Jim Rohn: The Sinatra of His Business

By: Dan Kennedy on: December 17th, 2009 32 Comments

jim rohnIt’s an unfortunate subject for the holidays, death. Jim Rohn very recently passed away, at, I believe, age 78 or so.

I knew Jim very well as a student of his written and recorded works, and reasonably well, personally. We appeared on a number of events together, including a multi-city tour in Canada; some of the SUCCESS events; and twice, at my SuperConferences. On the trek through Canada, we spent quite a few hours talking, largely about a shared favorite topic: philosophy. We corresponded from time to time.

In his career, Jim went from being a MLM-industry flak, a speaker promoting one such company after another – a characterization he would not find flattering, to a venerated elder statesman of the personal development field. Of the Earl Nightingale school, he was a compiler of material, author, philosopher, and speaker. As a speaker on personal development, he was the Sinatra. I’ve not seen anybody with better stuff who could put it across better, as smooth, as relaxed, as seemingly personal – regardless of audience size, each person felt Jim was talking only to them. And like Sinatra, long after this year’s departure, he will be remembered, shown on film, talked about, his books and CD’s popular. Not long enough by as many, and not as long as Sinatra, I suppose. But for quite some time. Unlike a great many speakers, Jim was sincere and authentic; he knew he spoke truth. There is no gimmickry to his material, nor were there gimmicks to his presenting. No proprietary, made-up language or psycho-babble, no way-out-there concepts, no Power Points or props or firewalks or costumes. He just went out there, for years with only a chalkboard, later, grudgingly, a whiteboard, and talked. And could for hours or days. Plain-spoken. A little Will Rogers-y.  Every time I saw him, I thought of Sinatra’s own disdainful statement: “Anybody who needs more than a microphone and a spotlight is a punk.”  Although he could do so persuasively, he grew less and less willing to sell his own products from the platform in later years, and he was one of only two speakers I’ve ever seen who connected with audiences well enough that significant buying occurred even when neither he or a surrogate “did a pitch”.  He was a consummate professional: honest, reliable, respectful of audience and client/host and peers. He worked entirely “clean” 100% of the time. And he did affect people deeply, and motivate a goodly number to making significant and sometimes dramatic changes in their lives, in which he genuinely took great pride.

He was a masterful storyteller, creator of powerful life-lesson stories, and shared much of himself in their telling. ‘The Day I Turned My Life Around’ story involving Girl Scout at door; the only woman with a rose; the postcards sent to his father, and his father showing them off at the coffee shop…classics that leap to mind. He is someone I studied in developing my own storytelling and in learning to convert little life experiences into teaching stories, and I probably don’t give him enough credit for that, day to day.

Jim was not much of a success in business, and twice, that I know of, went bust. Once, from very high-flyin’, with offices in a number of cities, private jet, etc. – he knew the pain and inevitable self-doubt that such failure brings, and that helped him connect authentically with many people. Not that I wish such experience on anybody, but I do think not having it is actually a handicap in this business. Authentic compassion absent experience is, I imagine, hard to come by.  After recovering from his last entrepreneurial crash, he stuck to making the most of his greatest skills, maybe talents, as author and speaker, and established lasting financial independence. He was a quiet connoisseur of fine wines, fine food, and other luxuries, comfortable in La Jolla and Beverly Hills and the finest resorts and restaurants, although reclusive retirements to his ranch in, if I recall correctly, Idaho (between tours or engagements) suited him.

Many owe some sort of debt or gratitude to Jim. There are quite a few speakers whose careers were virtually birthed in Jim’s incubator, the most famous, Tony Robbins. Many others helped along. I know of instances and individuals where Jim went out of his way to give them lift up, often invisibly, not seeking credit, and I’m sure there are many more I know nothing about. A good measure of a man, by the way, isn’t found in the numbers of people he has assisted for personal gain, but the number he has assisted regardless of personal gain and absent personal gain. That’s not to suggest giving away expertise or services. But if you have the ability, through your influence or business, to provide opportunity to worthy individuals from time to time, with ‘no skin off your nose’, and never do, you own a unique poverty. Beyond that, of course, tens of thousands of people have been positively, philosophically affected by his words. We are all saddened by his departure.

In the time I got to spend with him personally, I took special note of two things. He was a thinker; introspective, thoughtful, thus interesting to talk with.  He was extremely considerate of his ‘fans’, as well as the ‘working people’ along the way – drivers, bellhops, waiters. I strive for the same.

It would be futile and insulting to attempt summarizing his teachings in one or few sentences. But, among many things, Jim stood for and advocated three that I’ll mention. One, studentship. Unending study, learning, thinking. Care and feeding of a personal philosophy. Two, stewardship –  self-reliance, resourcefulness, self-discipline, prudent investment, so as to marshall and make the best possible use of all your intelligence, capabilities, and opportunities. Three, creating and living a quality life, with no apologies for doing so.

