Full Episode Transcript
We believe, and have always believed in this country, that man was created in the image of God. That he was given talents and responsibility and was instructed to use them, to make this world a better place in which to live. And you see, this is the really great thing of America. It’s time to discover what binds us together, and finding it has the power to transform our world. That’s what I believe. How about you?
Doug: Well, hello everyone, and welcome to “Believe!” I’m Doug DeVos, and we’re thrilled to have you join us here. I’m excited today, as we talk about the American dream. It’s certainly something that I’ve been able to see a lot in my life, and experience to a certain extent, and to really celebrate the stories of others, when you see it. Because there’s a lot of questions about it, there’s a lot of concern of if the American dream is still relevant for people today. What does it mean to them, how does the next generation feel about it? And what does that, how does that impact our country as we go forward? And so we believe that the American dream can be something that unites us. These ideas around our country, the positive ideas around our country, are something that can unite us. And so when we have a chance to have a wonderful guest, like we have today with Alan Smolinisky, he is here with us. He has lived the American dream himself. He’s had the opportunity to share it and tell his story. He’s the son of first-generation immigrants. He’s part of the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers, just a fabulous success story and wonderful person. And so Alan, it’s great to have you here with us and great to have a chance to have this conversation.
Alan: Awesome, thank you so much Doug, and that was very complimentary, and I hope I don’t disappoint after setting such a high bar.
Doug: I’m sure you won’t, I’m sure you won’t. Alan, now just tell us your story, the story of your parents and growing up in a first-generation family of immigrants to the United States. Tell us a little bit about both your dad and your mom, and how they found their way here and what it was like when you were younger.
Alan: Sure, so both my parents were born in Argentina in the early 1940s. I’ll start with my father. My father was born deformed, he had large hemangiomas across his face and neck, sort of discolorations and bubbles. He was born very poor. He was Jewish in a pretty antisemitic country that treated Jews as second-class citizens, sometimes worse. And he sort of could see the writing on the wall for Argentina, that there was just so much corruption, so much lack of opportunity. When his father got sick, he dropped out of elementary school and started working, but he always kind of had this dream. He always had heard that there was this magical place called America, where if you’re willing to work hard, you can make all your dreams come true. So he finally saw an opening when his father’s brother Sam moved to Los Angeles. And so he started writing letters to Uncle Sam. I mean, you couldn’t make it up. And so Uncle Sam-
Doug: Oh that’s perfect, that’s perfect, isn’t it?
Alan: That’s right. So Uncle Sam writes him back and says you can come join us. And so at 17-years-old, my father saved up every peso and family sold the car, and paid for his trip. And it was his first time on a plane, first time outside of Argentina. So he landed on October 28th, 1963 at LAX at night. He had $4. He didn’t speak a word of English. He had no skills, no trade, no connections, didn’t know anything about the country, but he just knew that this was this magical place. And he’s just sort of held that belief. So he went to bed and his first morning he woke up, he got his social security card on 4th and Spring Street, in Downtown Los Angeles, at nine in the morning, his first morning. And he was told that Jews could find work in schmatta, which was clothing or jewelry business. He had family in the jewelry business in Argentina, he didn’t like it, so he chose clothing. So he went down to the garment district, started knocking on doors. By the fourth door he got a job, and he was a janitor sweeping the floors for a $1.25 an hour. And he spent his entire 40-year career down there in the garment district, with immigrants from all over the world. And he just loved it down there. And so my dad fell in love with the country. He wanted to assimilate, he wanted to be American. He wanted to feel American. So the first thing he needed to do was learn English. And here he is a couple miles from Dodger Stadium, and everybody in the factory is a Dodger fan. So he gets a little radio and he starts listening to legendary broadcaster Vin Scully, all day long, all night long, all the time. Any time Vin’s on, my dad’s listening. And Vin became my dad’s English teacher, right, and I’m sure there’s countless immigrants around the country, because at the time, you know, Vin was doing playoffs, he was doing World Series, he wasn’t just doing Dodgers. And he has this slow, unhurried storytelling style, exactly the way you’d wanna learn a language. And so, you know, he didn’t live to see it, but in one generation to go from the guy that’s living and working, everyday listening to Vin to learn English, to have his son be an owner of that team, it’s just an incredible, incredible story. My mother’s story’s interesting as well. She came on a boat. She was very young, same thing. Not a lot of money, didn’t speak any English. The interesting part about her story is her father also had this dream that America was this magical place, and he thought the best way to assimilate, the best way to sort of feel American, is we gotta see this country. So they take the boat to New York. They buy a car with all their savings, and they say okay, we’re gonna drive the whole country. Now I don’t think he had a clue how big the country was, you know. I think he’s thinking he’s driving for a few hours. So they drove all the way to California, you know, there was some crazy tales along the way.
