How to Be the CEO of Your Retirement

February 24, 2020

How to Be the CEO of Your Retirement with Tony Lewis

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How to Be the CEO of Your Retirement Show Notes

When you retire, you don’t stop having to make decisions, set intentions for your life, making plans, or working with people to achieve your goals. No matter what your career looked like, you’re now the CEO of your household – and your life – and the rules of success in business aren’t that different from the ones that help you succeed in retirement.

Tony Lewis’s extensive experience is proof of this. He’s had a 30-year career in the military, served as the CEO of ConAgra, and now works with Vistage, a nationwide group of CEOs regularly tapped by publications like The Wall Street Journal to get insider information about how business leaders feel about the state of the economy, how it impacts their business and more.

Today, Tony joins the podcast to discuss the business leadership lessons that cross over into retirement and family planning, how to avoid missing out on major opportunities (financial and otherwise), and the power of communicating your intentions.

In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:

  • Why CEOs who are popular within their companies are rarely the most effective – and the wisdom Tony received from his time as CEO of ConAgra during a period of serious challenges within the company.
  • Why CEOs of businesses and households need vision – and how to bring everyone within your organization, no matter what it is, into alignment.
  • The reasons Tony would never file his own tax returns or create his own trust – and why you shouldn’t, either.
  • Why missing an opportunity is always more expensive than hiring the right person – and how Tony missed a number of tax opportunities that significantly impacted his future.
  • The problems unique to wills – and why “It’s going to be fine” is almost always a red flag.
  • How Tony trained his daughter to become the CEO of their family meetings – and how this guidance helped her and her sister succeed and thrive in the working world.
  • Tony’s advice for people who have worked hard, saved all their lives, and are now nearing retirement.
How to Be the CEO of Your Retirement - Retirement Plan Checklist

Inspiring Quote

  • You can’t just retire. Your brain is the biggest muscle in your body.”Tony Lewis

Interview Resources

Interview Transcript

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[00:00:09] Dean Barber: Really excited to bring another episode of The Guided Retirement Show to you. I’m Dean Barber, founder, CEO of Modern Wealth Management, your host of The Guided Retirement Show. Today, a very, very special guest, a good friend of mine, Tony Lewis. And those of you that have not had the opportunity to spend time with someone who was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, today’s your chance.

Tony Lewis started out his military career at a very young age, wound up spending over 30 years in the military, and also became the CEO of one of the most recognized Fortune 500 company names in the United States. We’re going to talk to Tony today about how he was able to accomplish all of that, retire at a very young age, and continue today to coach people on how to be successful in business, and how to be successful in life. Please enjoy Tony’s story here on The Guided Retirement Show.


[00:01:08] Dean Barber: All right. Tony Lewis, you and I’ve known each other for almost six years now and you’ve been instrumental in really helping me facilitate a lot of things in business life and personal life. You got a vast amount of experience. So, I want to start with your background, Tony. You had a long career in the military. Talk to us a little bit about that first.

[00:01:33] Tony Lewis: Well, I went to school at a land-grant college and it was in the days when there was a real draft. So, when you got your diploma, in the other hand they give you your draft papers, and it was the early 60s and it was Vietnam going on. Being a smart as I thought college kid figuring a way out of going to Vietnam in the rice paddies with a rifle, I found out that you could go to Advanced ROTC and be a pilot.

You had to give six years of your military career. However, Vietnam probably be over by then. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. But it was good for me to go there. I left the military and went right to the airlines. And then in the early 70s, with the energy crisis, got laid off, and I went into the Air National Guard and spent 31 more years so I had a total of 37 years of military.

And during those 31 years, I got a real job and started down on the Chicago Board of Trade. I had a seat trading commodity which was my college background in agricultural economics. After that, I got to know a lot of the industry people like ADM and Cargill, Continental, Ralston and at that time, the protein shortage in the world happened and the Russians bought a lot of wheat.

And all of a sudden, these companies just blossomed, like you can’t believe and they were offering me a job as a management trainee. So, I went in as a management trainee to Continental Grain, worked my way up to senior vice president. And it didn’t take many years, in charge of the Pacific and the Western United States and I got a call one day from the chairman of ConAgra, who asked me to come and interview to be a CEO at ConAgra, where they were having really a lot of problems financially, especially on the commodity side.

[00:03:44] Dean Barber: All right. So, you became then CEO of ConAgra in your 40s and you were CEO of ConAgra for 11 years.

[00:03:52] Tony Lewis: Right.

[00:03:53] Dean Barber: Tell me a little bit about that experience, a CEO of a major Fortune 500 company like that. What did you learn?

[00:03:59] Tony Lewis: Well, fortunately, I was in the military and I had a lot of leadership development, which is something you get when you go to war. It just comes naturally. You got to make a lot of tough decisions. And ConAgra had to make a lot of tough decisions, and most of them came around people, and structure, and strategy, and vision. You’re not always going to be the most liked person, but my goal was to be respected. And those are some of the challenges that I think we have in today’s world, in the workplace, and even in our personal lives.

