Friday, March 20, 2009

Guest Article: Making Money is the Easy Part, Keeping it is the Difficult Part

Making Money is the Easy Part, Keeping it is the Difficult Part.
by Larry Underwood

author of the book Life Under the Corporate Microscope: A Maverick's Irreverent Perspective
Underwood started out his career working behind the counter renting cars to people at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and worked his way up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming a multimillionaire earning almost $4 million per year, and retiring before the age of 49.

If you're a bright, enthusiastic, hard working individual, chances are you're very successful in your business career. Here's why: Very few people like that exist, giving you a decisive competitive advantage to not only succeed, but dominate.

According to my statistically unproven theories regarding the picture of American employment and unemployment, here's the breakdown:

*Lazy and incompetent, but somehow employed: 48.9%
*Mediocre but not quite as lazy, and employed: 40.7%
*Intelligent and able to work, but are too lazy: 1.6%
*Totally incompetent and not employed: 5.6%
*Competent and not lazy, but not employed: 2.4%
*Intelligent, driven to succeed and employed: .8%

If you're reading this, congratulations for being in the less than one percent of the population that falls into that category! That's why you've got the beautiful home, car, and wife (ex-wives, gold diggers). You know how you got there. You're smart, well organized, charming, and good-looking (probably).

You should consider running for President in 2012.

Of that small, .8% of the American working force, here's the statistically unproven earnings analysis, through March 18, 2009:

Earning less that $40,000 per year: 4.1% (has a passion for an endeavor that doesn't pay as much as it should, like teachers, stem cell analysts, bloggers, artists, writers)

Earning over $40,000 per year but less than $100,000 per year: 12.9% (middle managers in Corporate America who are more competent than the CEO, but the CEO knows it and will not let that person rise too far up the company ladder)

Earning over $100,000 per year but less than $250,000 per year: 67.5% (small business owners, higher level executives able to maintain a good reputation while not becoming a threat to the CEO)

Earning over $250,000 but less than $1 Billion per year: 15.4% (Smart enough to stay out of the company's radar screen for the time being, professional athletes, actors, musicians, drug dealers, or very good writers and artists)

Earning over than $1 Billion per year: .1% (Genius, or Forrest Gump)

Now let's assume that you're a successful business person and you make over a million bucks a year, and have been for quite some time. Most people who fall into this category are set for life. Their only concerns are choosing the right color for their next Mercedes, trying to get their children to understand they'll have to actually "work" for a living, instead of living off you, while weighing the pros and cons of staying married or staying with your current gold digger or otherwise hot, but annoying girl friend.

Of course, if you divorce your lovely wife, you'll be categorized as going through a mid-life crisis. The "mid-life crisis" for me was staying married to somebody who drove me crazy. That's a crisis, which I solved by getting the hell out of there. End of crisis.

My life has been a fun-filled roller coaster ride, growing up in a totally dysfunctional, financially challenged, but otherwise boring environment. In high school, my self-esteem was fairly low, so I never got laid, and my social life consisted of never drinking alcohol or never even smoking pot. These were the late '60s-early '70s. Everybody was getting laid and getting high. Not me.

I had to be the biggest dork in America, possibly the world. I remained a dork throughout my college years, although I got drunk on weekends and smoked weed every day. I never bought the stuff; in fact, I never even felt like the effect was much of anything, but as my friends were passing around that little joint, I'd take a hit and pass it on to the next pot head. Looking back on it, I suppose I should've at least offered to give somebody some money for whatever I used, but I never really wanted it to begin with, further enhancing my dork rating.

Upon graduating with a BA in Economics from a place called Rockford College in 1974, I promptly married the first girl who ever really had any interest in me. My rationale was simple: I've graduated, I need to get a job, and I'd better marry this one because nobody else would ever consider me as an option. Obviously, I was totally clueless, thus spending the entire decade of my 20s never experiencing the joy of chasing women and possibly getting laid every now and then.

I started working for Enterprise Rent-a-Car (then known as "Executive Leasing" in St Louis)
as a management trainee working somewhere between 50-70 hours a week, but for some reason, the long hours didn't bother me at all. I suppose I felt it beat the hell out of having to go home to my wife. My starting pay was "peanuts" with no salt, either. It didn't matter since my life style was frugal and I never really seemed to buy anything or go anywhere, other than the bowling alley every now and then; or to see some crummy movie.