Doug: I can imagine.
Alan: And then they settled here and, you know, my mom was bullied and made fun of a lot. Nobody in the early 60s, there weren’t a lot of kids that spoke Spanish. And so my mom sort of had this tiger mom characteristic that she still has, this fighter. So she started reading the dictionary all day long, says I’m gonna learn every word in this language, and you’re not gonna make fun of me anymore. So, you know, she met my dad in an Argentine club, to go watch soccer. Soccer is everything to Argentines. And back then you couldn’t watch it at home, you had to find a place that had this satellite, and it was a whole thing. It was $5 to go watch it, which must’ve been a fortune back then. But no Argentine was gonna miss a game. So they met there, and they really believed in the country. And my dad always wanted to be an entrepreneur. He thought that was part of being American. So they used all their savings, the majority of it was my mother’s, and he started a small business doing buttons and zippers. And he ended up being an entrepreneur in that garment district for his whole career. And during that time he was able to give me and my sister all the opportunities that my mom and dad never had. Nobody had ever gone to college. We were able to go to college, they paid for it all. They gave us an incredible amount of love and support and confidence. So my sister and I were extremely lucky to grow up with all of that. And so we sort of had one foot in each door growing up. I certainly felt much more American. My mother took it to an insane extreme, I’ll just finish with this. She wanted us to be American so bad that she didn’t teach us Spanish, okay. Now there’s no member of my family who doesn’t speak Spanish. So every wedding is in Spanish, every bar mitzvah’s in Spanish, my cousins speak Spanish. We go to Argentina and I’m sitting there with the dunce cap on, I don’t know what anybody’s talking about.
Doug: Oh my gosh!
Alan: And she just was so determined that no, we’re in America, you’re gonna be American, you’re gonna learn English, and I still don’t even think she regrets it. She should regret it, because it’s, you know, how great would it be to speak two languages. But I don’t. I can understand, but I don’t speak it.
Doug: Wow, wow. Thank you so much for sharing that story, and the fact that both your mom and your dad found their way here. You know, we haven’t, you know, in the past, and our family came from the Netherlands, a little different. I’m, you know, a few generations down there. Maybe the closest thing is to have, you know, my parents kind of growing up and the depression, coming through things, but it’s amazing, the characteristics that you talk about of family, of coming together, of love, and of a mom and dad just wanting to give their kids opportunity. That just shines through so wonderfully. So talk a little bit now about, you know, they couldn’t, they gave you those characteristics and they gave you an example, but you had to go do it. So tell us a little bit about your story now, how you took it from there.
Alan: Sure, so I always worshiped my dad. My dad was Superman. I just wanted to be like my dad, as far back as I can remember. And my dad was an entrepreneur, and he worked super hard and he had his own business and he had people depending on him. And so I, from a very young age, said that, you know, that’s what I wanna do. There was never a doubt in my mind I was gonna be an entrepreneur, and that I was gonna be in business. And so I had every type of business as a kid, you know. I did lemonade stands, I sold these blow pop lollipops at school. I mean the margins on those, don’t even get me started. I mean they would make Google blush. We’re talking about 70% margins on a quarter of lollipop, you know. And I’d have my coupons, I’d find the best deals at Smart & Final, or who was selling them on special, and I’d load up on them and it was a cash business, you know. Very little inventory, no receivables, was terrific. So I was always, you know, thinking that way. My first big business was my freshman year, I was living in the dorms at USC, and my best friend at the time was a senior, and he told me, you know, you better find your housing for next school year or you’re gonna be homeless. USC only houses the freshmen and that’s it. So I said where do you live, and he says oh there’s some buildings behind the Shrine Auditorium and you should go have a look over there. So I go, and there’s a Chinese immigrant in the office whose English is not great, a lot like my family’s. And I just start talking to him, and he’s pretending to be the manager, but I very clearly can tell he’s the owner of the building. You know, you just have that sense, right? And he says, well we start leasing March 6th, people usually get their sleeping bag and they start sleeping outside around March 4th, you know, a couple of nights out there, and maybe you get an apartment. And I said oh boy, this is a hell of a business, I like this one. You know, people are sleeping outside. And I very quickly realized, you know, I started hanging out with him all the time and I started realizing the other landlords don’t have anybody sleeping outside and he’s charging 50% more. And that was a real eye-opener for me. that if you provide a great service, the market is willing to pay for that service, if you’re really providing that value. And that was sort of the win-win he was creating, and I just loved it. So I just said, we’re gonna be partners, I wanna get into this. Now I’d never met anybody in real estate. I don’t know anybody in real estate. I don’t know anybody that’s ever owned any real estate. I’ve never built anything.
