In this On Purpose episode, Jay Shetty speaks with Mike Milken, a successful financier and philanthropist.
Milken, who started his philanthropic work in the 1970s, intensified his efforts by establishing the Milken Family Foundation in 1982.
In 1993, his life turned when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This event led him to focus on making medical research more efficient and effective. Milken released his 2023 memoir, Faster Cures, Accelerating the Future of Health, documenting his extensive work in the field.
Down Memory Lane
Jay Shetty starts the conversation by discussing Mike Milken’s childhood memory that influenced who he is today. Milken shares his early love for data and knowledge, how he would interact with adults, and questions why they held certain beliefs. His father’s polio diagnosis triggered his interest in medicine and science.
Milken discusses with Jay Shetty the polio epidemic of the 1950s and the resistance to vaccination. He recalls how Elvis Presley’s televised vaccination encouraged many American teenagers to vaccinate. He learned that having a solution does not guarantee its adoption and that science often comes to the rescue in seemingly dire situations.
Professionally, Milken didn’t initially intend to enter the financial services industry. His childhood dream was to run the space program. He was good at math and science and was preparing for this career until the Watts riots of 1965. During the riots, he met a young African American man who believed he could never get a loan due to racial discrimination. This interaction motivated Milken to study credit systems.
After discovering the inaccuracies in people’s perceived credit, he changed his career path and aimed to democratize capital. He left his space program dream and redirected his energies to creating access to capital, sparking a revolution in the financial system. Over the next thirty years, his efforts created 62 million jobs in non-investment-grade companies.
Mike Milken shared with Jay Shetty his perspective on studying patterns and the significance of understanding demographic shifts for future planning.
Understanding broad social changes and comparing that to data is crucial. Milken drew attention to a significant worldwide demographic shift – decreasing birth rates in most developed countries. This decline has been evident for years, but only recently has it gained global attention. With countries like the United States, Northern Asia, and Europe witnessing below replacement-level birth rates, Milken believes this trend has profound implications.
In contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Nigeria, is experiencing a baby boom. He shared with Jay Shetty that more children are being born in Nigeria than in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Russia combined. This shift requires examining whether current systems will cater to these changes.
Milken also mentioned to Jay Shetty the importance of analyzing the rate of change. He highlighted how this concept is prevalent in medicine, where understanding the growth rate of cancers can determine treatment strategies. Thanks to technological advancements, it is possible to detect life-threatening diseases early on with minimal cells in the body. This early detection significantly improves the chances of successful treatment.
Milken recalls the unusual circumstances surrounding his imprisonment, attributing it to the finance revolution. He explains to Jay Shetty that his alleged crimes were related to bookkeeping, which was never considered illegal before or since. He compares his situation to that of presidents in history who ended up in prison but later resumed their roles as national leaders. For the sake of his family, Milken chose to plead guilty.
While in prison, Milken spent his days contemplating the world and writing to global ambassadors, offering suggestions on how they should lead their countries. He also continued his philanthropic efforts and tutored fellow inmates, helping them further their education.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail but didn’t come back bitter. Like Mandela, Milken believes that resentment and bitterness are unproductive emotions. He underlines the importance of focusing on the future rather than dwelling on the past.
After his release from prison, Milken returned to his mission in finance and philanthropy. He applied the insights and ideas he gathered there to his work. He believes that being free of your past, though not forgetting it, allows you to go forward. In his view, many people dealing with mental health issues today are still tied down by their past. Yet breaking free from this can pave the way to a brighter future.
Terminal Cancer Diagnosis
Milken opened up to Jay Shetty about his life-changing diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer. After receiving the diagnosis, Milken reflected on his unhealthy lifestyle and the series of diseases in his family, particularly the loss of his father to melanoma and several other relatives to cancer. This encounter with a problem he could not solve financially marked a turning point, forcing him to seek ways to combat the disease differently.
Milken decided to focus on anything reversible in his lifestyle. He started with an immediate change in his diet of only fresh fruits and vegetables. Then, he examined different healing traditions worldwide and focused on the Ayurvedian concept of the gut as the “second brain.” Therefore, he drastically shifted his diet to affect his gut microbiome.
Emphasizing the need to do the most from day one after a life-threatening disease diagnosis, Milken chose radiation treatment. Once his cancer burden seemed zero, he went above and beyond for better long-term outcomes.
His journey inspired Milken to accelerate scientific progress in medicine, drawing parallels between his financial education and medical endeavors. His strategy was to attract the best talents to work in the area, provide sufficient financial capital, and promote teamwork.
