If you ask network marketers around the world where they got their entrepreneurship education, many will credit Robert Kiyosaki and his Rich Dad books. Fewer are familiar with the coauthor to the series, Sharon Lechter, a world-renowned entrepreneur, author, and speaker in her own right.

Sharon is the founder and CEO of Pay Your Family First, a financial education organization, and YOUTHpreneur, an innovative new way to spark the entrepreneurial spirit in children. Since 1992, she has dedicated her career to the creation and distribution of financial education books, games, and other experiential learning tools and events. She has also been a certified public accountant (CPA) for over thirty years and is a certified global management accountant (CGMA).
Sharon met and started working with Robert Kiyosaki in 1996, and over the next eleven years, they built the Rich Dad brand into an international powerhouse.

In 2008 Sharon was appointed to the first President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. That same year, she was asked by the Napoleon Hill Foundation to help re-energize the Napoleon Hill’s teachings just as the international economy was faltering. Her bestselling books Three Feet from Gold and Outwitting the Devil were both written in cooperation with the Napoleon Hill Foundation.

The recipient of numerous educational and philanthropic leadership awards, Sharon is on a mission to make financial literacy a mandatory course in American high schools and views network marketing as an powerful catalyst for teaching the world about entrepreneurship.—J.M.G.

Where did your passion for financial literacy originate?
I started my career as an accountant and was moving fast up the ladder in the CPA firm I worked for, but it wasn’t long before the entrepreneurial bug bit me. I started building companies when I was about twenty-six because I had been raised in an entrepreneurial home and understood the importance of working hard to build assets for yourself.

After my husband Michael and I were married and had children, we realized our kids didn’t like to read. My focus turned to finding ways to ignite the love of reading. I met the inventor of the first “talking” book and helped him grow that industry of children’s books that had sound strips down the side.

In 1991, we moved to Arizona. My oldest son had gone off to college in the fall of 1992 and got into credit card debt. I remember it was December 1992 when I found out. I was certainly angry with him, but I was even angrier with myself. From that moment onward I dedicated the rest of my career to financial and entrepreneurship education, helping people understand how important it is to take control of their financial lives.

How did you get involved with Robert Kiyosaki?
I met Robert in 1996. He had this idea for the CASHFLOW game, but it was just drawn out on a piece of paper. He had come to visit my husband, who is an internationally known intellectual property attorney. Michael introduced us and I helped Robert get the game to the point where it could be commercialized, and Michael helped us get a patent on the game. It was during this process that we began talking about writing a book and I became Kiyosaki’s partner on Rich Dad Poor Dad. The book was released in April 1997, and in September he asked me to be his business partner on the game and we started our company, CASHFLOW Technologies, Inc.

Interesting how the game came before the books.
What’s even more interesting is that since Robert wanted to charge $200 for the game, the idea of writing Rich Dad Poor Dad was so we would have a brochure to sell the board game. We wanted a tool to tell people what the philosophy was and thought it was something we could give away. So the book was written and released in April, 1997 as a brochure to sell the game. Our corporate name was CASHFLOW Technologies. We thought our brand would be CASHFLOW, but when the book took off around the globe, the world told us, your brand is Rich Dad.

I can see why: Rich Dad Poor Dad tells the story, which is what people latch onto.
All my books are written in a story format because that’s how writers can best communicate with their audiences. If you just provide data, it goes from the reader’s eye to his brain, but if you tell a story, you involve the reader emotionally in the experience. That’s how people internalize concepts and engage at a heart level, to the point where they have a real opportunity to change their lives.

What was it like working with Robert, and how did the initial content grow into a series?
We were partners for ten years—1997 through 2007—and wrote fifteen books together. Our products, games, books, and audio products were distributed in 108 countries, and were translated into fifty-one languages. The Rich Dad message was the right message at the right time. We’d ask people, how did you hear about us? The typical answer was someone had told them about it. It was true viral marketing, before social media.

