When Jeff Sandefer and his wife, Laura, started Acton Academy in 2010 with a single school in Austin, Texas, they had no idea that their network of schools would grow to 325 campuses in 26 countries just 13 years later. In this episode, Sandefer, a former oil and gas executive who has taught entrepreneurship at the college level, explains why every child is a “genius” who must embark on their own “hero’s journey” and why he believes Acton’s model has gained so much traction among “parent entrepreneurs.” (Recorded October 23, 2023.)
Robert Bryce 0:05
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And we’re going to be talking a lot of politics and innovation, particularly about education today with my guest, Jeff Sandefur. He is the founder of Acton Academy. Jeff, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Jeff Sandefer 0:23
Thanks, Robert. Great to be here.
Robert Bryce 0:24
Now, I didn’t warn you this a total ambush. And we were friends. We are sons are friends. But I didn’t warn you that guests on this podcast introduce themselves. So you have a long CV, you’ve sent me your bio. But imagine you’ve arrived somewhere you don’t know anyone. You have 60 seconds to introduce yourself
Jeff Sandefer 0:41
go? Yeah, well, I am a entrepreneur and a Socratic teacher. And so I’ve founded a number of businesses. But I’ve spent the last 35 years not only doing business, but also as a Socratic teacher at the graduate school level. And then as I think we’re going to talk about today, as I spent 13 years as a full time middle school and high school teacher, and now we call them guides. And we’ll get into all that. But so I’ve spent a lot of my time in the classroom asking questions. And the time I don’t spend doing that I’ve spent starting businesses.
Robert Bryce 1:13
Good. Well, that was less than 60 seconds. And you’re also married Laura Sandefur, who helped co found acting Academy and you have two kids. And so anyway, and that was how we met was through acting Academy. My son Jacob went to act and now several years ago, almost 10 years ago. So we’re friends. We’ve been friends for a while, but I’m pleased to have you on the podcast. Acting Academy started, you started this idea of the Socratic method in a one room schoolhouse. I’m abbreviating what the idea behind this is in 2010. And now you’re up to 270 campuses. Is that right? And how many countries?
Jeff Sandefer 1:49
Well, I actually the number keeps growing. We’re at about 325. Now in 26 countries, and I think last count 42 US states.
Robert Bryce 2:00
Well, that’s remarkable growth for any business to go from in what 13 years from one to 325, right? I mean, if you’re a franchise selling tacos, or you know, burgers, or you know, clothing or something that, you know, 123 125 and 13 years, as just as a business right would be pretty remarkable growth. But Acton Academy is a nonprofit, is it not for a 501 C three?
Jeff Sandefer 2:23
It is it is so we’re not for profit. Even more remarkably, we have an 18,000 Auditions from parent entrepreneurs who want to start an acting. So 18,000 people have raised their hand and said, I want to start one, we’ve only had the capacity so far to start 325. So there’s, there’s a lot more growth to happen.
Robert Bryce 2:43
So tell us then we’ll okay. So very, as briefly as you can, and I know you’ve talked about this, and I was watching part of your interview with Jordan Peterson, you were you interviewed with him in March? What is Acton Academy? And why has it had this incredible traction in the marketplace of ideas around education?
Jeff Sandefer 3:04
Well, I’ve got to go back to the start for just a second. Because, you know, we started this for our own two boys, you know, and we started with seven young people, and a blank sheet of paper and a one room schoolhouse. So everything that has happened has been by trial and error, not by design.
Robert Bryce 3:21
And it was by the way started with that was here in Austin, Texas, that where you did this,
Jeff Sandefer 3:25
it was in Austin, Texas. Trial and error one step at a time, we never thought we would have a middle school, much less than middle school and as we call it a launchpad, which is the high school nor that we even have one more action. But so there’s a whole story of how this happened through trial and error. But it’s really just like all of entrepreneurship. Now, the main mission we started with, and our belief still today is that every child is a genius. Who deserves to find a calling that will change the world. And it’s important when I say the word genius, people immediately jumped to 180 IQ. Now, that’s not what the word means. The word means to have an exceptional talent or gift. So, you know, I wish I were six feet tall with a full head of hair and look like Brad Pitt. But this is what I got. I don’t have and so it doesn’t matter if you have 180 IQ or a lower IQ. What we believe matters is resilience, grit, getting along with other people being committed to something and the way we encapsulate all of that is in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. And if you think about the hero’s journey, Robert it’s it’s the basis for almost every successful novel or movie. Every Marvel adventure is all the hero’s journey. The hero, here’s a call. They crossed the threshold to adventure. They have three or four battles, and then they either seize the holy grail or they don’t. And you know that’s the story of akon is we think each child is a hero and is going to go out there and have battles in the world. And we want to equip them for that.
Robert Bryce 4:58
You know, I got to tell you because As I said, my son Jacob went to act. And when I heard this whole Hero’s Journey thing at the beginning, I thought, Oh, come on, you know, I just thought, that’s just sounds. On the surface. It sounds hokey, but as you were saying that it reminds me of that, that movie, you know, what’s, what is every movie script, right? You have the hero, the hero gets in trouble. That’s the first act and the second act, a hero gets in more trouble. And then the third act, something happens that changes, you know, the hero, right? You know, but that, why that comes to mind. But right, but that’s the kind of this narrative structure, right? The hero has an adventure, and he gets in trouble. And then he gives them even more trouble. And somehow, something happens that makes it all worthwhile in the end,
Jeff Sandefer 5:39
yeah, I think that resonates. Because that’s the story of each of us, right? We each go out and try something hard. And we stumbled. Now, the opposite of the hero’s journey is victimhood, or powerless. Maybe I can’t do anything about this, the world’s not fair. Well, of course, the world’s not fair. It’s not fair at all. But it’s on each of us as individuals to go do something about it. And hopefully to do that in community while we’re serving others. So in a way, it can sound hokey, but I’ll tell you to a six year old or an eight year old or a 14 year old, it doesn’t sound hokey at all, you know, it sounds like the way life should be loved. And it’s important to say, you know, heroes these days, you think about people on social media. And you know, that hero means prestige, wealth, and we don’t believe that at all, we believe being a hero means when you get knocked down, you get back up. So heroes don’t always win. But they always get back up, dust themselves off, and walk back into the fight. So heroes about being resilient, about caring about something passionate, and doing something in the world.
Robert Bryce 6:43
Well, it’s interesting, you framed it that way, because this is the grievance culture, right? This is what’s been identified today that everyone has a grievance against whoever is in power, right, that this idea of victimhood is pervasive in our politics. It’s pervasive, I think, on campus, you know, which is part of now this, why some of these, you know, these campus speech debates are so, so nasty, right? And so they’re happening all across the country, right about who’s going to be allowed to speak up and say, their mind? And but there is, do you see that? And I mean, in general, in in US culture, or more around the world, this idea of victimhood? And is that one of the reasons why we’re seeing this alienation in our culture. And as Jonathan Hite talks about this, you know, the, you know, the cloistering or the, you know, the desegregation of society, people are segregating themselves, and, and fighting and not and not identifying or seeking common ground. We even see it in, in the GOP in the US House today, which is just beyond, you know, stupid in my view. But how do you think about victimhood in this, this idea of grievance culture more broadly?
