Aaron Walker retired for the first time at the age of 27 when he sold his business to a Fortune 500 company. He later came out retirement and has gone on to build 14 businesses over his 41 years in business. But he almost lost his family chasing money. And after running over and killing a pedestrian in 2001 he decided to shift his legacy from success to significance.

Podcast Episode Transcripts:

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All right. Three, two, one. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to prioritize your priorities and be successful at it? Have you fully realized that isolation in the enemy of X enemy to excellence? Well, our guest today, Aaron Walker can help you on both of these fronts as Aaron helps ordinary men become extraordinary.  

Aaron, thanks a lot for jumping on and got a lot to talk to you today about, Hey Damon. Thanks for having me, buddy. You know, one thing as we were getting ready to jump on and hit the record button that you said that I found really interesting was that you teach not only how to be successful, but significant let’s start there.  

And what’s the difference between the two. Yeah. Yeah. Well, success is something that we’re all striving for, but the significance piece is something that gets really set aside often. Ben Thompson. We were talking about in pre interview, you know, we’ve owned 14 businesses over the course of 41 years. And back in 2001, my eyes were opened August 1st, 2001.  

I was headed to the office stamen and run over and killed a pedestrian in my life, came to a real screeching halt that day, realizing that my legacy would have been poor kid from Nashville. Tennessee makes enough money to retire at 27. Nobody cares. And I started feeling guilty about that. And I said, really what I want my life to be is Daymond to say, as a result of knowing Aaron Walker, my life was better.  

And so we changed the trajectory of where we were headed, started helping people achieve their goals and dreams. And as a result of that, we’ve been twice successful financially, as well as being hugely impactful significantly. So I would just encourage your listeners today to think through your level of significance.  

Just that small intro opens up so many topics for discussion, you know, after the, after the accident, how long. Of a timeframe. Are we talking before you, when the seed was planted to change your trajectory to when you actually started making the movements? That’s a tough time, Damon, to be honest with you.  

And, uh, I went and sold our business 30 days after the accident. It was very stressful. You can only imagine how stressful that was. And I took off. Five years. I didn’t work. I didn’t do anything for five year period. I saw counselors and great friends around me and really helped me work through that. I mean, you don’t get over killing stuff.  

Right. You just learn how to accept God’s grace, to be able to deal with that. In one day, I decided I’ve got to pick myself up and I’ve got to move on. And Robin came in and she said, Hey, this is not what I signed up for you being right. Bad and lazy and depressed and bored and it’s time we were moving on.  

And so I was able to do that. I’ve been in a mastermind group for about a dozen years with some notable Nashvillians and. One of them called me one day and said, man, you’ve got to move on. Like you can’t stay here. So I made a conscious choice to pick myself up and move on. I didn’t want to cheat my family and my friends and colleagues and peers, and I didn’t want to waste the business acumen that I had.  

And so I chose to move on. And that’s what I want to encourage your listeners to do. You may be confronted today with a loss of a relationship, or you may be in a situation where you have had. Financial distress in your life. But, uh, Hey, we can’t look back. We’ve got to look forward and we’ve got to pick ourselves up and move on.  

No. Who did you say called you? Fat and lazy. Yeah. Now, now 39 years. He woke me up from a nap one day and in the middle of the day. And she said, this is not what I signed up for. And you’ve got to get a grip on this and you’ve got to move on. You know, we’ve had, um, other guests, high-profile guests, we’ve had unfortunate accidents to where there’s a, there’s been a result of a loss of life  

And as you had said, you don’t get over killing somebody, but how, how did you get to the point where you said, you know, this is, this is part of my story now, and I don’t want to say comfortable, but for lack of better word, how did, at what point did you say, you know, this is me and. We all have situations in our life, Damon, dead or uncomfortable initially discussing.  

And a lot of people don’t want to discuss the hardships and the failures and the challenges that they’ve had we’ve got is veil up. And we keep people at arm’s length. But what I’ve found out over the course of the past 18 years, vulnerable and transparent and authentic that veil comes down and it endears you to other people that allows them to share their struggles and trials.  