Doug: Never stopped you though.
Alan: No, of course not.
Doug: Never stopped you. Knowing anything never stopped you.
Alan: No, because I was arrogant and foolish and overconfident, and an Argentine alpha male.
Doug: And thankfully you were young too, that helps.
Alan: That’s exactly right, you don’t know any better. And I saw him doing it, I’m thinking this guy barely speaks English and he’s sitting in this garage inhaling fumes, in this crappy little office, and look how great he’s doing. And, you know, we just had identical worldviews. We grew up very similar. You know kids, we were both expelled from schools coming up. We both talked back. We were both troublemakers. You know, all the insecurities you need to be a successful entrepreneur. And I said listen, I found a piece of land, and I’m gonna learn how to develop it and build it. And he said no, I knew some people in Taiwan and China that got in trouble, there’s material shortages, labor problems. I don’t know. So I just had to convince him, and day after day I worked on him, and we agreed, hey, let’s partner on this thing, we’ll do it. We’ll build a building. We built one, and then three, and then 10, and then 20. And we got so big at USC that the university hired a former federal prosecutor from DC to sue us under the Sherman Antitrust Act, for monopolizing the student housing market, right?
Doug: Okay, stop there for a second. So you were sued for pursuing your entrepreneurial passions, and you were doing really well. I’m assuming there were no complaints from your customers, they were still buying your products, were seeing value in what you’re offering, but the government, somebody felt that they should become involved in it and-
Alan: It wasn’t the government, it was the university.
Doug: Ah, university.
Alan: Who sometimes thinks they’re a government, you know. Yeah, so ah, no, you’re right, the customers did not complain we were sold out with a line out the door when our competitors had no line out the door. But we were very, very dominant. You know, at that point we controlled all the land, all the retail, we housed one out of three students. Now that doesn’t mean that they’re, first off, you can’t even have a monopoly in real estate, right. It’s just not even possible. But it’s pretty cool, you know, there was Rockefeller, then Gates and then Chan and Smolinisky. You know that was the thing. But no, it was really just strategic and we settled it, no money changing hands, and they got what they want, and we got what I want, or what we wanted. I will say part of it was our fault. You know, we were two kids in our 20s, we had some success, we were arrogant and brash and stupid. And some of my conduct back then, I mean, it’s embarrassing to even think about. And that’s why I have a lot of sympathy for some of these Silicon Valley founders, you know. They create these big businesses and they’re in their 20s, and there’s nobody to sit them down and say hey, take it easy. There was a lot of luck, there was a lot of hard work, you did great, but, you know, you’re not curing cancer here, take it easy.
Doug: Right, right.
Alan: And so, you know, I said some things to them, they were trying to move the front entrance and I was well, I wanna do this, I wanna do that but, you know, they’re a 130-year-old university at the time. So it all worked out, but it just shows how dominant we got. We went to other campuses and we just kept building the business, and then eventually we sold it just before the great financial crisis.
Doug: Good timing. So being young and being brash and being opportunistic, a little bit of smarts to sell at the right time, probably worked as well.
Alan: Luck, let’s be honest.
Alan: Complete luck. I didn’t see anything coming.
Doug: But again, the harder you work, what’s the old phrase, the harder you work, the luckier you tend to get.
Alan: No doubt, no doubt. You have to be in the position to get lucky.
Doug: Yeah, absolutely. What a great story though of just, of seeing an opportunity, but then taking action on it. And it wasn’t like you had a business plan or you had this grand strategy. You saw something, you saw somebody, and you built a relationship and went forward. How can others learn from that, just from even just that aspect of your story?
Alan: I think there’s opportunities everywhere. It’s just that everybody will poo-poo them and tell you, oh, it can’t be done, or, I hear this a lot. Well, somebody would’ve done it already. You know, that kind of thing. I think what it really takes to be an entrepreneur is sort of seeing things, seeing something that you think could be done better. Seeing where you can create value. I mean, Charles talked about it a lot in the “Good Profit”, I think, what was that, two or three books ago? You know, if you create that win-win for the customer, the supplier, the vendor, the owner, and everybody’s winning, you’re in the right place. If you’re delighting your customer, as Bezos likes to say, you’re really, you’re in a great place. And so if an entrepreneur looks around, there are a lot of opportunities like that all around. You just have to be willing to not give up, work hard, not listen to the naysayers that are all around you, and follow what you believe in and creating value.
