A Peek Into a Real 1%er

Too rich for this 1%er?

Too showy for this 1%er.

It is not easy to peek into the mind of a top tier 1%er for most of us 99%ers, no matter how close we are to the cut-off line.   They travel in different groups, socialize with their own limited peers and generally frequent places that we don’t get admitted to or where the price of admission would not be justified even for those with ‘entry-level’ seven figure net worths.

I got a chance to observe a top tier 1%er from very close quarters for over 2 years.  How? I happened to work for this gentleman for that period directly.  In my role, I found myself having to travel along with him (of course, with him in first class, me in cattle class) to meet business prospects and potential investment partners in US and around the world.   In all our meetings discussing strategy in hotels, airports and rental cars,  I got to know him and his ilk a bit more.  To give a perspective to you all, I would estimate his net worth to be around $60 million, so very rich obviously but not I-am-in-the-Forbes-100-list rich or even New York-page-3-socialite rich.

This article is to share what I learned from my first hand experience about this rarefied class of ultra-high net worth people.  Note that this applies to those who built their wealth largely through their own business, not filthy rich inheritors or trust fund babies as I don’t know any.  Besides, I am sure you also don’t care about trust fund babies who only know how to spend money they never earned.  On the other hand, these guys either built something major from nothing or took a small business and made it big.  So, here’s how this 1%er and people like him think:

Money is only for scoring.   

Money is no longer serving the purpose for them that it might for you and me but money is how they keep score.  Every game needs a scorecard, and for this 1%er, wealth is the scorecard.  As he is not a super-spender, his kind of wealth serves no immediate purpose for him other than just to keep score.  

They know they are way beyond FI and don’t care.

How do I convey this to you accurately?  Hmm…Financial independence (FI), as an achievement, sounds to them somewhat like how you would feel when your neighbor kid proudly says he graduated high school, when you did your Ph.D. in Astrophysics from MIT years ago and have recently been told that you are among the nominees for this year’s Nobel Prize.  Meh to FI.   That sounds about right. 

If they want to, they can just sell everything and buy treasury bonds and live off the interest for the rest of their life.  Even at 1% interest, this will generate $600,000 in annual income for this 1%er, and even he admits it is a lot more than enough for him to enjoy life and pursue his hobbies.

They work for a purpose.  

Their purpose may not always make sense for us but to them, it is everything.   It is much bigger than passion.  The purpose in this case is to develop and bring a new patentable product to market that improves the efficiency to 99.9999% from the current 99.99% industry standard.  In case you are wondering why is this such a big deal, in engineering, this is an improvement to ‘6 logs’ from ‘4 logs’, or 100 times better!  This would be worthy of a patentable invention.  His goal beyond this? Take it to 8 logs (99.999999% efficiency), of course! In business terms, it’s like having a goal of ever-increasing revenues.

Millions are not a big deal.

They don’t think this from an arrogant point of view (though some might).  The ones who built their wealth on their own rarely, if ever, are dismissive about money.  They know it is not easy to get to the first million dollars in net worth.  So, why is this not a big deal to them? The answer is purely relative.   If you are in debt, $100,000 net worth sounds like a lot to you.  It is, however, not that big a deal to you once you cross, say $500K in net worth.  Just scale this principle to millions to understand this 1%er perspective on just a couple of million dollars.

They size you up real quick and real good.

These people didn’t get to where they are in life by being naive.  I think they are endowed with or carefully develop the ability to size the potential of fellow humans quickly.  It is this assessment about you that drives their conversation, topics and agenda with you.   You might think it is casual chitchat but it is anything but.  Even a casual-sounding conversation is done with some inner objective in mind.  It is not necessarily sinister but they are driven to deeply understand or dominate the situation so they can take best decisions in every area and use your abilities to execute their decision, also while knowing which carrot to dangle in front of you.   These are decisions that serve their best interest, of course.   If you didn’t measure up in the first meeting, they would drop you like a hot potato and make a mental note to avoid you in the future at any cost.  You can kiss their goodwill goodbye.

Burj-al-Arab hotel, Dubai (7-star luxury)

Burj-al-Arab hotel, Dubai (7-star luxury).  A good place to get sized up.

Idiots stay here apparently.

The Royal Suite @ Burj-al-Arab.  Idiots stay here apparently.  Waiting for them at $24,000 a night.

They are sensibly frugal.

Again, this is relative.  What’s sensibly frugal to you and me applies in a different scale for them.  For this gentleman, it’s about choosing business class or first class in a commercial airplane instead of chartering a private jet.   Same applies to cars, no Lamborghini but the latest Mercedes S Class, sure.  Staying at a deluxe suite at a JW Marriott or even a Ritz Carlton is sensibly frugal than opting for the Royal suite at the Burj-al-Arab.  This gentleman flat out calls his peers who splurge on these extravagances as idiots.

Giving is a business.

They donate to charitable causes but on their own terms using business-like metrics.  You and I may gladly give $100 to Salvation Army or even $1,000 for a cause we feel worthy, and possibly forget about it.  However, their giving is conditional, milestone-based and demands a plan from the recipient no different than what a business plan would look like.  This gentleman once asked me to review a proposal from a charitable institution he got.  He wanted me to apply my ‘business lens’ as he put it.   This proposal was custom-created for this gentleman when he apparently asked them the question, what can you do if I gave you $2 million?

The race never ends.
Good car for the never-ending race?

Good car for the never-ending race?

