They say good fences make good neighbors. I say I don't need a fence with my neighbor Ravi. Ravi and his family are every home owner’s dream neighbors. A picture perfect young Tamil family of husband, wife and two toddlers. The only catch is Ravi is also a millionaire. A millionaire among the middle class in our neighborhood- a new member of the much maligned 1%.
I've always wondered what makes some people wealthy, many a middle class and a lot poor. Is it luck? Effort? Then there’s the issue of wealth and happiness. Can money buy happiness and peace of mind? Is the 1% a happy lot? Ravi held the answers I was looking for.
I met Ravi in University. He was a man of few words and always ready to learn new things. He did not talk about people, instead he chose to discuss ideas. He was entrepreneurial at heart and always experimenting with new ideas. He succeeded in some and failed in others, but that did not deter him. When he was a student, he grew organic vegetables in his garden and delivered them door to door in the neighborhood to help put himself through school.
Ravi is a popular person in our neighborhood. He is the first one to shovel the snow at five in the morning long before everyone else is starting their day. His garage is clutter free, grass well-manicured and backyard is full of flowers in the spring. He became the benchmark for all the wives in our neighborhood to compare their husbands against.
After graduation, Ravi held on to his job and started a tax and bookkeeping business part time. "You don't become rich working for someone else," he once quipped over the fence. He dabbled in the stock market and lost some money. I always knew he was scheming, plotting, running his imagination wild and up to something. I lost track of him in recent years.
I invited Ravi for a BBQ this spring. What was meant to be a show of neighborliness turned out to be a view into Ravi's mind, thoughts and wealth. Ravi had finally succeeded in his efforts. About 10 years ago Ravi bought a small house in a university town to rent out to students. The cash flow was good. More than that, he saw the demand and opportunity and scaled with leverage the number of houses to over 10 in a short span of time. He caught the real estate wave at the right time. The price appreciation and cash flow over time had put a big smile on his face and envy on mine. Still, Ravi appeared like an average Tamil Joe. There was no outward sign of wealth. No Maserati in his driveway. I confronted him.
"I don't believe in logos," he said. "I believe in experiences." I understood him immediately. Money had indeed brought happiness to him. He did not go on a vacation to Cuba. Cuba, he said, was for the masses. He flew first class to Fiji. Money had bought him the peace of mind. He never really cared about what his boss thought about him nor was he there to compete with his co-workers to win the rat race. Indeed money had allowed him to buy the experiences he wanted. Experiences including a personal chef to cook organic food for his family, membership in an exclusive club, expensive parties to entertain and interact with people who enhanced his life. He had outsourced most of his day to day work and focuses only on what he enjoys the most.
Ravi’s success is due to his relentless effort. He is not a tycoon who started a resource or technology company and made millions overnight. He made money in his own ways - slow and steady, a typical story of a middle class millionaire. He got the risk and reward equation right. He is a person who is looking for ways to transform one dollar into two. He is a millionaire today and I have no doubt will be a multimillionaire tomorrow. As for me, I am glad the fence is short enough to get some words of wisdom from Ravi.