[00:04:39] Dean Barber: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because if you show me a CEO who’s wildly popular with the employees, you probably or she is probably not a very effective CEO because that CEO does have to make difficult choices and those difficult choices oftentimes do revolve around people. So, you’re not going to be the most popular person but because you’re tasked with making decisions that many people don’t want to be forced to make.

[00:05:03] Tony Lewis: That’s correct. And I would add this, that if you’re going to make tough decisions, you have to be a great listener, and you have to listen to the people around you. Now, at the ConAgra, I had to listen to the people around me, number one. Number two, I had to find out and it was one of my objectives in the first six months who are my advocates, because without an advocate, you’re not going to penetrate the organization and get some help. We can’t do it alone. So, listening well and making sure people know you listened well, by telling them what you heard, and respectfully say, “I merely came to a different conclusion.”

[00:05:42] Dean Barber: So, as the CEO, you had to learn strategies, tactics, make tough decisions, and you had to have people that helped you, right? So, as the CEO, you didn’t do everything. Now, you retired after 11 years and you’re in your 50s when you retired from ConAgra. That’s when you moved to Kansas City. And so, what happened then?

[00:06:03] Tony Lewis: Well, I moved to Kansas City because of family issues. My wife’s from this area and her parents both had Parkinson’s disease. One was an invalid. And we made a decision to build a big house here and not put them in a convalescent home.

[00:06:22] Dean Barber: So, you moved them in with you.

[00:06:23] Tony Lewis: We moved them in with us. Best thing we ever did, from a family perspective. We had discussions about the kids and how they would react because they were younger at the time. And actually, it turned out to be the best thing that could happen to a family. The kids would wheel the grandmother around even though she couldn’t talk and we’d finally see a smile and the kids participate in this. And so, I think that has helped them in their growth, both professionally and personally.

[00:06:54] Dean Barber: How many kids do you and your wife have, Tony?

[00:06:57] Tony Lewis: Two daughters.

[00:06:57] Dean Barber: Two daughters, okay. And so, they were young enough that they were part of that experience when you move your wife’s parents in with you.

[00:07:04] Tony Lewis: Yeah. And I think that’s what builds values. I didn’t realize it at the time but I think it helped build part of our family values.

[00:07:13] Dean Barber: How much of your experience in the military and your time as CEO of ConAgra has played into your normal life today? I mean, you’ve been out of that world now as the CEO for 20 years. How does that play out in your daily life now?

[00:07:30] Tony Lewis: Well, that’s a great question. I think that I can take my shirt off and have you look at my back and there’s a lot of scars on it. I call those scars experience. As it pertains to today, I was able to take those scars and turn them into wisdom and hopefully help other people not make the same mistakes I made.

[00:07:55] Dean Barber: Which is essentially how you and I met. You began working with what is now a nationwide CEO group, I think one of the largest nationwide CEO groups in the country called Vistage. So, let’s talk a little bit about your, so you’re in retirement, but you decide, “Well, I’m going to help some other people. I’m going to take these scars, turn them into wisdom, and help other people avoid mistakes.” So, talk a little bit about the Vistage program as a whole and then what drew you to do that and what drives you to keep doing that still here at the age of 73.

[00:08:28] Tony Lewis: It was all by accident, like most things in life, and you have to adapt. And if you don’t adapt to circumstances that come by you, good or bad, you’re probably going to get left behind. I had a friend of mine who was the ex-president of Hallmark here in Kansas City, and he said to me, “I help these CEOs and business owners, a group of 10, and I help them make better decisions and increase their effectiveness.”

And when he told me about that, he said, “You can’t just retire because your brain is the biggest muscle in your body. Every cell is connected to it, and you got to keep it exercised.” So, he invited me to a meeting to see if these 10 folks would allow me to facilitate their private Advisory Board of Directors. And when I say facilitate, that is different than dictate.

When I was a CEO, I realized I couldn’t play the instruments out there. I couldn’t do the accounting or the operations. I didn’t know anything about that. But what I learned in the military helped me facilitate the people around me and that’s why I say you got to understand people and especially in today’s world. So, think of an orchestra. You have a conductor. A conductor probably maybe can play one or two of the instruments, but he has to make the music happen. And to me, that’s what leaders do. They take people to a place that they would not have gone by themselves or that they didn’t want to go.

[00:10:06] Dean Barber: That’s a key thing there where they didn’t want to go. Because sometimes there’s some scary places. You know, if you’re unfamiliar and you’ve never been there before, you may think, “Well, I don’t want to go there,” but then you get there and like, “Wow, what was I so afraid of? This isn’t as bad as what I thought it was going to be.”

So, you’ve been chairing a group of Vistage and you’ve helped, I don’t know how many hundreds of business owners improve their business and you’ve when you’ve watched them go from a young business to a mature business to exiting a business. And so, you’ve walked through all of those different phases with people. What drives you to keep doing that today?