And so I’ve just decided over the past 19 years to be totally open with people and say, Hey, you know, we’ve had some measure of success, but the truth is I’ve had my downs as well. And so I’m able to share those. I don’t like the Facebook persona. Damon. I don’t like everyone just showing pictures on the beach in Hawaii, because that’s not reality of life  

Well at home, I have challenges, but they don’t want to share because they don’t want other people to know. And I just decided that I was going to share the ups and the downs, and I was going to try to make myself a real, uh, in the eyes of other people. And as a result of that, we’ve got quite the following now because I am authentic and open and transparent with people.  

Yeah, I totally agree. Over the last year, I’ve made a strong effort to do some, uh, you know, social proof and social influencing. And the more vulnerable you nailed, the two words that I always use vulnerable and transparent. And the more you can do that, the more you connect with people and you attract the people that you should be engaging with now.  

What I want to you, you obviously have a lot of stories that we can continue into, and I enjoy these vulnerable discussions. Um, but let’s interject for just a moment. Let’s touch on the business side of things to, to give the listeners a little bit of background on your success. Um, why don’t you talk about some of the businesses you said at 27 years, you.  

Had your first retirement, uh, that’s a, that’s a big milestone. You sold it to a fortune 500 company. What was that business and what was the backstory? Yeah, I appreciate that. I got to go way back. Okay. So I’m 59 now and I got to go way back to when I was 13 years old and I’ll make this as short as possible.  

So we were very poor. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and. My dad came to me one day, Damon in the middle of the summer and said, Hey, you want to make some money? And I said, Hey, I’m all in fine, wakes some money on me. And so he was a general contractor and we went and took a little office space and turned it into a pawn shop.  

I didn’t even know what a pawn shop was. I’d never even heard of a pawn shop. So we go in and remodel it, turn it into a pawn shop. The owner was 23 years old. I was 13 and I asked him at the end of the project, I said, do you need any help? I go to school down the street. I could come on Saturdays. And in the afternoons and work here, clean up, whatever you need done.  

And I’d love to work here. He hired me on the spot. I said, it’s been the shortest interview in history and I fell in love with the pawn shop industry. And so I started working there when I was 15 diamond. I decided that’s what I was going to do for a living. I went to summer school and night school for 18 months.  

Had enough credits to graduate. The beginning of my junior year in high school started working every day, met two guys that had a lot of money. And I went to him one day and I said, why don’t we take your money and my experience and open our own pawn shop my this life. I said, how old are you? I said, I’m 18.  

They said it takes a lot of gumption for an 18 year old to come in here and ask for money in a partnership. We’ve never had anybody that age present such an opportunity to us. And so we talked through it, ended up formed a partnership. I went out on my own, they handed me a checkbook, had $150,000 in it.  

I was 18 years old and I didn’t have a clue what to do. So I researched, I went out, uh, rented a location, went out, bought merchandise, opened it up a year later. I get married. I get my wife off to the side and I said, Robin, we can’t mess this up. We may never get this opportunity and we can’t mess this up.  

I said, we’re going to pour every money. Every dollar that we make back into the store. And we did, it was a 10 year loan that the guys may, and I paid it off in 36 months. So now I’m 21 years old. We have a paid four pound shop and I thought I can do this again. And I did. And then I did it again. Then I did it again.  

By the time I was 27 years old cash America, fortune 500 and Fort worth knocked on my door. And they said, you’ve got the best locations in Nashville and we want to buy it. And I said, I’m not for sale. Like I said, everything’s for sale. So they came back and they may be an offer. That I couldn’t refuse.  

And 90 days later I was retired. So 27 years old, I’d sold out. I went from no money at 18 to retiring at 27 and I thought this is pretty cool. So that was the first time I retired. 18 months later was the first time Robyn woke me up from a nap and said, Hey, here you go, fat and lazy. And I said, Robin, you can only play golf and fish so much.  

Right. I have nothing to do. My buddies are killing it out there in the world and I have nothing to do. So I go back by the pawn shop that I started with. We spent the next 10 years quadrupling that business. And then I’ve already told you about the accident stopped working then for five years, went in the construction industry and we built a successful construction company here in middle Tennessee.  

