty quickly how to get in front of them off campus and just do some educational things for them. And then the referrals just started dropping out of the trees. But that was 20 years ago. I mean, today getting into campuses is exponentially harder because of security concerns and also the spam filtration on the email system is pretty tight. So, I’m glad that I never really relied on being in campus to do business otherwise because I know guys that were completely out of business the day after COVID hit. They were completely relying on getting into the school campus. And there weren’t anything happening in schools, on the campus. So, anyway.

Brad Johnson: Well, let’s rewind because there’s a little gap in the story until we get to today. And that is your mom calls you. You kind of changed careers, weren’t super happy where you were at, dive into the 403(b), the educator space. I’m assuming this was working for a captive agency or some bigger firm owned by somebody else. Is that fair?

Russ Ross: Actually, it was an agency owned by an individual but we were independent. We could have taken off with our clients any time we wanted to. The reason I did that for a considerable period of time, though, was because I was getting so much value in learning that part of the business that I wanted to stick around, you know? But eventually, wife took me to a slightly different direction and that agency actually imploded in the mid-2000s, about 2006 or 2007. So, anyway, things have worked out okay.

Brad Johnson: Let’s talk about that for a second because I think there are a lot of lessons. One of the struggles a lot of founding advisors have in this space is going from a single-player game to a multiplayer game, which is growing a team to where they’re not just carrying the weight of the business themselves. Looking back when you were the advisor underneath another advisor, what were things that that founder did right, and what were things that founder didn’t do so right?

Russ Ross: Well, so let’s get real, right?

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Let’s go. Let’s go.

Russ Ross: The guy that founded this agency was absolutely brilliant. Brilliant, okay? But he made some absolutely terrible life choices, addiction, infidelity, gambling, all of those kinds of things. And so, he couldn’t keep his thing together. He couldn’t keep a wonderful business together because of the poor personal decisions that he was making. So, that’s really what caused him to lose his agency. My immediate upline of business, they were not ethical. And so, I broke away from them fairly quickly because I knew I learned what not to do. And also, I’ve learned a lot of things about what to do. And I think one of the reasons why we’ve survived in a business that has a 99% failure rate is because I’ve always treated people like they’re family members of mine.

Brad Johnson: The Golden Rule.

Russ Ross: And they figured that out. And so, they stayed with me. They stayed with us.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Let’s go back to kind of lessons and you can learn lessons from people that do it right and people that don’t. And one of the things that I’ve found that’s very common and it’s not just financial advisor space. It’s entrepreneurs in general. It’s a very stressful job. You know, high highs, low lows. And one of the things that I’ve found because of that is self-medication to your point. Sometimes that’s drugs, sometimes that’s alcohol, sometimes that’s infidelity. So, being a guy that’s been an entrepreneur for a long time, what are ways that you’ve found to navigate and not self-medicate for the wrong reasons in the business during the high highs and the low lows?

Russ Ross: I struggled with alcoholism myself, Brad. Almost killed me and almost destroyed my marriage and almost took my business away from me. And I was self-medicating because of the stress and the pressure and all of those kind of things, right? I came to an epiphany 13 years ago and decided to, with the help of my wife and my mom and my sister, that I was going to take a different direction, and it saved my life. God gave me a second chance and I wouldn’t trade my worst day sober for my best day when I was drinking. I wouldn’t trade it. And here I am. We have watched this business flourish. We have so many people that love us and are loyal to us as our clients, and they bring us referrals like crazy, and I wouldn’t be able to see any of that if had I not survived.

Brad Johnson: Thanks for sharing that, man. I’ll tell you what, Russ. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about you, man, is you always keep it real. Like you said, before we went live, you’re like, “Ask me anything. I’m an open book.” And I hope that little life lesson there, I promise you right now there’s somebody listening in or watching in that’s struggling with that right now. So, I hope your story and your lesson there can show there can be a light at the end of that tunnel. Any advice you would give somebody if they’re struggling with that right now like what help to seek or what to do about it?

