2013-10-10 / Views

From the Braver Institute

The other day I had the opportunity to cross paths with someone who is, perhaps, the wealthiest man I have ever met. I was really kind of surprised that I had never heard of him before especially after he told me about the vastness of his wealth. This man owns every lumber mill in the Pacific Northwest and controls every uranium mine west of the Mississippi. Given that I have been involved with construction and I once knew a man who did exploratory drilling for uranium and plutonium, you would think that I would have at least heard this guy’s name in some conversation, but alas I had not.

He then explained to me about how he owns two thirds of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Incredible indeed, but it doesn’t end there. I am sure you have heard of TWA, you know, the airline that billionaire Howard Hughes started. You guessed it, this guy owns that too. During this incredibly onesided, stream-of-consciousness conversation on wealth I was having with this real-life H. E. Pennypacker (watch Seinfeld reruns if this name doesn’t ring a bell) I was suddenly reminded of a few other people I had met in the past who were like this gentleman, except not quite as rich.

The first wealthy man I ever knew of owned some property around the area where I grew up. It seemed that he always had some major project going on. At the time we moved to the neighborhood he was planning on building an airfield. He was in the process of clearing taxiways between the residential area and the airfield, which had been cleared a year or two earlier. Our neighborhood was to be made up of pilots who could ultimately fly their airplanes from home.

Another project undertaken shortly after we moved there was the construction of a grocery store. The lot was cleared, the footings poured, the walls built, and then— nothing. The walls were as far as the project got. In fact the clearing of land was as far as the airfield and taxiways ever made it as well.

My parents called this guy a tencent millionaire, and he was the first in a long list of such wealthy individuals I have crossed paths with over the years.

I remember a hearing-aid salesman who always drove Cadillacs and wore fancy suits with white shoes and lived in a fancy house, and then for some reason he had to move to a mobile home.

Then there was the owner of a used car dealership who would demand the finest of everything at Mean Gene’s Lakeside Inn where I worked as a bartender. He was quick to tell you about his neverending wealth, and would spare no expense at the bar since Gene allowed him to run a tab which I am sure was never paid up when he left town for good one night.

These guys were followed by a guy who designed and built exercise equipment for pro football teams, and more recently a guy who buys and sells unspeakable amounts stocks, bonds, gold and silver and anything else from the world of bigtime investment.

Now I am far from being a wealthy man, so I don’t know how wealthy people behave, but I have met many millionaires who truly are that. You could not hang the “ten-cent” moniker on them. These people, at least in my experience, didn’t talk about how much money they had. They didn’t put on a show. In fact you would swear that the man who did the exploratory uranium drilling didn’t have two nickels to rub together if you saw him, yet I had watched him quietly and without ceremony purchase three-quarters of a million dollars worth of equipment (worth tentimes that in today’s dollars), and then continue about his business still looking and acting like some average Joe. These people didn’t need a show to feel wealthy, they were wealthy and there was no need to try and fool anyone.

The one thing that makes the latest ten-cent millionaire on my list stand out from the rest is that the others actually did have a business or some other facade to stand behind while they spun their tales of fortune. This guy didn’t seem to have that, and it is for that reason alone that there was slight glimmer of potential truth to some of what he was telling me.

Today we have the technology at our fingertips to get much of the information we want and I knew that a man with this kind of wealth and influence would surely have countless news articles written about him. So I did what any equally curious and amused person would do in my case—I made an internet search of his name.

I was not surprised to find very little and almost nothing at all on this man. Perhaps the least surprising thing I found was one solitary reference from a newspaper in Arkansas. The reference was in the paper’s court section. It would appear that this latest ten-cent millionaire had once been fined $236 for making fraudulent claims.

Imagine that.

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Waye Braver can be contacted on Facebook or by email at waye@braverinstitute.com.

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