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Few things befuddle me more that those silly, self-help, saccharine posts on Facebook.  The author, Miss Suzie Sunshine “inspires” the world on how to be happy and a perfect human being, presumably like she is.  The posts read something like this: “Be the best you that you want you to be for you are you and you know who you are!”  I have no idea what this or 99% of these posts mean. Sometimes, I think women have their own special language, kind of like porpoises. These posts usually include a beach scene, a really blue sky, multiple heart emojis and Suzie half “nekid” in a bikini.  I often wonder if Suzie, who I must admit is almost always a babe, thinks she is some sort of Delphic oracle or sexy cherubim sent from the heavens to improve the quality of the human race?  I would have a much better understanding of these chick posts if they read something like: “Stop Talking, You Are Making His Head Hurt” or “True Love Is Fetching Him A Beer In 30 Seconds Or Less.”

Well, I am no cherubim. I am a woeful sinner, and meaner than a rattlesnake.  However, I have learned a few things about people, business and finance over the years that I think are the type of truisms that you, dear reader, can bank on.  The rest of this article gets kind of boring, so if you’d rather look at Suzie’s inspirational posts, I get it, she’s babe.

At my company, Chartwell Capital Advisors, we take a holistic approach to helping wealthy families and businesses.  We do law, tax, investments, insurance, advanced planning, real estate, benefits, etc. under one roof. I came up with the Holistic Advisor approach years ago when I was raising capital for emerging growth businesses and referring clients to various professionals among a spectrum of disciplines.  Each one only knew a small sliver about the client, and even if they knew more, they wouldn’t necessarily know how best to help them.

Take lawyers, since I am one, I can say this with authority, most lawyers suck.  They are highly specialized and often are shockingly ignorant of legal and business matters outside of their own specialty. Many wear pocket protectors, but still have ink stains on their shirts. They can’t see the forest for the trees. They bill based on the time they spend, NOT on the VALUE they provide. The type of law we strive to practice is what I call MAKE YOU MONEY law, where hopefully whatever our fees are, we have saved or made you many times this amount through the work we have done.

Clients need a field general, a General Patton who can marshal the best forces available to the battlefield. These forces work together to win the war. That’s what we do, and I think it is a good model. I mention all this because 1) it is fun to pick on lawyers, and 2) I think I have had an unusually diverse exposure to the business world making me highly qualified to disperse my deep reservoir of knowledge to the human race. Should you follow these truisms, you will become rich, start dating a super model and you likely won’t go to jail: 

Faber Est Suae Quisque Fortunaire.  “Every man is the architect of his own fortune.” Anybody can become rich in the United States, even a janitor. It is this simple. Work hard, live within your means, devote a portion of your earnings to savings and beware the “demon rum” and other drugs.

To the Visionaries and Super Risk Takers: living a life of bunts and singles just doesn’t cut it for you. I am that way as well.  Take the time to get some input from some old timers.  I have made lots of mistakes by being too big for my britches and prideful to listen to others.

Whenever you hear someone trying to sell you something and use the words “I guarantee you” or “I’m not going to lie to you,” RUN AWAY.

Watch how people treat others, especially how they treat waitresses, bell hops, sales clerks, etc. If they are dismissive, and it is obvious that they don’t really “see” that person, you don’t want to do business with them.

All work is honorable and noble, whether you are digging a ditch or washing ditches. Never be ashamed of an honest day’s work.

Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus. Listen carefully to what people say.

Remember every dollar you borrow has to be paid back.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Beware of MBA types who use catchy acronyms. If they can’t explain it in simple English, they likely are trying to sell you a half gallon of snake oil.

Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. Learn the principles of finance.

Figure out what makes people tick and the world is your oyster.

Being late is rude and disrespectful.

Stand up when a lady walks in the room and hold her chair out. If you are a lady, don’t try to be a man to fit in. We are base and vulgar creatures. Your job is to elevate us and make us better versions of ourselves.

Keep good books. This is your analytical tool to understand everything about your business and your life. Decent financial statements are like New York cab drivers, they scream obscenities at you and tell you what a dumb ass you are until you straighten up.

Get it in writing.  In my world, gentlemen do business on a handshake. This has been a hard lesson for me because I never wanted to insult someone’s honor by “getting too legal.” The solution: send a simple 3-4 sentence email with the terms of the agreement to the recipient and ask him to confirm. Even the most honorable people have selective memories. This is a good practice.

Realize that you are emotionally invested in your business/life and you don’t see things with the clarity of a totally neutral observer with no skin in the game.

Entrepreneurs and visionaries are born, not taught.

Understand the 80-20 rule. Often it is the 90-10 or the 99-1 rule.

If your business fails, keep your chin up. Don’t lose your mojo. If you tried and failed, at least you were as Teddy Roosevelt said “the Man In the Arena” and not a little weenie boy.

If you confront someone in a fiduciary capacity alleging something funny with the money he is entrusted with, and he does not immediately take steps to be totally transparent, he is stealing your money.

Guard the Hen House. The reason people in a fiduciary capacity steal money is that they think nobody is looking.

You want your kids to wake up with hunger in their bellies, so they will get up and attack the world. Too much money ruins their spirit of enterprise. It’s ok to leave them all your money, but leave it in trust with distributions tied to good behavior and ascertainable standards.

Bid It Out. Regularly. Whether it’s your cable bill, your car insurance, benefits programs, etc. One of the most fun things we do at Chartwell are complimentary life insurance appraisals. Not always, but often enough, we find the client a better policy with $500k to $ 1million more benefits for the same amount of money they are currently paying.

Don’t Go To Jail. Don’t live beyond your means. This is the one that gets everyone in trouble. I know wonderful people who put their hands in someone else’s cookie jar trying to live above their means. The result: three hots and a cot.  Don’t fall in love with “stuff.”

Perseverance. Ole Winnie said this in 1941, and it makes the hair on my neck stand up whenever I hear it: “never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense….”

Finally, and most importantly, never root for Duke University in anything. They are a cheater school.

Robert C. Smith is Managing Partner of Chartwell Capital Advisors

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