Dallin Larsen: Well, good evening, everybody! Dallin Larsen from my home in the mountains of Utah on this March 22nd, 2020. This is the inaugural issue of Life Lessons. I thought a few weeks ago, as the world has changed pretty dramatically, that I want to start a series and maybe turn off the TV once in a while. People need to hear some stories from people about life and how they’ve gotten through things in the past, and I thought of “Life Lessons.” And so, we’ve decided to do this series for the foreseeable future every Sunday evening.
And as I was thinking about my inaugural guests, I immediately thought of my dear friend Maria Ramirez for a number of reasons. I’ve known Maria for many years, and I have known her to be someone who is very tall in the midst of crises. I’ve seen how she acts and reacts to things and so I thought not only will I be blessed and learn from Maria tonight, I wanted you to be able to hear. So hopefully you’ll enjoy the next few minutes as we just have a little discussion.
I often ask and hear people say, “Well, you know, where are you from?” And they’ll say what town they’re from. But I like to peel back the onion, you know…where are you really from? What experiences have you had in your life that bring you to this very moment? That’s really where you’re from. And if you know where you’re from, then you can determine better where you’re going. And so, with that, I want to bring on the woman who the head of the Wall Street Journal called “the world’s foremost financial forecaster.” And, as amazing as she is at finance and and giving counsel to top CEOs and corporations all over the world, she is an even better person and friend. I’ve seen how she acts when people aren’t watching, and I’ve seen the kindness and the goodness inside of her. And so, she’s joining us this evening from her home. I think George [Maria’s husband] is probably there; they’re holed up in their home in New Jersey or in New York. They’ve got a couple of places. But, Maria, are you with us?
Maria Ramirez: Yes, I am. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I thank you very much for that nice introduction. I love always what you do and the people you surround yourself with. And I think the points that you were making before about knowing where you’re from, it’s really important because if we don’t acknowledge where we are from, it’s really hard to appreciate what we could do going forward with everything that we face every day. I appreciate where we came from and all the things that have made us what we are.
Dallin: You know, Maria, we’ve been all over the world, haven’t we? We’ve gone a lot of places together with George. I’ll never forget the day that I held some plates from Positano, Italy. You referred me to a place to get some beautiful plates. I love plates. And I’ll never forget the day that we were climbing down on the Amalfi Coast and you seemed to know a lot of people in Positano. And we went into this beautiful boutique clothing store of a member of your family. I hope that everyone on the call tonight will say a prayer for Maria and her family and all people of the world. Italy is a near and dear place to Maria. I want you to talk, Maria, about where you come from and how you came to America and how old you were at the time and why you came.
Maria: Sure, I’d love to. I came from Italy when I was 13, and it was because my parents thought about better economic opportunities. My grandfather had come here at the turn of the century—last century—but he went back after a short period of time. So, we had a lot of family here in the mid-50s after World War II. I remember growing up, there were still houses that had been bombed during the war. And, you know, the risks were there. There were no roofs. So, coming to this country was quite an improvement. But, you know, we were happy with what we had. You know, [for us] having a banana was something that you had when you were sick. So, this is the land of abundance and definitely the land of opportunities. [But], coming to this country when I was 13 and not knowing English and my parents didn’t know English, the first thing we wanted to do was to go back.
Dallin: How long did it take you before you felt like this is home for you?
Maria: Two years, so long as it took us 18 months to learn English. By the time I was in high school, I was very good at spelling. And the rest was pretty much easy compared to what it was for other relatives that I knew in Italy. I think in Italy all a young girl could aspire to be was a teacher, and there were many years awaiting in order to be a teacher. So, coming here and going to high school and being able to go to college at night was something that was unheard of in Italy because the U.S. was much more progressive.
Dallin: How did you make the funds or get the funds to even go to college?
Maria: Well, at that time college was $35 dollars a credit—a lot less than what it is these days. You were able to make those things happen, you know, without getting a loan. My parents didn’t have the money to send me to school, but I was lucky to have a job and save money. I learned to save. I was brought up very much with, “You spend what you can afford, and you save as much as you can.” So, I think that going to school at night and paying for it made me appreciate tuition and the sacrifices that you make in order to go to school and work during the day.
Dallin: Well, your parents must’ve been very strong people to come over here without knowing the English language looking for a better life. They must have taught you some lessons, right? Or were you just born that way? Where did that come from for you?
Maria: Well, I think that the more you struggle in life when you are younger and the more challenges you have, you build calluses and you build resiliency. It just makes you a stronger person. I think one could deal with problems and crises without really kind of being disappointed along the way in that I think every crisis is an opportunity to be a better person. Every setback is an opportunity to be better. Every opportunity where you do better is an opportunity to share what you have. So, I think, you know, my parents always taught me to share, and it was almost natural that you did what you did if you were successful. And if you were not successful, you hope you learn from it and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.
