The Billionaire Next Door

Unfortunately, this isn’t the happy ending Guy Kawasaki is known for, where one scrimps, saves, ends up with millions and is nice to boot. Nope. This is where a regular joe gets lucky with construction, parlaying one home to another, ultimately creating (then losing) a premiere golf course, but the windfall is still enough to give him a home on the water and about $1.1B in the bank.

Why now? Why this story?

Because after fifteen minutes at his home, pitching him on a business that will actually help people of color and the disadvantaged, and listening to his comments, I pondered for a hot minute, then announced: “we should end the conversation now because we aren’t aligned in our thinking.” He was taken aback as I stood, stammering as he tried to prevent my departure.

Here are a few choice comments he made during that painfully brief time we spent together.

Me: “Don’t you care about the world your grandchildren will grow up in and experience?”

Him: “No, I don’t see them that much anyway.”

Alrighty then….

Me: “Are you okay with a world where the stay-at-home economy is all we know, therein losing the opportunity to interact with those not like ourselves, helping us grow and live together—essentially, have understanding and compassion for others?”

Him: “Nope. I get all my stuff from Amazon. I like the way things are.”

A sad existence…..

I’ll skip over the bantering part where he gloated about getting in at the opening price of Facebook or that he thought most charities were schemes for the executives, or why he didn’t need personal advisors because he was smarter than all of them. I try one last attempt to get things back on track.

Me: “This place is beautiful, one of the nicest on the lake, but what about your wife? Don’t you two get out—and don’t you want this to remain lovely and inviting to those around you who are less fortunate?”

Him: “Are you referring to the woman who greeted you? She’s the housekeeper. I’m twice divorced, and no, I don’t care.”

They are probably better off for it….

At that point, it ceased being about the money, or his working with the organization in any capacity. This was about the simple things, like life, values, morals, ethics or lack thereof.

“Well, (name), thanks for your time, but I don’t believe we’re a fit for one another at any level,” and as I stand, I continue: “I’ll let myself out if that’s alright.”

Seeing I’m going to leave regardless, he rises, apologizes and insists I tell him more. I politely decline.

“From this brief conversation, it’s clear we don’t share any of the same values or ideals, and that’s quite alright. You have your view of the world and I have mine. Let’s just leave it at that.”

I start to leave his glorious gazebo by the lake, the metal, concrete and glass structure outfitted with a round, queen-size copper fireplace in the middle, sound-activated window shields and 180 unobstructed views behind. He rushes beside me, insisting that I can’t walk back up the gravel path in my heels (which I really can’t, but was going to try), but must go in his custom (and highly cool, I will admit) little 4×4.

Heed the 3-second rule

On the ride up, I realize that the first impression, the one Harvard Business School calls the “3-second rule” played out, once again. In 3 seconds, a person snapshots what they see, makes a judgement, and it’s usually right. The man who’d come to the door had answered in a t-shirt that included a moose, a crass statement and a curse word. I didn’t recognize him, and certainly didn’t believe him to be the man who’d taken my meeting.

As my agent always says: truth isn’t believable, that’s why we put it into a book, call it fiction and pass it off to the reader, because it’s the only way it’s palatable. Standing there, in my linen pants, heels and good attitude, I encounter a man who’s made good financially, but failed to acquire the class, perspective, kindness or compassion of others who aren’t a 10th as “successful.” In my words, he’s a complete failure.

The epilogue

Like so many a person who is suddenly rejected, his overly-solicitous nature went into hyperdrive on the carport area, as though he divined that I was neither impressed by his home, money or t-shirt. He made every offer possible for me to re-pitch and re-engage in the discussion. While polite to the very end, his efforts were disingenuous, and we both knew it. Nothing he could say would change who he’d revealed himself to be, and no amount of money or words would entice me to interact with him again. The downside would far outweigh the dollars.

And all these trite sayings….money can’t buy happiness, or you can’t buy class… they come from somewhere, and that place is real life, where you and I live each and every day. So when you read a line or a scene in my book, odds are—it happened, but as my agent said, I’m just writing about it, calling it fiction so it’s not as hard to digest.