Jeff Sandefer 7:54
Well, I think I think the important thing is you’re we’re very apolitical enacted, and we’ve got people from the left and from the right. And so if you want to ask me all the great injustice in the world, absolutely, right? Terribly things that are terribly unfair in the world. And I’ve been one of the luckiest guys possible. So I’m not one to sit around and say, there’s no injustice. The question is, what are you going to do about it as an individual, so I’m old enough to be kind of the grumpy old Muppet, and you’re on the balcony complaining about the world and young people aren’t what they used to be. But that’s just not what we see at Acton. I mean, what we see is when you give young people something to passionately believe in, and you give them tools, and you trust them to build their own cultures, they build something amazing. So it’s, we really don’t get into ideology, and it’s in the sense of trying to inculcate in cultural children one way or the other. We just ask questions. There’s questions like, does power corrupt? The interesting question, right? Well, times, okay. When? Okay, how do you keep it from corrupting you? What corrupting thoughts of you. So we have, it’s basically about asking questions and letting young people choose. And it takes a lot of the politics on the left and the right out of it. So we do say, Robert winter, there’s three things that will stop you from a hero’s journey. The first one is resistance. I’m scared. The second is distraction. Well, look at all the fun stuff on the internet. The third is victimhood. And that there’s actually an antidote for every one of those poisons, for resistance and fear. It’s take the first step. I’m scared. Okay, let’s just take one step together. Let’s go one step closer. Okay, well, what about distraction? Well, for distraction, you just have to prioritize. Now, that gets hard because you have to decide what matters when you prioritize, and that’s difficult. So we’ll give young people a set of questions to work out what matters to them, then you’re not distracted anymore. You’re focused. But the third one, the idea of victimhood. For me, I can’t do anything. The anecdote for them, it’s actually interesting. There’s only one anecdote, it’s gratitude. For the I’m in a terrible place, possibly true. Other people are in a worse place. Let’s be grateful and go out and do something about it. Because when I see people who are homeless, or people who have a terrible physical disability, and as you’ll know, I was almost killed a couple of years ago and kind of relearn how to walk. And there were a lot of people a lot worse off than I was, I mean, but when you look at them, most of those people will get back up and do something about it. And they’re out there trying and they’re changing, even when they’re homeless. They’re out there trying to help and serve other people. So we’re just trying to pick out the heroes and the heroes stories and celebrate them. And it gives young people challenges to go out and do something.
Robert Bryce 10:48
So walk us through the business model at the sense it’s a nonprofit, you’re you’re you’re essentially a franchise operation, right? I mean, is that is that a fair way to think you’re kind of like, I’m not going to this don’t mean this in any insulting way. But kind of like a McDonald’s, you’re you’re selling a franchise to someone who says, oh, I want to do that in my town with my you know, these kids. How does that work?
Jeff Sandefer 11:10
Okay, so first, my law degrees in the mail, but my understanding, not be a not for profit and be a franchise. Okay. It’s easy to find. So we’re just careful about that. Because we really are in a franchise now. Are we equipping parents to go out and start these these communities? Absolutely. And so the way that isn’t,
Robert Bryce 11:30
but is that if it’s not the right word, as if it’s not French, I use a community and but it is it’s that’s the similar concept, right? Or is that I’m not using the wrong term? Am I? No, not
Jeff Sandefer 11:40
at all? No, it’s just technically legally, we’re just not a gotcha. Okay. Fair enough. Yeah. Something technically, it’s important. We’re more providing people with a kit, and a community to go out and build something. So it looks a little bit like Alcoholics Anonymous, and we have 320 some odd campuses, we only have one staff member, and Laura and me. So how do you do that? Well, you have to be very decentralized, you have to trust the people you pick, you have to have a very simple program. I mean, Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the greatest not for profit stories of time, probably since the early Christian church. You know, we think a lot about Wikipedia and how volunteers create things. So we’ve really got these these parent entrepreneurs who want to build something for their children. And their now they got real skin in the game, right, like you had with Jacob. I mean, they really care. And we’ll provide them with a kid in a community to go build something. And for that, we charge $15,000 plus a 3% fee. Now, what’s interesting is, every community gives back something to the network, and they’re paying for that. And at the end of the of the period, we pick the very best campuses, the ones that are doing the learner driven the best, and we rebate their fees back to them. So in a way, you know, you pay but the better you do, the more you get back. And so everyone’s incentivized to make the model better as we grow. And the kit just gets better every year.
Robert Bryce 13:11
And the 15,000 is a one time fee. Yeah,
Jeff Sandefer 13:14
it’s a one time fee. It’s $5,000. For the for the we don’t call it a curriculum, I’ll explain why not in a minute, but for the learning challenges. And it’s $10,000 to attend orientation. Because that’s our bottleneck is how many people can we orient and so we charge $5,000 Each for two people to come. And then you remember the network, and you might have a fairly small campus. So 3% of the revenues on that is not much. But we have a lot of campuses now that are 100 Plus learners. And these are real, K through 12 large operations, but they grow from very small places.
Robert Bryce 13:49
Well, I know correct me if I’m wrong here. My wife Lauren taught in Montessori School. I was on the board at Parkside community schools started by my friends Joe and Claire Brenau, here in Austin. And but your son’s went through Montessori early on, if I remember correctly, and the reason I’m asking that is that you are one of the things you’re doing with Acton is multi age classrooms, right? It is similar to I mean, that goes back to the one room schoolhouse, but it’s also one of the features of Montessori, what is the what’s the advantage of multi age classrooms?
Jeff Sandefer 14:19
Well, the biggest advantage there several. One advantage is you can exactly figure out which child is supposed to be doing what at what time. And you might say, Well, gosh, that sounds like a disadvantage. But it’s an advantage because it allows each child to develop their own skills and their own talents. And you can applaud people doing well in math or reading or building a project. Everybody can win at something. But it’s too complicated to figure out if you’re really ahead or behind because there’s so many ways to win, that you just have to pick one and go for it. And so what it allows people to do is develop their talents without worrying about too much that Johnny Can’t read quite as well, at age seven is some other child. I mean, Albert Einstein could barely read it all by age eight, he turned out to do a pretty good job, Thomas Edison same story. So it gets away from this measuring every child and expecting them to develop in lockstep. And and so you said McDonald’s earlier, there’s two ways to think about children. You can think about them as cogs in a machine, that a carpenter or mechanic homes. And that’s how most many educators speak of children. Right? So whenever I hear that, I say, well, is that what you want for your child? And of course, the answer is no, I don’t you know, it’s we’re in a home them to be productive citizens. Was that what you want for your child? No, no, I want my child to find what they love to do to be passionate about it, to have friends and like, Well, then why do you want to be have other children be cogs. And so the opposite of McDonald’s is this idea of the small communities where people are working to build the communities, and they’re not cogs, they turn out to be who they were meant to be, it’s more like a garden, we’re providing a soil for these young people to grow in the freedom. Now, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that. But in fact, they’re probably the most responsible communities you’ll ever be in. Because the children form their own contracts, as you will know, that run their own studios. These are the most kind of responsible children you’ll ever meet, because they’ve been trusted. And I’ll tell you one thing we discovered, children are capable of doing far more than adults think they can’t I mean, children are lazy and what they can accomplish. They just dumb it down, if you put them in a room of 30 people the same age and talk at them all the time.