Dallin: Well, you finish college, you go to work. Give us maybe a couple-minute synopsis of your career and if you always wanted to be in the financial sector, how you found yourself on Wall Street, and how you went from a college student to owning your own company.
Maria: Well, I’ve been working since 1967 and I’ve always been in the financial business. I always liked the fact that economic growth drives personal wealth. It drives national wealth. It just drives things to be better for everyone because if we are financially healthy, it helps us to be better people who give to others. I was an economics major. I worked for firms that went out of business. And so, 30 years ago, I decided that I wanted to be on my own. So, I started my own company. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I surrounded myself with people that knew more than me. And I think really that’s the trick to building anything: Surround yourself with people that know more than you, and I think you’ll be fine.
So, I surrounded myself with good friends—those that wished me well and those that didn’t wish me well, there were always a few; I ignored them. But I didn’t have a business plan. So, there was research and then managing money and then a brokerage firm. All that I have done, it came because others told me that I could do it and then I just went for it. I always tell people that want to start their own business, “All you need is one customer. All you need is someone to say yes. That could be your ambassador to other people.”
Dallin: So, for the last 30 years you’ve been the founder and CEO of Maria Fiorini Ramirez, and you’ve traveled the globe consulting with the top corporations in the world. You find yourself on MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, and FOX, as they have come and asked you about financial matters. We’re in the financial crisis right now. I was trying to think back to the last health crisis and financial crisis that occurred simultaneously. Do you know of one?
Maria: Most of the crises in the last 100 years had been spurred by something to do with the markets, something to do in finance. There was the Spanish flu from 1915 to 1919. Eighteen-million people died. And then, of course, there were economic repercussions after that. But all the crises in my career had been because of high inflation, high oil prices, credit problems, bank problems, real estate problems, dot.com problems, telecom problems, the financial crisis 2008. Most of them had been because of poor credit management in the global system. But we never had one that’s a combination like this one. It’s a global health crisis. It’s an economic crisis and then a financial crisis. So, we are all linked together in the world, and this one is certainly global in scope.
Dallin: Well, we’re going to come through this like we always do. It kind of reminds me a little bit…on June 5th of 1976, I woke up and heard the news that the dam had broken about 30 miles above our home in Idaho. And by the end of the day, my father’s clothing stores and our home was destroyed. He and my mom had 10 kids and he lost everything. You know, I remember that day saying we’ve lost everything. But I think on Saturday he gathered his children together with my mother and we all knelt down, and he said a prayer I’ll never forget. And it was something like he was showing his gratitude. And I’m grateful that even though he lost his businesses and his house, the things that mattered most to him, he still has. And we’re all in a circle together, and I’ll never forget that perspective. And it taught me at a pretty young age the importance of perspective. You said wherever there’s a crisis, there’s an opportunity. Talk about a few of the opportunities that you see right now. Any advice that you have for people watching from home on what they should do? I mean, we already know what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t be out and putting ourselves and others’ lives in jeopardy. I mean, choices have consequences now more than ever. But talk about a few of the things that we should do during this situation we find ourselves in.
Maria: I think that we shouldn’t make any significant financial decisions. Look at all companies, whether it’s 3M, Heinz, Honeywell, General Motors, everybody is kind of offering to retool, to do whatever is needed. You know, the U.S., we are so generous, and we are so full of people that are willing to pitch in and help whenever there’s a crisis. Your father was a great man. I could just imagine what he was doing with the family when that happened. People show up from all over to help out. So now that we have not only a national but a global need for a solution, a medical solution for people to make masks, for people to make uniforms…everybody is pitching in. New York’s got the worst of it right now. You know, we have a high population, high density. They put up a tent in Brooklyn the other day for hundreds of people around the block who are going to be tested. Some government checks are gonna go out. Some financial support is going to be out there. I think it’s a good time for us to be helping out as much as we can for those that need it desperately right now in whichever way we can.
Dallin: Well, we’re supposed to isolate ourselves, but we shouldn’t isolate from Facetime and Zooms. I know that as a company we’ve adapted, and we’re a virtual company now. I mean, just a few days ago, Maria, I was on a Zoom call with people from at least 11 different countries. And I think, my gosh, how much time I saved not jumping on planes, going to 11 countries to speak to these folks. Our friends are our global community. So, look, we’ve got technology right now to stay connected. Let’s stay connected! What’s the silver lining? Maybe a few. The silver linings for me are I’m spending more time taking inventory of my life, my priorities, how I’m spending my time and with whom. My children and I, we decided to read 10 pages a day out of the scriptures and then share on WhatsApp our insights from the day’s reading. And that’s been really, really nice. There’s no quarantine on showing love and kindness. You shared with me in Orlando that you were in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and you followed your gut instinct and you got yourself out while other people were staying. The importance of listening to your gut and making wise choices—some of these choices are life and death choices. Now is such a time. But you’ve gone through various crises. And I’ll tell you that hometown of mine, we took a year or so to rebuild it, but we’re better off. It’s nothing like a crisis to bring people together to help us realize we’re all on the same planet together, regardless of our race, regardless or country of origin, regardless of how we worship. So maybe just take two minutes to share with all of us a little about 9/11.
