All the Money in the World: How the Forbes 400 Make - and Spend - Their Fortunes
By Peter W. Bernstein, Annalyn Swan
Monaco is one of the world's fairy-tale settings, a blend of natural beauty and man-made glamour. Its sea, sky, and mountains form a backdrop for glittering casinos; megamillion-dollar yachts, more profuse than the principality's brilliant bougainvillea, cluster densely in its harbor. Many of the yachts docked there in early June 2006 were magnificent by any standards. But few could measure up to a 228-foot floating palace called The Floridian, equipped with a swimming pool, alfresco bar, and helicopter pad-one of America's top ten yachts, according to Power & Motoryacht magazine. Its owner: H. Wayne Huizenga (pronounced HIGH-zeng-a), a bald, stocky sixty-nine-year-old with eyes so steel blue a rival once described them as "piercing, right to the soul."
Huizenga, with an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion (more than twice the GDP of Monaco), was in town to address the annual Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year World Summit, held in 2006 in Monte Carlo's Grimaldi Forum, a futuristic center built on the sea with expansive harbor views and named after the family that has reigned over the principality for more than seven hundred years.
As winner of the 2005 World Entrepreneur Award and informal king of the conference, Huizenga was invited to deliver the keynote speech, "An Entrepreneurial Journey: The Story of Wayne Huizenga." Even for Monte Carlo, the glitz level was high. In the audience was a pantheon of the world's biggest wealth creators, more than one hundred entrepreneurs from nearly forty countries. It was all the more impressive, then, that Huizenga, a college dropout who started his business with one used garbage truck, was the man standing in front of them.
Think of Forbes 400 members and what comes to mind are tycoons such as computer titan Michael Dell, America Online's Steve Case, eBays Pierre Omidyar, and Qualcomm's Irwin Jacobs-all former winners of Ernst & Young awards, all high-tech billionaires who made fortunes on flashy, brainy businesses. Then there are the media mavens-Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller, David Geffen-whose boldface names appear regularly in the papers. Huizenga's fortune, by contrast, derives from a patchwork of low-tech, low-visibility, low-prestige ventures: trash hauling, video rentals, auto sales. What the Wayne Huizenga story really shows is that you don't have to be a high-tech genius or an entertainment mogul to make a mint. Nor do you have to be a Rockefeller, or Wall Street financier, to stake a place on the Forbes 400.
Like Huizenga, a surprising number of Forbes 400 members make bushel-loads off basic goods and services-producing plumbing fixtures and used-car parts, for example, or feeding the masses fries, pizza, and subs, or entertaining them at wrestling rings and auto races, or providing workaday services like tree pruning and, yes, trash disposal-practical, down-market, service-oriented niches that keep America humming. These and other "blue-collar" enterprises have helped spawn at least 175 of the fortunes on the Forbes 400 lists over the past twenty-five years. Their aggregate net worth, in any given year, represents roughly 20 percent of the list's total.
What does it take to score big in a low-tech venture? Many of the same characteristics, of course, as in more glamorous industries: discipline, tenacity, and attention to detail, for starters. But there are a few key qualities that set these niche players apart from their more upscale counterparts. One is an intimate, almost in-their-blood familiarity with their business and customers. Many grew up in homes that first exposed them to their future careers. Huizenga's grandfather, for example, was in the garbage business in the late 1800s; during the 1980s more than a dozen Huizenga family members operated their own trash-hauling ventures. S. Truett Cathy, billionaire founder of Chick-til-A, the last-food chicken-on-a-bun chain, learned to cook chicken by watching his mother prepare dinner for her boarders. And James Leprino, who made a $1.5 billion fortune in cheese, got his start making homemade ricotta and mozzarella for local stores alongside his Italian immigrant father.
"These folks know and care about their customer, and they know and care about what they are providing their customer," observes Alexander Horniman, professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. "They are immersed in their business. Their identities and what they do for their customers are all tied together," he says. You might say that they are so in tune with customer needs that it's a case of "it takes one to know one." Except, as Horniman points out, "You could 'know one' but not give a damn-these folks give a damn."
Many are also self-made successes. Almost everyone, naturally, has some degree of help from family, mentors, and society at large-buttressing forces that Chuck Collins, cofounder of the nonprofit group Responsible Wealth, calls "common" wealth. But even if you define "self-made" in the strictest sense, as Collins does-someone whose parents did not go to college and who did not benefit from family wealth or home equity to start their business-at least 30 percent of the 175 or so blue-collar billionaires are up-by-the-bootstraps successes. A composite of their stories creates a familiar, almost stereotypical profile: They are born poor, have little if any advanced education, start a small business, and then devote their lives to growing it.