Russ Ross: Absolutely. One of my steps in recovery says that if you want to stay sober, you have to give it away. You have to help others, right? And so, I always love to make myself available to people that just want to have a real conversation and like get honest and learn more about my pathway and my struggles and what I’ve done to. And God has done to overcome those things for me because it’s not doing anybody good. If I just put a lampshade over my head and just shine out for other people. So, that’s what I try to do in business and I try to do that in life as well is to let my light shine so that I can possibly be a positive impact in somebody else’s life. And when somebody is in the middle of an addiction thing, I was so lonely. The last thing I wanted to do was to pick up the phone and call somebody or go see somebody and say, “Hey, man, can I sit down and talk?” And that’s what kills a lot of people is they don’t do that. So, I don’t know. My heart is very full talking about this today but I know that there are people that are watching this today that are struggling with something. If they don’t reach out to someone and just chat, how are they going to get better? I know. Well, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. So, if you want something different, you got to do something different. And that’s what I was lucky enough to be a part of.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. You remind me of an advice I got, well, we were just in a small group with Michael Hyatt, who I know you admire and has been a coach to both of us. I remember when he was talking about a struggle he had that was kind of being a workaholic and his wife sat him down and had the talk and he had to resist. I think us guys sometimes, number one, we’re slow learners, right? But sometimes we try to put on this armor and it doesn’t do us any good like resists help or reaching out to somebody. And Michael shared that he finally was convinced to go sit down for therapy and one of the first words of advice was, “Hey, it’s the healthy people that sit down and talk to people. It’s the unhealthy ones that bottle it up and try to battle it…”

Russ Ross: I remember him saying that.

Brad Johnson: …by themselves.” Thank God he gave me that advice because it’s helped me. You know, I think this path of entrepreneurship, it’s the most rewarding but some days it sucks. Let’s just be real. Some days you feel like you’re battling these battles alone. And I think every entrepreneur that I’ve ever talked with that’s honest and real with themselves, they say, “Yeah, sometimes you just need a circle of people to lean on.”

Russ Ross: So, Brad, you asked earlier, “Well, Russ, how have you dealt with the stress and the pressure and all that?” Right? And then I got on to this rabbit trail.

Brad Johnson: Yeah.

Russ Ross: Life does suck sometimes and things happen all the time, don’t they? And so, the question is what tools do we have in our toolbox to deal with those things? And are they healthy tools or are they unhealthy tools? Right? But you have to have tools. You can’t just say, “Well, I’m not going to drink anymore but I still don’t know how to deal with the issues because you’re going to be right back on the bottle. I apologize if I was kind of getting on a little bit of a soapbox about that but this is life or death stuff, you know?

Brad Johnson: Don’t apologize at all.

Russ Ross: I learned how to put the right kind of tools in my box where when life is not fun that I’ve got those tools to go to and not the ones I was using previously.

Brad Johnson: Can you share an example of one of those tools? If somebody is out there and like, man, when I have a rough day at the office, I go home and mix up a couple of drinks and that’s my solution. What tools would you suggest they replace it with?

Russ Ross: A ten-minute walk around the block, calling somebody that they really can consider them a real friend, not a fair-weather friend, and say, “You know what, man, I got to tell you what happened today.” I think just talking to another person is so powerful when you’re struggling, you know? Social media wants us to believe that everybody’s life is all perfect, right? And it’s not. That’s the big lie, isn’t it? And so, call somebody while you’re taking your walk and say, “Man, I need somebody to talk to.” And the person you’re calling doesn’t necessarily even have to have a solution. It’s just being present. That’s golden. But you know, I have my photography. And so, that’s something that I can do pretty immediately if I’m really suffering. Go grab my camera bag and drive out a little ways and go take some pictures. Or I can pick up one of my World War II books and read a little history or whatever.

Brad Johnson: Well, fun fact.

Russ Ross: Everybody’s tools are going to be a little different, you know.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Fun fact for those that are watching on video, they see a picture of, there’s actually a couple of planes. One of them is kind of cut off but you should share. There you go. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about you is you have an eclectic taste in hobbies and interests, which is very similar to me. So, on the World War II and like finding hobbies and places where your attention can go, that’s kind of that stress reliever. You know, that’s one of the things I found is kind of sometimes missing in a lot of advisors and entrepreneurs’ lives is they’re just grinding, grinding, grinding. And it’s this constant stress where there isn’t a break or a distraction that’s a healthy version. So, has World War kind of your… I know that you know just about everything about World War II planes. Has that been one of the ways that you go when you just need to relax and unplug?

