Tony Robbins needs to perform at his peak when he’s leading seminars for thousands of people, which he does regularly all over the world. To help make this possible, the life and business strategist has been flying privately for over two decades.
He recently made the leap from charter to full ownership with the purchase of a preowned Bombardier ultra-long-range, large-cabin Global Express XRS, and he has wasted no time putting it through its paces. In fact, his pilot shook his head in disbelief when he told me, “I regularly see him put in 16-, 18-hour workdays for weeks.”
I attended day one of Robbins’s “Unleash the Power Within” weekend seminar in Palm Beach, Florida and was stunned not only by the number of attendees (approximately 9,000), but by their level of excitement about the event, which cost them about $1,000 to $3,000 each, depending on whether they opted for such extras as “advance entry” and “private registration.”
Robbins exerts an astonishing amount of energy on stage and often jumps into the audience for a round of high-fives and fist-pumps to keep everyone on their toes. And while his approach has its critics, it has also attracted many admirers—including such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, Bill Clinton, and hedge-fund wunderkind Paul Tudor Jones. Some top executives pay him seven-figure annual fees to have him as their personal coach.
As such fees suggest, Robbins—a one-time janitor who did not attend college and whose childhood was characterized by poverty and abuse—has come a long way. And yet his early years seem to still be in the forefront of his mind. That may explain why his extensive philanthropic work emphasizes aid to the impoverished. It may also explain why he still seems obsessively driven to make something of his life, even though he clearly already has.
When did you first fly privately?
I was 24. I was in Mexico doing a presentation for the Young Presidents Organization, and I met Bill Farley, who owned Fruit of the Loom. He said, “I’ll fly you home on a private jet; I want to pick your brain for a few hours.” I was on a Challenger. I thought it was the most incredible thing. I just loved it and thought, “This is the life!”
When did you start to charter?
When I was 31, I was supposed to go see my friend Peter Guber [owner of Mandalay Entertainment] in Aspen. There were a lot of powerful people he wanted to introduce me to. I lived in San Diego, so I flew to L.A., L.A. to Denver, and Denver to Aspen. Everything was late, they lost my luggage, and I arrived after the dinner.
[Peter] was more than frustrated with me. He said, “Tony, you just can’t do this with the amount you fly. You spent 11 hours getting here; you missed all these meetings. You could have flown straight here and been here in one hour and 45 minutes.” I said, “Peter, I’m not a billionaire like you, give me a break!” A charter would have been $10,000, and I flew there for $1,100.
Peter said, “Here is what you’ve got to do: decide that [you are ready to] leave when you want, do what you want when and how you want. You can sleep on the plane. It will change your life. Come up with a budget, and don’t look at the price for each individual flight.”
So you started flying privately.
In those days it cost me around $350,000 [per year] to charter small planes and I was still taking commercial flights internationally because that was just too expensive for charter. [But flying privately] changed my life. The value is unbelievable.
Did you ever get a fractional share or a jet card?
No, because [fractional] is not a good deal. [Through charter] I got all the same services without all the monthly fees. There is no benefit to it. You get the same plane, the same quality pilot, the same access, and you pay all this money? It is just a suckers’ deal.
When did you decide to buy an aircraft?
About a year ago, I sold one of my companies for a couple hundred million dollars. I am traveling overseas so much. So I started looking for maybe a little Challenger or something. I thought maybe a GIV, but then I chartered one to go from Palm Beach to Poland for a private event and we had to stop in Newfoundland [to refuel and deal with a mechanical]. I thought, “I am not going to spend all this money and not be able to fly direct.”
I started looking at the GV for the range. But I am six-foot-seven, and it felt like I was [sitting in] a tube. I had been looking at brokers, but then I reached out to [friend and Wynn Resorts owner] Steve Wynn, and he recommended Steve Varsano at The Jet Business in London.
Tell me about that process.
Steve had this video wall showing full-size floor plans and details of every plane in existence, but every one [I saw didn’t feel quite right], so he said, “Well, how about the Global Express?” I said, “My God, I can’t spend that much—it’s crazy.” He’s like, “If you decide it’s the right fit I promise you I will get you the best deal.” So we picked out some planes to look at and then he called me and said, “Why don’t you fly to Fort Lauderdale, because [the owner is selling] his plane? It’s immaculate and I think I can get you a great deal.” So I went down there and I thought, “This is like flying in an apartment building!” I got hooked. And Steve negotiated this truly magnificent deal for me and really busted his tail doing it. [This aircraft] is one of the greatest gifts in my life.
Can you give me an example of a recent trip?
A few months ago, I flew to Brazil to do an event in the Amazon, then from there to Toronto to do a seminar in front of 8,000 people. From there I flew to Las Vegas to be in front of 10,000 people. I flew from Las Vegas to my resort in Fiji for two days, and [without the jet] I wouldn’t have gone at all because I don’t have the time. From there I went and did a 5,000-person, four-day event in Sydney, Australia, and then I flew straight to India, then from India back to London, and then to the U.S. I circled the globe in 21 days.
It was just really cool. The difference of not stopping is—I can’t even tell you what it means to me. It doesn’t sound like much but those extra hours just make my life 10 times more efficient.
The amount of energy you exert at your events is impressive.
[Early in my career] I realized that when two energies meet, whichever energy is stronger dominates everything. It [probably] sounds absurd, but I look at myself as a force for good, and a force of nature. And when I walk up there, I unleash the force of nature into that room and then I can modulate it. I can drop it down and be really individually connected or I can rip open all 9,000 people’s energy.
