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Undercover Billionaire exclusive interview: Glenn Stearns on new cast, challenges and revisiting Erie

Glenn Stearns
Stearns is overseeing three new entrepreneurs who are going to copy his trailblazing new business making efforts in the USA. Pic credit: Discovery

The surprise hit for Discovery last year was the introduction of wealthy businessman Glenn Stearns to the audiences in his unusual rags to riches effort, Undercover Billionaire.

The premise was simple, strip a mogul of his assets and contacts, give him the bare bones to survive and see if his entrepreneurial know-how can recreate a viable million dollar business. In about three months.

It was a tough road for Stearns who was very sick during the filming, but in the end, he pulled it out and Erie, Pennsylvania is all the better for being the lucky city that received Glenn’s workaround problem-solving mind and sheer tenacity.

His business is known as Underdog BBQ, now run by the folks who trusted him and bet on this stranger who blew into town with $100 and a junker pick up truck.

Undercover Billionaire Is Back

Season two throws a more complex curveball. Discovery’s new season of Undercover Billionaire will challenge three audacious entrepreneurs to build a million-dollar company in just 90 days. Glenn will serve as consultant to weigh in on their efforts.

During the first season, Stearns was stripped of his name, money and contacts and dropped into a city he’s never been to try and build a million-dollar company in 90 days with only $100 in his pocket.  Now he’s upped the stakes and made it really interesting, as three new entrepreneurs are taking on the million-dollar bet. It’s a three-way race between 800-lb gorillas who are equally gritty and ambitious.

Stearns introduces Elaine Culotti, a real estate developer, interior designer, and builder. Monique Idlett-Mosley, the founder and CEO of technology fund Reign Ventures, and Grant Cardone, a real estate investor and author.

Exclusive interview with Undercover Billionaire Glenn Stearns

Monsters & Critics: So, you figured out a way to continue this series without involving yourself except in a remote fashion?

Glenn Stearns: [Laughs] Sort have, I guess, sort of! I went back to Erie and we did kind of a one-year later, the reunion-type show and go back with COVID [going on] and seeing everybody that’s been just hit so hard.

I just stayed, basically. Discovery said, ‘Let’s do it, go out and, and once you try and help some of these other companies out here.’ So, I took on that task of taking six other businesses and seeing if we couldn’t raise their profile, get them to think outside the box, pivot and do things differently.

And I am proud of how that turned out. It was probably better than the first go-round, believe it or not. But it ended up being really interesting and then at the same time that [we filmed] Undercover Billionaire: Comeback City.

Then there were three newcomers that are out there that are doing Undercover Billionaire season two, and it’s fun to mentor them a little and watch them go through their pain and the shock and everything that happened when you go, and ask yourself, what did I get myself into?

M&C: Are we were speaking of Grant, Monique and Elaine, Correct?

Glenn Stearns: That’s right.

M&C: How did these three unique people, how did they come into your orbit for the show? Were they friends of yours already?

Glenn Stearns: No, they weren’t, it was luckily for me that the show did pretty well and Discovery was happy with it. It got a lot of attention from other people that said, I could do that. I bet you could strip me of everything. And so they ended up on the show.

Discovery had many different entrepreneurs that said, ‘Let me see if I could do it better than Glenn,’ and by the way, what is great is that they’ll do it differently than I did. Right?

Everybody is different in how they motivate people. Everyone’s different on how they adapt and change and deal under stress. So, it will be really interesting to see the comparison of three different entrepreneurs trying to do a very similar thing that I did well.

M&C: I’m going to give you my take, and then I want to hear your take. Grant Cardone, very charismatic, natural born salesman. Monique, very in tune to spotting talent, a quiet force of nature and Elaine is over-the-top, beyond confident, an in your face go-getter…

Glenn Stearns: [Laughs] That’s pretty good. I liked that. I would say, Monique had been through a lot, right? She’s a tough, tough woman, but adversity has definitely made her stronger single mother, a lot that’s going on in her life. She’s able to take that and harness that and use it for her own and other people’s good because she really cares about the community. She cares a lot about other people. She’s a wonderful lady.

Grant…he and I are 180 degrees opposite. He’s very loud, very unapologetic. And yet to your point, very charismatic, and he’s the guy you’d love to hate, and, because he wants to make sure that you realize in his world, you have got to be very aggressive and have a take no prisoners kind of attitude. When you get to talking to Grant, he’s a wonderful guy. I mean, and he’s very likable. It’s really fun to be around him.

And then Elaine, my goodness to your point, she was in a man’s world, right? I mean, in construction and she is just really a tough woman, she’s aggressive and fearless. She’s a wonderful lady. So you’re going to have a lot of different personalities coming into this, and doing it completely different.

M&C: I want your opinion about this, Grant said the traditional way of getting rich is upside down, don’t save or have a retirement. He wants to change that kind of mindset. Do you agree with that?

