A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of conducting a 40-minute radio interview with one of the great business leaders of our time. (I’ve split the interview into four ten-minute podcasts, the links for which follow this post.) Truett Cathy is the founder of Chick-fil-A and the author of several books, most recently, Wealth: Is It Worth It? He’s well suited to ask and answer that question, because after beginning his restaurant career over 60 years ago with a single eatery, he’s built one of the nation’s most successful and well-loved restaurant chains. But interestingly, an adjective he’s not entirely comfortable putting before his name is “rich.” He says, “One of the worst things I can imagine someone saying about me is, ‘He’s a rich old man.’”
But it would be hard to argue either of those. After all, Mr. Cathy is 90 years old and falls at number 375 on the Forbes 400 list, with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion. However, he defies his age by going to work nearly every day and carries himself with the humility and grace of a line cook, not the founder and chairman.
Wealth is a hot word these days; especially in the financial services business, everyone wants to be about wealth. So now, instead of being financial advisors or financial planners, stock brokers, insurance salespeople or bankers, everyone is a wealth manager or wealth consultant. If you work with them, their commercials suggest you’ll be one of the people golfing all day or travelling around the world on a $1 million sailboat or sitting on the beach (with your wealth manager, of course) toasting the purchase of your new 5000 square foot beach home. Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with golf (except that it’s a miserable sport, chasing that little white ball around); and sailing, for those who know how to do it, is sublime; and if you have the money, right now is a great time to be buying a beautiful beach property—but dangling this utopian envy in front of everyone is what I don’t like about the financial industry’s co-opting of the word wealth.
We tend to believe today that the three words “money,” “riches” and “wealth” are generally synonymous, and I do believe that in the contemporary vernacular, they are. But that wasn’t the initial intent. Money and riches, if you follow them back to their original root words in ancient languages, always meant something similar to what they mean today. Wealth, on the other hand, had a much deeper meaning. It meant enough. Contentment.
In Wealth: Is It Worth It? Cathy cautions us of the trappings of financial accumulation, giving us insight into how living through the Great Depression and seeing his own father left emotionally destitute by his inability to provide for his family in that incredibly difficult time informed his own belief system around money. Far from demonizing dollars, he gives us a framework for virtuous money dealings grounded in Solomonic wisdom. (Cathy is unabashed in sharing that his money philosophy is grounded in his Christian faith, but he also draws on wisdom from sources neither canonized nor ordained and never seems to get preachy.)
Is it worth it?
But Mr. Cathy isn’t convinced wealth is worth it even after you “earn wealth honestly,” “spend wealth wisely and save it reasonably.” Even then, we still have the capacity to let wealth accumulation overtake us. He concludes that the only way wealth is really worth it is “…if you give it generously.”
While this resonates as truth, I admit my skeptical self wants to conclude it’s easy for those blessed with abundance, like Cathy, to admonish the rest of us on the value of charity. Even he acknowledges it’s unlikely that his children or grandchildren will ever suffer from want. But having now read his personal and financial story and talked with him, I find not an ounce of inconsistency or inauthenticity. He applied the same approach to money when living through the Great Depression and standing over the grill in his first restaurant as he does today encouraging us to deconstruct and rebuild our view of affluence. I also cannot think of a time personally, or with hundreds of clients over the years, in which this particular proverb did not hold true: “If I give water to others, I will never be thirsty.”
One of the highlights of Wealth: Is It Worth It? is an interview Cathy conducted with a friend he has forged in pursuit of his campaign for generosity, the venerable Warren Buffett. He asks, “Warren, how do you define wealth?” Buffett answers, “Wealth is having enough.” Interesting, isn’t it, how wisdom changes so little even over thousands of years. There is plenty of money out there and a lot of riches, but whether among the rich or the poor, we could all use more enough.
There are many more life-giving tidbits you’ll find throughout my radio interview with Truett Cathy. The show is organized into some bite-size portions below:
1) Introduction: A blessing to some and a curse to others
2) Friendship w/ Warren Buffett; money and children
3) Truett’s father; living through Depression; discomfort w/ being rich
4) “Retirement is misery!”; Chick-fil-A’s secret; when to start giving
Check out comedian, Tim Hawkins, hysterical ode to his favorite restaurant, Chick-fil-A!