This is the part that took a long time for me to understand.   If you aren’t driven by a net worth or a passive income target, and if you are driven by a purpose that only serves as a milestone for another purpose (like ‘8 logs’), and if all the resources you have (money, people, network) are only stepping stones at your disposal for the ever-challenging business goals, then the race is truly never-ending.   This gentleman is not mean or rude, far from it, but his innate drive to win a never-ending race finally made me understand why he is able to catch a red-eye flight from California to New York and be fully attentive next morning in an early breakfast meeting at 7:30 am.

Why they make this race never-ending is best known to them but this defines who they are.

I hope I have been able to give you a glimpse of what a real 1%er thinks and how he lives his life.  This peek, I hope, demystifies some of your notions and beliefs about this ‘upper class’ as it did mine prior to the personal experience.

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26 comments on “A Peek Into a Real 1%er”

  1. By Joseph

    As a proud 49%er (I’m just above average by my calculation) I’m glad I share some of the approaches that the high and mighty among us use. At some point I feel like money does lose its value as something to be used, and more of something you wear on your sleeve and keep in the back of your head.

  2. By Sikasem

    Yeah, the 1%er are far ahead and would definitely look at things in a different way. What is ‘ocean’ to us is like a ‘bucket’ of water to them.
    All the same, they worked hard for it.

  3. By ZJ Thorne

    The most effective leaders I’ve seen are so good at sizing people up that most people don’t even know they are doing it. Thankfully, most of the folks I know are doing this to get the right opportunities to the right people. I’m going to keep on liking the villain in “Hamilton” and continue to talk less and smile more.

  4. By Money Buffalo

    What an opportunity of a lifetime. Although I want their money, I do not want the lifestyle.

    I had the opportunity to spend time with the high-level VPs a time or two of my former employer (they only made 7 figures annually) but they were good at sizing a person up. They also traveled 8 days a week. While I enjoy the “Strategic Planning” portion of their job, I also enjoy the campfire in my backyard without worrying if I will miss an important phone call.

    I am glad that these people do exist in regards to working for a purpose. George Washington thought it was the duty of the farming elite to experiment with different farming practices such as crop rotation. They could afford the risk of failure & rightly reaped the rewards of success. The quality of our lives increased as well!

    • By TFR

      Good point MB. Unlike some others, I have nothing but admiration for such folks. After all, it is because of such individuals that our country and the world is moving forward. In the process, if they become very wealthy, so be it. They deserve it.

  5. By ESI Money

    Wow. Awesome!

    The never-ending race part made me feel sorry for him. I know he doesn’t see it as something to be pitied, but I feel bad that he can never be truly satisfied. The goal is ALWAYS before him and he never reaches it. Yes, he has smaller goals he does reach, but those just get him closer to his “final” goal which is moving forward faster than he is.

    • By TFR

      Thanks, ESI. This tendency to never get satisfied is what has enabled him to reach this level of success. But beyond a point, I agree, it can defeat the purpose of achieving the success.

      • By Cassie

        I don’t think any of us would be different from them if we were at their level. This world has a lot of interesting people in it and I’m sure at this guy’s level he’s met with some of the brightest and most powerful men/women in the world. He’s had the opportunity to work on fascinating projects that will help push innovation. I don’t envy him but I do understand his reasons for continuing to push himself.

  6. By Rob R

    I enjoyed your article but can’t help but to think that some of these 1%ers are outright sociopaths. I stress SOME are. That might be strong lauguage but it also might be true. The keeping score part really bothered me because while he’s keeping score, every business deal has a winning side and a losing side and lives are affected on both sides. I know my personality quite well and I’d ever accumulated 60M, i’d certainly retire and would get into philanthropy.

    • By TFR

      Don’t know about sociopaths Rob, this gentleman certainly was not. But I would retire for far, far less than that figure.

    • By Tom Andrews

      Typical nonbusiness owner – yes some deals are win/lose, but the best places to play are win/win. If I can help a business earn $10million dollars how much can I charge? The more they win the more they are happy to pay me.

      If I’m trying to buy a used car for as little as possible mostly win/lose but even there may be some win/win if you look.

  7. By Sateesh Gudivada

    They size you up real quick and real good – This is one common quality I have observed in all leaders I have come across in my career…

  8. By John Foster

    Very interesting! I live in a small town and feel fortunate to see people in different aspects of their lives: work, parenting, volunteering, town government.

    People definitely see the world differently!

  9. By Mr/Mrs H &3

    Their problems and possessions are in a different class than the rest of us who strive to be FI by frugal and minimalist means. Everyone, regardless of income and wealth, seek their own version of contentment. Others find it sooner and others, like your 1%er, will continually keep pushing their boundaries to test their limits or potential. I wonder what it’s like to not know when enough is enough. It sounds exhausting to keep running towards a goal but with no end in sight.

  10. By Physician on FIRE

    What a great opportunity to witness firsthand the lifestyle and mindset of a 1%er. Although, as someone with income that puts me awfully close to being a 1%er, I’d say this gentelman is more like a 0.1%er.

    The scorecard and never-ending race are concepts I cannot identify with. I’m glad I wasn’t built that way.


    • By TFR

      Thanks PoF, it was a good learning. Yes, he might be a 0.1%er but I don’t have any data within the 1%, so I called him a ‘top tier’ 1%er.

  11. By The Green Swan

    Very interesting post, TFR, I appreciate your view into his way of life. That would be something one day asking a charitable institution what they could do with two million… That’s just crazy to think!

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