It was a privilege to know him.


Dan Kennedy is internationally recognized as the 'Millionaire Maker,' helping people in just about every category of business turn their ideas into fortunes. Dan's "No B.S." approach is refreshing amidst a world of small business marketing hype and enriches those who act on his advice. For more money-making marketing tips, tactics and strategies, go to www.GKIC.com

32 Responses

  1. Rob Kosberg says:

    Thanks Dan for your thoughts on Jim’s powerful life. I remember how I was personally struck by his story-telling and especially the first time I heard the girl scout story. I like to believe that part of my “unemployability” is due to his “profits are better than wages” spiel and over the last couple difficult years (which are ending as I’m learning from my new Gold membership in GKIC!) for my business I’ve hung on his teachings about seasons of life. We’ll miss him!

  2. All though I was not able to attend any live events that Jim spoke at, he changed my entire thought process through his recordings and such…and I believe he will live on forever, and continue to educate through those different medias.

  3. Thank you for sharing about Jim Rohn. I only recently read one of his books, and felt that “personal connection” you speak of.
    Merry Christmas Dan,

  4. Thanks for the post, Dan. Jim Rohn had a HUGE impact on my life! I was with my dad in a brand new 380SL Mercedes he paid cash for with the money he made that month. MLM has paid him big every month for over 30 years. I was 18 years old. “How am I going to do this?” I asked… He pushed in a tape – it was Mr Rohn. The first story I ever heard him tell was the Frog and the Scorpion. I don’t think I heard the radio again for 20 years. It’s successful mentors like Jim Rohn, and you, who have been a great blessing to so many. Thank you and Happy Holidays!

  5. Dan,
    Enjoyed reading this summary of Jim Rohn. Having been in and out of several home-based businesses (and in one now that is finally doing well), Jim Rohn and his works have crossed my paths often.
    There are a lot of people from whom I enjoy learning, some more than others, but Rohn’s advice never got old.
    Wherever he ends up in the afterlife, let’s hope he gets his just desserts for living such a fruitful and caring life in this one.
    Thanks for this blog posting and all you do. Your monthly newsletter article is the main reason I continue my Glazer-Kenney Insider Circle membership.
    Hans E.
    Tampa Bay, FL
    GKIC Gold member

  6. Excellent tribute Dan. I never got to meet him or even to see him live but you’ve summed up extremely well how I saw the man. Your last paragraph has lessons for us all…

  7. Mike Cooch says:

    He seemed to be an amazing man; his philosophies certainly have had an impact on me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your experiences with him.

  8. Mark Whyte says:

    Thanks Dan for your kind and insightful comments about someone who also impacted my life. Jim was an amazing, gentle teacher, yet cut deep to the heart of every matter. I appreciate the fact that while detractors of Jim Rohn are likely out there – due to their own self loathing and arrogance, what I find very inspiring is that at the end of a long life, so many both speak well of Jim and are also impacted by him. If we don’t rock too many boats in life, people may speak well of us in general terms, but to have done as much as he did and yet people admire him, says that he was speaking a lot of truth that resonated from deep within him and from his faith and obviously touched and challenged the hearts of his hearers. He will be missed, but I plan to have a long talk with him one day in heaven.

  9. mike says:

    Hi Dan

    Thanks for painting a great picture of Jim

    Your words describe an amazing man…


  10. Charles says:

    Dan great description
    We’ll miss him so much.
    I first learned about Jim through Tony Robbins a student of Jim.
    great man. will be always in my heart. always.
    Rest in peace.

  11. Andrew Mazer says:

    I heard Tony Robbins mention Jim Rohn in an early recording. When The Art Of Exceptional Living showed up in a Nightingale-Conant catalog, I went for it.

    My personal library EXISTS because of Jim Rohn as does the largest parts of my personal philosophy.

  12. Rob Anspach says:

    … he had a geniune passion for what he did…
    … and that passion is being passed to others so they may share in what Jim was about… he will live forever in the hearts, minds, and mp3 players of those that want to seek his message.

  13. Nic Dale says:

    Jim Rohn was an inspiration and inspirational.

    His legacy will be his many recordings that will continue to effect change in the lives of people who are ready to apply his teaching to their lives.

  14. What a tribute to Mr. Jim Rohn? I have been listening to his CDs on “The Art of Exceptional Living” and found myself change for better both in personal and business life. I feel that he is still with us, on the basis of what he mentions at the end of his speech, “Even though, I may not have met you personally, by teaching others, what you learned from me, I go with you..”