We took it to number one, three consecutive years. Uh, then I retired and my friend, Dave Ramsey, and Dan Miller encouraged me to coach. Started coaching and started doing podcast interviews. Our businesses just blew up. Now we have 15 masterminds that we facilitate. We’re in nine different countries and I’m having the time of my life.  

There were a number of businesses in between there, uh, and, uh, co owned a number of businesses simultaneously with them, others, but that’s the 30,000 foot 40 year overview. Yeah. So when you went back and, and came out of retirement and you bought back the pawn shop, did you buy one location, the original location or buy the whole, the whole chain back?  

Yeah, I bought back, no, I bought back the store I started with when I was a kid, not the stores I’d sold at the fortune 500 and then about 50% of it. And I worked three days a week. My partner worked three days a week and we did that for a 10 year period. Very cool. Now, what did your friends and family think of your early success?  

Was everyone supportive? Did you get some of the, you know, the haters? Yeah. I wouldn’t call them haters, you know? I mean, uh, there were some people that were a little uncomfortable with it. You know, you go from not having anything at all to doing okay. And you know, you’re going to have some people that are a little bit envious or jealous or whatever.  

You know, you want to call it for the most part though, my family was very supportive. They were very excited. They were encouragers Robin, my biggest advocate, you know, for 39 years now, she was a huge supporter and she’s been champion and beyond now for, you know, 40 years. And so that’s been a neat experience, but for the most part diamond, everybody’s been very supportive.  

Good. Now is your wife, is she. On, uh, are you guys parallel in business experience and does she, obviously she emotionally supports you, but does she support you in a, uh, from a little literal perspective within the business? Yeah, no. Robin has always been a stay at home. Mom she’s taken care of our family and we chose to do that from the beginning.  

I said, I don’t want to count on two incomes because if you ever want to stop, we’ll build our lifestyle around two and I don’t want to do that. So she’s been a stay at home mom. He’s been my biggest advocate and supporter, but not in the business world. I make the decisions and I’ve taken care of us financially, you know, for 40 years now.  

And she likes it that way. And I like, she takes care of our home, our grandchildren, our children, and it’s been just an absolute delight this path. Now we’ve had our ups and downs. I’m not going to sit here and say, we haven’t had our challenges. Anytime you’re married 40 years, you’re going to have challenges.  

But no, she has. She hasn’t ever worked in the business. Yeah. Good for you to know. That’s the, that’s the same. My wife and I are. We’ve been, we’ve been ready for 13 years and she’s, she’s a total, right, right now. How did you, you mentioned Dave Ramsey. How did you connect with Dave Ramsey? You know, I was a chamber of commerce breakfast at Luby’s cafeteria in Nashville, back in the early nineties.  

And there was this guy speaking there. Starting to develop a radio show called the money game. And I invited him down to one of our locations and I said, Hey, this is pretty cool. What you’re doing? Come check out our new, we just built a new 5,000 foot location about a mile from that breakfast. And he came and looked at, it said, I love this.  

He said, would you advertise with me? I said, no way. I don’t even know who you, I’ve never even heard. He said, well, if I give you a week free, will you try me? And I said, well, I don’t have anything to lose. Sure. Three days into it. I called him and I said, people have drank the Koolaid here in Nashville. I don’t know what it is, but sign me up.  

And he said, well, it’s an annual contract. And I said, annual, how much is it? And he told me, and I said, good night. Well, listen, Daymond. The truth. Is is I sold so much, those first three days advertising on his show. He was only on one radio station at the time. Wow. It was right here in Nashville and it absolutely lit our business up. 

I mean, it changed everything for us. So I signed an annual contract and then I’ve gone 21 countries.  sponsoring his show. So we were at a mercy meet concert here in Nashville at the curb center. And. Dave was there also. And he walked up to me during intermission and he said, I’m starting a mastermind. And I’d love for you to participate.  

I said, I don’t even know what a mastermind is. He said, well, just trust me on it. Come to the office Wednesday morning, seven o’clock I think you’ll enjoy it. So when Ian sat down and the guys introduced themselves and I didn’t know any of them, You know at the time, but it ended up, you know, some pretty cool guys can, Abraham was in the group, he’s written 95 books.  