Maria: I’m happy to. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was in one of the two buildings on the 50th floor. I actually was in the first building that went down. And when I heard that noise, materials and things on fire coming down the building that I was in, I thought it was a small plane that was on top of the building and it crashed. But I kind of panicked and I kind of screamed a bit to people that we should get the hell out of there. I came down the staircase for a number of floors. Then I did something that you shouldn’t do: I took the elevator from the 36th floor. I went outside eventually, and the other plane came just above my head and hit the other building. So, you know, they were telling us in the building not to go out, to stay in the building. But if I listened, I wouldn’t be where I am. So, what I’ve always learned is to go with your instinct. So, I am grateful that I didn’t do what I was supposed to do that morning, which was to go to the first tower on the 94th floor. If I had done that, I wouldn’t be here; and the 60 friends of mine that worked for that company didn’t make it out. But you appreciate every friend, every moment, everything that you do whenever you’re able to survive against the odds. I am grateful for the experiences that I’ve had that made me a stronger person. I’m blessed to be the age that I am, and I look forward to many more years sharing with you and your family and all the friends that we have at Vasayo. We are a family and, you know, I’m blessed to have so many wonderful people that I’ve had many years of friendship with.
Dallin: Maria, you’re such a joy and a blessing. I’m so grateful that you listened to your instincts on that day on September 11th. My world would be a lot different had you not. I’m a different person because you made those choices on that very day. And I always say choices have consequences. Some choices have larger consequences. And you’ve made a series of very good choices. You’ve married George. I hope you say that was a good choice. I think you do.
Maria: Definitely, 47 years. Good choice.
Dallin: We’ve had some wonderful Italian dinners in New York together. And, hey, maybe just talk a minute about how you guys work together. Because in this business, you know, oftentimes husbands and wives are working together. That’s not the easiest thing to do for some people. Maybe for you and George it has been a walk in the park but give us a minute of advice to the couples on how to work together.
Maria: I think it’s good to ignore things that are not important. When we were younger, of course, it took a while to learn what was important. And I think that as we get older and mature and, you know, these things in life that hit us, whether it was, you know, 9/11 or sickness in the family, you know, parents no longer being with us…it takes part of your heart out. So, you kind of understand what’s important. You realize that arguments are really, you know, not needed. There’s nothing that important that you should argue. But, you know, in life, people come along that try to drive a wedge among you or your family, your friends, or your spouse. You just have to ignore those things that are negative and focus on the positives.
Dallin: That’s so good. Great advice, Maria. Well, you know, I don’t know that there’s ever been a time in my lifetime where people are more in search of, or understand better, the importance of being strong and fit and healthy, as well as realizing how fast things can evaporate financially. And so, I think that from a business perspective, we’re perfectly positioned. I hope that you’re taking your products every day.
Maria: And don’t pay attention to things that you see on the headlines every day because it’s not good for your health. You have to stay positive. You have to stay healthy because as long as you’re healthy, everything else will work itself out.
Dallin: Okay, we’re going to wrap up Maria. Give the first three or four things that come to your mind for the people who are watching us right now. Three or four tips or suggestions that they ought to be implementing in their life right now.
Maria: Number one, be patient. Number two, ignore anything negative. Don’t watch TV a lot. Read the Bible. Read a good book. Just stay in touch with people that you have not talked to for a long time. I can’t tell you how happy we have been to have calls with people that we haven’t talked to in six months or six years or so, even 10 years. It makes older people so happy to hear from their grandchildren. So, I think that, you know, you’ll have more time now to focus on your life, but also focus on the loved ones.
Dallin: Very good. That’s sage advice. Maria, thank you so much for your knowledge and just your goodness. You’re just a joy to be around. You make everybody feel better, and that’s a gift. And I’m grateful that you didn’t bury that gift of yours. I’m grateful for all the experiences you’ve had in life and the crises that you’ve lived through so you can share with us the importance of perspective. I’m grateful to your parents for their courage in crossing the ocean and coming to America because you’ve made a difference in so many lives as a result of that.
Well, listen folks, thank you for joining us. Until the next Life Lessons next Sunday, I want to leave you with the advice of one of my great mentors in life who said to me, “Dallin, remember that quiet, calm deliberation can disentangle every knot, and this knot will be disentangled.” Let us remain quiet and calm and deliberate in all matters. Until next Sunday, God bless.