A ‘secret’ no more America’s millionaire teaches others how to succeed

By on July 25, 2012

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff mreiff.eph@lnpnews.com, Staff Writer

Jeff Usner spent quite a bit of time with the group from Habitat for Safe Seniors, to whom he presented a check for $80,000. (Photo courtesy of ABC)

It’s no secret. Ephrata High School class of 1992 graduate Jeff Usner is a millionaire.

Much of the country watched his heart-warming, soul-searching story of generosity on ABC last week as he left his family in San Antonio, Texas, for days and went undercover as a volunteer in an impoverished area 30 minutes away. In the end, he surprised three charities with substantial monetary contributions as tears filled the eyes of the donator, recipients and those watching on their screens at home.

But what "Secret Millionaire" viewers may not know is that Usner is not the typical successful entrepenuer and TV star. The Internet marketing businessman, high school basketball player, husband and father is actually a very private person who, if one didn’t know him, would never know he was a millionaire.

"We drive beat up cars, we don’t dress in the nicest clothing," said Usner of his family.

And although he considers himself a giver, he struggled with the decision to do so in public, in the eyes of the entire nation.

"Giving is a big part of my life," he said. "But I always give in secret. That’s what drives my company and what drives my team."

Usner’s journey toward success was not one that began with childhood dreams of fame and riches. He considers himself a regular guy, one whose classmates would not have voted "the most likely to succeed." Even his college buddies, after seeing him on national TV, uttered, "Is that really you?"

Like most teenagers and young adults, for a long time he wasn’t exactly sure of what career path he wanted to choose.

While growing up in Clay Township, Usner initially wanted to be a teacher and then later moved toward becoming a doctor. After graduating from Juniata College he was accepted into medical school but decided to start a business instead. His endeavors took him to California, Colorado and finally Texas in 2001.

"I had been successful with the Internet in the early 2000s, but then tried to build a software company," he said.

For awhile, Usner admittedly became wrapped up in working, consumed in trying to succeed; but a series of events happened in 2007 that would change the rest of his life.

In August of that year his wife was very close to giving birth to a son, when their baby lost his life. This tragedy was followed by Usner having a stroke several months later.

Usner, who has four other children, decided it was time to slow down and make some changes.

"I was overworked, wasn’t paying myself," he said. "I looked at the table and I didn’t know how I was going to feed my family."

When he put his wife and children first, before work, he began to succeed.

"I made some decisions, cut my staff by 90 percent. I cut my hours by 50 percent, and that’s when my income really exploded," he said.

Usner has four companies. The main company is jeffusner.com, which is about two years old. In conjunction with the goals of this business, he has also written a book called "Internet Millionaire: Your Blue Print to Succeed." It can be ordered for free on jeffusner.com or jeffsfreebook.com. There is a charge of $6.95 for shipping and handling.

He and his staff teach people how to make money on the Internet or how to grow their business online.

Another of Usner’s businesses is called leadstore.com, in which he has personally invested a lot this past year. Through this company he drives traffic and generates leads to people on the Internet from ordering a pizza … to finding a widget … to just about anything.

When the economy tanked, Usner’s business exploded. He is totally humbled by this and feels that his biggest secrets to success in the business world center on giving. His staff goes out and volunteers.

"When I started to give to orphans and widows my business exploded and keeps me rooted. I went and visited an orphanage in India," he said. "When I start to get around kids in such dire need I figure it’s crazy how spoiled I am."

Doing the show "Secret Millionaire" fit right in with Usner’s newly-rediscovered purpose. He was referred by a friend who was on the show last year. He left his private life for a bit and put himself in the public eye, something he was not used to doing.

"Your life is not yours to live. You need to share it to inspire others," he said.

Usner said he was a little nervous to leave his wallet, keys, cell phone and house not knowing where he was going — only that he was going to live on welfare wages. He watched out the window as his cab driver drove him by what first were familiar places.

"I grew up here and I would run home so I wouldn’t get shot," relayed the cab driver of his own childhood to Usner as the sights he recognized lessened and were replaced by unfamiliar, poverty-stricken buildings. "You always hear about ‘the other side of the train tracks.’"

The place in which he stayed had bullet holes in the walls. Usner said he had visited some countries that were worse, but it’s not like that in Ephrata, nor where he currently lives.

The organizations with which Usner volunteered during his time on the show were: TeamAbility, which helps children with disabilities, to which he donated $40,000; The Advocates Social Service, which helps at-risk youth by providing boxing rings and services, the recipient of a $35,000 check; and Habitat for Safe Seniors, an organization which started just for seniors but now hands out food to younger families as well, to which he donated $80,000.

The Internet executive was able to relate to each agency with his own life experiences; for example, his cousin, Heather, has cerebral palsy. During his high school years, he enjoyed spending time with her as he visited her frequently in a room with other special needs students at school.

It was quite a series of emotional moments when Usner handed out the money, revealing his millionaire status and his real reason for being there. He shared that although he may have appeared "put together," it was not always the case.

"Most of the crew was crying at the big gift," he said. "The cameraman had one eye on the camera and if you looked at the other you could see tears down his face." Even the interviewer was crying at times, added Usner.

Not all gifts were able to be included on the program. One of Usner’s favorites, which was not aired, was when a whole load of equipment for boxing rings was delivered to The Advocates Social Service.

"Watching the truck pull up to the kids … it was like Christmas morning," he said. "They were afraid to touch it because it was new."

He has kept in touch with the benefactors and he, his staff and family have gone back to Habitat for Safe Seniors to volunteer. He has also rebuilt the agencies’ websites and helped them with their Facebook pages. In addition, the organizations have continued to receive donations from other sources since the show has aired.

Participating in "Secret Millionaire" has helped to reinforce what Usner had already started as his mission several years ago. He wants to help people make more money, but also wants them to learn the gift of giving.

"I want to teach a man to fish; not give them fish," he said. "When you get out of your comfort zone, that’s when you do the most; that’s when things change."

After the show ended, Usner went back to his "regular" life. He has always wanted to teach … to work with children.

"I started college doing early childhood education and now I work with all ages of ‘kids’ up to 85," he said. "And I am teaching again." More MILLIONAIRE, page A3

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