Career Hack: Jim Rogers- it is an honor to have you as our guest. We have read your books and we are huge fans of your work. Thank you and welcome to the Emerging Market Careers podcast.
Jim Rogers: Thank you Michael.
Career Hack: As a successful investor do you ever have an information advantage. How do you find valuable information and assess the value of that information?
Jim Rogers: The information advantage is that if you read a lot, if you know what is going on in the world, you are going to figure things out before other people. That is the only kind of information advantage I have. I don’t ever talk to brokers or people like that. So the information advantage is, for instance, I drove around the world a couple of times and if you see the world from the ground up you will have that information advantage over everybody else. This is because everybody else is sitting around reading newspapers or watching what the TV journalists are saying and they usually have it wrong. So, seeing the world close to the ground and getting information from many, many different sources. I try to get information from as many sources as possible – you will figure things out before other people and yes there is an information advantage but anybody could do the same thing, so it is just a matter of doing the diligence and the hard work.
Career Hack: What advice would yzu have for today’s youth who are decades from retirement? Are there any pervasive assumptions about markets, saving, and investing that they should challenge?
Jim Rogers: Well, they should learn Chinese if you ask me, because they are the future of the 21st century. In their lifetimes, Asia’s going to be dominant. The West is in certainly relative decline and the largest debtor nation in the history of the world is the United States. Many nations in Europe are deep in debt. Japan has serious long term problems, so most of the western or developed nations have serious problems going forward. Asia is a creditor nation and this is their future whether they know it or not.
I would also strongly urge them to follow their passions rather than what people tell them right now. Right now the thing is to get a MBA. Well, MBA degrees are going to pretty much useless in their life times so I would urge them to follow their own passion not what their teachers or parents or friends say. To figure what they love. Especially, if people laugh at them, they should pursue that [activity] rather than the conventional wisdom.
Career Hack: Right you said at one point that the more people you find laughing at you, you are probably increasingly on the right side of the equation.
Jim Rogers: That is probably right. Most of the great success stories in history have been laughed at repeatedly. Eventually, people ridicule you, laugh at you. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you and ridicule you…and then they try to argue with you and tell you why you are wrong…and then in the end they all come around and say “we knew that all along! That is why we encouraged you to do it.”
Career Hack: You have recently suggested that young people should become farmers. Let’s assume that I am a very successful and talented American high school student. Are you recommending that I become an agricultural engineer? Are there any particular agricultural industries that are attractive to you?
Jim Rogers: No, I am not suggesting anybody to do that unless it is your passion. If you were to love hairdressing, you should become a hairdresser – not become a farmer. But if you think you would have a passion for farming, or anything related to it, then yes. Farming is going to be one of the great industries of your time, of your lifetime, and so I would go into farming or something related. There are other ways to do it though. I mean, you could sell tractors. You could open a chain of restaurants in the agricultural areas. Figure out what you love and then figure out a way to explore the fact that agriculture is going to be one of the great industries of your lifetime. I mean, build apartment buildings in the farm areas. Sell fertilizer. There are many, many, many ways…if you don’t want to go out into the field and be the farmer yourself, many ways you can get involved, but finance is pretty much going to have serious problems in the next 20 or 30 years, agriculture has caught wind of this fact.
Career Hack: So you weren’t necessarily suggesting that everybody go put on some overalls and grow some corn. You were saying that if they wanted to they should find a good niche within agriculture which is a very diverse field?
Jim Rogers: Alright, you could…you want to go into finance, go into agricultural commodities, for instance, or go into lending to farmers, financing farmers. Now nobody should do anything if they don’t love it. I mean, if I said and told you to become an accountant and you hated accountancy you shouldn’t do it. But if you have a passion for something you should definitely do it.
The people who have passion for what they do are the ones…first of all, they are the happiest people in the world. They never go to work, they wake up everyday and go and start having fun and they are the ones who wind up being successful normally. So, if you have a passion and there is an option…as I said if you adore finance, go into agricultural finance. If you adore retail, open shops in the agricultural areas. There are many ways to benefit from the fact that agriculture is going to be the place to be for the next few decades.
Career Hack: On the topic of passion, I remember that you noted that upon entering Wall Street you were surprised that somebody would pay you to predict that copper prices would rise because of a revolution in Chile?
Jim Rogers: Well, and as far as my point – I was doing what I loved. I loved it so much I would have done it for free, if I could have afforded it – which I couldn’t. But, you know that was my passion in those days, still is, and so, yeah. I loved the fact that I could do what I wanted to, and I would get paid, and I would get paid a lot of money – if I did it right. I thought that was fantastic, that is why I wound up in Wall Street. I didn’t know about Wall Street…I didn’t know anything until I stumbled on to it then I realized “this is the place for me.”
Mike: Fantastic. We are going to move on to education now. We are very interested in your views on the American education system. Drawing from your experience teaching at Columbia University have you noticed any trends among this generation of students and what does this tell you about where we are going as a country?
Jim Rogers: Well I haven’t taught at Columbia for over 15 years, but I do know that American education, statistically, is pretty useless and the American students don’t even come in the top 20 on the international tests compared to elsewhere. When I did teach at Columbia, which is very…it is hard to get into. They [Columbia students] were better prepared than others but I was surprised at how little most of them knew…our education was not up to par as far I was concerned. Now, maybe I just was misplaced there and they didn’t know what I was talking about…they did not know who Socrates was, for instance, or what he said.
