What would you do if you had all the money you would ever need? On what would you focus your attention if you no longer had to worry about a mortgage or car payments?
Those are questions that the super successful in this world actually get to answer. Some focus on making more money — the drive that created their fortunes compelling them to simply create more wealth. Others take the time to do things they always wanted to do, to realize dreams or focus attention on something that was once a hobby.
For those who have reached the pinnacle of success, the possibilities for how to spend both money and time are nearly limitless. Those stuck in 40-hour-per-week jobs with tiny savings accounts and fears about funding children’s educations certainly have hobbies, but many secretly wish they could chuck it all and devote their entire lives to the things they love to do.
Doing so could mean something as simple as a cross-country bicycle ride or hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. But compared to the activities of the truly rich, even those dreams are modest. And some may even say self-centered.
Andrew Carnegie, for example, took his fortune at the end of the 19th century and started building libraries. In one of the most well known fits of philanthropy Carnegie paid for over 2,500 libraries to be built over a period of 40 years.
Not all of today’s super-rich undertake that sort of project for the public good. But, as we shall see, some do. Others set their visions on projects that can certainly advance humanity and may even end up putting more cash in their pockets. Still other billionaires and the most successful among us simply indulge in their favorite hobbies. Some of those hobbies can lead to a life of relaxation and quiet contemplation, while others are merely a way to exercise their ambitious spirit.
Here is a list of five ways the most successful people in the world choose to spend their time and money.
Andrew Carnegie was not the only person among the über successful who gave back to the world after topping the Everest of success. In fact, Time magazine reported at the beginning of the year that the ten largest charitable donations of 2013 totaled $3.4 billion. The interesting part is that number was actually down from 2012. The reason? America’s most famous finance whiz, Warren Buffett, made a one-time, special gift of $3 billion to his children’s foundations that year, skewing the results.
That donation by Buffett came six years after the so-called Oracle of Omaha pledged the lion’s share of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, joining forces with the founder of Microsoft, another billion-dollar success story. Buffett remains a trustee of the foundation to this day. Its trust endowment totaling $40.2 billion, the organization focuses on enhancing healthcare and reducing global poverty.
While Bill and Melinda Gates are certainly one of today’s greatest stories of philanthropy they should not obscure the efforts of others. According to Time, some of the biggest donations of last year include a $500 million pledge by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, to Oregon Health & Science Foundation, for cancer research and a $350 million gift to Johns Hopkins University by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Those one time gifts may reflect an interest in bettering humanity but the Gates family takes a hands-on approach to their work at the Gates Foundation. And that reflects a devotion to the cause by an investment of both time and money.
There is debate as to whether the political life of Michael Bloomberg is over. If it is not, his philanthropy, viewed through the lens of cynicism, would appear as mere image enhancement.But there is no doubt that George W. Bush is through with politics. That is not simply because he was a largely unpopular president, but because there is just not that much left to do once one has been, arguably, the most powerful man in the world.
Bush found something to do though. He has turned to painting. Recent news stories report that the former leader of the free world has resorted to painting portraits of other world leaders. The reports aren’t good. Bush, first, has been criticized for merely ripping off Google image search photographs and reproducing them. Then critics hit him for even being bad at stealing.
New York Times art critic Roberta Smith saw fit to devote an entire column to the ex-president’s amateur brush strokes writing, “Mr. Bush has an uncanny ability to translate photographs into more awkward images enlivened by distortions and slightly ham-handed brushwork.”
But Bush isn’t the first successful person to find an outlet in art. Bob Dylan also famously turned to painting once he reached near-legend status as a songwriter. He too drew criticism for his work, and not necessarily for the quality. It turns out many of Dylan’s paintings also bore an uncanny resemblance to other well-known images.
No billionaire ever got richer by giving money to charity and any money that Bush or Dylan make from their paintings is sure to be minimal compared to their already existing fortunes. But commercial space flight might actually pay off someday. That is likely the hope of Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos. All three of these titans of success are setting their sights on getting commercial space flight companies off the ground, figuratively and literally.
Richard Branson’s project is called Virgin Atlantic Galactic and he has, so far, been the only billionaire to say he plans to climb aboard his own spaceship when it flies some 62 miles above the Earth. He promises to do that later this year. That’s a promise, according to the Guardian, that he has made every year since 2007.
Branson’s lack of success may be drawing yawns from his critics but two other members of the upper, upper class are pushing forward with projects that seem a bit more credible. Elon Musk, the man behind Paypal, and Amazon’s ambitious Jeff Bezos both have space flight projects of their own. Musk’s is the well-known SpaceX, a company that has already placed a satellite into orbit. Bezos is funding Blue Origin and has some projects in testing phases but has not yet had a paying client.
Funding commercial space flight may seem like a huge risk. There are plenty of technical obstacles to overcome. But space flight is already a reality and now that NASA has discontinued manned space flight these three are clearly looking to future profits even if it seems like they are currently dowsing their money in rocket fuel and setting it alight.
Sailing has been a hobby of the super rich for generations and it can take many forms, none of them cheap. The most expensive form is most likely racing. And the interesting thing is that sailboat racing offers no financial rewards. In all forms, even at the pinnacle of the sport — The America’s Cup — those who are competing are fighting only for bragging rights and pride.
Media mogul Ted Turner may have been the first recent success story, whose celebrity was a direct result of his wealth, to take up the sport. Turner famously participated in several high profile races, including his successful defense of the 1977 America’s Cup.
But the money Turner sank into his sailing vessels pales in comparison to the kind of money that is thrown around today. Larry Ellison, the founder of software juggernaut Oracle, is estimated to have spent $400 million on his quest to bring the America’s Cup to San Francisco. That money included the $50 million, 90-foot trimaran he built just to gain that privilege. The contest happened last year in a dramatic series of races that were battled out in 72-foot catamarans that cost upwards of $10 million each to build.
For a little perspective Elon Musk’s initial investment in SpaceX was $100 million. Musk may realize a return on that someday. Ellison never will.
Auto racing is a form of competition that many would consider to be more dangerous than sailing. That’s debatable, yacht racing has had its fair share of accidents. But one thing is for sure, auto racing is not as financially insane. While they aren’t all profitable, auto racing teams at least win money when they win races.
That’s not to say that those who participate are in it for the money. It is still not a really sound investment. That is why it draws some rich participants. The most famous of those who have realized success in other fields to venture into racing are probably Paul Newman and David Letterman.
Newman, whose greatest exploits were on the silver screen, was a certified gear head. He was co-owner of the Newman/Haas Racing team and built himself a home in Indianapolis where he could live while overseeing the team’s operations in one of racing’s capital cities.
Letterman was born and raised in Indianapolis so it can be argued that he caught the racing bug early. His success, of course, derives from his late night talk show career but he also owns Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with former Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal.
While racing may be a passion for Letterman he also spreads his money around by giving to his charitable organization known as the American Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming . Proof positive that the super successful have both the time and money to have fun and sometimes even do some good.