Certainly network marketing was a big part of our success story, because of how our message validates the concept of building a business that generates passive cash flow. Offering an opportunity to start a home business at a very low cost of entry, network marketing comes with built-in training and education. As long as you choose a reputable company, you’re going to find excellent mentorship, because everyone wants you to succeed. That’s a vital component that sets network marketing apart from any other business.

Encouraging students during Arizona 2013 State Championship of the ThriveTime Challenge.

In preparation for our talk, I looked up the interview we did with Robert Kiyosaki in 2000 for Network Marketing Lifestyles. The first sentence goes like this: “Network marketers are great at making a lot of money. The problem is, no one taught them how to keep it.”
This is true not just for network marketers. Think about big sport stars or lottery winners: often they end up losing the money before they have the opportunity to make life-long changes. It’s important to understand the concept introduced by Napoleon Hill, which is pay yourself first. Make sure you build your own financial foundation for the future.

After ten years with Robert, you partnered with the Napoleon Hill Foundation. What drew you there?
I read Think and Grow Rich when I was nineteen. Even though it was released in the thirties, Think and Grow Rich remains the quintessential work for network marketing and personal development. Its extraordinary power has to do with the fact that Napoleon Hill researched the topic of success for over twenty-five years by talking to the richest people in the world, as well as to many people who considered themselves failures. The messages of Think and Grow Rich are not one man’s philosophy but the synthesis of all these conversations, like a dissertation that distilled the laws of success in thirteen steps and seventeen principles.

Napoleon Hill is the one who coined the term Law of Attraction in 1919. He also originated the concept of Mastermind—surrounding yourself with people who can help you get to where you want to go.

After building Rich Dad, when I was offered the opportunity to step into an even bigger brand as it relates to personal finance and self-development, I didn’t hesitate. When the Napoleon Hill Foundation asked me to come in and support them in getting their message out, it was a huge honor. This was in 2008, when the economy took a nose dive and the foundation recognized how important it was to re-ignite and re-invigorate the messages of Think and Grow Rich, so that people could take control of their financial situations.

Soon after you started working with the Foundation, you wrote your next book, Three Feet from Gold, about the workings of the entrepreneurial spirit.
I was asked to step into this project with my coauthor Greg Reid in 2008, and we released Three Feet from Gold in 2009. Just like Napoleon Hill had done, we interviewed many of today’s successful leaders, not just about their success stories, but about how they survived the difficult times, how they got through the valleys in their businesses. Through this process, we came up with a formula for entrepreneurial success, which is explained in the book and starts with finding your passion and combining it with your talents. Your passion can be something you love, or something you want to change because it makes you angry. For me, the lack of financial education made me angry and ignited my passion.

Next, take your passion and your talent and multiply that by your association, a concept that’s very important in network marketing. It means surrounding yourself with people who want to support you in becoming successful, creating the right mastermind, finding a way to leverage your talent through organizations so you’re not on your own.

The next piece is taking the right action. Many of us have been led to believe if we think good thoughts, good things will happen. Napoleon Hill talks about going the extra mile, which is putting out the action.

Before we went to press, I realized there’s still another element that sets incredibly successful people apart. Above everything else, they had faith—faith in themselves, in what they were doing, and faith that they would succeed. That faith is what ultimately helped them push through the difficult times to create the success they deserved. We came up with the formula: Personal Success Equation = (Passion + Talent) x Association x Action) + Faith.

Your latest book published by the Foundation is Outwitting the Devil. We reviewed it in Networking Times, and some network marketing leaders became totally enamored with it as their teams were going through difficult economic times.

With young entrepreneur during speaking tour
in Kampala, Uganda.
Outwitting the Devil is the most powerful book I’ve ever had the honor to play a role in. When Napoleon Hill released Think and Grow Rich in 1937, he became frustrated. He knew that even though people know what they need to do to be successful, they don’t do it! He saw how people hold themselves back from creating success because of their self-limiting beliefs. While Think and Grow Rich was incredibly successful as soon as it was published, Napoleon felt the need to write a sequel about conquering the fear that holds us back.

