TU has sparked countless innovators. This is the story of one: Glenn Stearns.
Perhaps you know Glenn Stearns from “Undercover Billionaire,” the reality TV show on which he turned $100 into a $1 million barbecue business. Or maybe the name Stearns Lending rings a bell; he founded the company, which became a billion-dollar behemoth.
But there’s much more to Stearns than just big numbers. His wild success was hardly preordained. Born to alcoholic parents, his childhood was a struggle. He was diagnosed with dyslexia, failed fourth grade and became a teenage father. But things started to turn around for him at TU, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. He started Stearns Lending and has been a titan in the industry ever since. This year, he pledged $500,000 to establish the Stearns Second Chance Scholarship Program at TU.
“There’s a saying, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,’” he says. “It’s about finding hungry people that say, ‘I’m ready.’ And when you’re ready, there should be people around who say, ‘Let me help you.’ I want to be one of those people.”
Became a father at age 14.
“It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, but at the time it didn’t feel that way. I had disappointed a lot of people.”
Enrolled at TU.
“I had never thought about going to college. In my family, no one had ever gone. It was never talked about.”
Founded Stearns Lending at 25.
“After we graduated, my buddy and I went to California. I was sitting by the ocean
near these beautiful homes. I thought, ‘I want to make something of myself.’ I walked
up to a man in his yard and said, ‘What did it take to get this house?’ The guy said,
‘I’m the gardener. I think the man’s in real estate.’ I said, ‘I want to get into
Married Los Angeles TV anchor Mindy Burbano. They have two of his six children together.
Stearns Lending hit $1 billion in monthly funded loan volume. That eventually grew to $3 billion per month.
“We got to know the industry, and we took advantage when it was the right time.”
Diagnosed with cancer. (He's now cancer-free.)
“I was having dinner in Virginia with my wife, Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney and their daughter Liz at their home. Dick was explaining how he had a brand-new heart and felt great. I said, ‘Dick, I feel like crap.’ He says, ‘I want you to go to my doctor.’ So I went. When the vice president sends you in, you get special treatment. Within a few hours they found cancer on my tongue. All I thought about was my little girls. That became my focus.”
Sold Stearns Lending.
“When I found out that I had cancer, I wanted to focus on my family.”
Bought a boat and traveled around the world.
Cancer returned but went into remission.
Starred in “Undercover Billionaire” on the Discovery Channel. Traveled to Erie, Pennsylvania, and started Underdog BBQ, which is still smoking meats today.
“I did that show because I really wanted my kids to see their hard-working, strong dad. What they had seen was me sick with cancer. I wanted to show them what it takes to build a business and how you treat people.”
Opened Kind Lending, now the fifth-largest wholesaler in the country.
Published “InteGRITy” and was TU's Commencement speaker.
“I lead with my flaws. People see the material possessions and assume I have the perfect life. I don’t. Life is never perfect; it’s gritty and sometimes it is really hard. There’s a recipe to success. I surround myself with people who are smarter than me, work hard, keep my word and finish what I start. I encourage others to do the same, and just maybe they’ll achieve things they’ve only dreamed of. I love seeing when that happens.”