Russ Ross: I love military history but I think that photography is really something that I would gravitate more to because I can do that any time. I can’t always go drive down the street and see an old warbird in somebody’s driveway or whatever.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, let’s go to I just wanted to take a second. I just want to acknowledge you and say thanks for keeping it real. And that’s what I love about this podcast. It’s not the surface-level conversations. It’s the real ones because that’s where people can learn and grow. And that’s where I promise you’re serving some people, listening in, and hopefully, that gives them a little nudge if they’re struggling there. Really successful people, which you are one, all of us have things that we’ve had to battle through, adversities we’ve had to overcome. And so, I want to fast forward a little bit because you just had a record year last year. So, let’s get to the fun part of like how you’ve grown and evolved last year. So, we record this early 2024. Last year, you finished right about 35 million of total assets. That was about 50% growth over the prior year. Team almost doubled, up to nine team members now, including yourself. So, give us some of that evolution of the early 403(b) days. You overcame some obstacles, some battles, and kind of catch us up maybe a few mile markers along the way, and the success you’re having today.

Russ Ross: That’s really crazy because when I got in the 403(b) thing, the only thing I knew about money is that I didn’t have any of it. And I’ve learned everything just from the hardest way you can possibly learn things. But you’ve heard several people, Triad officers say that they feel like they’re in what they call the storming phase. And I know that we’ve been in a storming phase for probably ever since we joined Triad. We are starting now to step out of that a little bit. And I’m so happy about that, right, so then I can spend more time working on the business rather than just working in the business. And as our team has grown, I’m starting to see the benefits of being able to empower other team members to just take ownership of certain things and then that’s off of my plate. If they need me, they can come and find me or if they want some coaching on that or whatever. So, that’s been a great thing for us. I really have been wondering for the last few years if I was ever going to get out of the storming phase, but now I feel like I can see some light at the end of the tunnel on that.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, congratulations because I know you’ve worked your butt off and that’s the thing that I’ve seen in the last just over three years in Triad’s existence. When your mission is to help advisors like yourself level up in business and life, one of the learnings I’ve had is, number one, if you throw that out there, I’ve never heard somebody decline that offer. Like, oh, I don’t want to level up in business and life. I think most people, if they’re honest, that’s something that’s very North Star that people want to move towards. But one of the things I’ve seen is a lot of people just aren’t willing to do the work because it’s very different. You shared and I asked you permission, so I’m going to share it now, before we hit record. We did a private mastermind with Michael Hyatt out at launch in Scottsdale, and we did something that’s called a spotlight. So, we had 11, 12 different Triad member offices there. You were the very last one to go. And just like this interview so far, you are real and raw and you said, “Hey,” I’ll paraphrase so anything I missed, feel free to chime in on.

But you said something to the effect of, “Hey, I feel like I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career. I’ve naturally kind of always had some sales skills. I’ve naturally had the ability to build relationships and connect but as I transition into needing to lead a team instead of be the guy, sometimes I feel like an imposter. Sometimes I struggle with that.” And Michael Hyatt in that moment, he paused you. He said, “Hey, anybody else feel like this, too?” And he looked around the room and you saw every single hand go up from every single. And we had people in there gathering anywhere from 20 million to north of 100 million a year, and every single hand went up including my own. And that just shared so much. So, what was your lesson from that? In that journey of great salesperson to leader and business owner, what are some of the things you’ve learned as you get out of that storm?

Russ Ross: Well, that experience in Scottsdale married with the other experiences that I’ve been able to spend time with and get to know some of the other founders that I truly know that I’m not alone. I’m not the only person that’s ever felt like an idiot trying to run a company. So, I mean, that doesn’t necessarily make me feel like that problem goes away but at least I know that I’ve got other people I can call and say, “Hey, can I bounce something off of you? Or what’s your opinion about X, Y, or Z?” I was just on the phone with another office a couple of days ago. A guy called me and was asking me some questions. He says, “Oh, man, I’m so glad I got to talk to you.” Well, I’m glad to get to talk to other people too, and the Triad family. I really do believe in the bottom of my heart that the Triad family cares about us like we are your family members. And we can talk to you about anything we want to talk about and that you’ll be there for us. And I’m very, very grateful for that.

Brad Johnson: Thanks, man. It’s been quite the journey on our side too but I will tell you, one of the things that I love about the community we’re all building together is the real authentic great humans. And to your point on you’re not alone, it’s everything we just talked about before, how you overcame the adversity of alcoholism. A ton of adversity when it comes to building a business and a new day, new issues going to pop up. That’s just part of being an entrepreneur. And I think the theme of just don’t do it alone is a really good one on the business front and the life front. So, I think there’s this back-to-single-player game versus now a team of nine. What are some of those lessons as you step out of it being all about Russ, you know, the solo advisor, making all the sales, doing everything himself to now needing to lead a team, empower a team? What are some lessons you could share out there that might help other founders going through that same transition?