[00:10:46] Tony Lewis: You know, we have a family mission statement. And in that mission statement, it talks about helping to survive society by contributing to the success of society. Well, it’s the same in business. And I say contributing. I don’t have the answers but what you learn in leadership in the military is asking a lot of questions. Those questions are not to solve people’s problems, but to open up different windows of the house and different doors of the house and let them see something that they might not have seen without you.

That ties into taking people to a place where they might not have gone without you. I can give you a good example and I was on the board of a big public company and I came to a crossroads with the values that this big public company was asserting in their business.

I left a board meeting and I went to the chairman, who was also the CEO of this big company, and I said, “I’m resigning because there’s a conflict between my value system and what you’re doing in this company’s value system.” Then he said something to me that I thought about as I was flying back home. He said, “You know, we don’t want you to leave. We did an extensive search for you.

And what we found out is that people would follow you up any mountain not knowing what’s on the other side.” And as I was flying home, that comment really bothered me because I don’t want people going up a mountain just to follow me and not know what’s on the other side. Because chances are, I don’t know what’s on the other side. And so, as I thought about that, and it scared me, that was a turning point in one of the ways that I going forward was going to lead people. They’re going to know what’s on the other side.

[00:12:41] Dean Barber: So, how do you get them there? How do you get them to know what’s on the other side? How do you get that? Because you got to build that vision, right? And you got to get them to think beyond what’s right in front of them.

[00:12:54] Tony Lewis: It’s not a perfect world and it always doesn’t work but anytime you create a strategy or a vision, you have to think, “Do I have the right organizational structure?” And I learned that in the military also. Do I have the right organizational structure to accomplish and communicate our strategic intent? Which is a term that the military uses.

It’s hard. It’s not a perfect world, and everybody isn’t going to join the wagon. But if you paint the picture and you give people the chance to be part of it, then they will own it. There’s one of the great Harvard articles and studies that came out, and it’s called Whose Back Is The Monkey On Now? If it’s all on your back, you will not be successful in your organization.

[00:13:43] Dean Barber: That’s pretty much true and everything in life, not just a business life. That’s pretty much true everywhere.

[00:13:49] Tony Lewis: So, take that to the next step. People don’t realize what they really can do. You got to give them the vision that they can do it and then support them. Example, I used to have a sign behind my desk and it said, “Opportunity is nowhere.” And they come in and they want to put the monkey on my back. And I said, “Look at the sign.

Opportunity is nowhere.” “Well, what does that mean?” they would say. “Look at it again. Look a little deeper. What it really said was opportunity is now here. How would you solve that problem?” And then we can have a discussion and I can ask questions, and hopefully, they would do it. And if they did it, whether it was successful or not, because they got scars also, they were on board.

[00:14:34] Dean Barber: So, let’s transition this discussion a little bit, Tony, to what I think is really critical and why I wanted you to be part of The Guided Retirement Show here. I believe that when a person retires, that and probably even before that, they become the CEO of their own money, their own financial plan, their own retirement. So, they’re the boss.

They have to have that vision. They have to know what is it that they aspire to do in retirement. What do they want that to look like? And I think that a lot of times, people don’t spend enough time really thinking forward enough to understand what is this retirement time of my life going to look like and how do I make it as rewarding as it can possibly be and what I want it to be? And I do believe that they’re the CEO of that.

But go back to what you said earlier, when you were CEO at ConAgra, you had somebody who was also your CFO, your chief financial officer. They were taking care of all of the finance part of things. You had your chief legal counsel, right? You had other leaders that you as the CEO were facilitating and you had to share the vision amongst that entire group of leaders in order to get everybody moving in the same direction so that your strategy could be effective.

[00:16:05] Tony Lewis: That’s correct.

[00:16:06] Dean Barber: That’s fair?

[00:16:06] Tony Lewis: That’s fair.

[00:16:07] Dean Barber: All right. So, here’s the problem that I think and I want you to reflect on this from a personal level because most people might say, “Oh my gosh, okay, well, so I don’t have an economics degree. I didn’t spend this much time in the military. I don’t have this or I don’t have that. I’m not a CEO. I haven’t been able to have the fortune that Tony has,” but what you apply in your life today is so similar to what you applied in your CEO life that I don’t know if you’ve thought about this or not, but so, Tony, you’re smart enough guy. You could probably do your own tax return, but do you?

[00:16:40] Tony Lewis: No, I don’t.

[00:16:42] Dean Barber: Right. And why? Because you know that there’s somebody else that actually is an expert in that area.

[00:16:47] Tony Lewis: That’s correct.

[00:16:48] Dean Barber: You’re a smart enough guy that you could probably run all of your own investments, but do you?

[00:16:52] Tony Lewis: I do not.

[00:16:53] Dean Barber: Exactly. Okay. Why? Because you’re relying still on others. Now, you’re probably a smart enough guy that you could get on some of these websites and draw yourself up a trust. But did you do that?

