The mega-rich got richer over the past year because they have substantial ownership stakes in well-run, publicly traded companies. And it's how the rest of us can build, enhance and protect our fortunes, too.
With unemployment high and the economy still sputtering, economic insecurity in the U.S. is rampant right now. The 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the longest-running survey of its kind, reveals that the percentage of workers who feel confident they have enough for a comfortable retirement is near record lows.
At the other end of the scale, this week Forbes released its annual list of the top 400 richest Americans and the mood here is decidedly upbeat. Many are several billion dollars richer.
Most of the names near the top are the same as in years past — and so are the principles that got them there. So there is much that we can learn here if we’re willing to listen.
Let’s start with how they got there. Many Americans feel that great wealth is a matter not of talent but luck, the breaks. And, in truth, most of the ultra-rich individuals I’ve known have conceded that there was an element of chance or fortune in their success.
(Whatever the hard work that led to their attainments, at the very least they were generally lucky enough to be born in this country and to parents or guardians who were positive role models.)
But if luck were all there was to it, the people at the top wouldn’t be any smarter than the average American. Yet that is decidedly not the case.
For example, the country’s three richest men are Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ($72 billion), Berkshire Hathaway leader Warren Buffett ($58.5 billion) and Oracle founder Larry Ellison ($41 billion). These are all brilliant, educated men, though not necessarily in the traditional sense.
Larry Ellison dropped out of the University of Illinois after his second year. Gates similarly dropped out of Harvard to take advantage of an opportunity in software he was convinced would be gone by the time he graduated. Buffett entered the University of Pennsylvania as a freshman but then transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, hardly an Ivy League name.
But all three are serious learners, studying business opportunities and absorbing everything they can about their fields. Charlie Munger, vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, says Buffett spends most of his time “just sitting on his ass and reading.”
Studying for success
There are worse ways to spend your days than studying how to advance in your field. However, these are not just thinkers, but men of action. Their 11-figure net worths are a reminder that the super-rich don’t get there by toiling for long hours and socking their savings into safe investments.
They achieved great wealth by starting and running profitable companies.
Millions of Americans don’t have that opportunity, of course. Many lack the time, money and expertise necessary to start their own businesses.
But that’s where the stock market shines, offering the average Joe (or Jane) the ability to take an ownership stake in many of the world’s best businesses including, of course, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B).
It takes only a small amount of money to get started. It’s simple and easy to diversify. Trading costs have never been lower. And the returns from the stock market over the last five, 10 and 20 years have been exceptional, just as they have for most of the past 200 years.
In short, the mega-rich got richer over the past year not thanks to an improving real estate market, or the appreciation of Old Masters, or the beauty and durability of gold, but because they have substantial ownership stakes in well-run, publicly traded companies.
That’s how most of the mega-rich get that way. And it’s how the rest of us can build, enhance and protect our fortunes, too.
The information contained in this article should not be construed as investment advice or as a solicitation to buy or sell any stock. Nothing published by Physician’s Money Digest should be considered personalized investment advice. Physician’s Money Digest, its writers and editors, and Intellisphere LLC and its employees are not responsible for errors and/or omissions.