Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Hi it is my pleasure to introduce Robert Frank who is the senior special writer at the Wall Street Journal where he writes a weekly column and daily blog called the Wealth report. He will discuss and sign his book "Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich" and he also just told me that it is now on the New York Times best seller nonfiction list and best seller book business list so that's exciting, very good. Richistan is like the best of travel writing full of colorful and interesting stories providing insights in to exotic locales. Robert has been loitering on docks of yacht marinas pestering his way into charity balls and schmoozing with real estate agents selling mega houses to capture the story of the 21st century's nouveau riche. Robert lives in New York with his family, please welcome Robert Frank. Thank you, Thank you all so much for coming this evening it's it's wonderful to be back in Denver. You know there there are two chapters in this book that take place in Denver. The "Butler Boot Camp" chapter and the politics chapter and all my New Yorker friends are giving me a really hard time that even though I live in Manhattan and Manhattan has all this wealth, why isn't there a single chapter on Manhattan and two chapters for Denver and Colorado and I tell them well you know Colorado is really the the epitome of the sort of frontier wealth and it is proved that wealth isn't just in New York and California but all all over the country blab la blab and they say "what's the real reason in that?" so the real reason is because I love coming to Colorado and I have some very good friends here and It just a gorgeous place that I can really relax and take my time reporting, so it's wonderful to be back here and tonight I am honored to have two very special guest. I am going to cut my reading sort of short so I can bring up one of them and the first is Erick Anderson who is a friend from college who more than any person in my life is responsible for me becoming a journalist and he is sitting in the back row and he lives here in Denver and of course Jared Polis who is features prominently in the book on politics and I have done a number of readings around the country where I brought up people who were in the book and that's been fun because we take questions on both sides and that's - so I am going to do little that tonight with Jared as well. I mean to start up by reading a little bit from a chapter called "Living It" which is about a interesting fellow I met named Tim Blixseth and he is a billionaire who lives in California, well he doesn't live anywhere he just sort of traveled everywhere and sleeps in various part of the country in his boats and planes but he really epitomize for me the story of this this new wealth and their workaholism, this whole idea of the leisure class and the idle rich giving way to these young workaholic constant project addicts, so I am going to read a little bit about Tim Blixseth and then Jared is going to come up and throw some tomatoes at me while we have a fun conversation. Just before dawn Tim Blixseth is standing on the deck of the 157 foot yacht in his bathrobe. "Where the hell am I" he says rubbing his eyes somewhere up the coast of Mexico. I have been waking up in a different place everyday this week, I feel like a vagabond. Vagabond is a relative term when you are traveling with Tim Blixseth. On Sunday morning he woke up in this 3,000 square feet cabin at the Yellowstone club, a private golf and ski resort that Blixseth founded in Montana Rockies. The next day he woke up at his luxury fishing rand near Cody Wyoming. Monday night he was back home home also being a relative term for Blixseth. He and his wife live on a 248 acre estate near Palms springs California that makes most five star resorts look puny by comparison. The estate called Porcupine Creek has a 30,000 square foot mansion, 12 guest cottages, a full service spa, two swimming pools, an Amphitheatre and of course the underground ball room. For their backyard, the couple has built a private nineteen hole golf course with club house. That golf experts rank is one of the best in the country. The estate grounds are carpeted with emerald green grass, fountains, burbling streams, water falls and more than a million exotic flowers. All the more remarkable for being in the middle of the desert. Tim Blixseth is a leading member of the new over achieving over class, like many of today's "Richistanis" Blixseth has all the trappings of the life of leisure, multiple vacation homes, planes, boats and cars and he is got enough money to last generations, yet Tim had little time to enjoy it. He is always building a new home, launching a new company, sketching out of new business plan on his dinner napkin, he is a serial entrepreneur and a project addict. He is always looking for the next big problem to solve and industry to reinvent. He bounds upstairs two at a time, fidgets in his chair and rarely sleeps in the same house or boat or jet two nights in a row. He fires up e-mails at 3:00 AM and keeps his drivers and pilots in a constant state of panic as they try to keep up with this daily movements. You can always hear Tim approaching because of their urgent beeps and shouts from his staffer's radios. Blixseth and his kind of reinventing the leisure class. The idle rich are being replaced by the workaholic wealthy. They don't have the time or patience to putter around the croquet court or sip away the hours in the polo box like old money. In an economy driven more than ever by competition and innovation, the people who succeed tend to be those who thrive on risk, reinvention and brutal hours. They climb their way up from the middle class and continue to define themselves by their 18 hour days and outsize productivities. For Richistanis work has become their play and play has become their work. Yards and jets are now loaded with communications geared to allow the rich to keep working even if they are floating in the Mediterranean or soaring above the Atlantic. The new crowd in Palm Beach spends as much time in their laptops as they do on the golf course. When I asked a hedge fund manager in Greenwich whether he joined the local yacht or country club, he replied "And do what? Sit around in white pants and a blue blazer and complain about the government, not for me." I am just going to skip it skip it ahead so just just to be quick about Tim and how he made his money. He grew up in Oregon, made his money in Timber. And retired when bankrupt, retired again and and then sold out his company for $40 million. Eventually, started the yellow stone club, which became a huge real estate playing for him which is now a global club with the resort both in Montana as well as Italy and France and Mexico. For all his wealth, Tim Blixseth hates being labeled rich. Rich people, he says are stuffy pretentious and out of touch. By the way, he is worth $1.2 billion. 