Frank Thoughts: If I Were A Rich Man
Frank Boland
September 04, 2014

If you were to become a “rich man” would you live differently than you currently do … as in showcase your wealth?  Most of us could never imagine that a friend could be one of the richest persons in the world … and that we would never know it.  A person’s persona can conceal --- or show --- a great deal.  Our impression of people is often based on their outward appearance.  Since most of us have friends that are like ourselves, we believe they are ordinary people.  But sometimes they are not.   

The thought of how most of us would deal with great wealth came to me the other day.  The Wall Street Journal had run a real estate ad publicizing the “LARGEST Office Lease in San Francisco History.”  Upon the building’s completion the ad stated “… (It) will be the TALLEST office building on the West Coast.” “Whoa,” I thought.  I wondered if anyone had brought up the San Francisco earthquake.  I then recalled one of my inviolate investment rules:  Never buy the stock of a company that has its name on a building.  Ego can be fatal in business.   And yet most of us would probably act like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” and want to show our new great wealth.  What better way of doing it than putting your business name on a grand public building in the middle of a city?

I’d like to think that if I were ever to become “a rich man,” I would be more like my golf friend Bill Connell.  Bill was a unique person.  He was a modest man who exuded class.  I remember being on the first tee with him one morning and being impressed by his posture and presence.  He was gracious and had a charming, self-deprecating sense of humor.  Yet one knew, he was accustomed to being in charge. 

Bill had a nice home, dressed well and drove an upscale car.  But then so did many other members at the golf club.  One day I got a glimpse that there might be more to his “story.”  It was the weekend and he was obviously exhausted.  One member of our foursome asked “Bill, why are you so tired?” Connell responded, “Sorry guys. I just got back from a business trip I didn’t expect to make and the time zone changes have me worn out.”  “Where?” continued the member.  “China,” was the answer.  “That must have been a heck of an airline ticket!”  “Well no, I just took my plane” said Connell obviously trying to get off the subject.   My mind instantly went to an image of a Boeing aircraft.  But it wasn’t until Forbes Magazine in 1996 put Bill Connell on the FORBES 400 list of the richest people in the country that his “cover” was broken.  Forbes Magazine, apparently sensing a story, interviewed him.  Bill --- realizing his cover was gone --- agreed.  He was asked how he would feel about all the people who would now contact him asking for money.  “They should,” he answered.  “Charities should find me.  I was trained that even when you didn’t have, you gave (Irish immigrant parents).  You come into the world with nothing and you leave the world with nothing.  It’s not like you can pile it into a casket.”  He was then asked, “What is rich?” Bill answered, “People are rich when you have what you need in the world; a nice family, a good education, participation in the community, and to see your children do well.  That is rich.”  Bill proved to be far richer in ways than Tevye, or most of us, could ever imagine!

-Francis Patrick Boland

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