Doug: Wonderfully said, I’ll just quickly, you know, I love your partnership story and I love your youth aspects, because my father met a friend in high school, Jay VanAndel. The two of them, you know, they start a flight school, they teach people how to fly, but they don’t know how to fly. They start a restaurant, but they’ve never been in the restaurant business. They tried to sail to South America, and the boat sinks. They’d never sailed before. But they just had a dream that they wanted to keep doing something, and they worked together, they both had that dream, like you and your partner the same way, you have a dream, you work together, you find a solution to go forward. But continue on with the next aspect of your dream, because it, you know, what’s more American than baseball, and what’s a bigger name than the L.A. Dodgers. So that wonderful connection that you have with your father and learning English, Vin Scully, loving the Dodgers, I love Vin Scully too by the way, what a great-
Alan: The greatest.
Doug: ‑that voice. As soon as you mentioned that, I can hear his voice, I can see him just, amazing, amazing person.
Alan: It’s the only voicemail I have saved on my phone.
Alan: I keep one saved voicemail on my phone, and he left a 90 second long voicemail about life, about my father, about, just really beautiful. And I listen to it all the time, I just, it gives me goosebumps still, what a legend.
Doug: Oh my gosh, that is the coolest thing. I’m gonna have to ask you to share that someday, ’cause I’d love to hear that voice again too. I think that’s just fabulous. So talk about your journey there though, of how to say, you know, to pick that because you’re doing business, you’re doing these other things, and certainly sports entertainment’s a business. But there’s something special about connecting with an organization that means so much to people, where people kind of define their life’s memories by being at that game or seeing that, you know, that play, or just experiencing being at the stadium. So tell us about your journey there and what it’s been.
Alan: Yeah, so the Dodgers have always been somewhat of a religion in our family. I always bonded with my father and my cousins and everyone in the family, was always around sports. So always the Dodgers and the Lakers on. I spent every summer there my entire life, starting in 1981 when my father took me for the first time, which was Fernando Valenzuela’s rookie season, when he started opening day and won everything. And so it’s a really, really special place. I mean it is like a church or a, you know, really, really great being at that stadium. So I always had wanted to do something bigger, and I always felt like I went big, like I would always go for my goals or make my list every year, big things, stretch goals, that I wanted to try to accomplish, in personal or professional. And then what happened was in May of 2016 my father called and said come to his house immediately. And when we got there and he says I just came back from the doctor and this lump in my throat is stage four lung cancer, it’s spread all over my body. And, you know,
Doug: Oh I’m sorry, Alan.
Alan: it’s gonna be a very difficult road. Yeah. And my dad was my best friend and my hero and, you know, through adulthood we still talked every day. And so, you know, we try to take treatment and do things, but by that point it was pretty futile. So about five months later he was laying in the bed at his house and he had his children, all his grandchildren around, and he was going through this, you know, end of life speech of I came to the greatest country in the history of the world. I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish. I love my kids, my grandkids. I have no bucket list. So we did that for two days, just talking like that and watching sports. And then he passed right in my arms. And after that experience, you know, I kept wondering, I was in a grief group at the temple, I was, you know, I was having a lot of issues with it, it was very, very hard. And I kept wondering would I be able to say that, 30, 40, 50 years from now. Will I be able to lay there and have everyone I love, will they all be there and love me back? Will I be able to say to all of them hey, I’m good. I’m smiling here, I did everything I wanted to do, I have no bucket list. And so then that’s sort of what spurred me. Well, you know, I wanna do something in sports. It’s how I bonded with my father, it’s how much, it’s my whole passion. We don’t watch anything in this house. There’s no television, no movies, I’m not up to date with anything, ’cause we’re watching sports all day long. Every day. We just stayed up late last night to watch the, you know, the Rams Cardinals game. It just, it never ends.
Doug: That’s right.
Alan: So I called a sports banker, another immigrant, and I said I don’t know anything about sports, but I’d love to do something. And then as magic would happen, he said I’ve got the Dodgers assignment, and I said that’s just not possible. I mean, I had heard for years, you never get your team, it’s the military, you get in, they promote from within, you know, you show, but you’re never gonna get your team. And so it was almost just like something really special was happening. Something that I can’t really explain. And I went down, we met. I still couldn’t believe it even when it closed. Even when I read about it in “The Wall Street Journal” I said, is this real, can this really be happening? And still to this day, we’ll be sitting in the seats and I’m expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and be like all right, let’s go, playtime’s over kid. The real owner’s here, get the hell out of here.
