New List for the Wealthy: The Media Ignore Stories about Philanthropy of the Rich in Favor of Anecdotes about Their Toys

By Saal, Harry | Newsweek, September 22, 1997 | Go to article overview

New List for the Wealthy: The Media Ignore Stories about Philanthropy of the Rich in Favor of Anecdotes about Their Toys


Saal, Harry, Newsweek


The media ignore stories about philanthropy of the rich in favor of anecdotes about their toys IWOKE UP ONE MORNING TO FIND OUT I WAS WORTH $15 million. On Feb. 6,1989, Network General Corp., the company I had cofounded in 1986, completed its initial public offering of stock, and I, like so many of my fellow high-technology entrepreneurs, had become richer overnight than I'd ever thought possible.

Is this what it feels like to win the lottery? Was I different than I had been the day before? I wasn't raised with great wealth in my family, so I had no coaching about how to react to this sudden change in affairs. Was I somehow supposed to be instantly happier? Would people now treat me differently? Did my newly inflated net worth now signify that I was a success?

This last question startled me. I remembered having read Forbes magazine's profiles of millionaires. By clint of their vast wealth, these individuals were described as if they had attained the pinnacle of success, the American Dream. They were millionaires--some of them billionaires. Now I was among their ranks. And yes, I felt successful. But not for the reasons that Forbes identified.

Success to me has always been about what one does with one's fortunes, not how many fortunes one has. Even before I became a millionaire, community building and charitable giving were important parts of my life, no matter how small the amount. Being able to contribute to the lives of others, not to my material possessions or bank account, had been my measuring stick for worth, value and happiness.

According to some of our most popular news media, however, now that I was a millionaire, the meaning of that measuring stick was rather different. Worth was now about money: how much and how quickly I could earn more. Value was about my contribution to a company's bottom line, not to my family's security or future. Happiness was the toys I bought for myself, not the joy I brought to other people's lives.

All too often, today's media glorify the accumulation of wealth instead of its application. Each year, leading business publications list those who have the most money and how much they accumulated, or lost, in the previous year. Recently Newsweek dedicated six pages in its business section to highlight the toys the rich have bought, including islands off Seattle and houses that recognize us before we enter. Is this all that money is meant for? Are these the reasons I risked my home and financial future to start my own company? Are these rankings and toys the incentive I want my kids to associate with working hard? Not at all.

Position on the Forbes ladder is not the way we should be assigning worth to individuals. Michael Eisner, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey are role models for an entire generation of future business leaders. According to the media, however, to be like Bill is simply to be worth $36 billion. How many readers realize Bill Gates has given away more than $250 million so far this year? That he has already spent millions on art work (such as Da Vinci's Codex Leicester) and then gone on to display it around the world? …

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