Silicon Valley Acts Old (Money, That Is)

With the tsunami of cash that has poured over Silicon Valley in the last thirty years, you might expect a plethora of yachts, McMansions, and luxury sports cars to be driven by those who’ve been successful. There are some, to be sure, but they’re more likely to be driven by those who offer goods and services or work for internet billionaires than the billionaires themselves.

Young entrepreneurs who’ve hit the digital big-time tend to eschew the flash and do good with the cash, much like Old Money.  The status symbols tend to be the size of your charitable foundation and how much good it’s doing, and the number of start up companies you’ve funded and how well they’re doing.

These choices are admirable, but they still beg the question: why? Why is this group of Young New Rich behaving so differently from the Young New Rich who populate the ranks of sports and entertainment?

The answers may be elusive, but let’s consider the following: Silicon Valley success stories are almost always born from a mix of vision, drive, intelligence, and relentless focus. Much of this work takes place in isolation, far from an adoring public. The need to impress others with outward displays of anything other than intelligence and creativity is absent, or certainly muted.

Second, who you know probably counts for very little. When you’ve created a software program that a tech giant wants to buy for $100 million, it’s not because somebody cares who your daddy is. It’s because what you’ve created has value.

Third, education has probably been more a priority for computer geeks than superstar athletes or singers. This may be painting with a very broad brush, but I know first-hand how education is inevitably marginalized for a college athlete: you’re in college to play ball, and the books come in a distant second for most students on athletic scholarship. Talent, not education, is the driving, determining force for an athlete and a performer, although an education greatly enhances the performances and quality of life for both.

Education probably affects spending habits as well. An education broadens the mind and shifts perspective. It can make a person more “inner directed” than “outer directed”. This is to say, in the most simple terms, that a person will make choices based more on what he or she thinks is right rather than what others might think.

It is an obvious point that what one considers important and valuable as a senior in high school should be enormously different than what one considers important as a 30 year-old college graduate. Part of that change is simply growing up, but a larger part is education.

The Silicon Valley culture is fascinating:  hugely successful young people in their 20’s from middle class backgrounds who spend like fourth-generation OMG’s (Old Money Guys and Gals) in their 50’s.  Casual clothes, low-key lifestyle, emphasis on work and charity, zero bling.

It’s fascinating, and welcome. They’re creating more jobs and opportunity with their start ups and making the world a better place with their charity.

It’s enough to make even the stodgiest OMG a tech fan.




2 thoughts on “Silicon Valley Acts Old (Money, That Is)

  1. Mark Zuckerberg, one of the creators of Facebook, has about twenty billion dollars. He wears a grey sweatshirt and blue jeans every day (not the same one, he has several identical grey sweatshirts) and drives a Volkswagen Golf. He finally bought a nice but by no means extravagant house when his security people insisted that he move out of his one bedroom rental apartment because they could not adequately protect him there.

    Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, is a billionaire and says he owns six pairs of shoes. He has said “I could own a hundred mansions all around the world, but why would I want to do that? You can only sleep in one bed at a time.”

    Warren Buffett still lives in the same modest house in a middle class neighborhood that he bought when he didn’t have much money. Most days he has meatloaf, mashed potatoes and iced tea for lunch.

    None of them are technically OMGs, but I certainly wouldn’t call them nouveau riche either. They haven’t let their money go to their head, and that’s very Old Money.

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