[00:17:06] Tony Lewis: I did not.

[00:17:08] Dean Barber: Why? Because you’re the CEO of your retirement. You’re the CEO of your household. You have to facilitate the mission statement, the vision, the strategy, and then you have to assemble the right team to make sure that all of this works together. And the biggest mistake that I see people making today is they think, “I can do it on my own.”

We’ve been told by various people out there in the financial media that you don’t need somebody. You can do your investing on your own. Look, you can go online and you can do a tax return for free, or you can get a tax return out of a box for $99 or you can go out and you can do this LegalZoom and set up your own trust. You can even incorporate yourself. All this stuff, you can just do it all on your own but that would be, to me, that’s as crazy as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company thinking that they can do everything on their own and they don’t need any assistance.

[00:18:01] Tony Lewis: Well, you bring up a good point because when I was younger, I thought I could do it. But as I got older, life became more complex. First of all, tax codes are more complex. I don’t do my own tax. I used to but it’s opened up my eyes because I’ve got tax scars on my back from not making the right decisions when I did it.

[00:18:22] Dean Barber: And those wrong decisions when it comes to the tax code are expensive. There’s no do-over. You make a mistake, and it’s not you did your tax return wrong, but you missed opportunities, right?

[00:18:31] Tony Lewis: Missed a lot of opportunities. I missed opportunities in areas of when to take Medicare for my spouse, when to take social security for my spouse. I missed opportunities because I was busy in investing. How many times have we heard, “I was thinking about buying that stock. Why didn’t I?” Because you didn’t have time. I wasn’t focused on playing the instruments in the orchestra.

I was focused on conducting. I’ve made mistakes in my trust. That’s why I go to a person who can look at my trust every one or two years. Things change in the trust world. Things change in your personal life. Your kids grow up. They’re at a different level. They have grandkids. How do you protect your assets when they get married? So, as they keep those assets within your family, if that’s what you choose to do.

What happens if your children grow up and something goes wrong? They become druggies. They go on alcohol or marry the wrong spouse. You have to maintain that blanket of protection. I used to like to say as a CEO, my job is not to do their job. My job is to let them do it but give them that catastrophic cover in case something goes wrong.

[00:19:59] Dean Barber: Right. As a CEO, you had to have a clear objective. And that clear objective had to be communicated effectively and often to all of your direct reports.

[00:20:12] Tony Lewis: That’s correct. And over and over again.

[00:20:14] Dean Barber: Exactly, right. And so, think about this idea that somebody thinks that they can go sit down and they can talk to an attorney one time, and the attorney draws up a legal document, a will or a trust, and then they never go back and revisit it. They seem to think that somehow by telepathy, this attorney is going to know that they’ve had a life-changing event and that they should update that trust or that will or they’re going to wait for the attorney to say, “Hey, it’s time for us to update this.” No, that’s on you, man. You’re the one that knows what’s happening.

You’re the one that’s got the vision. And if something’s changed in that vision or if something’s changed within the overall organization or your personal life, you’ve got to communicate that. Same thing on the tax code. You don’t go making decisions on where and how you’re going to take money and do all that without consulting with your tax professional first because you don’t know exactly how it’s going to affect your overall plan and you want to make sure that you’re making the right decision and you’re doing it smart, just like you would never make that decision as a CEO.

And so, I say all this because I think that people are so weary of being sold something or they’re weary of the fact that they don’t think that they’re smart enough, and they don’t know how to assemble the right team or they think that that team might be too expensive to hire those professionals to act as part of the family organization where you’re the CEO of it. So, I just think it’s critical that people understand that, hey, you know what, the cost of missing opportunities, in most cases, is going to be far greater than the cost of actually hiring somebody that that’s their expertise.

[00:21:55] Tony Lewis: That’s correct in a lot of the aspects that you just spoke about. As you were speaking, I’m thinking of my own life and the mistakes that I made. And also, that just going to an attorney, they’re probably not going to call you and say, “Hey, it’s been two years.”

For myself, it took me a long time before I retained an organization that could advise me on tax, they could advise me on my investments, that could advise me on changes I need to do in my estate planning as I said earlier, as the kids got older as they had kids, as I got older. And I religiously now take my family, including my kids who are now in their late 30s and 40s, and we go an estate plan review every two years. In fact, next week, we’re going to do it on Thanksgiving week when all the kids will be together.

[00:22:52] Dean Barber: Okay. Let’s take a quick break. This is The Guided Retirement Show. I’m Dean Barber. We’ll be right back.


[00:22:58] Female: Is thinking about your retirement intimidating? Okay. Let’s get real. The thought of not having to go to work five days a week, traveling, spending time with your grandchildren, basically, doing what you want to do on a daily basis, well, that’s not scary. However, paying for that retirement lifestyle, well, that can be a little more daunting. The reality is retirement doesn’t have to be scary.