Doug: Yeah, that’s right!
Alan: And so it’s been, it’s just been absolutely magical. And there’s, you know, a couple of times where I felt my father’s presence at the stadium during the ring ceremony, after we won the World Series in 2020 and could have fans back in the following April. You know, I swear I felt his presence and weird things have happened in the stadium. But it’s been the most incredible thing I’ve ever been a part of.
Doug: Wow, wow. That’s beautiful. If you can even, I’ll ask you to go just one step further. The first time you’re walking in there as an owner, I’ve seen a picture of you with your family there. What was, try to express what was in your heart, you know, what you were seeing and experiencing and how things may have come full circle.
Alan: Yeah. I was spinning, first off. I didn’t sleep for a couple of weeks, I cried every day. It was, you know, it’s just never anything I ever imagined being able to achieve. And, you know, our ownership group, our senior executives, our players, it’s a family. I mean, they were telling me for years, it’s a family, it’s a family, and I just thought that was a line. But oh my God, it’s a family. You know, these are my favorite people in the world. These are the people I socialize with today and talk to every day. And so, you know, I was on the field, I sat with Sandy Koufax and Earvin Magic Johnson, on each side of me, at that game. I had my family there. I mean, I barely remember any of it. The whole thing was just, you know, I couldn’t believe any of it was real. I was trying to keep it together the whole night and trying to be cool talking to Sandy, like it was just whatever, you know. He was obviously.
Doug: Making stuff up, you’re trying to be.
Alan: Yeah, just be cool, just be cool.
Doug: Oh that, what a wonderful experience, and we’re so happy for you and proud of you, for you and for your family, and to complete that, you know, that story, that dream with your father, and all the experiences that happened there. But as you said with it, with the team, it’s a family. You go from all these experiences in your family, to this team that’s a family atmosphere. So help me, maybe make a little bit of a bridge here, to others and their family, who are maybe at a different stage. Maybe their background isn’t exactly like, you know, that of your parents or that you experienced. Maybe they’re still in the early stages, you know. Maybe they’re still, you know, just at the very early stages where they’re, like they just arrived, where they’re just at a point trying to have a dream for themselves. What are some of the things maybe that you, you know, the characteristics and things that you saw in your parents and the things that you’re trying to live yourself, that maybe can connect with somebody at that stage of their lives now?
Alan: Sure, I think on a more macro sense, more globally, you have to tune out all the media and all the negativity, the toxic, you know, coming from all, basically all media that, you know, America’s best days are behind us, that it’s too hard to achieve, that everything’s broken. We certainly have our problems, but the reality is that there’s no one on earth who wouldn’t trade positions to be in this country. And I think I have a unique perspective growing up in an immigrant household, you know, because I constantly think, we were doing Thanksgiving with the kids going around the table and saying what we’re thankful for. And I thought, you know, what would happen if my father never came, if I’m sitting in Argentina and, you know, would I have enough food to feed the family, would I be a cab driver, if I was lucky to have that income? Would my family be in trouble because we don’t know the right corrupt officials to befriend? And you could say that for almost the majority of countries on earth, right? And so this is still the greatest country that has ever existed, the freest, best place that’s ever been created. And so I think you have to be an optimist, I mean people have bet against America for 250 years, and it’s been a horrible bet for 250 years. It’s been like being a Jets fan or something. It’s just brutal. Those that have taken the short side. And so, you know, you have to, you know, you have to be a rational optimist, but you have to be an optimist being in this place. And then the second part to that question I would say is, once you’ve achieved, then you have to give back, then you have to expand the opportunity to others. And so it’s something we’re incredibly passionate about, not just philanthropy and doing it with dollars, but opening doors for those that are outside the circle, right, those that are sitting outside the margins. Whether that’s formerly incarcerated, whether that’s people suffering from poverty, whether that’s someone who’s not able bodied or is different, or is any type of minority or dealing with any struggle. And so how can we open those doors? How can we remove barriers? And so that’s mostly what I’m passionate about, and where all our wealth is gonna go. You know, we’d like to die broke. That’s our goal, that’s the trust we’ve set up. We’re not big believers in multi dynastic wealth and, you know, having 20 homes and building statues of ourself on the front lawn. And so our philanthropy is focused around bringing down barriers, and how can we solve it, you know, half among the immigrant population, because that’s the population I know very well and that I wanna see barriers removed from. And then the other half just around, coming up with better solutions for poverty, so that more people have the opportunities that my family has had.
