You could be rich, even if you didn't know it, because—or even though—you are in the rubber industry. I came to this conclusion after looking at a list of the world's wealthiest people, prompted by my 10-year-old grandson.
He and his younger sister think I'm rich, since I buy them pretty much everything they ask for, after the required amount of refusal.
“Oh, you're rich, Grandpa,” he told me. No, I'm not, I'm a grandpa. This is what we do, spoil the little ones and then dump them on their parents. Heh, heh.
I dug up a list of the richest people because my grandson said a friend of his is related to the third-richest person in the world. Warren Buffett? Well, who knows—we're all ultimately related to each other anyway, right?
I checked out the list for familiar names from the rubber industry. There was Phil Knight, now worth $21.5 billion, whom we once interviewed just before his Nike-brand shoes took off. And Steve Rales, clocking in at No 462, worth $3.9 billion—I remember him from when his company, Danaher, bought Mohawk Rubber Co. long ago.
There even was a person whose wealth generation was listed as “tires”—Bruce Halle, founder of Discount Tires, who comes in at No. 248 with $6 billion net worth. Good for you, Bruce.
While none of these guys are on my speed dial, I have met many who have done well in the rubber industry. More than well, actually.
There was the “Gang of Seven,” or perhaps eight or nine, top executives at a major tire and rubber company. They took control via a leveraged buyout and ultimately walked away with bags of cash. Not so good for hundreds of underlings, who lost their jobs when the new owner got rid of “redundancies.”
The same thing happened with the top execs at a spun-off supplier division of that firm. They apparently paid attention to what happened at the parent company.
Then there was a chemical business, very successful and mostly owned by one gentleman. He always lauded his employees, giving them credit for the company's success. When he cashed out and sold the operation to a very large supplier, quite a few of those loyal employees got the ax.
That is a problem for a lot of companies, especially family-owned or smaller businesses. How do you protect your loyal staff if you sell out? Other than via an ESOP, typically you have no say in the future running of the business.
A seller wants to maximize his profit; a new owner wants to cut duplicity. Not pretty, but free enterprise at work.
I've also met a lot of people in the rubber industry who are rich but not in the usual monetary sense. They are well off because they love what they do, apparent by the excitement in their voices when they describe their work. It isn't a job—it's a calling, worth more than just a paycheck.
That's how I always felt about being a journalist. Looking at it that way, I guess my grandson is right—grandpa is rich.
Noga is a contributing editor of RPN and its former editor. He can be reached at [email protected]