How to Become A Millionaire … If You Aren’t Born Rich

The general rule is that you have to build a valuable business and sell it. It is very hard to become a millionaire, let alone a billionaire, working for someone else. You can be unusually talented, work your head off, do everything right, earn an impressive salary decorated with stock options and have the shock one day of seeing the people who own control of your company sell it and walk off with the big money.

I worked for many others and had those disappointments. Then I built my own company and when I sold it I made my own sweet fortune. I wrote a book all about that called A Big Life (In Advertising). Read it, because if I could do it, you may be able to do it – if you want to badly enough – if you are hungry – and if you have talent in your field.

It wasn’t easy to do. It was very hard to do. It will be very hard for you to do because you have to become conspicuously valuable. There are times when you have to do so much more than just be better than anyone else in the world at your job! You have to understand your business in your very bones – you have to know everything that impacts it – you have to be aware of the world that you and your business are operating in, so that you are ready for any little miracle opportunity that may come along.

Miracle opportunities are odd and can require knowledge you can only have if you have worked hard to learn a little bit about almost everything. Out of the blue someone who could be instrumental to your future and your chance to start your own business may ask you what you think of the way Peter Gelb is handling the Met, or what you think of recent art prices, or your opinion about alternate fuels, and they will want to know what you think. You will want this person to see you as an informed, aware and fully alive executive – as someone who is much more than merely very good at your job in your field.

Once you have your own business, the day will come when you will need to discuss it intelligently to a Wall Street Journal reporter or to Larry King. Start becoming the person who can do all those things and much more now. If you are hungry – stretch – devote yourself to yourself for a while until you are on a new level. If it sounds easy, it isn’t easy. It takes time and energy and focus away from your children, your husband, your lovers.

It is good to start thinking of yourself as an artist, even if you don’t know what sort of artist you are and even if your job entails more serving coffee than creativity. All artists are self taught, in any field, and it takes a bit of hallucination to climb the steep ladder you will have to climb to become the valuable person you want to become – as rich as you want to become. At times, you have to be superhuman. Creating a new you is, in fact, a creative and artistic event.

A lot of people are very good at their jobs. Being very good at your present job is not nearly enough. You have to be unique, to stand out.

You need time – you need help – you need to know the resources available to you in the city, the state, the country. You need collaborators. You will meet thrillingly talented executives but you will also meet abusive, mean, severely self-interested ones who are limited in their ideas and do not wish you well with yours. Get ready for them. Most of them can be handled with intelligence and generosity of spirit.

Difficult executives can be damaged people and if you handle them well they have a funny way of becoming your greatest supporters. Put the magic word in your psychic backpack – collaboration. It accelerates success. Even better is love. Men rarely talk about love in business. They tend to equate love with lust and lust is a suicide pill in business. Yet the most successful male executives I have known have been the caring ones. People do more for them. If you are serious about a business and making a fortune out of one remember that business flirtations and business lust is only for television series – mostly in hospitals. But caring about people you work with – and especially for – is good stuff. Keep it at the ready.

Note: Write to me. If I can, I would love to help you make a million.

One comment so far.

  1. Hello Mary, I’m Jennie Rasche. After being mesmerized hearing you speak in New York at the screening of Art & Copy, I bought your book straight away. I wish I had read your book before meeting you there, to tell you personally: Thank you for writing and sharing your big life. You’re a true inspiration and influential to my life.

    Reading ‘A Big Life (in Advertising)’ was an exciting and interesting experience. I see so much of myself in you/your book, and look forward to parallel experiences as I go forth in my career. I’m reading it again, a year later, highlighting and post-it noting pages which I can internalize and incorporate into my own ways of charming clients and winning others’ respect and hard work.

    I follow your writing here on wowOwow too. It is always fresh, classy and inspiring for many different reasons. For this article in particular, I appreciate the advice and hope for my own miracles to come. I began fantasizing about advertising when I was 12 and I chose to pursue it because it combines people, artistry and ideas with a salary. (I have high hopes of owning my own boat too someday, but mine will have sails.)

    I’ve been enthralled with the industry, perhaps a little geeky with the intensity of research I’ve done on great campaigns, learning about, meeting and being mentored by advertising moguls. I’ve always dreamed about making it big and without sounding arrogant, I know I will, it’s just a matter of collecting the right experiences and using fear as a propeller. I’m paving my route, realizing my potential every day.

    I will refrain from an autobiography in the comment space, but I’d love to discuss with you over e-mail if you are willing, and it would be one of my dreams come true to meet you again, if you’re ever in Paris.

    —Jennie Rasche