Milken recognized available evidence, such as lower incidences of hormone-driven cancers or diabetes in plant-eating populations. However, the necessary technology to prove these connections wasn’t yet available. Bringing nutrition-related discussions into cancer research was initially resisted. Still, years later, the link between diet, microbiome, and cancer became a significant part of the discourse.
Entering the Medical Field
Milken first faced his health issues and noticed three critical elements needed in the field: teamwork, data sharing, and technology. He pointed out to Jay Shetty the lack of collaboration between leading cancer centers. Milken addressed it by only funding research that agreed to share data. He also introduced early digital technology to connect researchers globally.
Moreover, government funding plays a significant role. Milken explained to Jay Shetty that individual and foundation contributions are helpful but relatively small compared to government funds. He successfully lobbied for a focused request to double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget for all cancers, arguing it would be an excellent investment for the country. This effort, finalized in 1998 with the president’s signature, led to an additional $500 billion spent on basic research. It benefitted all diseases and laid the groundwork for rapid crisis responses like COVID-19.
The Evolution of Research
Mike Milken lays out his strategies for revolutionizing medical research. He discusses with Jay Shetty the principles he advocates for recruiting top-tier scientists and physicians. He encourages collaboration over competition, identifying the most promising research and reducing bureaucracy.
Milken describes to Jay Shetty the zero-sum game mindset prevalent among health foundations. There, increasing funding for one disease means removing resources from another. Moreover, he highlights his past track record of success in finance and investing, using it to gain credibility and rally support for his cause.
Supporting young scientists is crucial for the future of research. Many researchers face funding shortages after years of studying and training. This phenomenon tempts them to leave research for more lucrative industries. Milken stresses these scientists’ crucial role in making breakthroughs and creating new therapies. He pointed out that most Nobel Prize winners were recognized for their early career contributions.
Jay Shetty asks Milken about his success in combating HIV/AIDS. The philanthropist recalls the hysteria of the 1980s and early 1990s. Thanks to research and the development of antivirals, people with HIV/AIDS are now living rather than dying. Yet it is crucial to continue the healthcare research and development momentum. Milken aims to accelerate research so diseases can be cured within a person’s lifetime.
Healthy Human, Healthy Planet
Mike Milken and Jay Shetty discuss the concept of a “healthy human, healthy planet.” They highlight the large proportion of land currently dedicated to raising animals for human consumption. Milken emphasizes the benefits of lab-grown food, such as reducing water and land usage. The production cost of this type of food is dropping, and it has recently gained approval, making it a promising solution for environmental issues and food scarcity.
Milken also talks to Jay Shetty about the project ‘Drawdown’ that lists significant factors affecting our environment and climate, including food-related ones. He suggests that food production, consumption, and waste management changes can substantially improve our environment.
On the health front, Milken talks about the potential of our immune system. He mentions Nobel laureate Jim Allison’s work on checkpoint inhibitors. It helped decrease the death rate of melanoma by 50%. However, further research and technological advancements in organ transplants and non-invasive surgery are essential.
In his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Milken shares with Jay Shetty that he launched 125 podcasts. His goal was to disseminate important information from key figures like Francis Collins, the head of the NIH and the CEO of Johnson & Johnson. He also used these platforms to encourage leaders to take action and learn how they cope during the pandemic.
Milken also reflects on the importance of our senses in our overall well-being. He shares his experience of using smell to energize his immune system and the healing powers of touch, like his regular Ayurvedic massages.
The philanthropist made many lifestyle changes throughout his life, from diet to embracing unconventional health practices, making him healthier and happier. He warns of the health issues like diabetes emerging in developing countries due to unhealthy diets.
Milken urges the listeners to take responsibility for their health and make necessary changes. Additionally, he encourages them to support initiatives aimed at a healthier human race and planet and continue to adapt and embrace new ideas and solutions.
Improvements Emerge Step by Step
Milken believes there will likely be a shift in the food chain in the next twenty to thirty years due to technological advancements. He mentioned the example of Nestle, which underwent a business transformation from consumer packaging to health.
The philanthropist explained to Jay Shetty that in the future, we could create pure, uncontaminated foods through technology, similar to how we can directly manipulate stem cells.
Milken believes that technology has the potential to provide solutions for life-threatening diseases. He estimated that out of 10,000 such conditions, solutions have arisen for only about 500. This indicates the considerable potential for progress in this area.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “Mike Milken ON How to Connect Your Life Purpose With Business Success & The Mindset Behind Strategic Decision Making” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.