These people cannot be millionaires! They don't look like millionaires, they don't
dress like millionaires, they don't eat like millionaires, they don't act like
millionaires -- they don't even have millionaire names. Where are the millionaires who
look like millionaires?
The person who said this was a vice president of a trust department. He made these
comments following a focus group interview and dinner that we hosted for ten
first-generation millionaires. His view of millionaires is shared by most people who are
not wealthy. They think millionaires own expensive clothes, watches, and other status
artifacts. We have found this is not the case.
As a matter of fact, our trust officer friend spends significantly more
for his suits than the typical American millionaire. He also wears a $5,000 watch. We know
from our surveys that the majority of millionaires never spent even one-tenth of $5,000
for a watch. Our friend also drives a current-model imported luxury car. Most millionaires
are not driving this year's model. Only a minority drive a foreign motor vehicle. An even
smaller minority drive foreign luxury cars. Our trust officer leases, while only a
minority of millionaires ever lease their motor vehicles.
But ask the typical American
adult this question: Who looks more like a millionaire? Would it be our friend, the trust
officer, or one of the people who participated in our interview? We would wager that most
people by a wide margin would pick the trust officer. But looks can be deceiving.
This concept is perhaps best expressed by those wise and wealthy Texans who refer to
our trust officer's type as
Big Hat No Cattle
We first heard this expression from a thirty-five-year-old Texan. He owned a very
successful business that rebuilt large diesel engines. But he drove a ten-year-old car and
wore jeans and a buckskin shirt. He lived in a modest house in a lower-middle-class area.
His neighbors were postal clerks, firemen, and mechanics.
After he substantiated his financial success with actual numbers, this Texan told us:
[My] business does not look pretty. I don't play the part...don't act it....When my
British partners first met me, they thought I was one of our truck drivers....They looked
all over my office, looked at everyone but me. Then the senior guy of the group said,
"Oh, we forgot we were in Texas!" I don't own big hats, but I have a lot of
PORTRAIT OF A MILLIONAIRE
Who is the prototypical American millionaire? What would he tell you about himself?
I am a fifty-seven-year-old male, married with three children. About 70 percent of us
earn 80 percent or more of our household's income.
About one in five of us is retired. About two-thirds of us who are working are
self-employed. Interestingly, self-employed people make up less than 20 percent of the
workers in America but account for two-thirds of the millionaires. Also, three out of four
of us who are self-employed consider ourselves to be entrepreneurs. Most of the others are
self-employed professionals, such as doctors and accountants.
Many of the types of businesses we are in could be classified as dull-normal. We are
welding contractors, auctioneers, rice farmers, owners of mobile-home parks, pest
controllers, coin and stamp dealers, and paving contractors.
About half of our wives do not work outside the home. The number-one occupation
for those wives who do work is teacher.
Our household's total annual realized (taxable) income is $131,000 (median, or 50th
percentile), while our average income is $247,000. Note that those of us who have incomes
in the $500,000 to $999,999 category (8 percent) and the $1 million or more category (5
percent) skew the average upward.
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