In my life, I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with best-in-class, wealthy businessmen who function in a realm untainted by pettiness, greed, anger or negativity. It’s almost as if they exist within some rarified current that flows above any earthly vices — yet is the guiding light that directs their worldly business affairs.
When I think of these men, qualities such as honor, integrity, trustworthiness, courage and humanitarianism come to mind. Each individual brought his own style and personality to the mastery of four key elements common across many business dealings: character, time, emotional energy, and money.
George was a close friend of my father’s. He came to this country penniless, yet two decades later was a multimillionaire many times over. When people cheated him, he smiled and softly said, “Well, we just won’t deal with them any more.” When partners with whom he’d funded a business complained because they wanted a bigger piece of the pie, he reflectively nodded and spoke with compassion: “Well, they’ve just forgotten where the money came from.”
George never got riled. He seemed to clearly see a person’s character and selected his associates accordingly. He was humble but wise, intelligent but innocent, clever but impeccably honest. Throughout his rise from poverty to wealth, he radiated the ultimate dignity and strength.
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I also had the pleasure of knowing Henry, a multibillionaire. I once had the opportunity to sit with him while he met someone for the very first time. I don’t believe Henry knew anything about this man prior to the meeting. They talked very little about business. It seemed as if Henry was naturally getting a feeling for the man as they spoke. The man was not aggressive, and he certainly wasn’t what we call a Type A personality. He was extremely respectful but not meek or fearful as he spoke with Henry. The man seemed more committed to the value his work offered the world than to the money he could make. I watched Henry carefully during the process. Somehow, I felt Henry was noting the same qualities.
I didn’t get the sense that the man hoped to recruit Henry for his business. But after a couple of hours of friendly conversation, Henry offered to form a partnership with the man, if he was interested (and of course he was). I was struck by Henry’s focus on the quality of the man’s character — beyond even Henry’s interest in the business potential.
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Those who move about the upper echelon have an exquisite relationship with time. Though they might well be impatient, they can direct their behavior along incredibly patient channels. They afford every situation the time it needs to unfold in its own appropriate manner. Henry spoke with the man as if he had all the time in the world. Meanwhile, I knew that Henry’s schedule was so packed, it was almost impossible to get an appointment with him.
Anger and worry.
George and Henry worried about plenty of things in life. I worked more closely with Henry, and I heard him voice both concern and anger. But neither he nor George allowed those emotions to affect how they managed relationships or situations.
I remember one of Henry’s business associates who was a bit of a problem. He seemed highly susceptible to anger, worry, suspicion and fear. Sometimes, he ever-so-slightly hinted he was suspicious of Henry’s motives. In a private conversation, Henry said, “We’re just not going to deal with that guy any more.” Yet the next time we all spoke together, Henry was incredibly kind and gracious. True to his word, he never dealt with the man again. I sensed it didn’t take much for Henry to size up another person’s emotional predispositions. Once he did, he followed whichever course was needed.
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The upper echelon’s inhabitants certainly value money. They manage finances wisely and keep an eye on profitability. But money isn’t their primary focus. It’s similar to driving a car. You pay attention to your gas gauge, follow traffic regulations and remain mindful of other vehicles on the road. Yet your gaze — and your focus — is on your destination.
George and Henry always focused on the meaningfulness of their business ventures, over and above the money they might make by accomplishing their objectives. They acted with a laudable purpose and goal — providing goods or services. They understood that if the purpose is fulfilled, the money will come.
It’s easy to behave honorably when everything is going well. When push comes to shove, though, such honorable behavior is harder to find in today’s world. Yet that is precisely when our better qualities shine the brightest: nobility, honor, commitment, dignity, respect, trustworthiness, wisdom, depth of insight and strength of character. A virtuous handshake doesn’t hurt, either. It’s been my great honor to know and work with such people. They stand together not so much for what they might acquire from one another but for what their union can accomplish and offer the world.