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Sunday, August 03, 2008

How to become a millionaire (barely).

In 1991 Borland bought a dying whale of a company called Ashton-Tate. The official corporate bulls**t line according to my cigarette smoking, passive aggressive boss was that it was the right thing to do.

Whenever you here that phrase, RUN!

Borland doubled in size, got Dbase and promptly went from a very fast growing, profitable company to a real loser. To this day it is still a also ran, relegated there by it's inspired, arrogant leadership. But that's not the story. The story has to do with a check. One of the two most senior people in Ashton-Tate had a contract that gave him a million dollars if his job went away (and it did go away). I hand delivered the check to him. Of course the payroll taxes and income taxes had been deducted but still the face amount on the check was $666,666.00 give or take a few cents. I had never held a million dollars much less $666,666.00 in my hand. Few people ever have.

The thought occurred to me that I wanted one of those. It took ten years before I actually got one of those from an IPO. Actually it was well over $1,000,000 (plus or minus) with no taxes deducted. We had to take those out ourselves (BIG GULP). The difference was that this was my check.

So I became a millionaire but just barely. I was finally the millionaire next door. That meant I had plenty of go to hell money in the bank but not enough to retire on and just live off the interest from my investments. I had a son who hadn't gone to college yet and that was $100,000 over four years, and I still had a mortgage. Not a large one but large enough. I "retired" in August 2002 from being an employee of anyone but I still had to work. Two big downturns in the economy ate away at the edges of my fortune so I kept working. Sometimes it's full time, sometimes it's part time. I escaped the cage in the zoo but not the habitat. I still showed up at the feeding trough at dinner time.

I was what is commonly now called the poor millionaire. I have the money but I can't live off of it unless I take out some of the principle. So over time it erodes.

I had made it to the top of Everest but was going to have a devil of a time getting down. As Sir Edmund Hillary said (once and I paraphrase), Mallory and Irvine might have gotten to the summit before us but we (Tensing Norgay and Hillary) were the first to get to the top and back down again and that counted for something.

It's only in the past year that I actually exercised that hard won freedom and walked out on two contracts when they turned sour. No, I don't like doing that but I was overdue.

By the way, it felt good.

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