'Richistanis' like to think of themselves as ordinary people, albeit with extraordinary fortunes. They go out of their way to appear normal. Richistanis wear polo shirts, casual slacks and open collared dress shirts forsaking the old uniform of monogram shirts and suits. As one Palm Beacher told me "suits are for the people who work for me", and journalists I suppose, Richistanis describe themselves as "down to earth" even as they take off in their private gulf streams, as the billionaire vulture investor David Tepper told the Wall Street Journal recently "I am just a middle class dad trapped in a rich man's body". Blixseth is equally disparaging of the rich. He says, I don't like most rich people, they can be arrogant. Wealth, he adds, can bring up the worst or best in people making them a more exaggerated versions of themselves. He says "money is like a truth serum". It brings out people's true nature. So if somebody is already at jerk, they become more of a jerk after they are rich. When I remind him that he is a billionaire, he says "when people say that, I think they are talking about someone else". Billionaire is a number that sounds so far in horizon, it doesn't even sound real to me. At the same time Blixseth's life style is expanding more quickly than he can keep track. One night over dinner, I asked Tim and Edra - "How many house staffs they employ at their house in California?" He said, "Well, with the maids and the security guys and the spas staff and the kitchen and everything, probably about 60 or 70". Edra interrupts, "it's more than that". Tim says "more?" She says, "I just counted yesterday, it's a 105". "If it's a 105", he said, "We have a problem". She said, "It's a 105". He smiled, "Then we have a problem" knowing that is really not a problem. So that's Tim Blixseth and now if Jared wants to come up as all of you may read in the "The Denver Post" that - the biggest chapter in this book that relates to Colorado is about politics. And I found in the story of Jared Polis a very hopeful sign for the way wealth is becoming involved in politics. For ages we assume that the wealthy got involved in politics to tilt the system in their favor. They wanted to lower taxes, they wanted to deregulate business, they wanted special favors for their companies. Jared represents a new breed of politicians like Michael Bloomberg who started down the road of philanthropy and realized that they can do so much more by joining in government and getting elected or supporting the candidates that that really believe in often creating opportunity for everybody and so the reason I used his story and that of Colorado in the 2004 election is because I think there is a new breed of liberal democratic progressive super wealthy in America who are getting involved in politics for very different reasons and I invite Jared to speak about that if he he likes. Well you know I I will just share a few perspectives on on on wealth and I you have probably read that particular chapter in the book one of the interesting things you see my my name tag is like as I - don't always talk a long on the name tag I am running for congress that's why I am going around the name tag now I just went through morning that I am going to another after this and I always have you know three or four every night and I apologize if I have to leave this one a little bit early but you know there are preconceptions that people have about about wealthy people and combatting them is one of the things that I have to do so it works it's both your advantage and your disadvantage but there is certainly the perception that that wealthy people are are jerks, in my experience - it - you know I think there is really no correlation, I think there is plenty of poor people that are jerks, there is plenty of wealthy people that are jerks and you know there is plenty of wealthy people that are great and there is plenty of poor people that are great, I think it's - the way I see it, is kind of the same way I would see race or gender or sex orientation anything like that where just - it just doesn't it doesn't matter I mean the the numbers in your bank account are not the measure of a person, neither is - you know their their religion or their their race or there are just they are just the attributes of the person and then I think they are able to get their message out once we we meet people and sort of shatter some of their preconceptions about what it might mean to be wealthy. I mean with honesty, probably like other people on the book, I don't spend much time thinking about being wealthy, I don't really think I have counter played it even for hardly a moment probably here speaking to you now, is why the most I thought about it in in years but you know other people obviously do think about that but I think, by living by living my life in a way where I don't, it doesn't effect how I act or what I do I think that is to a certain extent contagious I mean other people probably you know pick up on that and and perceive that the same way, I will talk a little bit about my personal paths sort of from philanthropy to the public sector which Robert hit on as well and and then sort of why - why I do that. A lot of the philanthropy I have been involved has been a very aggressive form of philanthropy, a very entrepreneur form of philanthropy because I am entrepreneur and started 16 companies and and and I started several schools so the way you can do in the the education sector as entrepreneurs you can start, a charter school, it sounds like well I can start a charter school so I learned that while I was on the state board of education which was like to two instead of for six years, so I started some charter schools to serve some of our most at risk youth like I I have four charter schools called new America school that serve new emigrants of the country that are sixteen to twenty years old and they don't speak English and they were not being served by the regular schools I also started a school for homeless youth in Denver, it serves about 80 students, the health academy of urban learning - The new America school has over a 1000 students this year in its four campuses across the Denver Metro area. So when I looked at why do I need to as an entrepreneurs start these schools, the real reason is the federal government's education policy because the federal government actively discourages districts from creating innovating programs that pulls students who don't test well back into the system so it clearly are students don't test well right, an average student in New America school might have a fifth grade education in Guatemala and now they are 19, so they have the language barrier and they are several years behind academically and if a district - you know they requires out of the box thinking, whether it's to be day or night program, we have the free day care, for the young parents we have that - all these things that a regular school might not have or they simply cannot come to school, so a district that tries to be innovative in creative program that pulled their back in is slapped slapped on the wrist by the federal governments saying your test course went down, why did they go down? Well they can't just say oh we now we it's all these other students, that is the sole reason sole way in that that federal government evaluates schools and that's wrong so one of the reasons I want to go Washington is fix that underlying underlying problem with no child left behind on education, there's a whole list of other issues but this isn't apolitical audience but I wanted to share that one personal story about sort of how I I value that transition from from philanthropy into into the public sector and I think we both loved to have a discussion with you and talk about whatever attributes or aspects of wealth or politics or whatever else you like. So why don't we take questions for either of us until you have time to to stay so