Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

Wealth Paradox

There is a perception that the ultra-wealthy are driven by the accumulation of money. In a family account of the early American transport baron, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Arthur T. Vanderbilt wrote of the basis of his ancestor’s self-esteem. “It was not what he could do with his money that interested the Commodore [Cornelius]. It was money itself,” In an apparent contradiction, however, T. J Styles’ biography paints the Gilded Age transport baron as sometimes vindictive and willing to risk all his money to right a matter of principle in expansion of his empire. On one such occasion he sought to financially break a group of New York government regulators who set out to defraud him in the issuing him of a rail licence.

The pursuit of goals for personal gain as opposed to other-oriented motivations is often viewed as being diametrically opposed. Countering this view, psychology professor Angela Duckworth is of the researched opinion that “you can want to be top dog and, at the same time, be driven to help others.”[1] The life stories of Henry Ford who made automobile travel affordable to the masses, Thomas A Edison who served society through his inventions, and Walt Disney whose want was to create happiness are consistent Angela Duckworth’s opinion. Each of these men also saw importance in attaching their names to their enterprises.

Martin Fridson’s research into billionaires, while a partner at Price Waterhouse, is consistent with what Angela Duckworth purports of highly successful people.  Fridson wrote that “Few if any set out with the explicit objective of amassing a billion dollars of net worth, even though they all had some notion of becoming wealthy.”[2] After interviewing thirty of America’s richest people in the 1980s, more than a decade before Fridson, author Vance Packard came to a similar conclusion. In his book The Ultra Rich, he wrote “it was not the possibility of gaining hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in assets that motivated some of the recent notable innovators such as Steven Jobs, David Packard, Ross Perot, Leonard Shoen, Ewing Kauffman, or Jack Simplot to set forth on their journeys of enterprise.” What was it?

Of the people Vance Packard interviewed, the founder of U-Haul trailers, Leonard Shoen notably commented “you can’t take money out and have a good time. Money won’t buy you joy. It won’t buy you fun. It won’t buy you satisfaction. Satisfaction is a thing that goes on in your mind. The thing that buys you the sort of mental attitude that is called happiness is when you make a difference – when your efforts in the world make a difference for your fellow man.” [3] This notion of making “a big beneficial impact on the world” is cited by billionaire Ray Dalio in his book Principles as a key character trait of super successful people, whom he describes as industry shapers,[4] is validated over time.

Thomas Edison, who registered more patents than anyone else last century put it this way: “I wasn’t interested in making money as much as being the first to invent something society needed. But if you do that the money comes in[5].” Similarly, Walmart co-founder Sam Walton stated in his autobiography: “our relentless effort to improve our business has always been tied to trying to make things better for the folks who live and work in our communities.” “We have built a company that is so efficient it has enabled us to save our customers billions of dollars.”[6]


[1] Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (London: Penguin Random House, 2017), 159.

[2] Martin S. Fridson, How to be a Billionaire: Proven Strategies from the Titans of Wealth (New York: Wiley, 2000), 28-9.

[3] V. Packard, The Ultra Rich: How Much is too Much (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1989), 315.

[4] R. Dalio, Principles: Life and Work (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017), 95.

[5] James D. Newton, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel, & Charles Lindbergh (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989).

[6] Sam Walton, and John Huey, Made in America: My Story (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), 305.