Robinson Smith is the President and CEO of Smith Consulting Group Ltd. He is the best-selling author of the book Master Your Mortgage for Financial Freedom. Rob now dedicates his time writing, speaking, and training both homeowners and financial professionals in The Smith Manoeuvre strategy.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but did most of my growing up in Vancouver. The son of an entrepreneur mother and financial planner father. I have no dramatic tales of overcoming large difficulties as a child and consider myself to have had a blessed upbringing with a supportive family. The one thing that shaped my life most as an adult was a piece of advice from my father – I was enrolling for my first year at university back in 1989 and had room for one more elective. I told my dad I was thinking about taking Japanese and he asked me why. I told him it was because “everybody is studying Japanese.” And that’s when he suggested that if everyone was studying Japanese, maybe I should study Chinese. That always stuck with me and has taught me to take a peek at where everybody else is going and think about whether that meant opportunity lay in going some other way. I went on to study Mandarin in Beijing and Shanghai and worked in China for around eight years. A wise father’s foresight!
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Quality of life – do what makes you happy and pursue joy, not dollars. Still working on it!
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I’m a former investment advisor who specialized in helping individual clients implement The Smith Manoeuvre, a financial strategy for Canadian homeowners. Currently, I am an author and national financial educator/trainer regarding the strategy since having sold my practice a number of years ago. As far as I’m concerned, the traditional advice that people should pay off their mortgages and be debt-free leads to a significantly compromised financial future. One’s mortgage – likely the largest liability they will ever incur – can be turned into an asset, but it requires a mind-shift. By paying off your mortgage conventionally – as we’ve been told to do by others – you end up increasing the amount of unproductive equity in your home and losing to inflation, thereby earning a negative return. I spend my time educating people about the importance debt can play in one’s financial security. Corporations and the wealthy understand very well how to use debt to their advantage. The non-wealthy have an opportunity to behave like the wealthy if they understand the difference between good and bad debt.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
After working in Beijing for a number of years at the Canadian Embassy and a Fortune 100 energy company developing energy projects around China, I returned back to Canada to get my MBA in International Business. Upon returning to Beijing with a new and very young family I was unable to find work for a significant period of time. A very stressful period of time in my life, for certain. I had to take a couple of extremely unsatisfying jobs and try to keep everything together while short on cash. That being said, not once did I think of packing it in and moving back to Canada – it just didn’t occur to me. Through persistence, keeping my eyes open, and making myself available to other opportunities, I soon found myself the vice president of a Beijing-based international boutique investment bank. As I write this now, I can look to my left and see a photo of myself with the Premier of China, Wen Jiabao, the Canadian Ambassador to China, and former Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. Never give up.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I tend to just dive into things. For many, this lack of preparation or consideration may lead to challenges in their personal and professional lives but for me, it has led to successes. I feel that subconsciously I have this belief that I am going to succeed – that failure is not a possibility – and so I tend to just get going on it. Analysis paralysis is definitely not a problem with me. And even if something doesn’t pan out the way I may have envisioned it, it is always possible to turn a ‘loss’ into a ‘win’ if one is creative enough and keeps an open mind and heart.
What is your morning routine?
I’m usually up before or around 6 am. Working from home and setting my own schedule means I don’t have to set an alarm – and when I started my latest business, I was looking forward to the fact that if I didn’t schedule anything terribly early, I could sleep in as long as I needed. Of course, now that I have that luxury, I tend to wake up early anyway. Coffee on the couch or outside on the patio perusing emails and social media before hitting the laptop to start the workday usually around 6:30 or 7 am. Frequent breaks to play with my dog keeps my back in line and shoulders relaxed!
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I would think it’s a directional change centered around a couple of realizations – firstly, you can’t please everyone, and secondly, you don’t have space in your life for some people. When I was younger it was always important to me to make sure everyone was happy. I like happy people and I like being around happy people. The challenge is that some people just don’t want to be happy; it’s as if they lack an inner peace that would otherwise allow them to be emotionally at rest. Realizing that doing what I can for myself and for those I love and care about is the only way I can go through life feeling satisfied and content has helped me disengage with those that for some reason don’t want that for anyone.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
It has been a few years since I began working from home and the issue I faced almost immediately was not being able to shut down at the end of the day. Over the past year or so I have committed to powering down at 5 pm every day to better take care of not only myself but my family. While sometimes I may be on the computer working before 6 am, when 5 pm rolls around, unless I’m giving an interview, my feet are up. Making this a rule has trained me to let work go from that point on until the next day – it’s not easy when you first start because your brain is wired to keep on trucking into the night, but the training works the other way around as well if you keep at it.
Oh, and I nap. I can nap like a mother…
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I would have to say Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I was about 19 years old and after deciding to travel before my second year at university, was on my way across Canada, the US, New Zealand, and Australia. I picked up the book only because I was into motorcycles but certainly got more than I asked for. Instead of diving into someone else’s adventures on two wheels, I primarily got a lesson in the importance of taking care and finding peace in everything you do or take on, regardless of how small or menial it may seem.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
A poem by R. L. Sharpe:
Isn’t it strange
That princes and kings,
And clowns that caper
In sawdust rings,
And common people
Like you and me
Are builders for eternity?
Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must make—
Ere life is flown—
A stumbling block
Or a steppingstone.