Doug: What a great message and great story there. Talk a little bit about that. Talk as you kind of dive into the community, and you wanna create that opportunity, you wanna open those doors. Because there’s a lot of people that, you know, right around half the people think that they, that the American dream’s real anymore. Millennials just don’t see that it’s for them. They don’t believe that they’re gonna be able to do better than their parents, or something like that. So it’s a crisis or a lack of confidence, and you so eloquently talk about hey, look around the world, this is the place of opportunity. But for some people it’s not real. And you have to, you’re trying to open the doors and remove those barriers. But at some point what’s the message to them to help them to believe in themselves? What are some of the things we can talk about that would help somebody in this audience today believe in themselves and their ability to take a step forward?
Alan: You know, they’re not wrong, right? Those young people aren’t wrong. And they have many examples. I mean, I live here in California and they look and say, the average home in L.A. is now a million bucks. How am I ever gonna get that? Well that system’s been rigged against them. We don’t allow people to build. Our development restrictions are so down. And then we create commissions to talk about why homes are so unaffordable, why rent’s so high. You don’t need a commission, right? Like the old joke, I don’t need a commission to tell me that, you know, the ground’s gonna be wet after it’s rained. You know, that’s the Dr. Soul joke, and it’s true. And so they’re looking at that and they’re saying, I’m never gonna be able to afford that. They’re going through really crappy public schools that have completely let them down. Once again, I’m talking what I know, I’m talking in my hometown, the LAUSD system that I went through, where no one’s reading at their grade level, no one’s doing math. So you’re thinking okay, so they’re not getting the skills. And then they see the college system is rigged for how you get into these colleges, and then how they saddle them with an incredible amount of debt, you know? And then they see that barriers, you know, barriers of entry into many fields have been raised. So they have a case to sort of be that frustrated. And I get that. And so that was the first part. That is our obligation is we need to make sure that those barriers are being lowered and that the system isn’t rigged against them, and that we don’t have people thinking the American dream is gone and that I won’t be able to out-earn my parents and have a better quality of life. So that part is real, I don’t wanna dismiss young people at all. And then, but the flip side is we still have a system that works. We have an incredibly dynamic market-based economy that absolutely rewards the most. And so we have to stay away from dangerous ideas, just because some things aren’t right. Going to nationalism and socialism, and all these fail policies that we know don’t work. And so they can’t give up the belief because you can still open the, you know, you can read “The Wall Street Journal” every day about some new amazing entrepreneur that got capital and put something together in his apartment and built something great, and this is now providing some great service, you know. So it’s still real, it still exists, but definitely people that are in your position, Doug, and in our position, we need to continue to work to bring the barriers down. I have a real world example, if you want it, that’s very depressing here in L.A.
Doug: Please. Please, go ahead, yeah I’d love to. I think it’s important to hear-
Alan: Yeah. So we still own all these shopping centers at USC, along Figueroa, that’s in between Staple Center and the campus. When we were trying to acquire the entire area in our monopolistic ways, we bought all this retail and we still own it to this day, 20 years later. And we get a notice that the city council unanimously passed something regarding trash pickup, which I’m always frightened when the city council does something unanimously. Like not one person thought this was bad, like everyone was so unanimous, it was so clear. So that’s always your first sign, not to mention, you know, our city council and the disaster it is. So it says okay, from now on you can’t bid out your trash companies. You can’t go talk to 12 companies and see who can come at the time you want them to come around the business hours, and do the pickups you want and get the best rate. You can only use one. And I don’t remember the pretext they came up with, maybe it was oh, this is this, this is, who knows what they came up with. But they decided to kill the golden goose of America. No competition, we wanna award a monopoly. Maybe they’re keeping the money, who knows? So we said uh-uh, here we go. So the bill comes, it’s nine times what we were paying. Nine times what we were paying on Figueroa, for our centers there. Well, these are triple net shopping centers, which means that the expenses are born by the tenants. Well, I’ve got two corporates in there, and the other 12 are small businesses. These are, you know, your Korean store for new immigrants that, you know, are doing a small bakery. Or we have a hot dog store, you know, that’s also owned by an immigrant family. And you see multiple generations working. Well now you just took their trash bill up nine X. And then of course the service suffers. The manager at the property says Alan, there’s trash everywhere, they don’t return calls, they don’t come. I need extra pickup on Fridays, they won’t do it. Well of course they won’t, they got a monopoly. Why would they answer the phone? They’re not gonna answer the phone, you gotta pay them anyways. And so that is a barrier. That is a real barrier that is hurting those immigrant families that were just like mine, that have one small business at one small shopping center, and they’re trying to make it. And you know who those kids are that are behind the register? Those are the doctors and the lawyers and the Nobel Prize winners, and the engineers, and the military heroes of the next generation. I mean that is the dream, right? The entrepreneur immigrant is there, and they know that their kids are gonna have the better life and have the opportunities that they didn’t have. I’ve seen it a million times over, it is not a unique story. And so, you know, what can I do? I mean there’s nothing we can do. Maybe there’s some litigation going, but, you know, how could you have passed that, that is so corrupt.