Russ Ross: One thing I really tried hard to internalize over the last few months is I think Michael Hyatt might have said this. He said, “If someone else does it 80% as good as you could have done it, that’s perfectly fine,” because when I was doing everything, everything had to be like just perfect, right? Because it’s got my hand on. But I’m okay with a team member doing something 60% or 70% right. We need to be in the 80% range if we can, right? But I don’t need to get high blood pressure over that other 10% or 20%.

Brad Johnson: Which is easier said than done, right?

Russ Ross: It’s real easy to say that. I know it is. But I think everybody knows that if you don’t let go of some things, you’re going to hit a plateau. Income-wise, it’s over. That’s the most amount of money that you’re ever going to make going forward if you don’t let go of some things and empower other people to help you get where you want to go.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. It’s funny because, from my experience, there are some really intelligent advisors out there, entrepreneurs. And none of this is rocket science of like, hey, if the business is all about you, you’re capping at that growth. What is it, though, you think like if we really get into the psychology back to easier said than done, what is it that you think is this just like grasping and not being able to let go as a founder, as an advisor? What is it that drives that?

Russ Ross: When Michele and I started out, I literally had a battery-powered printer in the trunk of my car and a little banker’s box with some hanging files in it because, in those days, we handwrote carbon 403(b) applications, right? And we kind of took over a little corner of our kids’ playroom upstairs in the house that we were living in at the time. And then we did everything. And we did everything for a long period of time. And when all of a sudden you go, you need to hire this person over here. Let her do him or her X, Y, and Z. Well, the other little angel on the shoulder says, “Wait a minute. You can’t let them do that because they won’t do a good job like you do,” right? But it’s either that or go nuts. So, pick your poison, you know.

Brad Johnson: Good advice. Well, you brought up Michele, your wife, and we talked about her a little earlier. And you guys have been married for almost three decades now. And how long were you in the business before she joined you? How far into the journey?

Russ Ross: A little over three years.

Brad Johnson: Three years? And was it the default, “I need help, honey? Like, you’re the cheapest help I can hire.” Or did she actually want to come into the business? How did that happen?

Russ Ross: No. She wanted this thing to be something that we did together but as our kids got a little bit older, she took a little 18-year break to finish helping raise two fantastic kids. And then she rejoined us about five years ago.

Brad Johnson: Let’s talk about running a business and also staying happily married because I know in our industry, there are a lot of husband-wife teams and that comes with pros and cons. So, what lessons would you share for other husband-wife duos out there? Or maybe even just family members in the business in general?

Russ Ross: Well, I think one of the only things that saves us in our firm is that she’s up at the front greeting people, and I’m in the back talking to clients and prospects, right? Because she wouldn’t deal with me all day, every day, and then at nighttime, too. That just wouldn’t work for her. So, we try to find some things that we enjoy doing together. We love going to antique malls, looking at old things, and sometimes we’ll drive 100 or 200 miles away from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Just make a little road trip and look at some things. Maybe we don’t even buy anything, but it’s just something we both enjoy doing and being present and not talking about work the whole time. And that’s really hard to not talk about work at night but we’re trying our best to be better about that.

Brad Johnson: Well, I was going to ask you because I would think that would be really hard to kind of separate where it doesn’t bleed into every single conversation because this business just doesn’t turn off. It’s the blessing and the curse of this business. You never end the day and the work is done. But what are some rhythms or some lessons that you’ve learned over the years to be able to do that?

Russ Ross: One big thing that I made a decision on quite some time ago was I refused to bring my laptop home. Because when I did, I would immediately walk in the door, set it up on the kitchen counter, open it up, and fire it back up again, and now we’re open for business again, right? And the kids are over here. They’re very small. They’re over here wondering when they’re going to get some dad time and they’re not getting it. So, that was a big step for me, is to say, “You know what? When it’s over, it’s over.” Because I really don’t know of anything that can happen in our industry that cannot wait until tomorrow or if it happens on a Friday that can’t wait until Monday. I mean, if somebody passes away, that’s not a cause for an emergency on my side because nobody’s open until Monday anyway to speak to about that, right? So, I think it’s just a decision that probably none of us are ever going to be perfect about but that we just say we’re closed. And closed means closed. Well, we’re never really close. We’re off. We’re doing life now. We’re switching to the Do Life channel for the rest of the night.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, and I’ve had this conversation with a lot of advisors over the years and you’re in a different life stage than me. Your kids aren’t at home anymore, mine are, but I’ve just found like there’s almost this entrepreneurial lie or myth of, “Oh my gosh, if my client calls and I’m not there, they’re going to fire me.” And the truth is if you communicate and say, “Hey, here are our office hours, 8 to 5 or whatever they are and we’re going to serve you at the highest level possible during those hours. But also, by the way, I made a commitment to my wife and family. Like after five, I’ve committed to be the best husband and dad that I can be. And I hope you can respect that.” I mean, like if you shared that from your heart, number one, if anybody objects to that, do you want to work with them in the first place? Right?

