The Salary Trap

| July 21, 2009

A stable salary can be addictive: like a drug, it feels good, helps you cope with the ups and downs of life, and it is near impossible to give up. But dependence on a salary is a major impediment to becoming the richest person in town. The regular fix of a paycheck from the other guy makes you risk-averse, and the ability to take risks is one of the qualities that defines an RMIT. It certainly defines Jon Huntsman, Salt Lake City’s richest man. His rags-to-riches trajectory is not uncommon among RMITs—in fact, growing up without advantages can be a huge advantage.

They Shoot Founders, Don’t They?

| July 8, 2009

One of the not-so-pretty laws of capitalism is that the new money calls the shots. It is not the creator of the genius idea or the smart manager who reaps the reward—it is the provider of the capital who gets rich. That is why another unwritten rule of M&A is “Shoot the founder.” All too often when lone-ranger founders, who think they can do it all, need—or are forced—to raise capital to get the business off the ground or to scale up, they quickly find themselves pushed out of the way, with nothing to do and as much to show for their efforts. Fully 94 percent of RMITS have the title “Founder” on their resumes; fewer than 20 percent, however, have taken their companies public.

Most who have retained ownership cite the short-term thinking of Wall Street as a key reason. When a company is forced to manage from quarter to quarter, as opposed to taking the long view, employees become commodities—and management becomes groupthink.

Benevolent Dictators

| July 6, 2009

Over this Independence Day weekend, I was thinking about how one of our defining traits as Americans is our strong emphasis on the individual. I’ve written about the benefits of partnering with someone who complements your perfect pitch so that you can be free to play to your strengths. Dennis Albaugh, the richest man in Des Moines, Iowa, told me, “I have always hired people who are smarter than I am.” I heard this refrain from virtually every RMIT I interviewed: selecting the right team, the right employees, and the best advisers is essential to their success. But make no mistake—there can only be one king.

Celebrity-Culture Pandemic

| May 5, 2009

In television news, it seems that the old journalistic truism “If it bleeds, it leads” has been supplanted by “Give the people what they want,” which, if what often runs as news is any indication, is underage starlets and their wardrobe malfunctions. Don’t get me wrong—I love movies, I happily flip through magazines like People and Us Weekly on occasion, and I’m addicted to Dancing with the Stars. But I’m beginning to think this obsessive coverage of celebrities and their misadventures is crowding out the real news that Hollywood was meant to provide an occasional entertaining escape from. We have totally lost sight of who and what really make this country the best place on earth to live and to pursue the American dream.