Anybody that’s, anybody he’s written their books, some of the most, uh, you know, amazing people, you know, Payne steward, Joel Olsteen Lisa Beamer’s book, let’s roll George Foreman, the anti Fox, John Ashcroft. And he’s written all those books. And here’s the thing people say, well, I would love to be mastermind group like that too, but here here’s what I want to highlight.  

Those man weren’t who they are today then. And what I want to encourage people to hear out of this is the power of the mastermind. Dan Miller’s in the group, 48 days to the work you love. Jeff Moseley owns mercy. Me, you know, he’s one of their labels. They’re one of his labels. He owns, I know records and Dan Miller and some other people.  

And my point is, is that we sharpened each other every day. We helped each other or every week, I should say for over a dozen years, we met every single week and it catapulted everyone’s business to a different level. So I want to encourage you today. If you’re not in a group and accountability group, a small group, a mastermind group.  

That’s what I talked about earlier, when you read the introduction, isolation is the enemy to excellence. If you really want to take your life to the next level we’re designed to be in community, you’ve got to get yourself around really good people that can take you to the next level. Now in the mastermind, what’s the component that sharpens you guys.  

Is it the healthy, healthy competition we’ll say? Or is it the accountability side? Like what brings everybody up? Yeah. Well, here’s the thing. If you’re alone and you’re working in your office diamond every day. No one’s ever asking you a question and you say, Hey, I’m going to do this thing.  

Procrastination is our biggest enemy. We always kick it down the road. You know, the urgent is what’s most important, but when you put yourself out there in front of other members and you say, Hey, this thing I’m going to do, and I’m going to do this in the next site. 90 days. I’m going to ask you each week, Daymond, are you complicating what you said?  

Well, you’re not going to come in there and go, Hey, I’m a loser. You’re going to be like, yeah, man, I’m working on it. I’m working on it. When we hold you accountable and you work on this thing and we don’t let you up. Have our foot on your throat. And we said, you’re going to do this thing cause you committed to it.  

But see when you’re alone, you don’t have anybody asking you that question. So about 50% of any mastermind is that level of accountability. You show up every week and you trudge along. We do Brian Moran’s 12 week year. Where are we hyper focused on two or three goals, and we really pay attention to the lead indicators.  

And we participate in that every single day. And we have to report back. These are the things I’ve done well when you do that every single day and you don’t procrastinate, success is going to come your way. So that’s the primary focus. The other thing is, is the resources that it gives you the relationships, the connections, it’s the constant encouragement it’s helping you push through upper limit challenges.  

We all have that ceiling. We all have the, you know, Hey, I’m not good enough. I don’t have the resources. I don’t have the connections. But when I say Damon, you’ve got this. You can do this. We push you through that upper limit challenge and you develop that mindset, that growth mindset that Carol Dweck talks about, where are and do this.  

And once you visualize it and you can see it, you’ve got that accountability. It’s going to push you to Heights. You’ve never been. Yeah, no, I think that ties into where you talked about. If offline, you had said, if there’s something that you could tell your younger self, it would be to build longterm relationships. 

 I think that’s a good segue where you talk about how all of these people were, who they were 12 years ago and you guys grew together, right? Is there anything more you’d like to add to that about the benefits of longterm relationship? Yeah. It’s the key to your success. And we intentionally build relationships every single day.  

I probably spend 20% of my time reaching out calling. I’ve got my directory set up to where at any moment I can look up a number easily. And even this morning, I called six different people this morning. I called 10 different people yesterday morning, just to talk. I didn’t ask for anything. Damon, you ever got a phone call from somebody and they say, Hey, Damon, what’s up?  