Russ Ross: Right.

Brad Johnson: And so, I just find like setting those boundaries. Any younger advisors don’t do it because they just don’t think about it. Then before long, the business is eating them alive. So, are there any other kind of what I would call rituals or rhythms that you picked up or learned over the years that you could like if you were a 25 or 30-year-old advisor out there in that former phase of life that you were in that just advice you could give them?

Russ Ross: Well, I’ll try to be quick on this. So, let’s say that your client’s name is Sally Smith. Okay. And Sally wants to talk to you at 10:00 on a Friday night because she wants to change her address. Can she call her doctor and do that? Can she call her CPA or her attorney or any? Can she call anybody else and they’re going to respond to her right then and there? No. What I had to do, I had this epiphany and I had to decide that I’m not a sales dude anymore. I’m a professional just like the doctor or the attorney or the CPA or whatever. And professionals don’t respond to fires outside of business hours because it’s not necessary. Right? And I think that the sooner that a younger advisor can bring that into their being… And I stopped putting my cell phone number on my cards. My cell phone number is nowhere to be found on any of our materials because people will abuse it. So, it was just a decision that I had to make that I’m not going to continue to run my life like.

You know, God bless my little 81-year-old mother-in-law over in Dallas. You know, she’s a top producer in real estate and has been for probably 40 years. She’ll answer the phone at 2:00 in the morning. And I’m going, “Why are you doing that to yourself?” Because she just stays in this constant state of upheaval. Hope she didn’t watch the podcast. But anyway, she just always worked up, worked up, worked up. Well, we are in control about when we’re going to be worked up and we just say no. So, that would probably be one of the biggest things that I could tell somebody that’s younger, the faster you adopt that attitude, the lower your blood pressure is going to be.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. I love that. You’re spot on. And I think as I fell victim of this too when I was a young salesperson as a salesperson is always on, right? And then what I realized the other side of that, too, that I found on my side, Russ, is okay, so you answer the phone call at 6 p.m. Excuse yourself from the family dinner table, whatever. Well, now you’ve just trained that individual that those are office hours for you. So, then they call you again at 6 p.m. and then you retrain them that it’s okay. And so, by sheerly accepting it the first time, you’re enabling it for the next time. And it’s a vicious cycle if you don’t…

Russ Ross: You’re actually encouraging more of that behavior. So, my little phrase is we have to manage client expectations. And one of those expectations is that I’m not available to you 25/8. You know, love you to death and I love you as a client, but I’m not available to you 25/8.

Brad Johnson: 25… So, that’s… Oh, 24. You just added an extra hour and an extra day in the week. Is that what you said?

Russ Ross: We want to cover all the bases down here in Texas. Okay?

Brad Johnson: So, that’s for the leap years, huh?

Russ Ross: That’s right.

Brad Johnson: Which is this year. So, doesn’t matter what year it is. Love it.

Russ Ross: That’s right.

Brad Johnson: Okay. So, let’s go to I think, number one, I wish I would have had this podcast when I was a young guy just getting into the space.

Russ Ross: Oh, yeah.

Brad Johnson: So, I love that you shared that kind of lessons learned. Let’s go to we talked about anything else on the family side, maybe like specific to spouses because I get kind of how you’re protecting family time there but anything with you and Michele, lessons learned? If you were like being like marriage counselor or husband-wife teams out there, any other advice you’d share there before we get off the topic?

Russ Ross: Well, I always tell people and I tell clients this all the time. She should have dumped me a long time ago. Okay. So, I’m not sure how qualified I am to get marriage counseling, but I’m trying to be better about like being present and like not scrolling through my phone while she’s trying to talk to me, put the phone down, and look at her, and be present. And that came from Chris Smith, right? He talked about that in Scottsdale recently. But I want her to be present too. I mean, all these things go both ways. So, trying to find out what’s important to your spouse and honor that, and prioritize them even if it’s not a priority of yours. Michele would go to airshows with me all the time. She could care less about airplanes but she cares about me. And so, she wanted to go along because she knew that that’s what I liked. She could care less about those things, right? And so, I try to do some stuff with her that I care nothing about except I care about her. And I want her to know that, that I care about her through my actions. And I’m not going to ever be perfect at that but that’s what I’m striving for.

