A New York Times story about lavish custom jets with swiveling leather lounge chairs caught my eye. A sumptuous London showroom recently opened by a private jet broker epitomized sophisticated up-selling. A full-page chart of the top business jets –from $67.4 million to $90 million, give or take -- plus a teaser listing of moguls who “count an airplane among their considerable assets” ended the piece.
Which got me to thinking that, if the uber -rich need special guidance in choosing a custom jet, perhaps they could also use advice on other, more unique and enduring ways to invest.
And since you now hit the $100 billion mark, Mr. Bezos, I’m offering some suggestions for you and your fellow gazillionares eager to make a unique and enduring name for themselves in today’s hyper competitive world.
Consider redefining success Instead of the old style money-as-measure, look to how uniquely one can benefit huge populations.
Andrew Carnegie’s creative approach
Part of the last band of plutocrats, Carnegie built public libraries for more than two thousand communities across the country -- some 70 percent in small towns where his name was far from a household word – until the libraries appeared. Cost: around $1.3 billion (adjusted for inflation). His lasting cultural legacy also included gifting New York City with Carnegie Hall, now a legendary world-class music venue, and launching what became Carnegie Mellon University.
Ted Turner Tried
Back in 1997, Ted Turner famously goaded fellow multi-billionaire Bill Gates to put some of his money to good use. Turner was giving $1 billion to the United Nations for programs aiding refugees and children, clearing land mines and fighting disease.
Turner’s donation, among the largest single donations ever, merely represented the interest he would have earned from $3 billion in holdings. ''I'm no poorer than I was 9 months ago, and the world is much better off,'' Turner said. ''All I'm giving away with this billion dollars is my nine months' work.''
''There's a lot of people who are awash in money they don't know what to do with,'' said Turner, calling on other wealthy Americans to follow his lead. ''It doesn't do you any good if you don't know what to do with it. I have learned the more good that I did, the more money comes in. You have to learn to give. You're not born as a giver. You're born selfish.''
Bill Gates paid attention; by 2007, Bill and his wife Melinda ranked as America’s second most generous philanthropists.
Warren opted to go “hands free”
Warren Buffett, who has pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to philanthropic causes, currently leads the list. Philanthropist who prefers to entrust his wealth to those he believes will spend it wisely, Buffett briefly made history by donating $37 billion -- the largest charitable donation by an individual – to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffet distributes much of the rest to the foundations of his children.
One Opportunity for Daring
Philanthropists have supported a university here and a research hospital there named for major donors. But you, Mr. Bezos, are uniquely placed to break serious new ground. With one simple charitable act, you could completely change the face of the world’s economy and solidify a unique place as a progressive benefactor.
Consider giving $100,000 to each and every one of your employees. Including contract workers. Around the world. They’d feel like lottery winners and would be free to virtually all that money back into the economy however they chose: Buying a house or paying off a mortgage, student loan or medial bill. Purchasing new cars, furniture or appliances. Taking a vacation or who knows what else. This influx of cash into virtually every sector of the economy could have as much impact as the GI bill . . . and provide an action to be examined, studied and talked about for decades.
Tackle a thorny social issue
Not health; Bill and Melinda already staked that one out.
How about homelessness?
Here in the U.S, the number of people without a safe, regular place to sleep has grown for the first time in seven years, says HUD. Which means that on any given night last year, some 554,000 people -- roughly the entire population of Seattle -- were homeless. Twelve percent are veterans, both men and women. Statistically, one child in every classroom in the nation is “unsheltered” — a bureaucratic term that describes the thousands living on the streets, under freeways, in doorways and fields, parks and abandoned buildings across the country.
Then there’s the Opioid Epidemic. Updating some key component of our outmoded infrastructure. Or consider ridding the entire world of unexploded land mines -- a cause Princess Diana was tragically prevented from finishing.
We’re surrounded by problems crying out for courage, money and creative thinking. Just imagine being hailed as the hero who triumphed over these beasts. Isn’t that more exciting than simply sitting on fat balances in Swiss banks or offshore accounts?
Philanthropy takes work, vision and savvy.
No one wants to simply throw money at a problem. You can start small:
Consider picking up the tab when a city you love needs a new hospital, community center or college campus. They’re already busily assessing needs and developing plans while wondering where the dollars may come from.
Or, something larger, like restoring areas ravaged by mountain top coal removal. Or creating whole new state or national parks? Nature provided the original blueprints.
Challenge Musk and develop new fixes?
Who’s going to be the first to equip the world’s fleets of cargo carriers with wind and solar, reducing shipping costs as well as noise and air pollution?
Who’s going to import high-speed train technology to connect cities like New York and Chicago?
Who has the savvy and chutzpah to create a public-interest television network modeled on the BBC?
Who will adapt dirigibles to move goods or install solar panels above highways?
Who’s willing to fund a state- or nation-wide Universal Basic Income experiment?
Not just the U.S. The entire world is crying out for innovative thinking and creative approaches in countless fields; some haven’t even been invented yet.
Ready to man up for a big test?
What will it take for you, and the other guys with the big bucks —sadly and unsurprisingly, they’re mostly guys -- to think beyond their portfolios and risk becoming philanthropic heroes?
You can only fly one private jet at a time, but there are many ways to invest in the world and make changes that last far lifetimes.