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John Allison with Dave Rubin on the Rubin Report

Former BB&T CEO on The Rubin Report: A Philosophy of Success

The ARI-Rubin Report interview series has been focusing on the Objectivist view of what happiness is and how to achieve it. The fascinating philosophical discussions Dave Rubin has had with some of ARI’s top intellectuals have covered various aspects of these questions and offered a variety of practical suggestions.

But Objectivism is not a grab-bag of tips to be used randomly and inconsistently — it’s an integrated set of ideas that can be applied to every aspect of life, from the personal to the professional. This point is driven home in the latest installment of the series, where Rubin sits down with John Allison, a member of ARI’s board of directors and a phenomenally successful businessman who credits his success and happiness to applying Objectivism to all areas of his life.

Allison is an excellent example of the influence that Objectivism can have on a thoughtful individual who takes it seriously. He’s the former chairman and CEO of BB&T Corporation, at the time the 10th-largest financial services holding company headquartered in the United States. During his tenure as CEO from 1989 to 2008, BB&T grew from $4.5 billion to $152 billion in assets. The Harvard Business Review has ranked him among the top 100 most successful CEOs in the world.

While most people focus on the novel’s political themes, it was the ethics of Atlas Shrugged that had the strongest impact on him.
In this thirty-minute conversation with Rubin, Allison talks about how he encountered Ayn Rand’s ideas in college and that Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal was the book that opened his eyes to her philosophy and made him understand that capitalism is not just the only practical social system, but the only moral system as well. He also discusses how Rand’s ideas impacted his life, how businessmen make our lives better yet are unjustly demonized, and a wide array of other topics.

A highlight of the conversation is Allison’s account of how he applied Objectivism — and the lessons of Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged — to his business career. While most people focus on the novel’s political themes, it was the ethics of Atlas Shrugged that had the strongest impact on him. Allison drew the conclusion that applying Ayn Rand’s ethics to his company would be critical to its success, so he worked to incorporate Objectivism’s values and virtues into BB&T’s culture.

The ethics of Objectivism, Allison tells Rubin, is “a very rational value system that produces superior results in the long-term.” It also proved to be a significant competitive advantage for his business, he notes, and a key factor in its success. BB&T’s ability to survive the 2007–2008 financial crisis, for instance, is something that Allison credits to the bank’s Objectivism-inspired ethical culture.

On the theme of philosophical integration, he notes that career and personal life are not two separate worlds: “You should have the same beliefs at home as you do at work,” he argues. It was not just his business that thrived thanks to the right ideas: Allison explains that studying Objectivism gave him a “competitive advantage” in all aspects of his life and helped him achieve fulfillment and happiness.

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John Allison views his own story as a great example of the importance of ideas and of how the right philosophy can lead to a successful life. Watch his conversation with Dave Rubin, below, to learn more about the philosophy of Objectivism and how Allison leveraged it to achieve “a life well lived.”


Objectivism on Happiness (Rubin Report episode list):

In this episode, Onkar Ghate and Tara Smith delve into the question of how selfishness could possibly be a good thing — and why Rand is the only thinker who has dared to challenge the basic moral premises that have animated our culture for more than two thousand years. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Onkar Ghate explains why free will matters for one’s own life and happiness, and how human free will is consistent with the Law of Causality. He and Dave Rubin also discuss the effects of genes and environment on a person’s nature and choices of actions. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Dave Rubin has an in-depth discussion with Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate about tribalism as a low form of collectivism. They examine its manifestations on the left and the right today, including “intersectionality” and “the oppression Olympics,” explaining how these are consequences of the moral code of altruism. They contrast all of that with the original American system, which was geared toward the rational, productive person pursuing his own happiness. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Onkar Ghate and Gregory Salmieri join Dave Rubin to discuss the moral and practical considerations involved in achieving one's own personal happiness. They discuss the Objectivist perspective on happiness as a flourishing and successful state of life and provide guidance on how to create a happy life that is a purposeful, meaningful and integrated whole. In discussing free will, they examine what is and what is not within an individual's control. The discussion also encompasses related topics such as how a deep sense of meaning is possible in a world without God. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Gregory Salmieri and Harry Binswanger talk with Dave Rubin about Binswanger’s experience knowing Ayn Rand personally, why Ayn Rand’s ideas continue to generate the strong reactions they do — and Objectivism’s novel view of the relationship between facts and values. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Tara Smith talks with Dave Rubin about what it means to take one’s happiness seriously. Smith discusses the objective requirements of flourishing, the role of the ideas one accepts in one’s pursuit of happiness, and what it means to be self-interested in the pursuit of team goals or relationships. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher. For more perspective see the New Ideal announcement.
In this episode, Yaron Brook and Gena Gorlin talk with Dave Rubin about what it takes to live a meaningful life. Among the topics discussed: why a career purpose is so important, and how to navigate the challenges inherent in a career; why deep engagement with art can be such a powerful inspiration; and why rationality is not only compatible with romantic love, but a necessary condition for it. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Harry Binswanger speaks one-on-one with Dave Rubin about Objectivism’s view of truth, objectivity and self-interest — and why these concepts matter outside the philosophy classroom. Other topics of discussion include Binswanger’s experience hearing Ayn Rand speak for the first time, and how that lecture affected the course of his life; how to answer a skeptic who claims there is no objective truth; and why Objectivism considers self-sacrifice to be immoral. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, Yaron Brook joins Dave Rubin to discuss why Ayn Rand and her ideas matter today. Brook explains the unique value Objectivism brings to today’s intellectual landscape — and how Rand’s vision of what it looks like to achieve a truly happy, fulfilling life has inspired generations of idealistic young people to gravitate toward her. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, philosopher Gregory Salmieri and psychologist Gena Gorlin talk with Dave Rubin about the psychological requirements of happiness. Among the topics discussed: what it means to treat happiness as a process, not just an outcome; the difference between Rand’s view of the pursuit of happiness and the “hedonic treadmill” notion of pursuing shallow pleasures that never truly satisfy; how having a central purpose can resolve internal conflicts; and how to find a sense of meaning in life. For more perspective, see the New Ideal announcement here. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
In this episode, John Allison and Dave Rubin discuss the role of philosophy in Allison’s business success. Ranked by Harvard Business Review among the world’s 100 most successful CEOs over the last decade, Allison explains how a business culture built upon Objectivist virtues helped his company, BB&T Corporation, to successfully navigate the 2008 financial crisis, growing in assets from $4.5 billion to $152 billion during his tenure. Audio podcasts are available at iTunes and Stitcher.
In the final episode of the series, philosopher Gregory Salmieri joins Dave Rubin for a big-picture discussion of today’s political culture. Salmieri compares the ugly aspects of our political situation with those of the past and gives advice about how to navigate it in a more positive way. Among other topics discussed: whether it’s important to “get good people into politics,” how to think about the “lesser of two evils,” whether the media is more biased today than in the past, and how to be a better consumer of news. Audio podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher.
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Agustina Vergara Cid

Agustina Vergara Cid, LL.B. and LL.M., is a guest writer for the Ayn Rand Institute.

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