Brad Johnson: Well, I’ll tell you who we need to make sure listens to this is Michele. I think you’re going to get a few points for this one, buddy.

Russ Ross: He’s going to want to maybe submit some corrections, you know.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, sure. We’ll do an episode with her, and she’ll basically set the record straight. Right?

Russ Ross: That’s right. Yep.

Brad Johnson: Well, let’s go into, man, I feel like this is becoming quite the podcast for you’ve overcome your fair share of adversity over the years. So, probably many people don’t know this but you had a pretty serious health issue not too long ago. And we’ve talked about some of the adversity, but I know there have been a number of advisors, unfortunately, that I’ve worked with over the years that had some pretty serious health scares. And so, if you don’t mind sharing, I think you said you were cool with it. Kind of share a little context and then how you were able to battle through that as well.

Russ Ross: So, you’re actually going to get me to cry before this thing’s over, aren’t you?

Brad Johnson: That’s not my goal but I’ll tell you what, dude, if you’re crying, I probably will be too.

Russ Ross: I found out about six years ago that I have a form of blood cancer that is supposed to shorten my lifespan but I still have it. Okay. And it was causing me to have some unbearable fatigue. And when I first got diagnosed with this, I was up kind of two along pretty good up until about three years ago. One day I woke up and I just couldn’t get out of bed. I slept all night and I couldn’t hold my eyes open. I was so fatigued. And so, I started working with doctors to figure out what we could do to address this fatigue situation. And I guess it was 2022, I missed three months of work all at one time. I couldn’t get out of bed. And I’m thinking to myself, this is not a formula that is going to work very well long term, you know? And Nick Whitaker, my coach, I spoke to him personally about this and he said, “Russ,” he told me about his struggle with Lyme disease. He said, “Dude, if you’ve got to go through 23 doctors, do not give up. Don’t give up because when you find the one that can help you, you’re going to get better quickly.” And so, for two years, I had to say that to myself every day, “Nick said don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.” We probably went through, I don’t know, 10 or 12 doctors and we finally figured out what we could do about the fatigue.

And so, I found out about that about the middle of the year last year. And prior to that, I’d missed another two months of work. But ever since we found the remedy for that, I’ve been to work all day long every doggone day. And I have to be honest, I’d be laying in bed thinking if I can’t be present for my clients and help them and if I can’t be present for my team like maybe I should sell because it’s not fair to them. It’s not fair to my clients, right? It’s not fair to my team. Well, thank God I don’t act quickly on thoughts anymore. That’s from when the drinking days were right. So, I’m not thinking about selling any time soon, not now because we’re rocking and rolling. 2024 is going to be a fantastic year but I’m so thankful that I did not give up like Nick told me, “Don’t give up.” And I think that’s good advice for not only just a health issue but anything that you’re struggling with, don’t give up. There’s people out there that can help you whether it’s a friend or a doctor. Whatever issues that we’re dealing with, there’s people out there that want to help us or that we want to help so that they don’t give up. So, that’s what keeps me going but for a while, I was cursing Nick at night when I go to sleep, “Doggone it, Nick, you’re insisting that I stay with the fight,” but I did, and I got better.

Brad Johnson: Well, I think, obviously, it’s a great life lesson whether it’s a health issue, whether anything you run into. The battle is never over until you say it’s over. And once again, like you’re dropping all kinds of life lessons here. This is very much like this is a DBDL but this is stuff that applies so much to Do Life whether you’re a financial advisor or not.

Russ Ross: Well, Brad, I had no idea what we were going to talk about today. I really didn’t. I just knew that I was glad to get to talk to you.

Brad Johnson: Appreciate it, buddy. It’s mutual.

Russ Ross: Yeah. You bet.

Brad Johnson: When you were struggling or when you first were diagnosed with this, I’m assuming the instant thought, I’ve never dealt with anything like this but it’s probably pretty shocking. You kind of want to probably deny it. How did you process it and how did you, obviously, Nick gave you great advice but how did you process it? So, you could actually battle through the thing and not, I guess, feel sorry for yourself for lack of a better term.