Doug: And I’m so glad you use that illustration in the story, because it’s, just to talk about things in the abstract of, you know, of cronyism or things of that nature, but to have a real story right there, you’re right. When something’s happening unanimously, that’s a little scary. And then it goes in a direction like this, you know, it’s too often people kinda look at things in a small piece and they don’t understand or appreciate the knock-on effect or the message that it sends to more and more people, to take away their hopes and their aspirations, or to make it harder, or just, they’ve just created another barrier to overcome. So take it from-
Alan: You can play it out, I mean you’ve been in business, you know exactly what I’m talking about, so you can play it out further. So now there’s less money coming into the business. So maybe they hire one less person. And maybe that person, that was an entry level job, maybe that was a formerly incarcerated individual. Maybe that was an 18-year-old who has no chance of going to college, and this would’ve been their first entrance to the workforce. When I worked at Domino’s Pizza, the day my work permit came through at 15, I learned more than I learned in my entire schooling, through college. I learned I needed to be on time, I was part of a team, I was being counted on, I had to have my uniform clean. We had things to do, it was gonna be a busy night. We needed to get those pizzas out. And that was incredible. I mean, Charlie Munger likes to joke that the McDonald’s corporation has taught more youth in this country than the entire Ivy League combined have contributed. And I really believe that. So now they didn’t hire that one person, and that’s one less job in the community. And so you can continue to play out how crony capitalism and corruption do. And now that family now believes you can’t get a fair shake in America, ’cause the system’s rigged, because our landlord, who’s trying to help us, can’t go out and get us the best price the way he does with every other vendor at the property. He’s stuck with this and we have to pay for it. So it just, you’re killing that golden goose. That’s the last thing you wanna do. You wanna feed that goose, you wanna strengthen that goose, so more people can participate in this incredible miracle.
Doug: Yeah, yeah, make it more inclusive, more opportunity for more people to be able to do more things that they wanna do, that they can pursue, and learn more along the way, you know? And so, again, take that to say, you know, that example, and I don’t mean the example of the commission action, the example of all those people, all those stores, all those shop owners, all those families, all those employees, and that idea that training in your first entry-level job, and it may not pay a lot, but this wealth of character that you can build and how that can be taken forward, that’s what your parents taught you. That’s what you are teaching your kids. And I think you had, you know, tell us about how you keep that going, and how we all, all our audience here, can use some of those things in their lives to express those values, those characteristics, to others around them.
Alan: Sure. Without showing myself as too much of a policy nerd, I mean, I think you’ve already figured out and your listeners have by now, you’re talking to a grade A dork, right? This is as nerdy as it gets. But it’s actually why I always get worried when we talk about raising the minimum wage too much. I think a little bit is fine, but I’d much rather see it with an earned income tax credit, a much larger earned income tax credit, than a minimum wage. And the reason is, when I was at Domino’s Pizza making four and a quarter an hour, 17 a shift, 1353 after tax, I was being paid a lot more than that. Not in dollars, but in knowledge, in dignity, in self-worth, and my love of work. I mean I felt great at the end of the night, going home tired. I felt even better on Friday, when I got that paycheck and, you know, it was a hundred dollars, whatever it was, that was my money. I earned that. That is damn addictive, you know. That is a fantastic feeling, and that’s the American dream, right? The reason my father was so ecstatic the first day, and he would always refer to this as heaven. He said, this place is heaven. I was willing to work, and I made a $1.25 an hour. My first day I could earn, and that’s an incredible thing. And then he worked his way up and he became the manager of the shipping department a few years later and was making more. So rather than see that as such a low-level thing, I really think the entrance to the workforce to joining a team, that’s great. I don’t like the idea of encouraging every, especially in food service, encouraging all of them to spend more and more on technology, because they have to get rid of their people, because we’ve made it so unaffordable, and it’s been so difficult to hire people, so let’s just try and make it more and more and more automated. ‘Cause I worry, ’cause I gained so much from my pizzeria experience, and then I, when I got my license I went to a nicer pizzeria and I made more money, and I did all that through college, it was great. So that’s just one part. The second part is, it’s tough for me to answer the second part of the question because I was so lucky. My parents never preached hard work, we just saw it. They both worked their butts off every single day. My dad got up when it was dark. He never missed a family dinner. He never missed one of my ball games. Doesn’t matter I was the worst basketball player you could ever see, he never missed a game. He was at every one of my baseball games. He was coaching, he was so involved in the community. So I think my sister and I did have that huge advantage that a lot of people don’t have of seeing your mom and dad work so hard every day, because then you just think that’s what you do. This is what you do. You have to get up and work hard.
