By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Town brings a few members of the audience to the stage, points at graphs with the green and red arrows indicating good or bad buys, and quizzes the three women. With each correct answer the crowd goes wild and Town grins and nods. He turns to the women. "Let's teach you to invest," he says. "I'm gonna give each of you a tool set for free!" One woman screams and hugs him. "I'm gonna put you through a two-day workshop," he goes on, "You're gonna learn everything, and then the staff is gonna work with you for three months. You're gonna go out and make a ton of money and teach your kids!" At this, the other two women squeal with delight, and the four of them close in a group hug.
To seal the vision of wealth, he talks about how for years he spent his time traveling the world and shows photos of himself at his horse ranch and snowboarding in New Zealand. "How many of you would like to have so much money you could do whatever you want?" As if in answer, when he's finished, scores of people stream toward the back tables to sign up for his two-day Wealth Magazine Investor Education workshop, which he explains usually costs $2,000, but today is available for just $99.
Marsha Whaley—the Mansfield mother of 12—was among the hundreds of people who flocked to the tables. "I'm excited," she says on a break. "If we can make more money and get out of debt, I'll adopt more children." The woman waiting in the bathroom line next to her—a sales representative named Shelli King—has come to Get Motivated! several years in a row, and one year she did one of the investment seminars afterward. "It re-energizes you and you get excited, you just want to go sell," she says. Yet the excitement about investing wore off, and after learning some new tools, she says she didn't really put them into practice.
Brian Bruce, a finance professor at Southern Methodist University and director of equity investments at PanAgora Asset Management, a division of Putnam Investments in Boston, takes a skeptical view of Town's advice. "The principles are good, but believing that any individual can find stocks better than an institutional investor who does it for a living—well, it would be difficult," he says. "The devil is in the details—how do you know when a company's at fair value or 50 percent off? Many times when it's on sale, it could have good management but also be a potential bankruptcy candidate." The simple rules listed in Rule #1 "ignore a huge piece of what a professional investment manager does—there's a lot of research that goes into determining which investments are sound; you'd have to do 20 to 30 hours of research on each stock just to get to the same knowledge level." Town's assertion that you can make large returns by spending just 15 minutes each week tending to your investments is "an appealing thing to say to a retail audience," Bruce says, "but when you think about it, it doesn't make sense." A frequent criticism of Town on financial Web sites is that while he constantly refers to the venerated Warren Buffett and his advice to invest long-term, much of Rule #1 actually prescribes short-term trades. "That's not an easy way to make back what you've lost in the market correction," Bruce says. "It requires patience and adherence to sound principles, which means diversification."
Tamara Lowe—modestly billed as "The World's No. 1 Female Motivational Speaker"—has the distinction of being the lone woman talking today, and as soon as she launches into her motivational sermon, she takes a warm, motherly tone. "I'm so proud of you," she says. "You spend your whole life on everybody else—making everybody else happy—it's OK to take a day for you." She pauses and flashes a bright, peppy smile. "Say this out loud," she says, "'Today is all about me.'" The crowd obliges.
"A lot of folks think the folks up here [onstage] haven't had the same challenges as they have," she says. "But I'm a former drug addict and dealer with an eighth-grade education." At this, the crowd lets out a collective gasp. "The message of my life is this: The past does not define you. It's something that happened to you, not who you are. It's the actions you take today that determine your tomorrow. If someone would have told me that I would have worked face to face with six presidents, I would have thought they were smoking the same stuff I was."
Then comes a double-dose infusion of patriotism and Christianity. "I would have overdosed and died if it weren't for the grace of God," she says. "America is still the greatest country on earth. Everybody has a chance here, and I'm living proof of that. After I got off drugs, I got a GED. This year I got a master's, and now I'm starting doctoral work. So I went from LSD to Ph.D." The crowd cheers.