You have a full-time security detail, which clearly is a necessity.
It is, because [at events] I go into the crowd and I’ve had people grab my neck and things of that nature. Once someone jumped on my back. Then you have the crazies who are deluded—it’s more women than men, truthfully. It doesn’t matter who you are—if you are in a position of power, a certain type of woman gets excited about that. They sit in the front row. Once a woman showed up in a limousine and said she was Mrs. Robbins and convinced somebody to let her in.
How does the real Mrs. Robbins handle your life in the spotlight?
I honor and love my wife in every way. I totally worship her. And it’s not like I’m Tom Cruise or something. I am just some business guy, you know? For my wife it definitely was an adjustment. Her world was jolted. [Before she met me] she lived in a town outside of Vancouver [Canada] where 42 relatives lived within 12 miles and she never really went anywhere. I am on a plane, train, helicopter, or boat every three or four days. We have six homes. She would rather have one home and just live there. So it’s been real hard on her, but she’s ad-justed and she shares my mission, so she’s OK with it.
How do you stay grounded and manage your ego?
I’m privileged. I am smart in what I do, and I have a work ethic like very few people have. But there is some grace involved in this as well. I never take for granted the good fortune I have.
What are your thoughts on the U.S. Presidential election?
Both parties have someone shaking them up. You got Trump on the one side, and you got Bernie [on the other] because people are completely angry and they are willing to just firebomb the place at this point. They are just so fed up that they are willing to try anything besides the status quo. [But as] George W. Bush [recently said to me]: “The office is bigger than the occupant. So the occupant may screw up, but if we make a mistake the system will take over…and the next time we will make a better choice.” And who knows? Maybe one of these people will be the best president we ever had. You never know.
Do you counsel your CEO clients on work/life balance?
I don’t believe in work/life balance. I don’t believe overachievers are ever going to experience that. I think it is work/life integration [we need]. I have found that if I integrate my friends, my family, and everything else into my mission, nothing suffers. For example, one of my sons is a partner with me in a couple of my financial companies, and another of my boys is in the coaching business, and we interact in those places.
Do you delegate?
I don’t believe in delegating. I believe in leverage. Delegation is when you want something done, you give it to somebody, and then you check in when it’s due—and it’s not there on your desk. Leverage is like a lever lifting a boulder. You can lift it with little effort if you lever it right. So I make sure you understand exactly what I am after and why. I make sure you are engaged so that you see the benefit to you and then I have you figure out the how. Then I set up times before the deadline to make sure I know whether you are on target or not. I still have to stay in touch with you and make sure the outcome gets done. Most people don’t like to be micromanaged [and once they know the desired outcome] they come up with better ideas than I would have. That gives me most of my leverage.
What is the biggest challenge in taking a business to the next level?
The chokehold on the growth of any business is the psychology and the skills of the leader. Always. Eighty percent of the challenge is psychology and 20 percent is strategy. And the strategies are invaluable—the right one can save you a decade in a few days. But people who know strategies know how to apply them because of their psychology. My thing is: uncover the beliefs that will empower you. Dig in and change the leader’s psychology—that is the game changer.
You’ve done extensive work in prisons. What is it like working with someone who is there for life or on death row?
What is really beautiful is to see a man in prison for life become free. There was a prison in Ohio—the gentleman running it used to play my original Personal Power help program [for the prisoners] back when they were on cassettes. He’d play a session each day for these guys, and most of them were lifers. They are the ones who are most violent because they’ve got no reason not to be. One day the prisoners took over the prison, imprisoned the guards. The only block that didn’t participate was the one that went through my program.
You have made it part of your life’s mission to feed the hungry. [Robbins's Basket Brigade program provides food for at least two million people annually all over the world, and thanks partly to matching funds, he provides meals for more than 100 million more people annually through his partnership with Feeding America.—Ed.]
There are 49 million people in the U.S. who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from and 17 million are children, and I was one of those kids. So it isn’t a statistic for me.
Your childhood was pretty horrific and you suffered significant abuse. Did you always know you were special and would overcome?
I don’t know if “special” is the word I’d use. I didn’t think of it that way. But I decided I would never let my family suffer the way I did. When you don’t have food it is humiliating—making excuses why you don’t have a lunch and that kind of stuff. But I think the biggest component for me was I knew that I loved people. I knew that I could have an impact on people.
My mother was a good woman inside; I never thought she was a bad human being. And years later, I looked back and realized that if she had been the mother I had wanted, the woman I thought she should be, I wouldn’t be the guy that I am. I wouldn’t have one-tenth of my drive and I wouldn’t be feeding 100 million people. I choose to view my childhood as a gift.
Name: Tony Robbins
Birthdate: Feb. 29, 1960 (age 56)
Occupation: Business and life strategist, entrepreneur. Author of bestselling books, including Unlimited Power, Awaken the Giant Within, and Money: Master the Game.
Philanthropy: The Anthony Robbins Foundation, The Feeding America 100 Million Meals Challenge
Transportation: Bombardier Global Express XRS (owned)
Personal: Married to second wife Bonnie Pearl "Sage" Robbins since 2001. Four children.
Hobbies: Golf, squash, snowboarding, ice racing
Special thanks to Seth Mager and the wonderful team at Atlantic Aviation at Florida's Palm Beach International Airport for their help during the Tony Robbins photo shoot.