And a good place to start is by listening to America’s Wealth Management show hosted by Dean Barber, that’s the guy you’re listening to on this podcast, and Bud Kasper. With over 65 years in the financial industry, Dean and Bud discuss how to live your one best financial life. And unlike some other radio shows, they don’t talk about investments or the latest get rich financial products. It’s strictly retirement education. Now, there’s a couple of ways to listen. You can download America’s Wealth Management show on your favorite podcast app or if you like to listen or stream your radio shows in real-time, simply go to and find out where and when you can listen to this week’s show. That’s

[00:24:14] Tony Lewis: I missed opportunities because I was busy in investing. How many times have we heard, “I was thinking about buying that stock. Why didn’t I?” Because you didn’t have time. I wasn’t focused on playing the instruments in the orchestra. I was focused on conducting.


[00:24:41] Dean Barber: Welcome back. I’m Dean Barber, CEO of Modern Wealth Management, and this is The Guided Retirement Show. Another cool thing that I think you do, Tony, which I think there’s a lot of people, and I don’t know what it is, there’s this generation where people didn’t share. They didn’t talk about what was happening from a financial perspective. They didn’t have a family mission statement.

But you have family meetings, where you talk about that mission statement. You talk about the values that you want the family to aspire to. And you talk about the legacy plan. And it’s not just about money. It’s about your effect on society as a whole. And I’ve run into people that they’ll say, “Well, I don’t want my kids know what I have.” You personally have had to deal with a scenario where you’re the trustee of your father’s trust. How long has that been going on?

[00:25:37] Tony Lewis: Oh, let’s see. It’s almost 25 years.

[00:25:40] Dean Barber: Okay. And once you had to do that, I want you to talk about the position that put you in first and how its impacted the relationship with your siblings.

[00:25:53] Tony Lewis: Well, it hasn’t been good. My father was an attorney and he drew up the trust and he wanted me to administer the trust, which I’ll give him credit. It was a learning experience of being the trustee. Plus, I had a sister who was not capable of even knowing what a trust is. And so, I administered the trust. I did the trading in the trust of the stocks and the investments thereof with objectives that my father gave me in terms of income.

[00:26:26] Dean Barber: And all that was laid out in the trust document that he wrote.

[00:26:29] Tony Lewis: Correct. And that income related to his well-being and as it happened, he lived to 100. So, most people might just not think about it, but he lived to 100. So, I wrote checks every quarter to him. Now, I still write it to his spouse, and then the real estate that’s involved in the trust, somebody has to manage all of that. It’s a lot of work. I personally will not do that to my kids. Now, for me, I didn’t mind doing it. I had a little bit more background, but 99% of the people don’t have the background to do this.

[00:27:02] Dean Barber: But you know, you see this happen over and over and over again where people say, “Well, I’m just going to name my children as a trustee if I’m incapable of making my own decisions,” and I don’t think they understand the burden that that places on children. Again, most of the people that inherit money, you’re going to inherit money when they’re 40s or 50s, or maybe even their 60s.

So, maybe that’s an adult child but, yeah, a lot of things going on in your life at that point in time.  Throwing something like this, that’s super important. And because of the fact that you’re the trustee, that means you’re a fiduciary. That means you are legally bound to act in the best interest of what that trust has all the time. So, you have a legal responsibility as well, that I don’t think that a lot of people think about when they’re naming their children as their successor trustee.

[00:27:49] Tony Lewis: And especially if they have to administer it with other people in the family involved, as I said earlier about my sister. I get emails and calls about once a month, “Well, can’t you do this? Why can’t you do that? It’s our money.” And I say, “I have a fiduciary responsibility to do exactly what the trust says. That’s what our father put down and that’s what I have to do. So, I’m sorry. I apologize.”

[00:28:18] Dean Barber: But it is what it is.

[00:28:19] Tony Lewis: It is what it is.

[00:28:21] Dean Barber: You’re doing the right thing, but it puts you in a difficult situation as far as your relationship then with your sister.

[00:28:26] Tony Lewis: That’s correct. And for that reason, again, for that scar on my back, my kids have their kids to raise, and those kids are going to go to college. I involve them in what’s in our trust. In fact, as you said earlier, we have our family meetings. We go over the investments. We go over what we’re doing. They know what the trust is. They know who the trustee will be once I pass on.

[00:28:52] Dean Barber: Or you’re not capable of making…

[00:28:53] Tony Lewis: Or I’m not capable and who the successor trustees would be and how they choose those successor trustees.

[00:29:00] Dean Barber: See, these things, Tony, require a lot of deep reflection. They require a lot of thought and to face our own limitations. They require us to face our own mortality. None of those things are really very fun to think about or to do. And so many people, they just kind of bury their head in the sand and they think, “Well, somehow, it’ll all work out.” Right?

