Dr. Rice (08/10/11): "If you are the greatest economic power, then you are the greatest political power too."
LPL Financial held its 2011 Conference in Chicago August 7-10 and closed its ambitious agenda with a speech by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009). A Q&A moderated by Esther Stearns, president and COO of LPL Financial, followed. While the selection of a Republican for a financial conference was hardly surprising (Dr. Rice remarked, "I love both Presidents Bush." And both have spoken at LPL Financial conferences in years past), Dr. Rice's message proved both surprising and refreshing. Condoleezza Rice comes off as a true world-class humanitarian and not a politician at all.
The LPL Financial conference concluded mid week, and market volatility surged on. Thousands of advisors went back to the office to continue reassuring clients following the unsettling market gyrations. I spoke to many of my clients about the conference and markets, and one of my younger (forty-something) top-tier clients said, "I like Condoleezza Rice. She doesn't have a sense of entitlement like so many other people." I had honestly never thought about this before, and it occurred to me that not only does Dr. Rice portray no privilege, but she beholds a sense of obligation too. When she speaks, she makes us realize that it is imperative for all Americans to share in this sense of obligation."
Regarding the havoc of 9/11 being carried out by a small, poor country for approximately $300,000, Dr. Rice instructed, "We should remain confident as a country that we can defend ourselves and our values." Condoleezza Rice also wants America optimistic. "The only thing worse than a U.S. which leads unilaterally is a U.S. which does not lead." She added, "You can come to America from anywhere in the world, and you can be American." She noted that there is not any other country in the world where you can go and become that cultural identity.
Another apparent difference between Condoleezza Rice and her politician colleagues is that Dr. Rice knows all the problems, while most politicians purport to know all the answers. Dr. Rice is more interested in action than answers. "We have a job of internal repair, and let's pay attention to it. It helps to know history - that's something, by the way, that we do not teach enough of in our schools," she said. It is hard to imagine a politician ever stressing the weaknesses in our education system. "70 percent of people who take the basic skills test to get into the military cannot pass it, and that is a security problem," warns Dr. Rice. The answer is a call to action for the best teachers to come forward and to care.
Dr. Rice seems deeply concerned about Europe - "The European Union was founded on a premise (a single monetary currency) that they are now having trouble maintaining." She spoke of the solidarity among countries being broken and strained. "Some countries were cooking the books." She explains, "We need Europe economically, and we need them politically. They share our values." Dr. Rice implies that Europe is our best bet to help us maintain our own world standing. If Condoleezza Rice were a radio station on international relations as relates to the U.S. economy, I would program her in my top three. "80 percent of Russia's exports are in commodities." "It would be great if Russia became a knowledge-based economy. But when oil prices (the biggest impediment) are up, they have no incentive to change their economy." For this reason, she half-jokingly calls the BRIC countries the "BIC countries". Dr. Rice called China "an economic miracle," "terrified of technology," and said that the words "Jasmine, Egypt and Revolution" are not even on China's Internet. While our economy is interdependent on many countries, an alliance with countries that share the United State's values is especially important.
"Optimism comes from historical perspective, and for me, it also comes from my parents." Dr. Rice glossed over growing up in Alabama - and not being able to go to the local Woolworth's lunch counter - to get to the fact that her parents instilled in her the belief and optimism that their little girl could become the President of the United States of America. And, she stated triumphantly, she became the Secretary of State. Thousands of LPL Financial affiliates rose up and delivered a thunderous round of applause. For me this was "the moment" in Dr. Rice's speech. It seemed that the applause would never end, and I watched Dr. Rice's thankful eyes. She looked around, and she looked within, and she beamed with love of country. Picture her being as close as a person can come to crying without releasing a tear. Dr. Rice had the odds stacked against her, and she became one of the most powerful leaders and diplomats in the world. It is clear that the only reason that she can believe it is because she believes in herself.
To look into Dr. Rice's eyes is to see an intellectual giant upon whom nothing is lost. Indeed this decorated woman told us, "You can't control your circumstances, but you can control your response to your circumstances." While Dr. Rice's parents told her that she could become the President of the United States, ironically, I got the sense that being President of the United States would constrain Dr. Condoleezza Rice from her work as humanitarian of the world. First chance I get, I am going to read Dr. Rice's recent memoir, "Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family" (available in a children's version too).
One of Dr. Condoleezza Rice's final comments was, "Teachers matter, and I would frankly pay the good ones a lot. We have to celebrate good teachers. And if you are a bad teacher, you need to get out of the business." This comment struck a chord, as my passion is working with baby boomers and their parents to understand and protect family wealth. I believe in teaching my clients, with clarity, everything I know so that they can protect themselves by making informed decisions about money through the generations. As members of the financial industry, we can add great economic value through taking on the role of teachers.
Dr. Rice told a funny story about helping a young family member with math homework. The youngster got the multiplication problem wrong but confidently told Dr. Rice, "There are no wrong answers." Dr. Rice responded, "There are wrong answers, and that was one of them." She told the audience, "I'm not a big fan of the self-esteem movement that is out there." She does not find it cute when praise is lavished on children for a poor job done just because they try. Dr. Rice cannot emphasize enough that she is a "great believer in a broad-based education." By extension, I do not think it is enough to learn. We need to lead, and to lead it means teaching our fellow citizens what we know. Most of us in the Financial Planning profession are in a great position to lead in education about financial matters and economics.
Many of us are small businesses and work with small business owners. Dr. Rice made a point of, "Affirming the importance of private sector-led growth." This garnered roars of agreement from her audience of thousands. She reminded, "The U.S. is a country of immigrants...It keeps us young," and "It's not enough for the American Dream to be alive for people who come here. It has to be alive for people who are from here." Again, the ballroom could not agree more. The last time I saw so many smart phones rising up and camera flashes going off was at the Glee Live! concert. Condoleezza Rice began speaking, and it was a matter of minutes before some of LPL's top Financial Advisors were Tweeting her truisms (@jamesacoxiii - "I'm listening to condi rice speak right now. She said "today's headlines and history's judgment are seldom the same" timely advice; @Ashleyhodge - "Rice: biggest competitor to US is US gone bad. Growth must come from private sector- needs certainty; low taxation.") Kudos to my LPL Financial peers who can text faster than my old-fashioned longhand and who web-texted these encapsulations.
I called a lovely older lady today who just is not ready to make any decisions concerning a financial plan for her millions. I let her know that she and her husband can call me any time to talk. Through sharing knowledge comes comfort, and hopefully trust. Financial advisors are conveniently situated to lead in our knowledge-based economy. For, if we can teach people to hold onto their wealth, it goes a long way toward remaining an economic power. And remember, according to Condoleezza Rice, the minute we lose our desire to learn, educate well, and to lead, is the moment the U.S. is in risk of losing our status as a world superpower.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine what may be appropriate for you, consult your financial professional.
Lisa A. Ditkowsky, CFP, is the president of Pllush Capital Management Inc. and can be reached at 847-859-2530.