Depending on the day, my number varies between $1 million and $50 million. My friend says she can be happy with $100,000. Another sets her limit at $10 million. All of us have calculated a number that is our “take-this-job-and-screw-it” stash that would enable us to quit the daily grind. We dream of the day when we can say adios to the rat race. We aspire to a life free from long commutes, petty office politics, bosses, and expense reports.
For now, our money pile remains an elusive dream. But there are some who have managed to accumulate enough cash to quit working forever. Yet, instead of hitting the beach for a permanent vacation, many of the mega rich remain in the workforce. And these affluent professionals really work. They aren’t enjoying four-hour lunches and wandering the halls searching for something to do.
Despite the fact they have more than enough money to spend the rest of their lives on their yachts, many mega-rich professionals devote more than 40 hours a week in jobs that are oftentimes banal and stressful.
The question is, why?
For Alan Meckler, CEO of WebMediaBrands, whose net worth is more than $400 million, the answer is “for posterity. Need to go out with another winner.” Millionaire PR executive Barry Schwartz continues to work because he loves the game. “If you truly love what you are doing, why stop?” Multi-millionaire executive Bob Shullman, retired for less than one year before returning to the workforce in November with his new company Shullman Research Center, says, “People enjoy being challenged.”
These executives all share a common trait: from the start, they never considered not ever working again. The mere question to leave the workforce with a cash-out number illustrates a key generational divide. These mega wealthy professionals, along with most Gen Xers and Boomers, see work as an essential part of their lives. They don’t ever envision a time when they would leave it behind.
Millennials, on the other hand, largely view work simply as means to an end. Their financial goals are simply to have enough money stashed away, and hopefully, it will come sooner rather than later. And this money doesn’t necessarily have to come from them: 39% of 13-22-year-olds believe they will have an inheritance and therefore don’t even need to worry about saving for retirement, according to TD Ameritrade. “They watched their parents work like dogs and prefer to lead less [career-driven] lives,” says Shullman. “There were 350 graduates in my [Millennial-aged] daughter’s class at Columbia Law School. Only 5% wanted to become partners. The others had no interest. It’s going to be interesting because all careers need at least some workaholics. I don’t know where they are going to come from.”
As Millennials enter the workforce with exit strategies in mind, older workers are also redefining the traditional retirement years. “The concept of the full-stop, conventional retirement is over,” says Greg Furman of the Luxury Marketing Council, and who has enough money to sit on a beach all day. “The world has changed. Boomers don’t see [retirement as] cash out, but what’s next? Their retirement mindset is to remain engaged.”
And now that most workers remain healthy well into their 70s and 80s, they remain happily engaged in the workforce. Not because they have to, but because they want to.
Still, among the mega rich, the decision to remain in the workforce is based on a more complicated set of factors. For one, these mega rich professionals oftentimes have nothing better to do. “Usually in order to become that wealthy, you typically have to work more than 40 hours a week,” says Shullman. “Being a workaholic doesn’t leave much time for other things. So when you drop out, what else are you going to do? Your whole life was work.”
The mega rich also largely hold white-collar positions and are able to take advantage of flexible work environments. “It’s not as if they are out there with a shovel and are physically worn out,” says Shullman. “The vast majority of the mega rich are C-level suite executives with comfortable lives. They have access to every technology convenience they could ask for.”
Call it ego, insecurity, or the need to be the big kahuna, but it’s also hard for many to give up an exalted status. Or they tell themselves they will get out when they are the king of the hill, except there’s always a bigger hill to climb and conquer. Plus, it’s most likely a life of high-stakes gambling. It’s no surprise that it’s very addictive. “Many downplay their success,” says Steve Kraus, Chief Insights Officer of the Ipsos MediaCT’s Audience Measurement Group. “They are dismissive of their accomplishments and it drives them to reach higher. The mega rich didn’t set out to be rich. They set out to pursue a passion. That enthusiasm doesn’t go away even when people hit that mega level of wealth.”
Another aspect driving the ultra wealthy is their high cost of living. Few live in cabins in Montana or are willing to downsize their lifestyles. “We find that at no point in the financial hierarchy that people start spending less,” says Kraus. “They never reach that point where they say they don’t need to buy something, and they become acclimated to their environment.” Plus, their families can also be a financial drain, from sending kids to expensive universities to the high costs of marriage or divorce.
The mega rich believe that many Millennials will forget their exit strategy over time, and chose to continue working. And they may be right.
Research analysts say that even when those with a cash-out sum hit their desired stash, people find that themselves needing more money in order to really leave it all behind, or their work identities become too intertwined to leave their careers behind. The mega rich also caution that beach living is boring. “Circumstances change,” cautions Schwartz. “You will get to a point in your life when you can live a life of luxury and let the rest of the world pass you by or you can continue to be productive and contribute to society. Working keeps you young.”
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