Are you a thrillionaire or a realionaire?

Commentary about business and finance.
March 24 2006 5:51 PM

Are You a Thrillionaire or a Realionaire?

The five kinds of rich people.

(Continued from Page 1)

Such archetyping is a fun enterprise. Most anthropologists conduct research while living in a hut in rural Indonesia. Samuel and a group of stringers fan out into markets thick with millionaires and take notes. When I spoke to Samuel this morning, he was in the field—in Miami: "There's a DJ and hip-hop conference going on here, and there's lots of bling, I've seen several Rolls Royces." (Clearly, rappers are thrillionaires, not willionaires.)

But Hirshman says Samuel's distinctions are meaningful. And not just because a JPMorgan adviser will think to offer a coolionaire advice on how to choose an art consultant rather than how to trick out a Ferrari. "It's about dealing with them and connecting with them on a personal level," says Hirshman. "The overall goal is to bring up the satisfaction level of your service." If a thirsty thrillionaire comes into your office, you better serve him bottled water in crystal. By contrast, a realionaire won't be fazed if you present him with tap water in a paper cup.

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Samuel doesn't make any moral distinctions among the archetypes. But it's pretty clear there's a hierarchy, from a social perspective and from a business one. If you're in the asset-management business for the long term, you want people who are going to save and invest for the long term (realionaires and willionaires) rather than ones who are going to blow their cash on Maseratis and young third wives (thrillionaires), Jeff Koons sculptures (coolionaires), or personal yoga instructors (wellionaires).

Samuel first identified the five archetypes in 2000. And he notes a change in the mix since then. As baby boomers age and their minds become filled with thoughts of mortality, we're starting to see more wellionaires and willionaires, and fewer thrillionaires.

Samuel and Hirshman note that the archetypes aren't mutually exclusive. And of course, the truly outstanding millionaires—i.e., billionaires—can transcend the categories. Larry Ellison of Oracle, with his giant yachts and Japanese-style compound, is clearly equal parts thrillionaire and wellionaire; Bill Gates, with his Friday-casual khakis and massive foundation, is a little bit realionaire and a little bit willionaire.

Daniel Gross is a longtime Slate contributor. His most recent book is Better, Stronger, Faster. Follow him on Twitter.

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