When Napoleon Hill told his wife the title of his new book, Outwitting the Devil, it scared her to death. The manuscript was put in a safe and locked away for seventy-three years.

In 2009, as we were releasing Three Feet from Gold, I got yet another call from Don Green, CEO of the Napoleon Hill Foundation, saying, “Sharon, I have this manuscript. I don’t know what to do with it. I want your opinion.” And he sent it to me.

I was probably only the third or fourth person to ever read it, and it blew my mind. I told Don, “This has got to get out!” I truly believe there was a greater hand at work, that the reason it wasn’t released in 1938 is that the content is particularly relevant and applicable to today’s world, where so many people are feeling disenfranchised. They played by the rules, yet the economy has taken them to the cleaners. Outwitting the Devil helps you deal with those negative energies by recognizing them, maybe even identifying where they came from in your earlier life, and allowing you to release them so they don’t continue to cause you harm.

You annotated the manuscript, making it even more applicable to the world we live in—especially to women.
It was written in the thirties when business was very male-dominated and women were almost completely absent from management positions in the workplace. Naturally, Napoleon Hill took a masculine perspective so I had the privilege of being able to make annotations throughout the book and talk about how things have changed today—and how many other things haven’t changed. My comments are set aside in a separate section and font so that those who want to read the manuscript without my notes are free to do so.

What’s exciting is that this opportunity allowed me to leapfrog into my current project, which is to write Think and Grow Rich for Women as well as Think and Grow Rich for Children.

Today, five years after the crisis of 2008, how do you see our world has changed?
People use the words recession and depression, but I say we had an economic reset. The old paradigm when it comes to money is over. We have moved from a competitive model into a world of collaboration. The place of women in the global economy is changing dramatically as we speak. Women make up approximately 50 percent of the workforce, a number that continues to grow, and we start businesses at twice the rate men do. Certainly, in the network marketing field, a lot of women who felt they couldn’t work outside the home now have tremendous opportunities to build successful businesses. One of the greatest benefits is that you can involve your children so they can learn the valuable skills of entrepreneurship by seeing their parents at work building their own business.

But even in corporate environments there is a trend towards collaboration, which translates into a demand for greater transparency and stronger customer service. The pendulum went way too far into the impersonal direction, and now people are looking for more integrity and honesty. Companies are realizing that a strategic alliance with another company may be better than trying to reinvent the wheel and build something on their own. I definitely see the future of business being much more collaborative.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this past January, the general imperative was that to grow the global economy, we need to teach everyone about entrepreneurship, including employees. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. I call it why-not thinking. We want to raise critical thinkers, problem solvers, and people who are entrepreneurial even within their jobs, who want to improve the business environment for their employers. That’s how you get noticed for promotion. Similarly, when you can ignite the entrepreneurial spirit in your children, instead of teaching them just to follow directions, they become creative in finding solutions and supporting you in what you want to do.

Most network marketers have jobs and build their business on the side. What are the most important differences between the typical employee mindset and the way entrepreneurs think?
Employees want to climb the corporate ladder; entrepreneurs want to build their own ladder. Employees want to follow the rules; entrepreneurs want to create the rules. Employees tend to want to know what their benefits are and they are limited as to how much they can earn because they get paid for their time, which is limited. Entrepreneurs understand that by building the asset, their business, they can generate unlimited income. As you attract employees into an entrepreneurial environment, it’s important to be honest with them and help them make that adjustment. Acknowledge where their mindset is, but don’t make them wrong. Give them the opportunity to see how they can transition into a more expansive way of thinking about money and business. Once a child or an individual knows that they can create money on their own, they never look back.

Impress upon them that building a business is rarely an overnight success. You really have to dedicate yourself, work hard, and learn to be resilient. In network marketing it comes down to how many no’s you can take before you get the yes.

I’ve also found that young entrepreneurs who come from an employee-based environment and strike out on their own can get really lonely. By not surrounding themselves with people who want them to succeed, they can easily become discouraged and frustrated. The beauty of network marketing is that it comes with built-in mentorship and community. Through events and training programs, you create those social bonds that are there to assist you and keep you motivated when things get tough.