[00:29:25] Tony Lewis: Well, let me give you an example. I have a business colleague, and his mother is 87 years old, lives back in New York by herself. Her husband has passed, and all she has is a will that was written 50 years ago. Perfect. And guess what? Wills are not actually…

[00:29:50] Dean Barber: They’re not a good estate planning tool.

[00:29:52] Tony Lewis: Not only that. The kids may find out that everything goes into…

[00:29:58] Dean Barber: Probate?

[00:29:59] Tony Lewis: Probate.

[00:29:59] Dean Barber: And that’s public.

[00:30:00] Tony Lewis: And it’s public. When my colleague addresses his mother on this issue, she says, “Don’t worry about it.”

[00:30:08] Dean Barber: It’s all going to be fine.

[00:30100] Tony Lewis: Yeah.

[00:30:11] Dean Barber: So, Tony, the thing we’ve heard over and over again is that mom always said, “Everything’s going to be fine.”

[00:30:17] Tony Lewis: Yeah. It’s not going to be fine because I’ve looked into this with him. I had my attorney look into it, and probably this is going to go into probate.

[00:30:27] Dean Barber: Well, it will those two kids. Look, probate is a long and expensive process.

[00:30:31] Tony Lewis: That’s right.

[00:30:32] Dean Barber: And probate is so easy to avoid but you’ve got to get it done right. And, in fact, in our Guided Retirement Show Episode 8 of Season 1, we’ll talk with a couple of estate planning attorneys in that episode. If you haven’t listened to it, get out there and listen to it, where we talk specifically about the difference between wills and trusts.

And it’s a huge difference right now. Not everybody needs a trust but most people that have done a decent job of accumulating money, they do. And the trust isn’t for just once you’ve passed. Think about this, I’m going to go back to your business colleague and you may or may not know the answer to this but if she becomes incapable of making financial decisions, that will does not dictate, like your father’s trust did, how those financial decisions are to be made and what’s to be done and how bills are to be paid. Right?

[00:31:26] Tony Lewis: That’s correct.

[00:31:26] Dean Barber: So, a big part of a trust is making sure that while you’re still here, that everything is taken care of in the fashion that you had intended. And so, again, if you have decent money, you want to make sure that you’ve got a trust set up but go back to this whole idea that people think that, “Well, I can just go online and I can create this trust on my own.” I’ve seen so many disasters, Tony, and you’ve probably witnessed them too where people thought they had it all done. And, okay, well, we got this beautiful trust behind it but guess what, nothing was ever titled in the name of the trust.

[00:31:58] Tony Lewis: That’s correct.

[00:31:58] Dean Barber: That happens all the time, doesn’t it?

[00:32:00] Tony Lewis: It sure does. Yeah, we title everything but my kids wouldn’t know how to do it unless we had these family meetings and we talked about these things.

[00:32:10] Dean Barber: So, when your family meetings, would you go through your vision statement, your family vision statement?

[00:32:16] Tony Lewis: Yeah. We go through our family vision statement, our mission, and each year, they come with their yearly goals and objectives of what they wanted to accomplish in the next year. And they talk about what they accomplished or did not accomplish in their goals and objectives of the year that just passed.

[00:32:37] Dean Barber: That’s a pretty cool dynamic.

[00:32:40] Tony Lewis: I will tell you a funny story. So, when I started this, the kids were seven and nine. Yeah, I think so. And I started it with the idea that, “You know what, we’ll just make it fun.” So, we would go to Mexico to a resort or we go to Colorado to a resort for a week and then we would have our family meetings at that resort in a conference room and we’d make it fun. Well, one of the daughters was older.

I believe she was 16, 17. She went to bring her boyfriend. I said, “Okay, fine.” And this is really a funny story that I never forgot. So, we are in our first days family meeting and he comes down to the conference room, and he says, “Do you mind if I sit in?” And I looked at him and I said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, we do. This is a private meeting, where we go over our mission statement, our goals and objectives, and we go over the financials.”

And this year, my daughter is the CEO of this family meeting so she has planned it all. So, we went into the meeting. We did our thing all day long, and at 3:00 we broke up and opened the door and here he is outside. He said, “Mr. Lewis, I hope you guys had a good meeting. Would you like to know my goals and objectives for next year?”

[00:34:07] Dean Barber: That’s interesting.

[00:34:08] Tony Lewis: Yeah. So, that’s what we do in our family meetings, and we try to go someplace that’s nice. Now, we don’t always have time now as they have kids. So, we’ve done the last few here in Kansas City.

[00:34:20] Dean Barber: You know, it’s interesting because I learned that from you and then I actually conducted my first family meeting about a year ago, and we’ve got the next one planned for about four months from now. And so, my kids thought it was pretty cool. They’re a little bit older. Now, my oldest daughter now is 29. My youngest daughter is 19. But it was an interesting dynamic and also had, you know, girlfriends, boyfriends, son-in-law, and I did the same thing, “This is private. We’re going to have this meeting and it is what it is.” And so, it was an interesting dynamic.