Eventually, I hit the big-time with Enterprise (luckily after my first divorce), hitting the "career jackpot", getting the highest commission percentage allowed by Enterprise law (15% of net profit) as I became the Vice-President/General Manager of the newly formed West Group. By this time, I had remarried to my next ex-wife-to-be, and within a few years, we had a couple of kids, and upgraded to a nicer home. As I made more money, I spent more, or simply pissed it away in bad investments. It didn't seem to matter; with each passing year, my income started getting so high, somebody once called me "rich". I suppose I was, but I didn't even notice.

After another upgrade to a nice mansion in Paradise Valley, Arizona, overlooking Barry Goldwater's pad and the Hormel estate, not to mention the rest of the Valley, my personal life began a phase of bickering with the wife, which lead to our separation. Finally, my peace of mind had been restored, and I'm sure she was just as happy as she could be as well because I never bothered to get divorced for several years, allowing her to buy whatever she wanted, including a wonderful boob-job, and do whatever she wanted. Life was great.

By this time, my annual income was well over a million bucks a year and always going higher with each passing year. My final year on the job, I almost made it to $4 million. The reason that became my "final year" was simply, the Enterprise corporate hierarchy had finally gotten tired of paying me all that money, plus I became a bad General Manager or something. Between you and me, I think it was the money thing.

My official retirement date was 010101, of course nine months and ten days before 9/11, and less than a year after the big bubble popped on the NASDAQ, where I had most of my money invested. I recall chortling practically every day in late '99 and early 2000 how much money I'd "made" in the stock market that day. One hundred thousand dollar "gains" were commonplace.

Even though my portfolio was going through a downward spiral, I never fretted. I was a long term investor and I assumed it would rebound, and start posting nice little annual gains in double digits, forever. In the meantime, I was still getting some nice "severance package" money from Enterprise, and the market seemed to be recovering after the 9/11 meltdown, so I remained financially secure.

Apparently, financial security is too boring for me, so I'd continue making high risk investments, although they seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. My favorite losers were a casino in Reno (quarter of a million down the drain), a restaurant in Las Vegas (only a hundred grand loser), some crazy recording venture called "World Song 2002" (another hundred grand that left my world), investing in some stupid web-site called "Alien Zoo" ($150,000 abducted by aliens), and another hundred grand pissed away on a company called T.S.I. (Technical Systems Integrated), but I simply referred to it as "Totally Shitty Investment".

As a side note, I'm sure there are many people in the world who have invested in those "limited liability corporations", or LLCs. Not me. I now refer to LLCs as "Losing Larry's Cash". Sure, I make fun of my stupidity because I'm easily amused, and also realistic. I could quite possibly be the world's worst investor, but there's much data to analyze, so that one would be hard to prove.

In the meantime, my seven year severance package with Enterprise has ended, so I'll have to do something productive again like get a job. For now, I'm busy marketing my book, Life Under the Corporate Microscope, which is my irreverent perspective of life in Corporate America with that corporate giant, Enterprise Rent-a-Car. I think you'll enjoy it and I'd welcome you to check out my website for further information:

The next time I visit, I'll plan on giving you my spin on Corporate America, in general.

In the meantime, invest wisely and beware of those LLCs.

Life Under the Corporate Microscope: A Maverick's Irreverent Perspective is available through Amazon. You can also see a review of the book at


MikeNewhouse said...

It seems like it's difficult for most people to keep the money they make, athletes especially. You talked about "the more you made, the more you spent." Imagine going from making nothing, to millions almost overnight! There's an interesting article in the new Sports Illustrated that paints the perfect picture on how athletes loose it all. They interviewed Ed Butowsky and several of the athletes that attended his bootcamp. Very similar stories to yours. Good luck, and I look forward to reading your book!

Larry Underwood said...

Thanks, Mike. This was kind of a tounge in cheek type deal, but I'm not counting for a miracle rally on Wall Street, so I'd better sell a lot of books, or get back in the real world...