If you ask most people who Alfred Nobel was, they’ll probably mention the Nobel Prizes. They probably won’t mention dynamite.

Alfred invented dynamite. For years that’s what he was known for. He made a fortune selling it to governments to use as a weapon. In 1888, his brother, Ludvig, died. Several newspapers mistakenly thought Alfred had died. Their headlines reflected what people thought of him. “The merchant of death is dead” was the headline in several papers.

Alfred Nobel was appalled. He did not want to be remembered that way. He wanted a different legacy. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Alfred Nobel got another chance. Alfred Nobel made dramatic life changes. He gave great sums of money to his church. When he died, he left most of his fortune to fund the Nobel Prizes.

Nursery school teachers, captains of industry, activists, all of us leave a legacy. Because my book was written to spur people to think about legacy, I’m attentive to the legacy that people are building. From time to time, I respectfully hold a mirror up to people I encounter and ask, “Does the legacy you’re building bring you joy? Is this the heritage that you want to be famous for?”

I met “Champ” 20 years ago. He was already a hyper successful rental owner. His wife was a successful architect. She also had a real estate license to save them the brokerage fee when they bought or sold. The kids were preparing for fancy colleges.

Champ flattered me and asked about the rules of the sale for a property he wanted. I explained it was a closed bid. Write your best offer. There would be no counteroffer to any buyer. His offer was in the middle of the pack and he didn’t get the asset.

Champ wanted a do-over. He was surprised that he couldn’t obtain special treatment by flattery and asking. The successful buyer paid about 1.5% more than Champ offered. The buyer had lower net worth and less investment experience than Champ. The successful buyer doubled his capital within two years.

Over the next 10 years Champ and I talked often about that sale. He always told me he had learned his lesson.

Champ is among the planet’s wealthiest 2%. His family has huge bank accounts, multiple cars, an executive home, and several million-dollar-plus income properties.  The family’s only debts are prudent mortgages. But he doesn’t have “enough.” He describes himself as doing worse than the 400 wealthiest people on earth.

Recently another asset came up that Champ really wanted. There were more than a dozen offers. Again, it was sold via closed bid. Each buyer was able to preview the property and then submit their best and final price. No one would receive a counteroffer.  All the buyers wrote above list price. Champ’s bid was about the middle of the pack. He did not get the property.

Champ came back, three times, asking for special treatment so he could increase his offer. We had some of the same conversations that we had more than a decade earlier. He asked what he could have done to be the successful buyer.

Just like before, I told him, “Write an offer so high that if somebody overbid you by 1%, you’ll think that person is a gosh-darn fool. If someone bids more then, you can think that the other person made a mistake. Alternately, if you buy the property you can be pleased because you attained your goal, to buy the asset.”

Champ told me about his son the MD who is certain that he is smarter than dad. Champ regrets that his son ignores seasoned counsel and assumes success and wisdom beyond what life has confirmed. The son told Champ he does not need to save or invest because when Champ and his wife die all the kids will each become multiple millionaires.

What kind of legacy might Champ be leaving?

Is that the legacy that you would be proud for your kids or grandkids to adopt?


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.

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