Over 80% of trust beneficiaries believe their trust has a negative impact on their lives. Really? That is one of the numerous counterintuitive findings presented by David C. Wells, Jr. in his new book When Anything Is Possible: Wealth and the Art of Strategic Living. Wells does something that not many financial books aim to do.
Most financial literature focuses on one of three areas:
- Help, I have a problem! Think Dave Ramsey.
- How do I get more money? This includes The Millionaire Next Door and other DIY investing books.
- How do I learn more? Consisting of deep dives into REITS, stock selection, or portfolio construction. Your practitioners.
Wells aims to tackle a new frontier: how to live a full life strategically with wealth in hand.
“All I ask is for the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.”
The affluent do not naturally inspire pity, but Wells highlights the unique challenges associated with accumulated wealth. Wells poses a compelling question that family business advisors and business owners should consider: how does wealth allow one to live well on a personal and fundamental level as human beings?
Wells provides numerous examples of wealthy people living rather poorly. Divorce, depression, anxiety, and other issues seem to plague those who are free from the financial constraints most people face. This is the gap Wells hopes to fill with When Anything Is Possible – how can we have our wealth serve those who have it, and not the other way around.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
When Anything Is Possible is structured in three sections: Wealth Structure, Wealth Identity, and Wealth Strategy. Wealth Structure, found in Part I, focuses on defining wealth and the common psychological issues that befall those with considerable wealth, leaning on Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, the Bible, and other resources. One highlight of the book for me was the 25 or so recommendations provided at the conclusion of each section. On the strength of these recommendations, I encouraged others to read the book before I had even finished reading it myself.
Wealth Identity is dissected in Part II. Wells highlights the “Self-and-Money Framework” he developed and currently uses in his family business consulting practice to help families and wealthy individuals define themselves. Wells advocates for a personal family wealth “mission statement” – akin to the guiding principles spelled out at companies like Nike or Coca-Cola – as well as “vision statements.” These are meant to define the “why” and the “where we are going” questions that define the wealth journey for enterprising families.
Family businesses would be well served to give serious thought to mission and vision. Avoiding the dreaded “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” cycle can only be accomplished by giving heed to both next quarter’s P&L and the vision of the family members in the company.
“Money brings some happiness, but at a certain point it just brings more money.”
Part III covers Wealth Strategy and how wealthy individuals spend, invest, gift (to family), and give (charity). Wells highlights several great anecdotes, books, and data points to drive home a singular point: consumption and wealth without a “why” brings happiness only to a point.
A single image that shows the living patterns of individuals in homes drove this point home to me perfectly. Families spend most of their time in two rooms: the kitchen, and the family/living room. Based on square footage and usage, formal dining rooms might cost $1,500 per use. How about a private room at the Capital Grille instead? As Wells points out: no dishes.
Wells provides great tools in the final chapters for thinking about our consumption, estate planning, investing, and giving decisions. The book does a good job continually re-centering decisions back to a key question: Why?
Wells sells himself short by claiming the book is not for everyone. While not a member of the two or three-comma club, I found his study of psychology, purpose, and faith as it applies to wealth both enriching and a cause for self-reflection. In our family business advisory practice at Mercer Capital, we help our clients navigate the intersection of family issues and business realities. Built around the framework of wealth structure, identity, and strategy, When Anything Is Possible is a timely guide for business owners thinking about the role of wealth in their families.