Doug: Yeah, and that’s really the story, isn’t it? It’s one thing to have a message, or it’s one thing to try to say something, but you hit on it, some of that things, but, you know, don’t use words, just do it. At the risk of sounding like a Nike commercial, right, you know, just go forth, and if you want your kids to learn lessons, do it and then maybe help them do some of those sorts of things, like your early experiences as well. I think that’s just fabulous. Yeah, Alan-
Alan: That’s the least effective thing you could ever do to your kids is just tell them, just preach to them. They see what’s going on. Just do what you want them to do, they’ll emulate it.
Doug: Yeah, I love it. Alan, thank you so much for your time. I have one kind of closing thing that you mentioned that I wanna go back to. You talked about lists that you made. When my father turned 60 he made a list. His father passed away at the age of 59, and he made a list of things that he wanted to do and, you know, places he wanted to see, kind of like what you were talking about. And that drove him through a lot of health challenges he had, he had a heart transplant at the age of 71. And when the doctors asked why do you want a new heart, he said I’ve got family, I’ve got kids, I’ve got more to do, I wanna, I have this list of things that I wanna keep accomplishing. And he kept revising it and adapting it. So if it’s okay maybe to share, if not specifically, some of the things that you’ve had kind of on your list as you go forward, and really to use it as a way for people to be able to make a list of their own.
Alan: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s something to it, you know. I make lists all day long, but your timing is great, ’cause I finished it this weekend for 2022, and I will share part of it. So two of them are business things. One is a new business we’re starting, that I’m knee deep in that I really wanna see have success in a new industry we’ve never operated in, that I’m very, very attracted to. And then two are on the philanthropic side, and those are the ones I’m even more excited about. And they’re both partnerships with Stand Together. One is, I think that entrepreneurship is probably the greatest tool in the United States against poverty, ending generational poverty, not like everything we’ve done, like handouts to just make your life a little less miserable. Or the other side just saying, oh pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you’re in America, you should make it on your own. You know, I like this middle path. I think both sides are a little nutty. And in this middle path, we’ve partnered with a social entrepreneur, we’re gonna bring him to Los Angeles and we’re gonna blow it up and do it in a really big way. We’re gonna go in heavy with dollars, with time, with contacts, and I think we can have a real impact, and I have very very high hopes and high expectations for that. That’s my first one. And the second goal is also on the philanthropic side. We’re working on immigration reform, we’re working very hard on immigration reform. And we’ve been meeting with members of Congress very often, and working on something really, really neat, and it’s small, and it’s just around the edges, but I think maybe it’s a way to get things started, and I’ve had some great traction, and I don’t wanna ruin the surprise, but we’re trying to do something really, really big, also in Los Angeles, but around immigration. Celebrating immigrants and immigration reform. So they’re, all four, they’re big goals, they’re stretch goals, they’re gonna require a lot of time, a lot of investment, but I’m very optimistic on all four.
Doug: All right. Well Alan, thank you so much. Thank you for sharing that, that’s important, you know, I think to see. You’ve had so much success, you’ve worked hard, and it would be easy to stop. But you make another list. And the American-
Alan: I wish it were easy to stop, I wish I could stop, I can’t stop, I can’t turn it off. Sometimes it’s unbelievable, you know, I just wanna relax for a weekend, but it’s just, you know, the brain doesn’t stop.
Doug: I love it, good for you. And, you know, there’s some people who will take encouragement from that, they might just be having a little tough time getting started. And with your encouragement, with your example, you know, they can make a list. They can put something on there and find their way forward. And that’s really, you know, that’s what we wanna encourage people who are, our audience here, listening here, to be able to believe in themselves enough and know that the American dream is real. Okay, there’s challenges, it’s not perfect, but we have to keep working for it and fighting for it. You’re an amazing example of that. You shared so freely of your story, and I love it that you’re still dreaming. Alan, thank you so much for joining us.
Alan: I really appreciate it, Doug. I look forward to seeing you next month.
Doug: All right, we’ll look forward to seeing you soon. Take care.
Alan: Take care. All the best.
And that’s it for this episode of “Believe!” Thanks for joining us.