Robert Bryce 16:42
So when you say that what pops in my head? You talked about this idea of the you know, honing the cogs, right. So I think of that great Charlie Chaplin image right? Of him in the factory, right, but it’s the idea. Well, my friend Joe Bruno, who founded Parkside Community School talked about as a government school, right, you know, and he just, you know, use the example spits those words out, well, it’s government school. But it’s also the idea of the school as the factory, right that the school is churning out workers for so they can go in the factory and be the cog in the wheel. So I like that. So is that a fair way to think about it, as you were talking about that? It’s the factory model versus the garden model. And it’s an interesting way to, is that fair to think about it that way. And it’s
Jeff Sandefer 17:24
very simple. It’s just as simple as people aren’t cogs. I mean, that’s, I mean, human beings are children are precious human beings. They’re just not cogs. So it’s exactly what you think about it. Nothing wrong with having a factory. And by the way, as you and I both know, you go into modern factory today, it doesn’t look like the factories of Henry Ford’s time. They’re very sophisticated. People aren’t doing the same thing all day, every day, the same way. I mean, it’s, you know, so working in a factory today is a very complicated thing. It’s not like the factories of the 1800s. And yet, in many ways, our educational systems still look like that. So is that why?
Robert Bryce 18:01
I mean, you said you want to stay away from politics? Okay, I got that. But I’m going to press you here a little bit. So when, why, why, or our educational systems doing such a bad job? I mean, you know, we’re the record numbers of record amounts of money. I mean, the norm right now is record, huge amounts of many 10s of 1000s of dollars per child are being spent in many school districts across the country, and yet they’re failing, their students are not doing well, is this is this part of one of the things I thought about when I was preparing for our interview was, Is this a function of the failing of the family and the strong two parent household? Is it or is it a broader societal failing? What is? Is this just a reflection of the kind of decline of the nuclear family? Or is there something that what else? How do you look at this? How do you think about the failure of the school systems across the country?
Jeff Sandefer 18:52
You know, the short answer is I don’t, we’re not in the education reform business. We’re in the business of serving families. And so acting is not the answer to every question. But it’s the answer to parents who want their children on a hero’s journey. And so I’m not in the education reform business. We don’t speak at conferences. We don’t it’s not that we don’t care. I hope the system reforms itself. But we’re creating something new and different to serve people who want that. And, you know, I think back I spent time in my earlier years in the Soviet Union, when when the Soviet Union was falling apart. And you could have kind of spent all your time inside the Soviet Union trying to trying to remedy it, or trying to fix it or trying to reform it. Or you could just build something better and lift up the gate and see which way that people go. And, you know, that’s what happened when the Berlin Wall fell. And so we’re just trying to build something better. It’s something that might serve some people and the rest of the system is going to have to take care of itself. We’re just not in we don’t I don’t criticize the system. I don’t attack it. I don’t try to figure it out. Because that takes away time from adding Another 10 or 20, acts and academies. And when you see these young people come out, if you saw Jacob come out and our sons, what they’re capable doing is just incredible. Hopefully, that’ll spread. But our mission is just to serve the families we have. It’s not to reform education. I can give you all sorts of reasons. I think it’s messed up. But the truth is, I haven’t been in a public school for 13 years. And maybe if I was, if I had been, I would have a lot of reforms in mind, I haven’t been in the shoes of traditional teachers finding what they have to find. I’ve been in an acting studio, you know, seeing what happens in the magic that happens there. That’s about all I can talk about.
Robert Bryce 20:41
Is that is that part of the success? So fair enough? And I, you know, as you say, that I think about my own attitude toward my critics or, you know, things, you know, there, I can’t address all those issues. So I just don’t, I don’t address them. And it’s like, I don’t have enough, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to take on those issues. So I focus on my thing, right, which I think is that makes sense.
Jeff Sandefer 21:02
We talk a lot of actin about the shadow. You’re the hero art has had this thing from their backstory that, that when they see it in other people, it makes them angry and the UN. So it’s more about myself when I get really mad about something like in the system. And so I try to work more on what is it about myself that’s causing that and let me go do something positive with it, rather than projecting it on the system? Look, I can I can rail on any system you want to mention, I can go negative for a long time.
Robert Bryce 21:31
We have, we only have an hour, Jeff. So let’s let’s leave.
Jeff Sandefer 21:35
I mean, I need to go do something positive about it. And that’s what we are equipping these young people to do is giving them the inspiration and the tools and the questions to go do something positive.
Robert Bryce 21:47
Let’s see. Let’s follow up on that. Because that was one of the things that I There were things obviously that I think my son Jacob learned, he’s our youngest. And but I think it was ultimately you got to teach yourself, right that you you can talk about all these other things, you can you know, whatever. But when it comes down to it, when that where does the buck stop? The buck stops right here. It’s about that whole thing of personal responsibility, which is considered it kind of a political thing. I know that conservatives, right, yeah. Well, you have to take personal responsibility. Well, hell yeah. But it’s interesting. I’ll just give you one quick thought and then I’ll put it back to you. But it was a friend of mine, who we knew when we when we were homeschooling. And his daughter was very bright. She went to Harvard Medical School. And what did she learn there? She had to teach herself right that they had all this fancy bla bla bla bla bla, but ultimately, it was she had to take it on her own self, that she might have been at Harvard, right. You know, very prestigious, but but it was up to her. And it was just this one kind of reaffirmation of what we saw as homeschoolers, and we saw it acting was it ultimately the what is the kind of make it happen yourself? So is that but it’s when you sit inspiration, that’s what brought that to mind? Was this idea that ultimately, when it comes down to brass tacks, what you’re you’re giving them a place where you’re inspiring them to take on their own? Will their own hero’s journey, their own personal responsibility to educate themselves? Is that a fair way to think about kind of the broad concept?
