Money: A Love Story


“I spent most of my life making money for someone else,” Eduard Pennington said. “It wasn’t just one day, one week, or even one year, but at some point I realized I wasn’t just wasting my talent, I was wasting time. I enjoyed my time at the corporation, and they treated me better than they should have, but I wasn’t getting younger. I just got tired of doing it for someone else, and through a series of painfully slow, very boring investment platforms, I eventually had the money to do it for myself.”

Some people feel the passion when they hear tales of romance. I get the same charge hearing someone passionately talk about making money. I might be lonely in this corner of the world, but when I hear anyone talk about how they made theirs, I’m not the least bit envious. I’m inspired.  

Eduard Pennington is, was, and always will be a regular schmo. There was probably nothing fancy about his clothes or his car when he was a middle class employee, and nothing changed after he became the multi-millionaire next door. When we speak to him, we notice the confidence of a life well-lived, but we don’t hear the smug arrogance those of us who grew up on cartoons might suspect from such a character. Eduard Pennington is, as depicted in the 2010 book, The Millionaire Next Door.  

“When we look back on our lives, we remember the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Eduard said. “The years I spent working for myself were the highlights. It was so stressful, in the beginning, that it affected my health, and the idea that I made such an idiotic mistake leaving the comfy confines of the corporate world to do this kept me up many a night. I also worked so many hours, getting my business off the ground, that it took a toll on my relationships with my wife and my kids. I still regret missing out on some vital parts of their youth, but other than that, those were the best years of my life.”

Money is not the root of all evil. It is neither good or evil. It is contained wholly within the specimen on which it acts. We define it, and it defines us. If we are bad guys, the pursuit of money can make us worse. If we are good guys, the pursuit can make us better. In its finest form, money is a byproduct of human ingenuity, hard work, and entrepreneurial risk-taking.

“You can get rich working for money, my dad once told me,“ Ed said, “but you can get stinking I-hate-you wealthy when your money starts working for you. Money is power,” Ed added to his dad’s saying, “and power buys you freedom, and that freedom permits you to do what you want to do.”

In the middle of the decade Ed spent working for himself, his company eventually turned a profit. He began delegating most of the authority, and some of the work, to his employees as the profits increased. He trusted them to run the company the way he saw fit, but the resultant free time did not suit Eduard Pennington. He grew anxious and itchy, and in the the process of trying to find something more productive to do he “almost accidentally” developed a device (pre cell phone era) to help make the work of his employees easier. He did it for the money. He did it for the profit, and he did it so well that his company’s profit margin began to dwarf that of his nearest competitors’. After years of pounding them, the competition came-a-knocking. Eduard quickly patented the device, and he shared everything about it with them. He then permitted them to pour through his accounting books to determine the ins and outs of how he was beating them. They waked away believing the difference was this device, and they bought it. Then, their competitors bought it, and so on and so forth, until the device took off. It wasn’t long after the competition incorporated the device into their business that they couldn’t imagine how they got along without it.  

“Word got around, and they came-a-knocking,” Eduard said of a number of entrepreneurs who walked into with bountiful checks in hand. “They knocked loud and hard. I couldn’t believe the numbers they were writing down. I should’ve seen the bidding war that ensued, everyone said I should’ve seen it, but I didn’t. I was wholly unprepared. The problem for me was, they didn’t just want the device. They wanted my whole company. My company, my little baby, and the thing I built from a little granular idea was now a number. It was a gigantic number, for me, back then, but it was still just a number.

“I hated them for putting me through this, and I loved them at the same time,” Eduard continued. “Ten years into this company, and I never wanted to do anything else. My plan had been to see this company to its bitter end, my end, my retirement, or whatever came first. If I told you the number they wrote down, you might consider it an easy decision, but this was my whole life, my routine, and my identity that they wanted to buy. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I just couldn’t imagine, in my wildest dreams, ever turning down the kind of money they were offering.

“I took a month of long-sweaty nights mulling over the plusses and minuses of selling my company. They thought I was playing a card. They thought I was being strategically patient. I wasn’t. I was making sure giving up what I spent ten years building, was the right decision. I hired corporate analysts to project the growth of the company ten years, twenty years out, and I paid advisors, lawyers. I even contacted other owners in my industry to see what they thought.

