By Roshawn Watson
The Thomas Crown Affair is a fun movie that grants the viewer permission to imagine a world where money is not a concern. It transports viewers to a world where private planes, yachts, European luxury cars, tropical excursions, mansions, and a stolen Monet painting worth $100 million are the norm.
In watching this caper, we see a rare glimpse into the life of someone who literally had too much money. We see how he acquired it, how he kept it, and how he became bored by it.
Of course, no one ever promised vast wealth would bring happiness.
Indeed, Thomas Crown (played by Pierce Brosnan) is a Wall Street paragon so bored with his success and wealth he’s taken to stealing and other risky activities just to feel alive.
As implausible as that may seem, there are some pragmatic personal finance lessons that we can pull from The Thomas Crown Affair. Here are five nuggets of financial wisdom that I want to highlight:
1. Trust Is Important in the Pursuit of Wealth
Although The Thomas Crown Affair is a love story, it is complicated by money, loyalty, and ethics. Catherine (played by Rene Russo) stood to get a handsome bounty if she could apprehend the culprit responsible for stealing a valuable Monet painting. After determining that Thomas was the thief, she had a brief encounter with him which revealed a strong mutual chemistry between them. Thomas soon began to question Catherine’s loyalties; did she really like him, or was her affection only for his vast fortune, or for the painting? But their relationship didn’t prosper until they started trusting one another.
Over a hundred years ago, Russell H Conwell wrote on the importance of trust in our pursuit of wealth in his brilliant work Acres of Diamonds. Of all the important attributes to becoming wealthy, the ability to be trusted ranks near the top of the list. This contradicts those who lament that the wealthy are dishonest.
Consider how unlikely we are to do business with the untrustworthy. The implication is that if we are rich, there’s a good chance that many people have trusted us as we acquired our wealth (at least to some extent). If that many people trust us, there’s probably good reason they deem us trustworthy. For example, if we didn’t trust that our employers would meet payroll, most wouldn’t continue to work. Of course, there are always exceptions, but the principle is pretty solid.
2. Most Wealthy People Enjoy What They Do For a Living
Thomas treated earning money like a game he thoroughly enjoyed. This is quite a common characteristic among the wealthy. Thomas built, acquired and occasionally sold businesses. He relished in his triumphs. His boredom surfaced only after he mastered business.
Multi-billionaire Donald Trump says he often works on vacation because he enjoys real estate. Notwithstanding the tax benefits of “working vacations,” that’s very telling of how much he enjoys his game. He even likened building wealth to keeping score. For Trump, his companies annual revenues were reported as a staggering $10.7 billion!
Gene Simmons, Oprah, and Ryan Seacrest are additional prominent examples of people who are constantly working, even during “down-time.” Each of these people could have retired to live the “good life” long ago, but I argue that they are living their versions of the “good life” already because they inherently enjoy what they do.
Most millionaires do not work 40 hours weeks; millionaires typically work at least 45-55 hours weekly. This equates to less time with family and less leisure. In fact, it is hard to find someone who is rich (i.e. net worth at least $20 million) whose family didn’t bear part of the burden of creating that fortune. If you at least enjoy the game, it will make these sacrifices more tolerable.
3. Wealth-Building Is A Team Sport
Thomas Crown also hired the best advisers that interfaced with every facet of his personal and professional life. Employees would be with him while he got his suits tailored, and he even prepared dinner with one of his personal attorneys. I’m convinced that getting wealthy is often a team sport. No one possesses expertise in all areas. Thus, it’s important to make sure we are getting the best advice. For example, I spoke with a corporate accountant two years ago, and she explained how her advice resulted in her client banking $10 million from the sale of his business while only paying $1 million in taxes; I believed she saved him about $2.6 million in taxes!
The more we have (or plan to have), the more time we should allocate to making sure that our insurance, investment, tax, and legal needs are taken care of properly. By acknowledging others’ expertise, we can accelerate our wealth-building by making fewer mistakes.
4. Knowing How to Negotiate is Important
Serious negotiations can be very important to our financial health. Poor negotiators needlessly waste time negotiating trivial details. Thomas Crown was a fierce negotiator – but only when it mattered.
One particular acquisition during the movie stands out. Thomas was selling one of his businesses, and the negotiations were intense. After Crown signed the final paperwork, the buyers’ agents began gloating about how he was finally “forced to sell something,” and asked him if he had any regrets in how he played the negotiation.
His response was classic. “Regret is typically a waste of time, as is gloating. Have you figured out what you are going tell your board of directors once they realize that you paid $30 million more than anyone else was offering?”
As the smile immediately dissipated from the agents’ faces, Thomas smugly left with his team.
Negotiate the things that matter very meticulously.
For a great instruction manual on negotiation, check out Donald Trump’s classic The Art of The Deal.
5. You’re More Likely to Become Wealthy if You Are Self-Employed
Lastly, Thomas controlled his financial destiny because he owned several businesses. According to The Millionaire Next Door, self-employed people are four times more likely to be millionaires than those who work for others.
As our own bosses, we can control our income capacity, taxes, and expenses. Of course, there are risks associated with going into business for yourself – nine out of ten businesses fail.
And while there is nothing wrong with working for someone else, there is risk in depending on an employer for your financial security. Job security is usually an illusion; no degree or amount of experience can guarantee that you won’t be out on the street tomorrow.
True security only comes from doing your job well and staying marketable. If you ultimately choose to stay on someone’s payroll, you should constantly build competencies as well as your investment portfolio. That way your financial viability isn’t solely dependent on your employment status.
So the next time you see a movie with a somewhat preposterous story, don’t dismiss it as irrelevant. The fiction doesn’t diminish the value of the lessons, financial and beyond.