4 out of 4 stars
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I recently had the opportunity to read Burn Zones: Playing Life’s Bad Hands by Jorge P. Newbery, a self-made millionaire who I hadn’t heard of when I started the book, but by the end, I really felt a strong connection to. The book is Newbery’s autobiography, told in first person, detailing his entrepreneurial rise, fall, and rebirth, from his early childhood days in 1960s era Los Angeles, following his journey of personal and professional growth through events, opportunities, and failures all over the country- and the world.
Newbery habitually pushed the boundaries and sought the thrill of making a deal from an early age. He picked up paper routes as a kid for pocket money, dropped out of high school to start a record label in his teens just to prove that he could succeed, tried a stint as a competitive cyclist in his early twenties (which is where the term “Burn Zone” originates), and eventually found a great fit for his immense work ethic in the mortgage industry. This was the seed from which he grew from loan originator to real estate mogul. Every step of the way he invested his earnings from his previous ventures into his next ones, challenging himself with new “Burn Zones” until he eventually owned dozens, then hundreds of rental properties.
Unfortunately, it all came crashing down for Newbery in 2004 a few years after taking on his biggest risk- a massive, several-thousand-unit apartment complex in Columbus, OH. What started as a rousing success turned into a nightmare after a massive winter storm and ensuing legal, insurance, and political problems threw Newbrey toward bankruptcy and undeserved pariah-status. But, what was truly inspiring was how he used what he learned during this heartbreaking experience to build a new venture in the midst of the 2008 recession shortly thereafter, founding American Homeowner Preservation (“AHP”). APH’s mission was to “do well by doing good”, helping families underwater on their mortgages create payment plans and stay in their homes.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars because I am left with the impression that Newbery was (and is) a thrivent entrepreneur at heart with a can-do spirit, living for the thrill of the deal- which I really identify with. At the same time, he was sensitive to the needs of the people around him and always tried to help- which I’m inspired by. Even though he was very wealthy at one time, he lived a reasonable (arguably thrifty) lifestyle and treated everyone around him with respect. It was heartbreaking to read some of the unfair events that were thrown his way.
I felt that his tone was authentic as he recounted these events, and really liked how Newbery wrote very matter-of-factly when describing people and events that did not treat him fairly, even giving many of them the benefit of the doubt. It would be easy for anyone in his situation to be vindictive and use this book as an opportunity for revenge, but he didn’t stoop to that level.
If I had to choose one thing I didn’t like about the book, it was that so much time was spent describing his very early years, compared to how much things accelerated toward the middle. Not much time was spent describing his first few rental properties, how he selected them or how he felt making the plunge into them, for example.
The book was an easy read, a good length, and I found myself turning the pages as quickly as I could to follow events as they unfolded. It was likely professionally edited as I didn’t notice any typos or errors.
I think this book would appeal most to aspiring and struggling entrepreneurs, or anyone who feels that they have hit a challenging phase (or “Burn Zone”) in their life.
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