At the age of 16, lying in my hospital bed after six months of five failed eye surgeries, a doctor told me that there was nothing else he could do for me – I would be blind for the rest of my life.
The homemade rocket explosion which, the prior spring, had taken my eyesight, had also taken most of my fingers. It was 1963, and by society's standards, my life was over. But by my standards, life was just beginning.
There, in my hospital bed, came the beginnings of a thought model, where a person makes declarations as to what they will and will not tolerate in life, takes intentional actions on those declarations, and then shifts his or her life narrative to support them. I later turned that thought model of "shifting your narrative" into a TedX Talk and then a book, "Shift the Narrative: A Blind Man's Vision for Rewriting the Stories that Limit Us" (Morgan James Publishing, 2017). But in the meantime, I had a new narrative to create for myself – one that looked beyond my blindness and physical limitations.
I decided I would not live life poor, dependent and homebound. I would live in the sighted world, doing things that sighted people do. Convincing the rest of the world of my abilities, however, was not easy. Although I graduated from the University of Utah first in my class, both Harvard and Stanford declined my admission, stating that no blind person could manage programs like theirs. Proving them wrong, I went on to graduate fifth in my class from another program like theirs – the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania.
But upon graduation, I was back to battling similarly justified rejections. I found it hard to land my first job, having 48 interviews with 48 denials. It was then that a small Philadelphia money management firm decided to invest, or take a chance, on me. I went on to become chief investment officer and a partner, helping grow the firm to $6 billion in assets. After successfully selling the firm, I moved on to teach at Wharton as well as consult for global corporations such as IBM, Applied Materials and KLA Tencor on "shifting the narrative" through business process design. I served on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission for 15 years and developed a deeper understanding of economic policy and financial markets.
Outside of business, in my 50s, I took up the martial art of jiu-jitsu. I earned a black belt and won three gold medals in the world championships held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, fighting younger, sighted opponents.
Ultimately, I became successful in these endeavors because all the other options were desperately unappealing. The rate of return of being a victim is remarkably low.
Throughout or because of it all, two distinct pieces of my identity emerged: One, I am an investor with an unusual capacity for seeing opportunities. Two, I have a body for action which none of this would have happened without.
The convergence of vision, action and opportunity
Kairos is a Greek word meaning, "That moment when vision, bold action and opportunity converge to achieve extraordinary accomplishment."
I started Kairos Capital Advisors in the late 1990s. What is now Kairos was once a family office for my money and my children's money. I became a Registered Investment Advisor when some friends asked if I would advise and invest their money as well. Our marketing plan has been to not have a marketing plan. This, in a business sense, could be seen as a mistake. However, I'm pleased that I am Kairos' largest client.
Once we were taking on clients outside my family and friends, I realized I had an advantage over our competitors. I understood the greedy, conflicted Wall Street types because I had been one of them. I realized there had to be a better way to invest other people's money than the way it had always been done. We founded Kairos because many conventional investment "wisdoms" are wrong and insufficient for preserving and building real long-term wealth. Tranquilizing narratives designed for maximizing Wall Street profits are abundant.
I often have opposing opinions to my investment peers. Throughout my life, starting with the accident that blinded me, this has worked better than following the crowd. Instead of being a source of discomfort, opposition from others is generally confirmation that we might be on the right track.
To be a good investor, you must be able to feel uncomfortable. Successful investing also requires a body for action, a body that can tolerate being on the jiu-jitsu mat, and a body that can stand up to the opposition, to opposing points of view.
The way I run Kairos Capital Advisors and the way I have run my life is the same. Starting Kairos, I knew that our investment philosophy would have much opposition. I had to ignore it the same way I ignored those who said, “You can't because you're blind and disadvantaged.” That's their narrative, not mine.
We all live in narratives that both produce and limit our opportunities. Some of these narratives, especially ones around money and investments, have been dictated to us without much push back. We live as though these tranquilizing narratives are fixed, rigid, unchangeable things; but they are only stories. They define our lives; and, more importantly, they can be changed.
About the author: Russell Redenbaugh is a managing partner at Kairos Capital Advisors. To learn more about Russell's story and his investment advisory and research offers, visit www.kairoscapitaladvisors.com
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.