"Lessons Earned" by John Sanderson: Be a Lifelong Learner

by John Sanderson, CPA, CIMA® Nov 2, 2023 Lessons Earned

In this series, we share some of John Sanderson's favorite insights and anecdotes from his book, “Lessons Earned.” Throughout the book, John shares dozens of lessons he has learned, starting as a young boy and culminating with his leadership as founder and chairman of Sanderson Wealth Management.



I’m proud to say that in my entire career, I’ve never turned down a request for someone to attend a seminar. In fact, when I’ve thought that people weren’t getting enough education, I’ve pushed them to take more seminars and other classes.

I’ve always been a huge believer in formal education. Even before I started Sanderson, I was on the education committee at previous firms; in one case, I doubled the education budget to bring the best teachers here to Buffalo.

At Sanderson, we’ve always paid for everyone’s CPE (Continuing Professional Education) in every profession, as well as for seminars, classes, and anything else than people want. I’m still earning my CPE required credits, and then some, still to this day.

A lot of people view education as a cost. That’s the wrong way to look at it. Yes, education costs money—but it’s an investment in yourself and the people around you.

You’re never too smart to learn. In 6th grade, I had straight A’s except for spelling and written work, so my Mother hired an 82-year-old tutor, Miss Mullen, to teach me. (Her lessons helped, although still to this day I’m still a lousy proofreader.)

The best education teaches you how to educate yourself going forward. It’s not just what you learn, but how you learn—and how you continue to learn. When I’m interviewing people, I always hold up my hand, point to the tip of my thumb, and say that tip is what I learned in college—but it’s what allowed me to learn the rest of my hand.

Education isn’t just about gaining knowledge. After all, you can pull out your smartphone and find the answer to almost anything in just a few seconds. For me, it’s more about what education represents. People who love to learn tend to be naturally curious. And natural curiosity, in my experience, is often the key to success.

I’ve always been curious. When I was eight years old, I read every book in the school library. Since then, I’ve enjoyed reading books about sports, business, and rock and roll, among other topics.

Earlier in my career, I had very strict GPA requirements for interviewing and hiring people. If you didn’t have at least a 3.8, you weren’t getting in the door. That worked out well for a while, but I realized over time that it was more important to look for people who are not only smart, but also naturally curious. Because in our business, everything starts with the right questions.

“What are your goals?”

“How much risk are you willing to take?”

“Why is this important to you?”

“What would happen if…?”

If you’re curious, you’ll ask more questions. You’ll find mistakes and discover opportunities. That’s why I’m such a huge proponent of education—not just because it builds technical skills, but because it’s directly related to curiosity and problem-solving. And if you ask me, that’s pretty smart.


Reprinted with permission from "Lessons Earned: Stories from a Lifetime Spent Fully Invested," copyright © 2022 John R. Sanderson.

This story reflects the author’s present recollections of people and experiences over time. Some identifying details have been changed and some dialogue has been recreated. While the author has made a concerted effort to provide accurate information, neither the publisher nor the author shall have any liability or responsibility for any adverse effects or loss caused, or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly, by any information included in this story.