In exchange for my modest success in raising funds for The Ride, in support of cancer research at the Ottawa Hospital, Robert Merkley invited me along with several other riders on a 1000 Islands cruise on his boat. His selfless gesture — because hosting charitable supporters a private tour with meals, admission fees and other expenses covered out of your own pocket can only be seen that way — allowed our diverse group to experience some of the tourist sites along the Canada/US border that most experience only in larger commercial tour groups.
This is an environment of rustic beauty and down-to-earth real people coupled with extreme historical and current wealth. Many of the islands are private retreats in what is described as “millionaires row”. Others are much more modest.
While the private islands are just that — and you can only look at the distance at the “cottages” which looked more like mansions in some cases — I could see how wealth concentration isn’t a new idea. The guilded age of extreme wealth isn’t that long ago. Just look to the turn of the last century, and you’ll encounter entrepreneurs like George Boldt, who built his fortune with hotels like the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City (where he innovated concepts such as the “customer is always right” and room service).
Because we were all on the boat because of our common success in fund-raising, we spent some time observing the differences in charitable leadership and philanthropy, and attitudes towards wealth and personal expression. Some flaunt wealth and spend their money opulently; others live much more modestly even when they achieve great financial success. Many wealthy people become true, often unsung, philanthropists, others hoard their cash, and among the philanthropists, some broadcast their contributions and others are much more modest.
Of course, fundamental human character underlies these distinctions. I know of some people who have achieved wealth through dishonest or borderline ethical business practices; others with the good fortune of inherited wealth who have been excellent custodians of their family fortunes (and who probably would have been successful without their inheritances) and still others who achieved greatness from scratch, and then shared their success when they achieved it.
There are of course definite connections between access to wealth and power and success in sales, marketing and business development, because personal connections and relationships count, and as wealth associates with power and influence, you will be closer to it if you can build relationships in the right places.
From experience, the best and most worthy ways to do this are through sincere community/charitable service coupled with genuine business innovation. If you can combine creativity with a generous spirit (and some common-sense management abilities), you’ll go far.