But I think that what you did here, and what a lot of people could take away from this is, is that you put a seriousness and you put a plan together for your family, not just for your finances, but how that family is going to impact society. And you’re working that plan each and every year, right? It’s not something that you sit down once and talk about, and you write down a mission statement and that’s it.

I think ties to your role as a CEO, your role in the military, but also your role as a family man. Every single person, if they’re going to do it right, and they’re going to make sure that they’re actually going to live the one life that they have to the extent that they can, and make sure that they’ve left nothing to chance, they got to take the time to do that planning. And yet so many times we see people spending more time planning a family vacation than they will on planning how that family is going to impact society or planning their finances or their retirement because they just think that somehow everything’s going to be okay.

[00:36:03] Tony Lewis: That’s correct. And the learning process is not overnight if you involve your kids in it. You know, the most rewarding part about this is teaching them responsibility by letting them do it, not by telling them how to do it. And they love it when they get to be the CEO of the family vacation or meeting, as we call it.

[00:36:24] Dean Barber: What was that dynamic like the first time so your daughter was 16 or 17 years old when you let her be the CEO and she planned the meeting? How did that go?

[00:36:31] Tony Lewis: It went great because we had been doing it all along as I was doing it and the debate of course was, where do you want to go? What part of the fun do you want? If you want to have fun, you got to work hard to get it. So, plan the other part of the meeting. I go to the Mayo Clinic for my physicals and on the wall in one of the buildings it says, “Work hard first, play hard next, and give hard.”

[00:37:03] Dean Barber: So, how has what you learned from your military experience, your CEO experience, I know that that’s obviously leaked over in your family life and it’s leaked over into your planning for your family and your mission statement, all that, how has that impacted your daughters in their professional career and in their personal lives as they have matured and gone out into the workforce and are on their own today?

[00:37:30] Tony Lewis: Well, I would tell you that, first of all, and unexpectedly, they were off the payroll the day they graduated college, not because I said it. It’s because they knew where they were going. They had a plan. They had a plan. And one daughter is as a master’s in finance, the other daughter has her own business. And the day after she left college, she went to New York City to seek out what her passion was. I told her I would help her for six months. And guess what, she said, “I don’t need any help. I already got a job.”

[00:38:06] Dean Barber: That’s awesome.

[00:38:07] Tony Lewis: And she has her own business ever since that experience, and she loves what she’s doing. The daughter that lives here in Kansas City, she’s a controller of a big public company here. Loves what she’s doing. But they both have kids, and they have to balance their life. And I think that when you talk about estate planning, tax planning, investment planning, all of these things, everything has a balance. And so, you have to balance all of those ingredients, I believe, as you look to the future and the future changes. It’s not a straight line.

[00:38:45] Dean Barber: It’s dynamic, and everything is intertwined. Every one of those components that just talked about affects the other and so that if you don’t have that good solid plan, that strategy together, that’s when things get missed. And I think it’s interesting because it’s no accident that your daughters are successful. It’s no accident that you’re successful. Your father obviously did some things for you to help you understand and look at this. Now, you worked hard and like you said earlier, you got a lot of scars and those scars are mistakes and you learn from those mistakes.

You turn those into knowledge and now you can apply that. So, if you had, Tony, some simple advice and let’s just talk about the average what I’ll call the Millionaire Next Door, the man and the woman who’ve worked hard, they’ve saved a good amount of money, and they’re headed into retirement the next five years or maybe they’re already in retirement. What kind of advice would you give to these people?

[00:39:47] Tony Lewis: Well, first of all, every day you wake up and you don’t see white candles burning or hear soft music, you’re going to live one day less. So, get up and start looking at the future and how you might live longer and how you might live in a more comfortable life that you deserve for all the work you put in.

I would suggest to people to get an advisor that would help you in thinking about and identifying just what it is in your particular case that you need to live comfortably from whatever age that is, 50 to whatever, and don’t forget that how you invest, how you do your trust, how you take care of family issues that might come up, how you do your tax, which in today’s world can save you a lot of money if you let a professional do it, you will live the life that you want to live. And I think that’s what a really great wealth manager will help you do. It’s not just one thing. It’s all the things.

[00:41:02] Dean Barber: It’s coordinating all the pieces. But I think one thing that you missed, and I don’t know if you intentionally missed this or not, but you’re the CEO, man. You are in charge. And if you can’t bury your soul and make it clear what you want your life to look like, you can hire anybody you want but you’re going to be disappointed because most people aren’t clairvoyant. They can’t read your mind. You have to be open, honest, and clear about what it is that you’re looking for. And you have to hire somebody that’s going to be willing to say, “You know what, that’s not me.” Or we can absolutely do that. And so, I don’t know if you intentionally missed that or if you just didn’t think about it.

[00:41:45] Tony Lewis: Well, I did think about it and I thought when I was communicating that you have to go to somebody that can knit all the pieces together and can ask you the tough questions that you’re not going to ask yourself because you don’t know the questions. Because these are professional people. These people understand investments. They understand tax, they understand estate planning, and they understand your elderly years. And so, they will ask questions that even if you were the smartest person in the world, you wouldn’t think of.