Russ Ross: I don’t remember the name of the movie but you remember the movie where the guy found out he was terminally ill and he goes nuts trying to film stuff for his kids, like teaching them how to play ball or this or that or the other. He wanted to like parent them before he died, that they could watch that stuff as they grew up. That’s kind of what I started thinking about, like, “Oh, man, if I’m not going to make it, I got some stuff I need to write down.” Or to say, it was a profound impact on me in the beginning. And I didn’t really want to believe my hematologist when they said, “Now, look, this is not going to kill you.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Yeah, sure. Sure, it’s blood cancer. It’s going to kill me.” But I’ve kind of gotten over that now but, yeah, it shook me up very badly.

Brad Johnson: Two of the most powerful books I’ve ever read in my life were one’s called Not Fade Away and the other one is When Breath Becomes Air. And both of them were written by two guys that were terminally ill. When Breath Becomes Air, I remember I was on an airplane, I was listening to an audiobook, and it was this neurosurgeon that had had cancer and, basically, like his time was limited and he was writing a book like in the last year of his life, and his wife wrote the ending after he passed away.

Russ Ross: Okay.

Brad Johnson: And I will say, for anybody that wants a powerful book, I was on an airplane with tears streaming down my face like thinking, like, “If people like see what’s going on over here, they’re going to think I’m having like a mental breakdown right now on an airplane.” But it’s crazy how a lot of people like that I’ve fortunately never dealt with anything like that. And they’ve said, like, that’s where the most clarity comes from is when all of a sudden it’s not this someday thought. It’s like, no, my time…

Russ Ross: Right now. Yeah.

Brad Johnson: So, did you have any of that happen yourself where like you got crystal clear on like here’s the stuff that matters to me, and here’s the stuff that doesn’t?

Russ Ross: Yeah. That’s when I started firing some pain to the rear-end clients. Really. So, you know what, if I don’t have much time left, I don’t have time to deal with you. Really.

Brad Johnson: Well, there’s some instant benefits, right?

Russ Ross: Sure. Well, I did that on the personal side, too. I said, “Look, time is short.” I mean, that’s a cliche that we all hear, “Oh, time is short.” Yeah, sure. But it is short, and we shouldn’t be wasting time on people that bring us down but it’s hard not to do sometimes. On the Toby Keith thing recently, I saw on YouTube when he did that final performance out in Vegas in December. And I’ve never heard that song, Don’t Let the Old Man in. Oh, my gosh, that tore me up. What a beautifully touching song. The guy is standing there on stage in Vegas and he knows he’s not going to be here long and the lyrics to that song are absolutely powerful. So, that’s a little phrase that I’m starting to carry on with myself now is don’t let the old man in because once he gets in, you know, don’t let him in. Or the old woman for some of our female viewers.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Let’s make sure. Well, Charlie, if you can, let’s grab that and throw that in the show notes. Was there a video of it?

Russ Ross: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Let’s grab that video. We’ll put it in the show notes. So, those listening in are watching and can check that out. Yeah. That’s sad, actually. So, Toby Keith live at probably ten years ago now. And he was quite the performer, quite the energy.

Russ Ross: And just a good guy too, you know.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Just a good old boy for sure. Well, let’s go to I know we’re getting towards the tail end here and, man, time has flown on us but let’s flip back over to the do business side. And obviously, you crushed it last year. You were joking with me here like we had our best year ever. And honestly, like, we didn’t do a ton of marketing. Most of it was referral-based based loving on those clients, taking care of those clients. So, when it comes to just relationships, which I’ve seen you just like it’s one of your gifts, what sort of things does your firm do to just take those relationships up a couple of notches where you continue to get repeat business and referrals?

Russ Ross: Great question, Brad. A number of years ago, we took the Bill Good Marketing people out in Utah on as the vendor. And I send out a paper letter every month to all of our clients. I do not write the content. I get to go into the Bill Good letters library, and they’ve got thousands and thousands of really fantastic stories. And really all the letters I send out, they don’t say, “Come in and let me sell you something.” It’s a storytelling. And what people do is they call and they said, “You know, I cried when I read that story, and I read it out loud when our family was together at Thanksgiving.” Or, “Russ, I took that letter to my school and I read it to every one of my students.” So, it’s just about creating a top-of-mind awareness on a regular basis. And it’s just a machine that kind of runs in the background for me. So, I don’t even have to choose what the letter is. I got somebody that does that here for me, right? But it’s always in the background doing something.

The other thing I do to share my photography is I create birthday cards with something that I took a photo of, and then I just decide what the little phrase is inside of the card. And every person I’ve got one that goes out for the guys and one that goes out for the gals, and everybody gets a birthday card for me every year. People call and tell me that they have them, hold it up like sitting on their fireplace mantel or whatever because they love the picture and they’ve got them lined up across the fireplace or whatever. It’s just simple, things that are simple, but nobody does anything personally anymore, really.