Tell us a little bit more about your work with women globally.
I’ve been to Africa three times in the last year. I just came back from Brazil, and I was also in Ireland, UK, and France. I’ve been honored to be one of the instructors of the Artemis program, offered by Thunderbird Global School of Management. This program expanded into working with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women’s Global Initiative, where I had the honor and privilege of training women from all over the globe in the aspects of finance and entrepreneurship. We’ve worked with women from Afghanistan, Jordan, South America, Haiti, and all over Asia, and it’s been an incredible opportunity to get to meet these women and hear their stories. Many of them have succeeded against all odds. Talk about having faith in yourself, working in an environment that may not be supportive of women entrepreneurs, yet they continue to persevere and succeed. It’s just been an incredible process to be involved in, to see that globally, women are putting their stick in the sand and saying, we are here and we’re going to create a global economy to support our families.

When teaching women about entrepreneurship, do you find you need to use a different approach than you would to teach men?
The basic principles behind entrepreneurship are, of course, the same. But there are different societal pressures on women than there are on men around the globe. That’s why it’s very important for women to learn from other women who have become successful with those same social pressures. In America, we talk about the earning or wage gap between men and women, but we don’t realize the kinds of problems these women have in other parts of the world where they are shunned simply because they’re working. It’s vitally important that we support other women in their endeavors to create financial stability for themselves and for their families.

In addition to giving them how-to’s, I bet there is a strong emotional component to their entrepreneurship education.
A huge emotional aspect is the camaraderie they create. Once these women come together as a group, after they leave, they remain in contact with one another. Again, it’s like creating a mastermind. They have the opportunity to reach out and get support from one another and to continue growing. When they go back, they turn around and help other women in their homeland, where they can take the tools and the skills they’ve learned here and teach them there.

Celebrating with the 2013 winners of the ThriveTime Challenge.

You also work with children and teens. How do you tie in emotionally with them? You can teach them concepts, you can show them how to apply them, but how do you get their buy-in?
Everything we teach at our company, Pay Your Family First, is experiential. We have a financial literacy board game called ThriveTime for Teens. It teaches them that it’s not just important how they spend their money, but it’s equally important how they spend their time. The kids learn how to start a business and how to make presentations. They learn the difference between active businesses and passive businesses. They understand that they are in the driver’s seat of their own life.

Young people today need to understand that, regardless of what’s going on in the economy, they are the ones responsible for their choices. Making good decisions will drive them to success; making bad decisions will drive them into debt. It’s up to them to decide each and every time which choice they will make. And, when they make a mistake, they need to learn from it and use the experience to make better decisions in the future.

After kids play our game, the level of engagement is much higher than what you get in a school environment based on memorization and regurgitation, because the information is relevant and they understand that they determine the direction and the outcome of their lives. As a result they become more excited about learning.

What role do you see network marketers play in the entrepreneurial shift we talked about?
Network marketing gives people entrepreneurial skills and awareness. Even though the attrition rate is high, you are benefiting people in the long run, whether they stay within your organization or not. Everything we do in life adds to our experience. Someone may join a network marketing organization and love it for six months and then decide not to continue. But what you’ve learned in those six months can have a tremendous impact on your future. Grab every day with gusto, asking yourself, “What am I going to learn today?” When you make a mistake, be grateful for the lesson and start the next chapter of your life.

Any closing thoughts?
Similarly to the way network marketers teach their teams, I would add that we as adults need to make sure young people today have the tools and skills that they’re going to need to succeed in the economic world they face. I know you do this in your business, but also do it as a family if you have children, or nieces and nephews. There are wonderful tools out there—games, websites, events.

Our company goes into schools and organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs and CEO Space. We also do private events and have played the game with up to 200 kids at a time. They love it and say, “This is the information we want to learn. Why aren’t they teaching us this in school?”

We are thrilled that we just helped get legislation passed in Arizona that will ensure financial education is taught to high school students, and we will continue working on the initiative nationwide.

Teaching people about money and business skills is truly the gift of a lifetime.