Rao Garuda offers tips and motivation to reach Top of the Table.
A famous quote from Michael Jordan attributes the basketball legend’s success to, of all things, repeated failure.
It is a mantra that connects with Rao Garuda, ChFC, CLU, who, like Jordan, does not seem like someone who would know much about discouragement. The 35-year MDRT member from Independence, Ohio, has not only qualified for Top of the Table for 24 years, but typically generates production at three times the level of Top of the Table.
“I’ve failed so many times, and I never let that get to me,” Garuda said. “You never fail as long as you get up and try again.”
Rising above adversity
He recalled when, before entering the financial services profession, he bought a number of buildings in a low-income neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, assuming he would profit by managing the properties and selling them at a higher price. He did not anticipate the challenges involved and lost an estimated $250,000. Rather than give up, he spent two years as a paralegal, going to law school part-time and learning information that now benefits his ability to help clients with asset protection.
He recalled when he assumed he’d make an easy return by investing in the stock market but failed “very badly,” losing half a million dollars. Rather than give up, he learned how to stop these losses, educating himself particularly about fixed-index annuities and the ability of a product to not lose money when the market goes down but to yield a profit when the market goes up.
And he recalled the case in 1981, his first year as an advisor, when he told a cardiologist that he could save him $100,000 in taxes through a defined benefit plan, and it would only cost him $5,000. The client said it sounded too good to be true and ran it by his accountant, who lacked the proper knowledge and said he didn’t think the concept was legal.
Rather than give up, Garuda connected the accountant with a tax attorney to explain the idea, which led to the client wanting to move forward. Now, close to 40 years later, the physician is a good friend and endlessly thankful for the strategy Garuda employed, which will allow him to retire happily.
“People don’t realize that every obstacle is an opportunity to get better,” Garuda said. “You have to have a positive attitude. Nobody can give it to you. You can destroy yourself or lift yourself up.”
Creating his own success
In his practice now, Garuda — who entered the profession to learn how to cut his own taxes — specializes in tax benefits for high-net-worth business owners, executives, doctors and attorneys, guiding clients through a discovery process and then delegating follow-up tasks to a six-person staff. It is a remarkably productive operation that allows Garuda the aforementioned triple-Top of the Table qualification and the ability to work only six months each year, with the rest of the time spent giving and attending seminars, contributing to charity and traveling.
Anyone who assumes Garuda had this success handed to him, however, would be mistaken.
At 21 years old, Garuda was scheduled to take a one-way flight from India to New York, heading toward an engineering scholarship to the University of Colorado. He had $7 in his pocket and no idea what to do during the one-day layover.
So prior to leaving for school, he asked for help at the American embassy in India, which arranged for someone to help him find food and a hotel in New York before flying to Colorado. The benefits that resulted taught Garuda how much can be achieved simply by asking someone to help, an approach he later used when he realized how many Top of the Table members were eager to help less-experienced MDRT members like Garuda.
People don’t realize that every obstacle is an opportunity to get better.
He connected with Emanuel L. Sarris Sr., a 42-year MDRT member from Jupiter, Florida, who passed along an idea about using life insurance on a tax-deductible basis and soon collaborated on a case bigger than Garuda had worked on before. This is one of the biggest lessons Garuda recommends to advisors who want to achieve what he has: Connect with Top of the Table members and do joint work together.
“Some people are reluctant — there was a time that I said, ‘I’m going to have to split half of my million-dollar compensation with someone else,’” Garuda said. “But then I realized that my half of a million dollars was 10 times more than the average case I did at that time.”
Time well spent
When Garuda recommends asking more successful members about memorable cases and lessons they’ve learned, he backs it up by offering that guidance himself. Every quarter, he leads a two-day seminar for 100 advisors from all over the U.S. at the American Tax Planning Institute, which he founded with 34-year MDRT member Simon Singer, CAP, CFP, of Encino, California.
“At the airport in New York 54 years ago, somebody gave their time and their love to help me stay overnight. I still feel like it was yesterday,” Garuda said. “What if I could do the same for other people?”