Jeff Sandefer 23:10
I do think that’s fair, that’s true. The other thing that comes into that, and I’m more of an individualist, and you know, I trained at the Harvard Business schools where the case method and love being there, I’ve taught at that level at the graduate level, Socratic ly. So I love that kind of approach of asking questions. But what we found at the academy is it’s not just about the individual, it’s also about the community. And I think that there’s two things that when Jacob or Charlie or Sam come out of school, they’ve really learned it’s self management, right, I’ve got to set goals and reach them. If I want to, if I want to get something done, I’ve got to have this self managing part of me. And then I’ve also got to have the ability to self govern, I’ve got to be able to get a group of people together and either follow a leader, or become the leader, and get those people to do something. So you act and the young people move at two to three grade levels every year until they max out the text. So all across act, and we said it, and then nobody cares about the silly test. And the hardest thing we have to do is get people actually even take the test after a while because they just don’t care. Because they’re all doing they can read, they can write, they can do math you’re having so that’s all off the table. But the hard things are the ability to self manage and self govern. And that’s the name that you learn day in and day out. How do you learn it? Because you have to manage yourself, and because you have to govern in a community. And we didn’t, by the way, start out with this as a grand plan. This is what we learned trial and error, time and time again, offering choices to young people have would you rather do A or would you rather do b Would You Rather tried democracy or a benevolent dictatorship to run the studio for a while. And again, it’s always a hot mess. It’s getting torn apart. It’s getting put back together again. Sometimes the whole studio falls apart for three weeks and it’s Lord of the Flies and you say Oh, what a bunch of wasted time. And then you look back five years later. And the biggest learning happened during that three weeks when the studio fell apart. That was the real learning because they had to put it back together and figure
Robert Bryce 25:13
out how to cooperate toward a broader team goal. So it’s individual and team at the same time.
Jeff Sandefer 25:20
Yeah, it’s the two. Yeah, you gotta have both.
Robert Bryce 25:24
So back to the business of the business here. So you have a nonprofit, you have this incoming cash. And you’ve got only two employees at the nonprofit. Well, you know what I one thing I know about bureaucracies and having been around nonprofits and NGOs, and you know, the rest of it with their whole goal is, well, you got to grow the budget, right? And we’re going to hire more people. And we’re going to do more of this and that. So you got this flow of cash coming in? Where does that all? How do you manage that as a as a nonprofit?
Jeff Sandefer 25:53
Well, we managed, if you remember, earlier, we redistributed back to the best campuses. So hey, we’re giving that money back. And we’re just starting that process. Now. They’re just starting to make enough money to do that. But we’re actually you know, it’s almost as if you sign up for a co op, and then you get a rebate at the end of the year. If there’s a surplus. So I love
Robert Bryce 26:13
I love coops, right, because he’s one of the backbones of American public, you know, public power, right, is that we own in vans, cooperatively owned power systems,
Jeff Sandefer 26:21
but the rebate doesn’t go back equally to every person, it goes back to the people who contribute the most. So there is a there is a tiered system and how well you’re running your studio, I’d say the amazing thing we’re seeing on the model side is we’ve got campuses with 100 to 130 learners with only two adults. And so we’re seeing the ability for young people to learn at this accelerated rate at a cost that is sometimes as low as $1,000 per learner per year. So you can you contrast that earlier with 10s of 1000s of dollars for traditional schools. I know our daughter went to she was she was too old to be an act. And she went to a private school in Austin, it was $40,000 a year. And they money, lost money charging, but acting because the learners do everything themselves. The cost can be incredibly low. And they’re also out doing apprenticeships at very early ages. They’re out in the real world working.
Robert Bryce 27:19
You’re also not fielding sports teams, you don’t have I mean, you’re not you know, this isn’t part of the other kind of infrastructure that has become as I look at the university systems around the country, well, let me put it that I can opine here, but I know you you’re focused on grade school in high school. So let’s talk for just a minute about the universities around the country. Do we have an excess? Do we have a surplus of universities in America?
Jeff Sandefer 27:48
Well, yeah, yes. And I would say I would start with however many there are, that’s the surplus.
Robert Bryce 27:57
There football teams that happen to run a school is that the right the, but I asked that because there’s you know, all these universities, there’s a lot of expansion, they’re building more buildings and spending more money on this, that the other but the baby boom is over. And the number of incoming high school seniors who are qualified to go into college has been declining and will continue to decline. So it seems like we’ve over built that whole segment of the educational system is that if that’s what it appears to me, am I wrong?
Jeff Sandefer 28:24
Well, I can tell you what we what we see from from the standpoint of actin, and Launchpad errs are high schoolers who are graduating. I don’t believe any of them need college for any reason. Except maybe they have to have a credential. So you have to have some sort of stamp to become a doctor or to become a citizen, there might be some sort of credential issue, you have to hack a college degree. But I can take from our two sons who are at your high end colleges. They have not learned a single thing in college in their classes worthwhile. My opinion, not there’s so I don’t want to get him in trouble. That’s me saying that as a father, I’ll take my accent hat off now. And I spent a lot of time and higher ed reform and a different point, non actin. I just think the failure of our universities is one of the great failures of time, and I’m not speaking politically, I could talk about that. And we could talk about the political correctness. That’s not what I’m talking about. I just don’t think the schools do a good job of people learning. They charge enormous amounts of money and not very much learning goes on. And I believe in the next 10 to 20 years, we’re gonna see a collapse of that system. The Harvard’s of the world will still be around the UT Austin’s will have a big endowment, there’ll be around but I believe you’re going to see college fundamentally change because at least for our graduates at Acton, it provides no value, not little value, no value zero.
Robert Bryce 29:50
Well, it’s interesting you say that because you went to a prestigious school, right? And Harvard Business School, one of the most prestigious in the world, right? And but those brands, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, law law, you know, Columbia Brown, blah, blah. We know those have power, particularly in the hiring marketplace, right that the students who come out of those universities, they can be courted by the elite law firms elite, you know, accounting firms, elite consulting firms. You know, I’ve seen this myself. So but that is that doesn’t jibe with what you’re saying. You said, you don’t need that. But they are still, that credential still matters a lot in the marketplace in the job market? No,
Jeff Sandefer 30:29
it depends. So as a signal for I’m very smart. Therefore, I got into a prestigious college. It’s a signal. And you know, it’s against the law to basically give employees an IQ test. So they use a very expensive IQ test in a way. So that’s
Robert Bryce 30:46
a Stanford degree is just a very expensive IQ test.
Jeff Sandefer 30:51
Absolutely. Yeah. In getting to hang around some very smart people at Stanford, and not to pick too much on Stanford, I would separate the Harvard Business School and the case method from Harvard University. I put all the ivy League’s, and Stanford and all the other top universities and say they are in essence, these days, a very expensive IQ test, along with a lot of fun and climbing walls and some social conventions. And so they do that very well. And every once in a while they come up with research that might be valuable. That’s, that’s I’m not sure if that’s an accident, or that’s on purpose. But every once in a while it’s actual, it’s actually really science that can be confirmed, and it adds value. So you know, but let’s go back to your statement. I think there’s a great division coming between prestige and competence. So if you tell me that a Harvard degree or a Yale degree, or pick your other campus would get me into or Georgetown, let’s pick that will get me into the State Department, or get me into law school, or any group that does that where prestige matters? Absolutely. What I’m speaking to is competence, the actual ability to do something, including, by the way, argue a case in in court, right? It’d be a prestigious lawyer there another thing to be a litigant who can does it well. So I think the world is going to divide between the competent and that’s what we see coming out of Acton Academy. And that’s what I care about, and our children caravan, and the prestigious and hollow prestige and I just think the world is dividing between one and the other. And I want to be on the competence side.
