Billionaires Just Have More Money

The 2015 Forbes list of the world’s billionaires includes 1,826 names.

Do any of these folks have problems?  There may be a few with money problems, but they would be the exception.  I think you would find that other than the money, there will be few differences from the rest of us.  Billionaires and the rest of us have pretty much the same hopes, fears, and expectations for life.

  • Health and longevity.  Money can maybe buy incrementally better treatment but can provide no guarantee.
  • Successful children.  Money can provide opportunities, but for some reason future heirs seem reluctant to take advantage of that.  I doubt the Hilton family is pleased with young Conrad’s recent performance.  There are many other examples.
  • Living up to the founders.  Some involve heirs who take over a successful business and try to make their own mark.  Remember RCA computers and the Edsel.  There is a difference between builders and runners.  It is difficult to be entrepreneurial with a giant corporation.  Except maybe, if you are Steve Jobs.
  • Relationships.  Who can you trust?  As one client told me about a relationship gone bad, “In 20 years she will be not so good looking, and I will still have $100 million.”
  • Unwanted attention and the inherent personal security problems.  A Michael Jordan teammate once said, “I would not trade places with him, even on payday.”
  • Inherent insecurities.  Do I deserve this?  Some may believe they deserve it but almost all will agree that things turned out far better than they could have imagined.  Many offered the business to others early on and by good fortune the other did not buy.  Microsoft at $30 million to IBM, Salesforce at $75 million to Microsoft.  It is a common problem faced by rock stars and athletes.

Most financially successful people measure themselves by more than money.  Money is just a way to keep score.  Did I make a contribution is a common insecurity.  Most give the money back in one way or another.  Charity and taxes are the common ones.  If you look at the Forbes list there are few who own fourth generation money.  David Rockefeller is 99 and third generation, but the only Rockefeller on the list.  Perhaps wealth concentration is less a problem than some estimate.

Money is a poor indicator of personal value.  Try to be valuable to the world and wealthy enough to have no money problems.


Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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