Title: "The Richest Man in Town: The Twelve Commandments of Wealth"
Author: W. Randall Jones
Publisher: Business Plus, 2009; 256 pages; $25.99 list ($17.15 on amazon.com)
By now, most personal finance book aficionados are familiar with the Lifestyles of the Rich and Not-Usually-Famous genre exemplified by "The Millionaire Next Door." These titles tend to be equal parts counterintuitive voyeurism ("75 percent of millionaires drive a bucket and hand-wash their own undies) and advice on how to get where the books’ subjects are. ("If you drive a bucket and hand-wash your own undies, you, too can be on the path to millions!")
"The Richest Man in Town," written by Worth Magazine founder W. Randall Jones, sticks to the formula of providing interesting tidbits about the lives of his subjects and their path to wealth, and spinning the common threads into a fabric of wealth-building advice. However, there is something inherently compelling about the approach of the book that flips the formulaic genre on its ear.
As opposed to the ostensible thesis of "The Millionaire Next Door" — i.e., half the folks in town are millionaires, unbeknownst to you, and if you live frugally like they do, you can be, too — "The Richest Man In Town" shoots straight for the top, and peeks into the lifestyles and paths to wealth of, well, the richest individual in 100 different cities across America.
In "The Richest Man in Town," Jones (refreshingly, to me) does not purport to be offering a recipe of hard and fast investing rules or concrete money management tips. Rather, his "Twelve Commandments of Wealth" are general, aspirational and primarily entrepreneurial standards spun from memorable, inspirational tales told to Jones by his various subjects, whom he abbreviates affectionately as RMITs.
Also, unlike its neighbors on the bookstore shelf, "The Richest Man in Town" features many stories of folks you’ve heard of — Stephen King, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin and Carl Icahn, among others — and folks whose enterprises you’ve heard of and, likely, patronize — Leslie Wexner (founder of the company that owns Victoria’s Secret and Henri Bendel), Fred DeLuca (founder of Subway) and Pleasant Rowland (the woman who created the American Girl dolls).
So, Jones shoots straight for the uber-overachievers among America’s rich, and focuses on what he calls self-made and "self-sufficiently" rich — focusing on individuals with liquid asset-heavy portfolios and excluding those whose wealth was not a result of their own efforts (e.g., heirs). "The poorest RMIT is $100 million rich and the richest is Bill Gates — worth more than $50 billion." …CONTINUED
Jones starts out with a set of excerpts from his RMITs’ answers to the question: "What is the American Dream?" After pulling out the frequently expressed answers, like money (wealth), freedom, family and philanthropy — as well as a nearly universal value on time, Jones lists off his RMITs by city and launches right into the subtitular "Twelve Commandments of Wealth."
There are some gems among the list. The first one, in which such notables as John McAfee, the antivirus software lord, and Carl Icahn admonish strivers that money should be sought not for its own sake, but only as a byproduct of the value you create in the market, is typical among Jones’ Twelve Commandments in both its short-but-sweet nature and the vividity with which it is exemplified in the lives of its RMITs.
It is also typical in its focus on business; other commandments include: "Be Your Own Boss," "Get Addicted to Ambition," "Wake Up Early (in life and every day)," and "Don’t Set Goals — Execute or Get Executed."
As he relates his Twelve Commandments, Jones weaves in the personal success stories of the various RMITs, the RMITs’ own words of caution and inspiration, and even the occasional concrete business strategy — like a section he provides on the dos and don’ts of successful business partnerships, and an entire chapter on the importance of sales.
Jones closes out the book with some interesting lifestyle notes and personal profiles of his RMITs, but they tend away from minutiae about how much they spend on their cars and watches and toward values shared among RMITs, like preferences for spending spare time on socialization opportunities like golf and tennis, and penchants for philanthropy and spirituality.
"The Richest Man in Town" is a great way for a small businessperson to spend a couple of hours. In the current climate of distress, failure and collapse, it provides a beacon of interesting inspiration, tips anyone can incorporate into their own approach to business and to life, and a reminder of what excellence looks like.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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