[00:42:19] Dean Barber: Let’s tie that into some of your traveling that you’ve done over the years. What do you think is probably your most exciting trip that you’ve ever taken?

[00:42:28] Tony Lewis: Probably, aside from the military excursions, I would say Africa.

[00:42:34] Dean Barber: Okay. Now, pretty easy to book an airline to go to Africa. Hop off the airplane, find a rental car company and just go. Is that what you did?

[00:42:43] Tony Lewis: Nope.

[00:42:45] Dean Barber: You hired a guide, didn’t you?

[00:42:46] Tony Lewis: When I was younger, I learned that it doesn’t work. So, we hired an agent to coordinate it and then when we got there we had a guide. And that guide took us on a trip that we had somewhat planned from a macro standpoint. He did all the tactical stuff and he took us to the micro places that we would not have thought of within the plan. As an example, we went to Cape Town. Well, Cape Town is on the map. Anybody can go to Cape Town, but there’s a lot of things in Cape Town to see and learn. He put us on a train. It’s called the Blue Train. And we took that Blue Train, which is an excursion train all the way up through the different parts of Africa, the National Parks, and we ended up in Victoria Falls.

Well, Victoria Falls is on the map but guess what, there are a lot of things to see, learn, and connect to. Connecting is the thing that guides do. They connect you to your plan and to your objective.

[00:43:58] Dean Barber: That’s cool. And I try to use that analogy a lot, Tony, because I think that so many people think, “Well, I can do all this stuff myself,” and let’s not make any mistake. You could have gone to Africa. You could have stepped off to your airplane, find a rental car place, and you could have said, “Hey, we went to Africa,” but your experience wouldn’t have been anywhere close to what it was.

And why was it the way it was? It was because you had, first of all, a destination in mind and then you had an experience in mind of what you wanted to do what you wanted that trip to be like, then you hired the guide and then they did a lot of the work. And then they took you to places or did things in Africa that you never even would have thought of. And to me, that’s what a good retirement guide is going to do for you.

They’re first going to sit down and listen and they’re going to ask all the questions and they’re going to figure out what it is that you want this retirement experience to look like and then guide you through all the different nuances from taxes to investments to estate planning and risk management, Social Security decisions, everything because it all ties together with one goal to help you live your one best financial life and to do with clarity and confidence and control so that you only get one chance to do this.

[00:45:10] Tony Lewis: That’s correct. You only get one chance. And it’s so dynamic today. All of those areas you just spoke about are changing each year. There’s new regulations. There’s new laws. You, yourself, as the client have new desires. And so, putting that all together, I like to say time is money and if you have other things to do in your life, you’ll never get to do them and you’ll never learn about all these things. There’s just not enough time.

[00:45:39] Dean Barber: Totally agree with you, Tony. Thanks so much for taking some time out of your retirement schedule. I know you’re busy, sitting on a lot of boards and doing your things with the Vistage group and all that. And if you’ve been listening and you think, “Oh, I’m a business owner. I want to know more about this Vistage thing,” is the website.

You’ll also see the Vistage small business index in the Wall Street Journal just about every month where CEOs from all around the country get a chance to tell the Wall Street Journal what they think about the economy, how’s it impacting their business, etcetera, just a lot of great things that that Vistage group does. And I’ve been a part of that now for almost six years and it’s really helped change my view on business and really building that vision internally. And it’s helped me be a better financial planner, so that I can translate that data into helping people be better CEOs of their own finance and their own retirement. So, really appreciate you taking the time, Tony, to be with us here today. Thanks again, Tony.

[00:47:09] Tony Lewis: Thank you.


[00:47:09] Dean Barber: So, there you have it, Tony Lewis, CEO, retired military, but still at it today, still guiding people to truly understand that you’re in control of your own future. And if you want to learn about Vistage, find the links in our show notes at

It’s been invaluable to me and my business and the impact of my personal relationships and being able to talk with other people from all aspects of life. We’re all intertwined in some way and there’s just about every single business has similar issues and problems. Vistage helps you understand how to deal with those issues from people who’ve been there before and done it. And it’s decisions that you make today that are going to impact your future.

I hope you enjoyed The Guided Retirement Show. If you haven’t subscribed to The Guided Retirement Show, go ahead and click the subscribe button. Share this episode with your friends. There was something in here for just about everybody that you know. Whether they’re in business or just to impact their personal life. Thank you for listening to The Guided Retirement Show. I’m Dean Barber.


Investment advisory service is offered through Modern Wealth Management, an SEC-registered investment advisor.

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The views expressed represent the opinion of Modern Wealth Management an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Information provided is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment, tax, or legal advice. Modern Wealth Management does not accept any liability for the use of the information discussed. Consult with a qualified financial, legal, or tax professional prior to taking any action.