How’s your wife. How’s your kids. Good. Hey man. While I’ve got you on the phone, let me ask you a question. I want to go. That’s why you called me right now. We’re getting there, but Daymond, when you look at the phone and it rings and it’s Erin Walker, you go. Some decision happens in your mind that this guy either sucks the life out of me  

He’s going to ask to borrow something or I can’t wait to talk to him. Something goes through your mind. What a way for people to be excited to talk to you is you call them and you check on Damon. How’s your wife, how’s your children. How’s learning from others podcasts going in your life. It’s going good  

Okay, man, I was just checking on you and you hang up and you go, well, that was refreshing. I mean, like that guy really cares and is interested in me, or you write that handwritten note or you write that email or you call them, or you check on me, send them a gift for no reason. And you don’t ask for anything.  

Yeah. When it is your time and you need to ask, it’s much easier to get something right. It’s forging those relationships. One-on-one and that’s the way we’ve built. 14 successful companies is building those relationships very intentionally. Yeah, we do. You know, my business, we do, um, we have similar approaches where we send handwritten cards.  

We do the wax stamp. We do very manual intentional efforts and, and it really establishes those relationships. Now, one thing I want to ask your opinion, because I notice in. In the example you gave where you said, Hey, Aaron, Walker’s calling, uh, I either want to pick up the phone or he’s going to suck the life out of me.  

One thing that I’ve found interesting is, and I think social media plays a part in this, is that some people almost think it’s weird now though, like just to call somebody with, just to say hi, do you ever get that vibe? You know, I do receive that and quite honestly, no disrespect to millennials, but quite honestly, it is from the millennials primarily that I get that response because they’re so used to working behind the screen.  

They’re so used to not interacting. Not as a rule of thumb, but I mean, many of them, and you just asked are some people doing that, guys, my age are used to communication right on the phone in person and things like that. And I’m coaching and training people in iron sharpens iron for this human connection, Damon, nothing beats the interaction from the human connection.  

It really saddens me Robin and I go out to dinner all the time now. And the reason we do, we don’t have anybody at home. So it’s easier to go out to dinner and we see family sitting around. Everybody’s on their device. We had dinner the other night and it must you’ve been an anniversary or a birthday because they were both dressed to the nines and they sat there.  

There was a candle on the table. Each of them were on Facebook. You could see it at their anniversary right. At their birthday party. And I think it’s because they don’t know how to interact children. It’s a babysitter today. And so I think that it needs to be cultivated and we can teach people that interaction.  

But I want to encourage the people that I put up your device have a great conversation with someone. Yeah. Yeah, I’d agree. It’s definitely a generational thing now. So we’ve talked a lot about the good connections you’ve had and the good that you’ve learned from others. Is there anything that you’ve learned from bad experiences with other people  

Oh, certainly. I mean, you don’t do 14 businesses in a, be an entrepreneur 41 years. Not yet. Your share of negative experiences. Really? What is it taught me to do is be a better businessman and I’m a better dad and a better husband, quite honestly, you know, we never learned through success. We only learned through failures.  

And so I would encourage you today to embrace those failures. Some of them have been where I felt like I was taken advantage of. I wrote a book called view from the top and in the book, there’s a chapter on bitterness and I talk about it cause I was very bitter for a number of years at a couple of people.  

Of course, they took advantage of me. I felt like in business opportunities and one of them sat across from me in a closing and there was a technicality where he was able to leave the closing with a great deal of money that we missed in the document. And he laughed and he pointed his finger at me and he said, I got you big boy.  

And I grew to hate that guy. Matter of fact, I went on a hunting trip two years after that he was on the same hunting trip. And I talk about it in the book to where I literally was going to kill him. We were on a hunting trip in Buffalo, Wyoming, and I picked up my gun and I saw him walking down about 500 yards away.  

And I’m a very good shot. I mean, you don’t live in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years and not know how to shoot a gun. Okay. So I’m a very good shot. And I started shaking. Literally. I started shaking and I put the gun down and I said, this bitterness has engulfed me. I mean, it literally has its grip. So me, we come home 10 days later, he and I didn’t speak the whole trip.  

There were 16 of us on the trip we get within 60 miles of Nashville. His truck breaks down. Or SUV that we’re driving. There’s four people in a car. And so we stop and go up to him. And I don’t know why, but at that moment I had to give it up and I went up to him and his name, John, I went up to him and I said, John, You’ll get somebody else to take me back to my house.  