“Even with all that, I still regretted selling it,” Ed continued. “I regretted it before I signed the documents, I regretted it after, and I regret it to this day. I don’t think I would’ve done with it what they did. Maybe I would’ve, I don’t know, but they took it to another level. God love them, they knew what they had, much more than I did, and I knew a lot, but they took it to the stratosphere. They gave me a lot for it, but if they ever decide to sell, they’ll probably get fifty times what they gave me, based on what they did.”

Eduard Pennington lived the last thirty years of his life The Millionaire Next Door. He took two extravagant vacations to celebrate the prize of his ingenuity, and he bought a verified and minted Babe Ruth-signed baseball to give his reward a tangible quality. Eduard then took care of every one of his immediate family members, in ways big and small, and he made sure they never had to struggle in life the way he did. Then, he did something revolutionary with the rest. He invested it.

“I went boring,” he said. “Boring, old blue-chip stocks with high dividends, bonds, and real estate. I have no creative investments, other than maybe the Babe Ruth baseball, and no sexy, innovative stocks are in my portfolio. My plan was to live on dividends, interest, and appreciation. My financial plan was to go so boring that you might fall asleep before I’m done telling you what I invested in, but that was my plan.”

There are a number of reasons I find Eduard Pennington’s story so beautiful, but one of them is purity. He pursued the American dream from his nook of the world, and he found it. His journey did not involve backstabbing, fraud, or deception. It involved some appreciation of his business, but that was thanks mostly to his hard work and ingenuity.

Eduard Pennington was a good man who worked his fingers to the bone, and he learned so much about his industry that he developed a revolutionary product that eventually went international. He surrounded himself with good and honest men and women based on merit, and they proved their value to his company for a decade and beyond. If you’re reading this with the notion that somewhere around right here in this article, the other shoe will drop to expose some of Eduard Pennington’s character defects, this isn’t that story.

The streamers and Hollywood would never pay one dime for Eduard’s tale, because he loved his wife and children, he didn’t cheat anyone, and he never hurt anyone. He wasn’t a bad guy, and they want bad guys, because we want bad guys. Bad guys are the angle, the promise they make in their summaries, and the selling point to get us to click on their movies. We want tears and pain from the side characters, and a ruthless bloodlust from our main character. No one wants to read a story about a man who loved his wife almost as much as he loved his mother. No one wants to read a story about a nice man who never faltered in his dream to make the most honest money he could, that’s just boring.

***

“Money is not the root of all evil,” someone far smarter than us once said. “Money provides definition. When a bad guy pursues money, it can make them worse. A good guy pursuing his dreams can become a better man in the pursuit.” The idea of money is intangible quality with no definitions of its own. We define money and money defines us.  

Once he took the money and ran, some might suspect that Ed did it all for the money. That seems so obvious to us now that it’s not even worth discussing for many of us. Yet, Eduard loved what he did, and he regretted getting out. “My friends and family said things like, you’re still a young man, and with that money you can do whatever you want,” Eduard said. “I thought that was right and logical and all that, but the truth was I didn’t want to do anything else. I still don’t, but I couldn’t turn the money down, because I didn’t want to be known as the person who turned that money down. I didn’t want people to there goes Eduard Pennington, the guy who turned down big money, and right after he did it, his business fell apart. Every industry, hell every business, goes through cycles, and it was possible that the value of my company could’ve gone down. It didn’t, but it was possible.”

Eduard Pennington did it all for the money. He worked for someone else, because they paid him. He opened his own business for the expressed purpose of making more money, and like all upstart businesses he skimped and saved during the early, desperate years. He even dipped into his nest egg to see to it that his employees were paid on time. He didn’t do this because he was a good man. He did it, “Because it was good business,” he said. “I interviewed and hired every single one of these talented men and women, and I paid them top dollar for their skills, because I knew they could make me more money. I don’t care how loyal your employees are, if they find someone who is going to pay them so much more than you, that will test their loyalties. It’s just good business to find the market for their talent and pay them more than that.

“Why else do you do anything in business?” Eduard asked when asked if he has any concerns that we might view him as a greedy capitalist. “I spent most of my life making money for others. When I went into business for myself, my goal was to make as much money as I could.

“Let me amend that slightly,” Ed said. “If you do it solely for the money, you’ll end up miserable. If you love what you do, and you’re good at it, money is more than a byproduct of all of your efforts, it’s the reward. If you’re not getting paid what’s the point?”