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Why Tony Robbins Isn’t on Worth’s Power 100 This Year

For four years in a row, the celebrity life coach has been included in Worth’s ranking of the 100 most powerful people in global finance. This year, because of sexual misconduct allegations against him, he won’t be. Could he ever go back on?

BY Richard Bradley | Current Issue | Jul 10, 2019
Tony Robbins. Photo by Carlo Allegri For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The second year of the Power 100, the editors at Worth created a sidebar feature to our list of the most powerful men and women in global finance. We called it Power Outage, which you can probably figure out: If we were going to track who was moving up the ranks of global power, we had to look at who was headed in the other direction. After all, you’re not reporting on power accurately if you only cover the ascent.

READ MORE: Power Outage 2018

In 2017, for example, we reported on Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney ousted by Donald Trump for not kissing the ring. And we looked at Anthony Scaramucci, the White House communications director who, after an expletive-filled rant to a reporter, had also been fired by Donald Trump. (In 2018, Scaramucci clawed his way back onto the list at number 100; check back in August to see if he made this year’s list.) Both outages were clear-cut.

But this year, we’re taking someone off the list under circumstances that are a little more complicated—and worth, I think, some discussion.

Life coach and entrepreneur Tony Robbins has been on our Power 100 since 2015. If you don’t know Robbins well, you might find him an odd choice, but we had our reasons. Financial empowerment has always been a part of Robbins’ mantra, and in 2014, he came out with Money: Master the Game—7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom. The book was based on interviews with people like Vanguard founder Jack Bogle and hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones, and we thought it contained some pretty sage advice. Money: Master the Game was a big bestseller, reaching a lot of people who might not have otherwise absorbed these lessons from some brilliant investors.

READ MORE: The 10 Most Powerful Hedge Fund Managers This Year

Over the next four years, Robbins stayed on the list as he expanded his foothold in the financial community. He forged partnerships with Peter Mallouk, president and CIO of the huge wealth management firm Creative Planning, and Tom Zgainer, founder of a company called America’s Best 401k—both innovative, pro-consumer firms whose emphasis on sound advice, diverse investments and, above all, low fees provided meaningful value to retail investors. Robbins made money off those partnerships, I imagine—he’s never hidden the fact that he thinks making money is a good thing—but his ability to impart financial wisdom to his legions of fans was unquestionable.

Worth‘s editor in chief Richard Bradley with Tony Robbins at the Power 100 Summit in 2015. Photo by Jenna Bascom Photography

Worth too had a relationship with Tony Robbins. He and I held an onstage conversation at our Power 100 summit in 2015; in 2018, Robbins was our guest at a Conversations with Worth, one of our salon dinners. I traveled to his home in Florida to host the podcast that accompanied his 2017 book, Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook. Robbins didn’t pay me to do it, just so you know. But I believed in the content, and the relationship would likely help grow Worth’s audience.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Robbins before we met; I’m old enough to remember him from the days of his infomercials, and I was skeptical. But I found him warm, passionate and real; in my admittedly limited experience, Tony Robbins in private was consistent with Tony Robbins in public, and that’s not something you can say about a lot of powerful people. SoI don’t know what he thinks of me, but I consider Tony a friend.

READ MORE: The Unstoppable Tony Robbins

This year, though, we are taking Robbins off the Power 100. And, for all the reasons above, that’s not an easy decision.

Beginning in May, the website BuzzFeed has published five (so far) investigative articles alleging that Robbins has committed sexual misdeeds and mistreated some people who’ve attended his seminars and conferences. BuzzFeed has also reported that he used the n-word during the 1980s and that he pressured some participants at his conferences to drink a mysterious liquid.

Some of what BuzzFeed reported reads more like clickbait journalism than a serious examination of Robbins’ record. The allegation about Robbins using the n-word, for example, is true but misleading; it’s based on a video in which Robbins is clearly attempting to defuse the toxic power of that word. It’s clumsy and, from today’s perspective, grossly inappropriate; but BuzzFeed is clearly trying to imply that Robbins is racist, and the evidence the site presents suggests just the opposite. His audience, which was primarily African American, can be heard laughing supportively.

BuzzFeed also makes a big deal about the fact that Robbins has expensive lawyers (given his wealth and fame, he’d be an idiot if he didn’t) and that he doesn’t let participants at his events film them. But there’s no need for a sinister innuendo here. Would you want to be at a self-help conference and have the person next to you livestreaming?

Still, much of what BuzzFeed reported deserves serious consideration. Reporters Katie J.M. Baker and Jane Bradley (no relation to me) found nine “former staffers and followers” who “recounted incidents in which Robbins made sexual advances or was naked in front of them.”

I wish Baker and Bradley had used the word “alleged” instead of “recounted,” and note the bogus implication of that word “followers”—that Robbins is a cult leader. (He isn’t.) Robbins denies the allegations, though he’s added that he is a “better human being” than when he was a young man.

Still, nine is not a trivial number, and the accusations are ugly: that Robbins touched women’s breasts without the women’s permission, that he exposed himself to staffers, that he pressured women at his events to have a sexual relationship with him. If it means anything—and I recognize that, to many people, it may not—none of these allegations appear to post-date 2001, and there is no hint that Robbins ever went beyond those aggressionsno allegation of rape, for example.

Sowhat to do? How should any business that has a relationship with Robbins respond?

There’s no question: Robbins has taken some hits.

Others have acted. In May, Peter Mallouk announced the severance of his partnership with Robbins, though he claimed the break had been in the works well before BuzzFeed published. Simon & Schuster cancelled a book that Robbins and Mallouk were cowriting. News organizations and blogs around the world have reported on the BuzzFeed stories.

There’s no question: Robbins has taken some hits. And in my professional judgment, they’ve affected his power and influence enough that we have no choice but to remove him from the Power 100. And from the perspective of fiduciary responsibility, we have an obligation to our investors to protect Worth’s brand, which means keeping some distance from controversial figures.

But personallyI don’t know what the right answer is. Let’s try this: Let’s assume that everything BuzzFeed claims happened 20 years ago actually happened. It’s a generous assumption—given Robbins’ intense bond with his fans, the millions of people who’ve gone to his events, his fame and his unorthodox methods, it’d be something of a miracle if, in this #MeToo moment, he hadn’t been accused of misbehavior—but it’s certainly possible that he did everything he’s accused of.

How should we balance the pain Robbins allegedly inflicted against the good he has done? And what actions should we take once we arrive at our own personal Jesus on the matter?

So let’s work with the possibility. How, as individuals, should we address these allegations? Robbins has helped countless people—if you don’t believe me, just mention his name to a group of strangers, you’ll invariably find one who swears that his or her life was changed by Tony Robbins. He gives huge sums of money to philanthropy. How should we balance the pain Robbins allegedly inflicted against the good he has done? And what actions should we take once we arrive at our own personal Jesus on the matter?

In this case, that’s a problem for me personally. But whether the debate involves Tony Robbins or Al Franken or Aziz Ansari or any other men who may have acted inappropriately but not monstrously (no one is comparing Robbins to Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein), the questions of what we believe, how we judge, how we react and when or whether we forgive—well, that’s everyone’s problem.

READ MORE: The Power 100 2018

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