Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Wealth, humility and philanthropy

For blog-followers outside Australia, Gina Rinehart inherited a mining dynasty and fortune from her father, Lang Hancock, and has parlayed it to enough billions to be irrelevant to us mere mortals. Other claims to fame are her protracted legal fight with her children to ensure her kids don't get their hand on her money.

This article is by Diana Elliot, writing in Fairfax's 'The Age' newspaper (4th September 2012), on what Gina Reinhart could learn from Warren Buffet. I liked it, hope you do too.

Rinehart needs a chat with Buffett
GINA Rinehart is Australia's richest person and last week she took a pin out of the capitalist grenade and lobbed it firmly into Australia's suburban backyards. In one fell swoop, she pitched her own talk show version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Surprisingly, her advice didn't include sitting with Eddie McGuire and answering 10 trivia questions.

"Butt out the fag, put down your beer and start bloody working!" she hollered. Exasperated at yet again having to remind Australians how much we are indebted to her for keeping us in our plasma twin-sets, she let rip. The pack hurled back. "Only 'cos your Daddy was rich!" 

Rinehart did inherit a truckload of money ($75 million to be exact) from her father, Lang Hancock. But she's pushed the turbo boost on Australia's two-speed economy beyond any of his imaginings. His "baby elephant" stuck her trunk in the air and did good. You don't build a $30 billion fortune if you don't know a thing or two about how to run a business.

The problem with Rinehart is that she's perennially got a very large chip on her shoulder. She thinks because she employs people (while bleating about how much their wages cost) that she's doing more than her share. And she's not terribly eloquent in the way she delivers her messages.

Watching her on the back of a truck, yelling into a megaphone and leading anti-mining tax chants of two syllables wasn't exactly inspiring stuff. We stared dumbfounded that anyone could be that greedy when they already had so much.

Now, while she's talking about the importance of personal exertion in amassing a fortune, she's spitting the dummy back at the punters, meaning few listen and most steady the pens for a counter-attack.

Rinehart is in a unique position to use her wealth and business acumen to inspire Australia to be better. She can leverage her influence to make change and enable her voice to be heard without resorting to railroading the Fairfax board to compulsorily pipe it through its media channels.

What Rinehart needs is to chat with Warren Buffett. Buffett is one of the richest people in the world and the epitome of the American Dream. From selling chewing gum door-to-door as a kid to becoming the most successful investor of our time, Buffett turned his dimes into billions. An eloquent and engaging speaker, Buffett is regarded as one of the world's influential thought leaders.

He's also renowned for his unfailing commitment to philanthropy. He's pledged to give away 99 per cent of his fortune upon death to charitable foundations. He invests beyond himself and his own interests, acutely aware that "the market economy creates some lopsided payoffs to participants … who may lack the right endowment of vocal chords, anatomical structure, physical strength, mental powers or inherited wealth to hit the capitalist jackpot themselves''.

Not a fan of dynastic wealth, Buffett would probably regard Rinehart as someone who has chosen her ancestors wisely and is a member of what he calls, "the lucky sperm club". Where Rinehart is brash, Buffett is humble and lives frugally. He regards money as ''consumption chips'', pieces of paper that can be turned into consumption. He is one of the founders of "philanthrocapitalism", which essentially means investing in charitable projects with an eye on a return.

Buffett presents as a man who finds genuine joy and passion in identifying latent value in things that others overlook. It applies to stocks, but also includes his desire to move some of his consumption chips to those who need it more than he does, helping them to lead richer, more productive and independent lives.

In essence, that's what Rinehart was trying to say she wants to see more Australians do. What she doesn't appreciate, and what Buffett does, is that many people in our society need a bit of a leg-up to make that happen. He cradles his hands to help people reach higher; Rinehart kicks them in the shins.

Like many of Australia's rich, Rinehart keeps a low profile on her philanthropic interests. But it would be refreshing to see her openly champion causes that may well be aligned to her vision for a more productive country in a more constructive way than she's managed in the past.

Good philanthropy builds capacity in people and organisations. It makes use of the talents of our brightest citizens, while funnelling much-needed ''consumption chips'' into innovation, research and community projects that get people aspiring to be better than they are now, even if they'll never sit on millionaire's row.

We'll butt out the ciggies and listen, Gina, if you put down the megaphone.

Diana Elliott is a freelance writer.

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1 comment:

  1. Right on. She recently cited $2/day African wages as a reason why Australian workers deserve less. Perhaps she would also like African style political & legal stability - rather than the system that has protected her royalties from Rio Tinto mines for half a century. Never run a mine, never performed a good deed, totally graceless.