  15. jomar says:

    I’ll be using your “eulogy” in my letter to my list. I feel it’s a genuine work –really coming from your heart –about Jim – and I think what you wrote is something everyone of us would want to strive that people would say of us -when we’ve finally left earth.

    My workshops have always been peppered with Jim’s words. And it shall always be.


  16. Jim Rowe says:

    I have a ton to learn from Jim and cant wait to take it all in…

  17. Chris Hanlon says:

    I have listened to Jim’s material for several years. And his appearance at the 2006(?) Super Conference played a big part in my decision to fly from New Zealand to attend.
    I will always be grateful for the things I have learned (and continue to learn) from Jim Rohn. I am grateful I got to meet hime and thank him in person, (and grateful to Bill & Dan for that opportunity).

    I don’t think he is a person that can really be “mourned” in the way others can. Jim seemed to lived his life to the full and got everything out of it that he wanted… A life well lived. -Good on ya mate.

  18. George Torok says:

    Dan, thanks for an engaging tribute.
    You inspired me to read more of Jim Rohn’s work.

  19. Jim was the best! Aside from Dan, Jim Rohn has probably had the most significant impact on my life. Thank God for the recordings he left behind. They are priceless to me. Thanks Dan for sharing. – Craig

  20. Rich Winters says:

    When a man has done so much for you during your lifetime you just can’t help but shed a few tears learning of his passing. But he certainly didn’t go to the grave with most of the beautiful music of his life still in him – he shared it with us!

  21. Anth says:

    Thanks for letting me know about Jim’s death, Jim suprised me with his philosophy after a friend lent me one of his books – I a world full of fancy marketing and language patterns Jim stand out as someone who worked to cleanly communicate his message of personal development for the common man with genuine integrity and an almost magical use of metaphor “Seasons of Life” & “Ant Philosophy” being two of my personal favourites – My heartfelt thoughts are with Jim’s family – the world seems a poorer place without him, and I hope the can hang onto the memories of Jim and weather this very personal winter.

    Thanks for helping open my mind Jim,


  22. Lee NW Carroll says:

    Thanks Dan,

    That was a wonderful tribute to Jim Rohn, I never met him, but i know that i know him as i have almost everything he has put onto CD or Books. I found him late in my life, in fact less than six months ago but i will always have him with me. He has helped me find my way again, I will always be grateful for that. I hope i can give a little back in my teaching of some of his ideals and philosophies, as Bob proctor say’s “I think this needs to be taught”. God bless Jim Rohn.

  23. Dennis McGrath says:

    I was lucky enough to find out about Jim Rohn from a colleague Tony Zammit who lent me Jim’s recordings (that was the day that i felt turned my life around from hearing such excellent material). Jim’s phrase “You gotta have a plan” will always resonate with us together with his classic quotes, one-liners and stories. I was very fortunate to meet him here in Sydney, Australia in the 1990’s.I regard Jim as the greatest mentor of all time..

  24. Marsa Decker says:

    I was fortunate to hear Jim Rohn in person in my mid twenties almost 40years ago and was especially fortunate to work with him one on one and in a asmall group for Leadership training. I loved his humble style and have been influenced by his philosophy and teachings throughout my life. He had a profound impact on every aspect of my life!! He will be sorely missed! I loved his book The Seasons of Life and literallly ANYTHING he spoke about I would listen to. He was a giant among men!!

  25. Murphy says:

    Jim Rohn may have helped many people, but hisquotes are horribly written almost as if he just sat around and thought about what he can say next and not even from much experience…

  26. I am Jim Rohn’s Grandson, and I thought some of you might enjoy the piece of music I wrote in honor of this great man.


  27. Dibia Awa says:

    Thanks a lot Dan on the wounderful tribute to Jim Rohn. He deserved to be celebreted.

  28. Jim was a fantastic speaker, and a great educator, he is truly missed.

  29. Errol Trench says:

    Jim Rohn was a coach and a teacher to me, Thank Mr. Rohn, Job well done

  30. lova says:

    Thank You Dan.

    Jim has changed my life too, by his lectures and audios. First time I heard him, I was Hooked. It was in 2010. Unfortunately he passed away the year before.

    But his simple philosophies has changed everything and continue to do so.

    He’s one of those Giant Men we all stand on the shoulders. Thanks Mr Rohn, from Idaho.

    Hey Dan, you’re also another person who changes my life, my marketing and business life. Thank you so much.

  31. mark schade says:

    i was in the program adventures in achievement in 1977 and i got to see jim rohn speak …it was a good in my life….it gave me the insight too go foward…thanks…..

  32. Bob Dussich says:

    I saw Jim Rohn in New Jersey (live) in 1974 when he was with Bestline Products and bought the tape immediately after the show. His words of wisdom changed the course of my life and still echo in my mind every day.Bob Dussich

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