Robert Bryce 32:36
So but I’ll ask it again, it because I think it’s to me as I look at it, it’s a numbers game. Right. You know that you have with it? I would say put it this way we’ve overbuilt higher education, right. We just have too many classrooms, too many buildings, too many dorms, given the number of students that are coming into that that are qualified to be freshmen in in college is it is it ultimately, you’re talking about a prestige issue, talking about kind of a broader social thing, but I’m just wondering about just the raw numbers of people that have to fill the beds and the desks Is there is there an oversupply?
Jeff Sandefer 33:07
Well, I think there’s a demographic bubble going on. But a good way to think about something much darker than that. I’m saying I do not believe they add any value to the lives of their students. That’s what I’m saying. So, yes, it’s overbuilt, which means the Emperor having no clothes and in essence, it’s educational fraud, that that may be easier to uncover, and a time of overcapacity. But the problem is not the overcapacity The problem is the lack of value delivered to young people. And I see it every day. I mean, I mean, I’ve lived it, I’ve seen it, the system, the institutions are not designed for the good of young people going into, and they’re not adding value.
Robert Bryce 33:50
Period, either. What pops into my mind when you’re my guest, by the way, again, as Jeff Sandefur he’s the co founder of Acton Academy. You can find out more about Acton Academy at Acton. academy.org. And of course, you can look up Jeff, he has a long resume, and business and energy business and so on, which we’ll talk about just in just a minute.
Jeff Sandefer 34:10
Robert, quickly, because we didn’t cover this morning, but, you know, I was at the graduate school at the University of Texas, right. I was five times selected the outstanding teacher in the school. This week, named he’s one of the top 12 entrepreneurship professors in the country, and the economist, one of the top 10 Business School professors in the world. So I spent a lot of time inside higher, so I’m just not popping off about higher ed, right. It’s been a lot of time as a business person inside the halls of academia, up close and personal. I was on the board of Harvard Business School, different boards for 20 years. So I spent a lot of time in higher ed. And so what I’m saying is not just an agreed father, you know, this is somebody who was inside the belly of the beast, and it’s rotten and And I will also say that admission scandals, particularly at public universities, like the University of Texas to allow the incompetent children of the rich and famous in is absolutely against the law and goes on every day. And so it’s just a court. They’re just corrupt institutions, period. That’s I mean,
Robert Bryce 35:18
yeah. So let me add to that, because it seems to me that the game has changed even further with the with now the professionalization of college sports with NIHL name image and likeness payments to athletes, right? We still they still like to call them student athletes. But it seems to me that Deion Sanders and the host university of Colorado thing this year just blown the door off the whole thing. No, it’s all about cash, that this is the university’s athletics programs, our university athletic programs are the ones driving the bus, and it’s all about the money that they’re generating for those athletes, who are in fact, professional at the college level now, which is maybe I don’t know that that’s far afield from what we’re talking about here. But it seems to me kind of a further corruption of at the higher ed in general.
Jeff Sandefer 36:05
Oh, well, that’s my father. My late father was a football player. He played on the great Oklahoma teams that won 47 games straight the bud Wilkinson teams, you’re playing for bud Wilkinson? I didn’t say it but Doug Wilson, he played for Breckenridge high school where they won three state championships in a row. In fact, the players on his team that were a year younger than him never lost a game in high school or college. If they went on to UT. I’m going to Orlando you so the Breckenridge No, no, no, You never lost the game. So dad was very integrally involved in college football and NCAA. And he was always furious that the athletes, many who came from poor homes, generated millions of dollars of revenue, right for their schools and gotten nothing but poor education. So he spent the latter part of his life championing, you know, helping these young young students when they graduated, get jobs, and he would be delighted to see the fact they’re finally getting paid, as opposed to the money going to oversized, inept university sports programs all staffed by you know, I think YouTube’s got $100 million your budget? Yeah, actually, yeah, it’s
Robert Bryce 37:14
more than it’s more than
Jeff Sandefer 37:16
20 million that go to the players. Yeah. Go to a bunch of bureaucrats running the program.
Robert Bryce 37:21
And that’s a fair point. But you know, one of the things I wrote down and this is from a long time ago, and you know, I grew up in Tulsa and watched Missouri Valley Conference basketball, and that was when Louisville was in the Missouri Valley Conference. And they played University of Tulsa. So they were they were rivals. But I remember there was a lot of discussion still is about, you know, bringing in students from disadvantaged homes from low income neighborhoods and then giving them scholarships and Denny Crum, who was the longtime coach at Louisville, pointed out he said, you know, I’ll go into these, you make these you criticize me for, you know, recruiting these students who, yeah, they are not the top students. They are not the valedictorian salutatory ins. But he said, I go in their homes, and they don’t have a magazine, a book, one in the house, there’s just not, they don’t have the opportunities that other kids do. So to say they don’t deserve this opportunity is wrong. And but to me, that, that reflects back on, it seems irrelevant to me now about well, yeah, they’re gonna get to that level. Well, by God, they should make some money, you know, and so that rhymes with me. Let’s go back to business. So now you started a business, the act and business school. You started that was very successful, but you closed that business as a business, you couldn’t make a business of being in the business school business.
Jeff Sandefer 38:37
Well, we couldn’t let we made a business out of it for 20 years. We had terrific graduates. The problem was, we’re going to see Acton Academy get to be 1000 campuses, we believe serving 100,000 young people. Our children’s business fairs, which is another event of not for profit we have that helps young people start businesses is early as five years old, up to 18. They come for a day and they have a business in someone’s yard. We’ve just served our 93,000 customer in that business. And an MBA program, we could only serve about 50 young people a year now they were Navy SEALs, Olympic athletes, rising entrepreneurs, these were rock stars. But we looked at that and the amount of effort it took to serve those 50 just wasn’t at the scale of Acton Academy and the Akron children’s business fair. So we’ve got a whole new program going that we don’t really spend much time on today. But it’s equipping young people to figure out what they want to do with their lives. equipping them with the business tools, and then having them stand up and give a TED like TEDx like talk like a TED talk about who they are and where they’re going to have about 400 of those talks. For when people take those talks this spring, we had 100 So last spring, and our foundation actually will give up to $100,000 per talk to help the young people find their vision. Now, most of the grants are $2,000, because they don’t need 100,000. But we’re hoping that that’ll spread across the country, and will basically be able for young people to figure out what they want to do next with their lives, which may or may not involve College, stand up in a room and tell their story among people from the industry they want to go in. And that will be the recruiting mechanism where they will find their next great adventure in life. It’s called the next great adventure. And so that is what the ACT an MBA is becoming, it’s transforming into something that hopefully can serve 10s of 1000s instead of just 50.