So, I found that American education leaves an enormous amount to be desired. America spends a lot of time teaching things like self esteem. Well, I am of the view that one EARNS self esteem. One isn’t taught that you have self esteem. One is [???] you earn the self esteem and then you have self esteem. But in any case, the results are pretty straightforward. It doesn’t matter what I think – American education is not very good.
Mike: Many university graduates are burdened with crippling levels of debt and facing historically high levels of unemployment. Do you think it is still worth it to take on debt to get to university education?
Jim Rogers: Probably not, not that level anyway. There are ways to get an university education without taking on staggering debt one can look one’s way through.
It seems everyone wants a free lunch, especially in America.
And the people who lend you the money, give you the money to go to school, most people don’t think about the future consequences. So no, of course I don’t think it is worth it most college degrees are not very useful in the end: they don’t…they are not worth the money you pay for them in the end.
I am not suggesting you shouldn’t have education. So what I meant was the degree and the amount it cost you when there are other alternatives to working your way through. [These alternatives are] of course to take a couple of years off, do something else, earn some money, and then go to university. You will be a better student by then anyway because you will be older, more experienced, more mature – join the army, join the peace corps – there are many ways to take a couple of years off and to accumulate some capital.
Or, probably better still, would be to go to a non-US university. Many fabulous universities in the world that are much, much, much cheaper – you don’t have these absurd cost structures that the American universities have. American universities’ education is one of the bubbles of our time and many other foreign universities don’t have a gigantic expense structure. They are probably better because you will have the added advantage with added experience that you’ll have lived abroad for a while so will probably come out better in the end at much less cost.
Career Hack: That brings me right into my next point which is if you were going to get a bachelors degree abroad as an alternative to an American education where would you go and why?
Jim Rogers: First of all it depends on what languages you speak, although that is not that important these days because if you are abroad you will pick up a language pretty quickly and many schools will help you. But it depends on your own interest and again your language ability. There are many great institutions in Asia all over the world there are old and famous institutions. Depends on you and your interest. If you can’t stand Spain don’t go to Spain but if you adore Australia or if you adore Germany, my God, go to one of those countries.
Career Hack: You brought up the point about languages and you frequently stated that you think young Americans should be learning Mandarin. If someone doesn’t plan to move to China or to Asia to directly work in a Mandarin speaking environment, why would these language skills be useful?
Jim Rogers: It doesn’t matter if you won’t because Mandarin is going to be perhaps the most important language in your lifetime. Everything you do will have to be dealing with the Chinese…or even if indirectly…I mean the Chinese are the largest customer for many South American countries now, for instance. Mandarin is going to have an extremely important position in the world – economy, society, art, culture, everything. So my view is that Mandarin will be the most important language and if you speak it you will have a leg up on everybody else. But if you can’t stand Mandarin you should at least learn another language because the years, decades, when all we had to do was speak English – those decades are finished. You can do it – you can continue to speak only English but you are going to be at a severe disadvantage to most of the other people in the world who will speak at least two languages. Many of them will speak three or four or five.
Career Hack: So a lot of people who are graduating from university right now are coming out without many technical skills. They are majoring in things like English or in Public Relations and those type of subjects [non-technical subjects]. So, if you saw a generation, perhaps tens of thousands of Americans going abroad to teach English in these emerging market economies – do you think that would have a really positive impact on their long term careers and lives?
Jim Rogers: Well, absolutely. If you are going abroad, going away from home, is extremely beneficial. I went far away from home twice, to two universities, and both times the best thing about it was being thrown into other cultures, other lives, that is where I got the most of my experiences. Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem once called “The English Flag” and in that poem he said there is a line which says:
“What can he know of England who only England knows.”
So you will learn a little more about yourself, your own country, and the world by going abroad. So I strongly urge people to go abroad for extended periods, at least a couple of years, and that is probably the best education of all.
Career Hack: Absolutely. We agree, that is our mission, to launch hundreds or thousands or extraordinary careers abroad in emerging markets. Speaking of emerging markets: you have been very enthusiastic about Myanmar’s prospects as a frontier market. How can investors and entrepreneurs take advantage of the recent positive developments in Myanmar? Moreover, how would you hedge against potential political risks there?
Jim Rogers: How would you edge against political risk everywhere? How do you hedge against political risks in the United States? There is probably less political risk in Myanmar than most countries you would name. But it could happen, of course.
For you to hedge, I guess, is to have other assets elsewhere.
How to participate? Again it depends on you. If you adore…if you adore gardening go to Myanmar and go into gardening. If you love finance get involved with finance. Agriculture…it depends on what you love. There is every opportunity in the world in Myanmar. Myanmar they don’t have enough electricity or soap or internet or phones…anything! You name it, they don’t have it, and they need it. Then, whatever your passion is, go to Myanmar to get yourself a look on the economy and the nation. A nation with a long history, by the way, not some “Johnny Come Lately” and the opportunity is there. Just follow your passion don’t listen some guy you see on TV or on the radio or in the newspapers.
Career Hack: Great thank you so much for your feedback and insights Jim Rogers that is all the questions we have for you today and it was a pleasure having you on our podcast.
Jim Rogers: Thank you very much Michael bye-bye.
Career Hack: Thank you very much good bye.