Glenn Stearns: It’s funny. I just had my in-laws tell me that, my father-in-law was a dentist and once he gave that up in the last year, he realizes he’s more busy than he ever was. Right? So I think that I would agree…believe it or not.

Again, Grant and I think a lot differently, but when I look at a lot of very busy people that have done very, very well, they stay very useful by having lots to do. Whatever that means.

I think when you look at the majority of people out there, they’re not entrepreneurs, right? They put their time into a job. And it’s a lot different than an entrepreneur because I think if you’re an entrepreneur, hopefully, you really found something you love and it doesn’t feel like work.

The big difference is if you’re doing something and you’re just waiting to get to that time and you can have a pension, then you’re going to enjoy your life differently. You’re going to go on more vacations. You’re going to go and do things.

But if you’ve been an entrepreneur where you can replace yourself, then you might never stop. I do agree with him [Grant] that when you are in that kind of a field, that you can have other people kind of be the management arm of your life, you probably never want to stop. I feel that same way. Just what would you do if you weren’t creating and negotiating and those kinds of things.

M&C: What would you say with this particular 90 day challenge, very similar to what you did in the first season, who surprised you without giving spoilers?

Glenn Stearns: Hmm. Yes. I would say that Grant surprised me the most, and I won’t, to your point, I will not give it away at all.

But I would just tell you, I think the women… I mean, I come from a world where my president of my company last time for 25 years and the president of my company this time are women, and I’ve always surrounded myself with tough chicks.

I know the power of women. They’re just resilient. They don’t need as much sleep. They don’t complain.

There’s a lot of great things that come out of that. I personally am not surprised by the toughness of a woman. I don’t know if that sounds sexist or not, or the opposite. I’m not sure, but it’s not meant to be anything other than, I wasn’t surprised at how much pain they could take.

M&C: Tell me about the three cities that each one heads to for setting up?

Glenn Stearns: Grant lands in Pueblo, Colorado. Monique lands in Spokane, Washington, and then Elaine is in Fresno, California.

M&C: So is the framework of how you want the series to continue, where you have three new entrepreneurs every season, in three new cities, and you’re sort of the one who is called upon for consults?

Glenn Stearns: I love it, and I tell you why. Because there was so many people that reached out and that the show resonated with when I did it and they learned a lot because I had my way of doing things.

Well, guess what? Now they get to see three other people do it three different ways.

I think that’s equally as interesting because again, everyone goes about painting a goal differently. I think it’s going to give a lot of people much more to draw upon when they want to go out and try to do something.

When you start out without having that safety net with a time clock ticking and without any money or contacts, how do you do it? And, I think that this can continue to be duplicated and you’ll get a hundred different approaches if you end up with a hundred different entrepreneurs.

And so all of that leads to what I think was the fascination with the first season. And who would think it, but as I look at my Instagram…I’m very popular in Taipei, by the way. [Laughs] So there’s a lot of people that want to become entrepreneurs. Right? I think they’ll get a lot out of, all three different approaches.

M&C: What’s interesting about what you do with Underdog BBQ in Erie- that industry has really taken a hit, restaurants are folding, it’s probably going to get worse. Talk about COVID and how that’s affected your business there, that you helped create, talk about how that’s affected their business and how they’re meeting the challenge?

Glenn Stearns: Yes. Well, what I’ll tell you is that’s exactly why I went back to Erie, was to work with them on thinking differently. I brought in some heavy artillery and we helped them think differently.

That’s a big part of the special, Undercover Billionaire: Comeback City, is because it has to do with helping Underdog BBQ as just one of the six [businesses].

To your point, when you look at that industry, it has been decimated. How do you pivot when there so many restaurants and everyone’s trying to figure a way to do things differently?

I think the people up there will get some good aha moments when they realize if you continue to do things the same way and expect different results, that it’s not going to work. You have to completely change.

This has happened to me in the mortgage industry in 2008 when the world went through the financial crisis. It was devastating to every financial company out there. Well, that’s the same thing that’s happened in the restaurant business.

M&C: Hypothetical question time. You are an unofficial advisor to incoming president-elect Joseph Biden. He needs leaders like you to advise him on how to restart this economy that’s been decimated by COVID. What are your top pieces of advice for incoming President Biden?

Glenn Stearns: Well, I think that when you look at job creators that you have to allow them more flexibility in a time like this so that they can stimulate the economy by creating more jobs.

Give them tax breaks, give them equipment and different other ways to see advantages to investing right now. Right?

If you say that you are a business, I think if you let them thrive, they will create more jobs. They will create more widgets. They will create more things that will cause more people that want and need to work, and it’s going to help kind of spin the dial.

So I would definitely find ways—if I were President Biden— to really give some relief so that they can go faster in a time like this.

Undercover Billionaire will premiere on Discovery Wednesday, January 6 at 8/7c on Discovery.

Following the premiere, the new Undercover Billionaire: Comeback City airs, as Glenn Stearns returns to Erie, Pa., where he built his business, Underdog BBQ, in just 90 days. His new mission? Rescuing small businesses on the brink of going bust.

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