putting the tiers of true wealth into context
Putting the tiers of true wealth into context.
There are different levels of wealth. For me, that realization hit home when I was having a waterfront house built for my family on Florida’s Gold Coast. It was hardly an inconsequential investment. During that same period, our firm was preparing designs for two large custom yachts. One was in the 150-foot range, and the shower doors—just the custom, gold-plated shower doors—on that yacht cost more than my new home. I was far from the bottom of the fiscal ladder, but I certainly was nowhere near the upper rungs.
“The Wealth Report,” by London property consulting firm Knight Frank, follows trends among ultra-high-net-worth individuals; those whose assets, excluding their primary residence, exceed $30 million. Knight Frank’s list of “objects of desire” should be no surprise to readers of this magazine. Motoryachts and sailing yachts are first and second on that list, with private jets, racehorses and sports franchises, in that order, rounding out the top five. And for the owners of superyachts? These are the ne plus ultra on the networth ladder. One obviously needs much more than a mere 30 million bucks if he or she is going to spend upwards of $50 million on a yacht.
In many ways, these individuals are a lot like the rest of us—happy and sad, healthy and sick—in short, human. During the design process, the client in question nixed lunch at a nearby Michelin 3-star beach club, opting instead to indulge in a Whopper from Burger King, his favorite, as we reviewed the drawings and specs. But then, after the modest lunch, and unlike the rest of us, he and his family headed to the South of France aboard his private jet for some quality sailing time at his Mediterranean getaway estate. Therein lies the difference, and it’s not just the money.
Such individuals are enthusiasts in all they do, and they do it all, not settling for just one “object of desire” at a time. Between bites of his greasy burger, our client shared with me that over three generations, his family had owned 80 yachts of 80 feet or more. In fact, as his new motoryacht neared completion, this dedicated enthusiast had us start on plans for a 160foot sailing yacht. He wasn’t into racehorses, but he had just sold his NFL franchise for nearly a billion dollars. Four out of the top five ain’t bad.
One might surmise he was at the top of that ne plus ultra ladder, but he wasn’t even close, just another mere billionaire. You’ll recall I mentioned that while I was building my new home, we were designing two custom yachts. The other client was the guy at the top, dubbed at the time “the richest man in America” in the financial press. He, too, enjoyed his “objects of desire” in multiples, also going for four out of the top five. He didn’t own a sports team, but he bred a successful string of racehorses at his Kentucky farm. His yacht carried the name of his favorite horse, which could have been but was not Secretariat. That story, involving a coin toss, figured prominently in a Disney movie, but I never had the guts to raise the topic with him.
When our first client, the one with the 150-footer, learned of our second client, he graciously deferred out of respect for the older gentleman, suggesting we set his own project aside if necessary to ensure the other yacht was completed as soon as possible. Then, in a reverential whispered aside, almost as if sharing some deep secret, he said: “He’s quite wealthy, you know.”
There are indeed many levels of wealth, with the true details not to be found in any statistical report. Yacht owners are wealthy, and superyacht owners are, well, “quite wealthy.”