Robert Bryce 40:44
So it’s, it’s almost like a pitch competition. It’s almost like a VC, you know, like, I’m thinking, as you say that, that, you know, the students are getting up and standing in front of potential employers and pitching themselves as their business. Is that a fair way to think about it?
Jeff Sandefer 40:58
This journey? Pitch contest? Yep. Hey, we just, we just had one. I mean, these talks are amazing. But I think of one is this young girl who was 15. She may have been 16, stood up, and she said she wanted to be an astro chemist. I had no idea what an astro chemist was. So she explained it. It’s someone who studies chemistry on other planets. When she goes into why she’s interested in her backstory of her life, and what got her interested in all the things she’s done, including an apprenticeship at NASA. And I’ll tell you by the end of this, you’re convinced she’s going to be a rock star, Astro chemist. I mean, she is dedicated. She knows what she wants to do. She gives this nine minute speech and records it. There’s a one minute summary she also records. Well, it turns out that her mentor at NASA, circular thought this was so great, he sent it to all of his friends. Well, she’s now got multiple offers for to study for graduate school before she goes into college. Because you’re a world class Astro chemist, and you see this young girl’s talk, you go I want her working in my lab. I mean, she’s going to be a rock star and Astro chemistry. So these next great adventure talks are to get young people like this young woman, that kind of exposure, and also some definition with what they want to do with their lives, what’s their hero’s journey, and for her, it’s to become an astro chemist.
Robert Bryce 42:21
You know, it’s interesting, you talk about it that way? Well, because what I’m hearing as you’re saying that though, is they’re also learning, you got to pitch everybody’s a salesperson, right? You got to sell your thing, right? You’re selling your, your kit, you’re selling your idea, you’re selling yourself, right, but you’re teaching them how to do the pitch, because everybody’s pitching. Everybody’s pitching all the time. Right. So that that? Well, let me ask you this. So how did you pitch? I mean, let me let me let’s shift a little bit to your history and business. Because I think, you know, it’s fair to say you were very successful in the oil and gas in the energy business. How did you learn how to pitch How did you win a deal? I mean, I know you my first book was on Enron, we I fact I first met you when I was as long time ago, when I was working on my first book, pipe dreams. And we met at a restaurant downtown Austin, it was 24 or five years ago now. book came out. And well, they went bankrupt in 2002. Right, December 1 2002. So I think it was in early 2003. How did you learn how to pitch you because you’re pitching your pitched deals to make your first businesses happen? How did you learn how to pitch?
Jeff Sandefer 43:24
Well, I was fortunate my grandfather made his money picking on small oil fields and small towns. So he was kind of a junk dealer, and what my father came out of, oh, you have to play in football, and he was a wildcatter. So he was like a wildcatters of old raising money to drill these expensive risky wells. And so I grew up, you know, across the family breakfast table, hearing him talk about pitching deals. You know, so I was I was exposed to at a very young age I love being at Harvard Business School learned a lot about their about thinking and asking the right question, and you know, most of pitching is actually thinking about who the person is on the other side of the table. And if you can serve them, you know, it’s not really as you will know, it’s not like pitching at someone. It’s understanding them, and if there’s something you have to offer, so, you know, I’ve done quite a bit of that. And at age 28, I’m sorry, no, I was 26. When I graduated from Harvard Business School, I pitch to a utility, the idea of me starting an oil and gas firm in the Gulf of Mexico, and a young man named Mark Peterson believed in me, at a time when no one else could get money in the oil business. He funded my first few deals. And we turned a million dollar initial investment into $500 million in profits in four years. Because that man believed enough in me, and I’m sure my pitch was terrible, actually. The pitch probably wasn’t very good. The idea was good. I had some competence as an engineer, and he knew I wanted desperately so I told the good Don’t worry about myself. And Mark Peterson believed in me. And you know, we built an incredible company in very short in a very short time period. And that ended up being after that I built a number of other businesses, but that was kind of the first one.
Robert Bryce 45:14
So if I’m reading it back here, the secret to the good pitch is understanding the pitch E. And what the pitch e wants.
Jeff Sandefer 45:20
Yeah. And if you had if you can serve them, and if you can’t, you shouldn’t be pitching, right, you’re wasting your time and their time. You need to understand Could you do and it’s a longer story. But there was actually something we had, that Mark Peterson really needed, and really helped him a lot. And so it was it was a marriage made in heaven.
Robert Bryce 45:40
And where was Peterson what was the business?
Jeff Sandefer 45:42
He was in a utility he was he was working for a subsidiary of utility, and he was doing natural gas brokerage. And we could provide him the feedstock he needed to broker to get a better position inside as utility. So there was a there was a gain, and we could do it at a lower price than anyone else. Now, he still had to believe this 26 year old kid, you know that he could put $100 million with us. And we wouldn’t embarrassing. I mean, now, he gave it to us a few million dollars at a time he wouldn’t done he didn’t give us the whole 100 million. But that turned out to be a great partnership. And that was, you know, that was where I learned pitching is about listening and seeing if you can serve somebody.
Robert Bryce 46:26
And your timing was right, because this would be the late 80s, early 90s, right after natural gas was deregulated. So you had a you had an open field in terms of the ability to provide gas into the marketplace and where it could be marketed. Right, because the the deregulation that occurred during the George HW Bush administration, if I’m remembering and this was also the early days of Enron, getting into the gas business as well, in the deregulated, well, less regulated market, I guess,
Jeff Sandefer 46:51
well, and just as importantly, this is coming off of the oil boom in the early 1980s, late 70s and early 80s. And the major oil companies, billions of dollars from Gulf of Mexico blocks that they can no longer drill. And we show up with no debt, no history. And we want to drill those blocks in the majors have no budget and no people. So the timing was perfect that we were at the it was the worst time in the world to get in the oil business, which means it was the best time in the world to get an oil business. So we came into it when the industry was in a slump and recovering. And the timing was just perfect. And by the way, that’s pure luck. That’s not like smart timing. That was just we were at the right place at the right time.
Robert Bryce 47:32
Well, luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Right? That is the the old line. So what about the energy? Let’s see, I know that you pride yourself on some of the energy programs energy. What am I I’m gonna say program within Acton Academy. How do I Yeah, but why is it? Why do this a broad question that applies? I guess, within Acton as well, but more broadly, in the general public, what are the most? Why is it difficult for people in general policymakers and the public at large to understand energy as a concept? What, what is it that makes it difficult to get and so easy to be, you know, to hype, and in terms of particularly renewables in some of these other things? What? Why is it so difficult for people to understand it?