Brad Johnson: Well, I’ve seen some of your photography. I remember the South Carolina trip, Palmetto Bluff. You took some great photos down there. And so, do your clients, do they know that that is your photography? Like, do you put that in the card? Like, hey, I took this picture at this location or how do they know?

Russ Ross: Yeah. Underneath the photo, I put what the photo is like P-51 Mustang and where I took the photo. And then over there on the other side, I put, “Photo by Russ Ross,” yeah. And then I put a little link on the back of the card or I write down a link for my site if you want to go see some of the other work that you can go and see more. But enjoy doing that.

Brad Johnson: Well, you’re taking me back. There’s an advisor out of D.C. named Barry Glassman that I interviewed a number of years back, also a photographer. And one of the things he did that I thought was really cool, he took some of his favorite photographs and he made like a coffee table book to where he printed those out and he shared that with his clients. And you think about that, you have guests over and, of course, “What’s this? Oh, that’s my advisor. Yeah. He’s a photographer as well.” And now you’re a topic of conversation. And the other thing he did is he had a website sounds like similar to what you have to where any print that his clients requested, obviously, it was under the gifting limit, but as long as it was under the gifting limit, they could order the print and he would mail it out to them. So, I don’t know if you’ve tried any of that stuff. Sounds like you’re obviously incorporating in a lot of different ways, but I thought that was a pretty creative way that he had done it.

Russ Ross: We’re going to do the book this year. That’s a great idea.

Brad Johnson: Like that easy? You were already working on it? Or, boom, you’re just doing it based on that idea?

Russ Ross: I’m working on it as of you telling me about it.

Brad Johnson: I love it. That’s some implementation. What’s your favorite photo you’ve ever taken? I know that’s a hard question but if you could only pick one.

Russ Ross: Most people don’t know that there are majestic and beautiful mountains in the state of Texas. And they’re out in far west Texas near the Mexican border. I climbed up on top of a pile of rocks before the sun came up. And I watched as the sun came up. I was looking over the Rio Grande River, and it looked like that God had taken a pitcher of sunshine. It was slowly pouring down that canyon and I captured the image. There was nobody in sight. It was perfectly peaceful. This is a great place to be.

Brad Johnson: Do you have a copy of that picture that we could put in the show notes?

Russ Ross: I’ll email it to you today.

Brad Johnson: Please do. We’ll throw it right in there for you.

Russ Ross: Great.

Brad Johnson: Well, my man, I know you warned us before we went live here that the allergies were acting up. So, if you need to grab some water or anything, go for it. But, well, I think that is a great one to end on. And as you know, this is the Do Business Do Life podcast so I would love to ask you one final question. And that is what is Russ Ross’s definition of do business, do life?

Russ Ross: Do both with passion and robustness. But when it’s time to do life, then the doing the business gets to take over tomorrow. But embrace both with passion and do those things like you’re doing it for God. Because I feel like he’s the ultimate judge of our efforts. And have fun during the day. We joke around and tell jokes and laugh all day long at work. I’m not going to come up here and do the thing if we can’t have fun about work. Just keep a lighthearted atmosphere. People like that. Team members and clients like that. In my company, they do.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. I think in most companies they do.

Russ Ross: Yeah.

Brad Johnson: It’s a lot more fun if you don’t take yourself too seriously and you have a good time along the way.

Russ Ross: I tell prospects, if you want the guy with the heavy, starched white shirt and $200 tie on, I’ll give you his phone number but he doesn’t work in this building.

Brad Johnson: I bet that generates a smile most days when you say that.

Russ Ross: I’ve never lost a prospect over that. Yeah.

Brad Johnson: Well, cool, my man. This has been a great conversation. And as always, I appreciate the realness, the authenticity you always bring. And that’s why every time we get together, I always enjoy our conversations wherever they go. So, Russ, thank you, my man, and look forward to the next time when we get to do it in person.

Russ Ross: Thanks again for having me, Brad. Take care.

Brad Johnson: All right. Russ, see you, buddy.

Disclosure

DBDL podcast episode conversations are intended to provide financial advisors with ideas, strategies, concepts and tools that could be incorporated into their business and their life. Financial professionals are responsible for ensuring implementation of anything discussed related to business is done so in accordance with any and all regulatory, compliance responsibilities and obligations.

The experiences of Triad member shared are unique and may not be representative of all Triad Member experiences.

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