I got a K five blazer. I’ll get it. We’ll pull yours in. You can have it repaired and you can use the K five until you get yours fixed. And he looked at me and he said, why aren’t you doing this? And I said, well, first of all, you know, I hate your guts. And second of all, I’m the one in prison. And I’ve got to forgive you today.  

And I did see when, you know, you have forgiven. Somebody is when you quit demanding justice. And that day I forgave him and it relieved me. It set me free. And so everything changed for me from there now because I was running everything through that filter. So there was a grid of bitterness within me, and I couldn’t be as creative as I could be letting that go.  

And I talk about it at length in my book called view from the top. And I just want to encourage your listeners today, regardless of whatever it is that you’re dealing with, nor relinquish that bitterness. You’ll your creativity back. Okay. Did he know why you hated his guts? Oh, absolutely. Yeah. There was no secret about it.  

Matter of fact, he even made the comment after that. He said, I’m going to start paying you back. I said, I don’t want your money. I don’t need the money. You know, I don’t want your money. That’s not why I did this. I did this random act of kindness for me. And that was so I could forgive you. Yeah. Yeah. 

 That’s powerful. Um, as we get closer to wrap up, I want to ask out of all of these stories and, and events you’ve gone through what stands out the most that you’ve learned about yourself. Yeah, how fragile life is and how quick it can change. Um, my life changed when I was 40 years old in a nanosecond. I went from hugely successful.  

Life is good working three days a week, two beautiful children to a devastation, uh, in a nanosecond. And I just think that I’ve enjoyed to learn, to enjoy life better and take each day as it comes to because we’re not promised tomorrow. And I want people today to not think I’ll be happy when. Right. It’s always, when I get a little more money, when this is accomplished, when this is done, when I’m out of this phase and I’ve learned to enjoy life today, each and every day to its fullest, as a result of that horrific automobile accident, because I know that life can change in a moment.  

I think the last question you’ve, you’ve, you’ve touched on, but I’m going to give you the opportunity to formally answer it. How do you want to be remembered? Yeah, I did earlier, you know, before it was about prestige and monetary gain. And when I started thinking through that, I said, that’s really not what I want.  

And I’ll end with this story. In 2006, my dad passed away. My dad was my best friend. My dad worked with me. He lived on the same street as I do. We hunted or fished together every week of my life. My dad was my best friend. He never made over $15,000 a year in his life. Ever. And I think about that now, raising four children, uh, and not making over $15,000, I can’t even possibly fathom that.  

But today died. I stood in line at the funeral home and greeted people for six and a half hours. They waited an hour and a half the line went through the lobby, out into the parking lot and around the building to see my dad, every person that walked in there said. Your dad made an impact in my life. Your dad helped me.  

Your dad challenged me. Your dad was always there for me. Not one person. Damon said your dad had a nice boat or car house, not one person, people from 10 years old to 75 years old, tears streaming down their face saying your dad made an impact on my life. Well, here’s, what’s ironic about that to me is as we spend the majority of our time trying to create more wealth, trying to get more possessions when it’s not even the things that we’re going to be remembered for, we’re only going to be remembered for how we make people feel.  

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I’ll leave it at that. Um, Aaron Walker, I want to give you an opportunity to, um, you mentioned your book view from the top, where can they find out more about that? Or, or any other contact information you wanna put out there? Thanks, Damon. I appreciate it. Yeah. Go to viewfromthetop.com you can connect with me on all social media platforms.  

I’d love to engage you. One thing that we’re doing right now that we couldn’t be more excited about. We have developed the mastermind playbook. And we teach people to start grow and scale masterminds is, I said earlier, you know, we’ve got 15 masterminds groups now, and seven of those facilitators about me, the others are facilitated by our coaches and it is absolutely band, a rock solid program.  

And I can teach you to do the same thing. So it’s a great add on to your existing business or it’s a white to make a very comfortable business for yourself. Find out more about that at viewfromthetop.com Aaron Walker. Thanks so much. Thanks Damon. See you, buddy. 

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Aaron Walker: The Difference Between Success and Significance

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