Jeff Sandefer 48:21
Well, I think it’s difficult because I turn on the light switch, the light comes on, it’s a miracle. I get in my car, I turn the ignition. When my car is low on fuel, I go to the gas pump. And in two minutes, I fill it back up with gasoline, and it takes me further. So it’s their miracles. And what I don’t think people have is an understanding of the thermodynamics, the physics, the real science behind them. And you mentioned acted Academy, we have these quest, which are six weeks hands on projects that young people do. And I’ll give an example of one and we do in the middle school and Launchpad the high school. They actually it’s called the electricity quest. And the question is, the big question is, does power corrupt for the year? Power being the kind of power you and I talk about? And also? And then the question for this quest is do great cities or great cities planned or do they emerge? And so we take Robert Moses who go to New York City and Jane Jacobs, who believe that city should emerge. And those are the two villains and heroes of the quest. Now what the young people do is they build a city, like a physical city with lights, and they have to wire that city in and they have to decide what kind of fuel are they going to use to power that grid. And in six weeks, I’m telling Robert, they’re up till midnight, you know, every night for three weeks building these cities. And at the end of the day, they turn a switch and the lights come on the cities light up. And then during these exhibitions where the public comes at the end of the six weeks. The trick was how long will your city state lighting Did you buy the right fuel? And so what the young people learn from that is they learn lectricity, they learn how the grid works. By the way, it starts out with, you’ve got your own little block of the city you do. But to win, you have to cooperate by adding other blocks and other people. But guess what? Your wiring was six volts, and mine was nine volts. So guess what, that’s just how cities got wired. That’s exactly what happened. When they got wired. They got you know, there was all this confusion about creating the grid. So in that though, they learned the physics of electricity, they learned the issues of power generation. And so we have a similar question elementary studio, where they have together sticks, mine for coal, which is digging up marbles, or play battleship to look for oil and gas. And then they have to decide this is the elementary level of what they’ve gathered. How do they sell it into a market and they learn energy density, they learned it’s harder to gather wood than it is to look for oil and gas. And they and there’s also renewables involved in the game. So they play a game that over six weeks teaches them how energy really works. So anyway, that’s it’s hands on, it’s the real world, the economics are embedded in the politics. And, you know, our learners actually understand how energy works.
Robert Bryce 51:14
You know, that’s, I think that’s essential. What’s your, you know, uh, I think Jacob went through that when he was acting, but I don’t know, I don’t recall it. But it is so essential that hands on understanding because it’s interesting to use Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, because New York City, of course, was where the first central power plant was, of course, it was the Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan that Edison built. But it still is evolving, and the difficulties of making that system work in the city of New York. It’s just a gargantuan engineering challenge. And I think you’re right, I think we take it, because it’s so simple, because it’s been around for so long. And it’s usually always worked. We take it for granted, people take it for granted. But without understanding the complexities of the system. And the complexity is staggering.
Jeff Sandefer 52:01
If you’re an active learner, and you stayed up for three days straight wiring your city, and you turn it on, and you melt the grid, you never forget what melting the grid, what happens when you melt the grid. Right? I have a feeling that we’re going to be melting some grids in this country, if we’re not careful, pretty soon. And you know, melting the grid will not be a good thing. And the active learners will understand in the deep inside their souls, what it means to melt the grid, where the average American wall.
Robert Bryce 52:33
Yeah, and I think that that’s, that’s absolutely key right to understanding the thickness of this. I’d like to say the thickness of the thing, right? There’s a lot of policy that’s being made around the grid. But the people who are pushing this policy don’t understand what that thing means. Right? What it the transformers, the wires, the lat, the bucket trucks, the linemen, they have no concept of it right. Well, of course, it works, right, but no understanding of we have more than 3000 electricity providers, we have all these regional transmission organizations, 2000, public, publicly owned utilities, it’s a it’s a miracle that all works. I mean, it’s just truly as miraculous that it works. But it does. And so we’re just kind of coasting, I think, on the fact that it does work and assuming that it always will, which is a big assumption. So you’re not so you’re in the business of the Acton Academy. And again, Jeff is the co founder of Acton Academy, you can find out more about it at Acton. academy.org. But you’re not in the business, you’re not in the energy business anymore. You’re not doing other business, you’re not investing. Why not? I mean, could you not do that as well? Or is this or this is your purpose, the business of schooling, these, you know, creating this system of network of, of campuses. That’s your business. That’s your that’s your only pursuit these days?
Jeff Sandefer 53:48
Well, so this might actually be a good place for us to and I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you a story of how that happened. So I went to see Bernie Marcus, who’s the founder of Home Depot, and a delightful guy, and it was introduced by a mutual friend, I didn’t know that Bernie Marcus was. And I went to see him in Florida. And he said to me, I want to build 100 African business schools. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I want to build them all over the country, as well, Bernie, we had 20 in different universities. We had act in business school and MBA teachers teaching in 20 universities, and every place we did that the tenured faculty took it over and fired our teachers. So I would expand it to 100 places if I knew how to do that. And so Bernie, and I spent the rest of the day together. And at the end of the day, he came to me and he said, Son, do you mind if mind if an old man gives you some advice? And I said No, sir. And he said I’m 78 years old. I’m worth $2.2 billion. Last year I built, financed planned and staffed and then turned over a $250 million a quarter Areum and Atlanta to the city of Atlanta. And by the way, if you’re ever in Atlanta, the Bernie Marcus aquariums, the most amazing aquarium I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in does. It’s incredible. So Bernie said, I did that. And yet, every night, I go to bed worried that I’m going to die. And someone’s going to use the money that I’ve left in a way that harms people. Because philanthropy is the hardest thing on earth. And, and you can do a lot of damage. And he said, This is what stuck with me. He said, Every dollar you make from now on, will be a burden to you, not a blessing. And so you need to go home, and get out of business and spend all your time on acting. And he was, How long ago was this? That would have been 10 years ago. And I on the plane back that night, I say, You know what I’ve been, there’s a guy that’s way ahead of me, trying to give me some advice. And I know he’s speaking the truth. And I made the decision on the plane on the way home that night, I was going to sell everything. And I was going to get out of business and concentrate on acting. So that’s the reason I’ve done that is Bernie Marcus’s words.
Robert Bryce 56:13
So well, I wrote this question down. So I’ll just put it to you. I get it. i It’s an interesting idea or interesting advice that he gave to you. But you could also be, you know, wealthy people do right. They collect vintage stamps, or vintage boats or you know, bigger, you know, whatever it is, but that doesn’t. Your passion now is the school then this is what your your focus is for the rest of your were the same age. I think you’re 63 as well. Right. So it no other plans then no other assumption and no other goals besides growing Acton Academy?
Jeff Sandefer 56:48
Not Not Not, not at this moment? Hope we’ll see how much longer you and I have. Maybe I’ll come up with another plan. But no, at the moment, it’s Acton Academy. It’s the children’s business fair. And it’s this is pretty Venture Program until we find something better.
Robert Bryce 57:03
So why do you care? What do you care so much?
