The challenges of wealth: Gregory Curtis writes the book
Gregory Curtis: "If you can just sit back and watch the money come in, pretty soon you don't think very well of yourself. That's why I'm constantly telling young wealthy people to get off your butt and go out and do something."
U.S. Steel Corp. founder Andrew Carnegie
Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller
Share with others:
In a legendary exchange between two great American authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald reportedly said: "Let me tell you about the very rich. The rich are different from you and me." Ernest Hemingway famously replied: "Yes, they have more money."
While that assessment may have been oversimplified, both men were essentially correct.
But Pittsburgh wealth manager Gregory Curtis has made a far more comprehensive evaluation in his book, "The Stewardship of Wealth: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors," which he wrote based on more than 30 years of handling the financial affairs of billionaire clients such as the Mellon family.
"To be sure, the challenges facing wealthy families who aspire to happiness -- that is all wealthy families -- are different from those of other families in the same way the challenges facing welfare families are different from those facing middle-class families," wrote Mr. Curtis, chairman and founder of Shadyside-based Greycourt & Co. Inc.
What really sets rich people apart, he said, is they can easily buy control of their lives or use their money to avoid anything they consider unpleasant -- such as working a steady job or raising their own children in some cases.
Beyond that, the rich are about the same as everyone else.
"Stewardship of Wealth" is written for the audience Mr. Curtis and his partners at Greycourt serve -- the ultra rich -- with the main idea being that stewardship isn't just about investing. That is one of the last things his readers need to worry about, which is why the chapters on that topic are near the end of the book.
The stakes are much higher for the super wealthy in many ways, according to Mr. Curtis.
Even if they get the investment stuff right, the money they have amassed could be at risk if they fail in other important areas. For instance, if rich parents don't raise their children right, the children will probably blow all the money, ruining their lives and others' in the process.
"If you can just sit back and watch the money come in, pretty soon you don't think very well of yourself," Mr. Curtis said. "That's why I'm constantly saying to these young wealthy people to get off your butt and go out and do something.
"Use your money to make the world a better place and devote your personal time to it because that's the most precious resource you have. Money, you have plenty of it. If you want to write a check for some good cause, that's easy. But getting your own hands dirty, rolling up your sleeves, and going out and doing something -- that's going to make you happy."
The 406-page manual on advice for wealthy families is divided into three main parts. Part 1 explores the role that private capital has played in America's success and how the creative deployment of that wealth has enriched this country far beyond the dreams of other civilizations throughout history. Part 2 is an 80,000-foot-high look at the wide world of investing and the many risks investors are exposed to. Part 3 looks at the nitty gritty of how to go about investing money.
No matter how well a family stewards its wealth, people tend to compound faster than money does.
"If you look at a family like the Rockefellers or the Mellons or the Morgans -- old wealth," Mr. Curtis said. "Well, today there are hundreds and hundreds of people in those families and the money keeps getting divided into smaller and smaller pieces. ...
"So really 80 percent to 90 percent of American wealth disappears in about three generations. And that's pretty much true all over the world," he said.
"The Chinese have a saying that goes, 'Rice paddies to rice paddies in three generations.' It becomes part of our challenge to prevent that from happening."
"The Stewardship of Wealth: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors" by Gregory Curtis is published by Wiley ($65).
First Published February 22, 2013 12:33 am