Jeff Sandefer 57:07
Because I see what these young people can do. It’s just extraordinary. I want them freed, to be able to become who they were meant to be. And, you know, that’s, that’s going to be a lifelong task. And then some, and we’re so lucky, because the 325 owners that we have are just extraordinary people and these learners when you meet them, I went to an act and one of our accidents serves kind of lower income families last year, and I walked in the door, and this young man met me and he said he didn’t No one knew who I was, or I was coming. And a young man walked up, walked up, and he said, Welcome to our school, you should read this book, and he handed me a copy of Laura’s book courage to grow. And where was this? Where’s the school? It’s in Memphis. And I, and I turned it around that pointed to her picture on the back. And I said, You know what, that’s my wife. And the young man said, That blows my mind is the ambassador and he showed me all around the school, he still didn’t understand. I was the co founder. And I just knew that I was married to the lady on the book. And we got to the end, and I asked him, I said, What is so special about Athens? Unity? And he said, It’s the freedom in that and almost all learners will say that in the next thing he said, almost all learners say to and he said, but you know, one thing. freedom comes with responsibility. As much freedom, Robert, that young man was five and a half years old.
Robert Bryce 58:44
So that’s your payoff. That’s, that’s your that’s your profit.
Jeff Sandefer 58:47
I mean, that that kid is going to change the world. He’s going to do something extraordinary. And he was, you know, I mean, his generosity is courtesy. I mean, the way he could speak his excitement is curiosity. That kid’s gonna go do something amazing and mob because I didn’t anytime I just want to be around and watch him I just want to know what he’s going to do because it’s fun to watch. I want to watch what Jacobs gonna do. I can’t wait to with Charlie and Sam arsons what they’re gonna do. So yeah,
Robert Bryce 59:14
it’s just that’s the but that’s the thrill then that’s the motivation then just fun to be a part of it. So who do you admire? Who do you who are your you know? I admire it sounds like you had a lot of admiration for your dad. I have a lot of admiration for my late father as well. But when you look around now, people name a few people who are living that you admire and think are are really making a difference in the world. positive difference?
Jeff Sandefer 59:42
Well, it’s hard for me because my world is pretty small in a way now. I am really serving all these different owners. And so I think we have Ali who’s one of our owners and Lahore packers Stan has 130 learners. He’s got two adults. And when you see his launch patterns, his high schoolers, they’re running the whole place. And I look at that, and I say, how did this guy go to Lahore, Pakistan and build the best acting Academy? We have? How did he possibly pull that off? And so I go, I go from campus to campus, and I see the owners what they’re doing. And then I see these high schoolers and middle schoolers, and what they’re building. And so I don’t spend a lot of time kind of, you know, I’d loved Margaret Thatcher. I spent a lot of time with Lady Thatcher. I never knew Ronald Reagan, but I was William F. Buckley, I spent a lot of time with Bill Buckley, and he’s a hero of mine. But those were all heroes from afar. You know, what I enjoy today is seeing the heroes up close. And so I don’t I just don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the big questions of politics because I spend a lot of time thinking about the big questions in southern accent. A lot more fun.
Robert Bryce 1:00:55
Okay, well, so then what about I know you’re a voracious reader, we’ve talked about many books and so we’ll then went into public intellectuals today public that are in the public sphere, politicians today there anyone that you admire what they’re doing?
Jeff Sandefer 1:01:11
I just, it would be more it would be more shallow, like Instagram. I’m not on Instagram. I don’t have any social media, but it’s that kind of it’d be that kind of comment. Because I just don’t I’m not close enough to any of those people. To know not Yeah, I mean, look, I love reading Tom soul. I love that. I mean, I give you a long list of authors. I love to read. But I don’t know anything about them other than I love their books.
Robert Bryce 1:01:37
Well, then let’s talk about that. Because if you’ve listened the podcast, I asked everyone who is a guest, what are you reading now? What what books are on the top of your pile?
Jeff Sandefer 1:01:44
Let’s see. I just, I’ve got a history of God sitting right here. So I know that’s there. I just
Robert Bryce 1:01:50
read history of God is the name of the book. Yeah, history of God by
Jeff Sandefer 1:01:55
Karen Armstrong. I just happen to be sitting in front of me. I just got to reading infinity, which is Michael Lewis’s new book about SPF, which Sam Bateman freed? Yep. Yeah. And I also just finished. I’m going to blank on the title. Radical uncertainty, which is a book about decision making and how you think about decision making. It’s about Nike and uncertainty from Frank Knight, University of Chicago. And it’s just, it’s just a great way to think about how the unexpected in the world is perhaps what creates most of the value. So it’s about entrepreneurship and thinking about risk and uncertainty. Those are the three I have within eyesight right now that I can see.
Robert Bryce 1:02:39
Well, you know, I said it was my last question. But you mentioned entrepreneurship. And I have to ask you, because you’ve taught entrepreneurship. And so this is the bonus question, because it wasn’t even on my list here. But it pops in my head that I would fail as a as an interviewer. If I don’t ask, you’ve taught entrepreneurship, you’ve started and sold businesses. What makes a good entrepreneur?
Jeff Sandefer 1:03:00
Yeah. My, my friend and former professor and Marvin Gaye said that the one trait if you study entrepreneurs, that is different between entrepreneurs, and the general public is something called a tolerance for ambiguity. And what he means by the word ambiguity, if you ask him to explain it, he said ambiguity is being able to stand there and say, See that mountain. That’s where we’re heading. And you rally people around you, because you’re so sure that that’s the mountain. And as soon as you set off with your merry little band towards the mountain, in the holy grail, you say to yourself quietly, that’s probably not the right mountain. That’s I know, it’s the right mountain now. But as I get closer, I’m probably going to have to change course, because if you’re too sure, you’re going to run off a cliff. But if you’re not believing enough to be able to say and so he said, The tolerance for ambiguity is to be able to hold in your mind those two points, which really aren’t lying, because right now you’re sure that’s the mountain, you’re equally sure you’re wrong. And you’re going to charge off into the uncertainty. And very few people can hold those two opposing thoughts in their brain at the same time, and move forward. And I think that’s the hero’s journey. And that’s what creates competence. And it’s really is the courage to go forward. And that’s the tolerance for ambiguity is what separates most entrepreneurs from the rest of the world.
Robert Bryce 1:04:30
Well, I’m glad I asked that question because I liked that answer. And it’s, it’s very interesting. It’s the other thing that pops in my head is that that’s sophisticated mind is this idea of holding two conflicting ideas right in your mind at one time, or two or more, I guess I conflicting ideas. But I like that idea of tolerance for ambiguity. My guess has been my friend, Jeff Sandefur. He’s the founder of Acton Academy, which has now as 325 campuses around the world in 42 countries. Is that right? Did I get no 24 Country 26 countries 42 states in 42 states, you can find out more at Acton academy.org about his work in education which is truly remarkable and has affected my own family. So we’re glad that we could finally make this happen. Jeff,
Jeff Sandefer 1:05:14
Robert, great to be with you. And to all of you out there in podcast land
Robert Bryce 1:05:17
tune into the next episode of the power hungry podcast. It might be as good as this one. Well, let’s hope so. Until then, see you