Who Wants to be a Millionaire!

Nov 2, 2012, 11:49 a.m.


Don Schaefer, principal broker at commercial real estate company Schaefer + Associates LLC, says the wealthiest among us aren't always people you would suspect based on their lifestyles.

Don Schaefer is quick to point out that some of his richest friends are also some of the nicest people.

“The wealthiest people I know—and I’ve been privileged to rub shoulders with some extremely wealthy people—have also been the most down-to-earth,” says Schaefer, who, as principal broker in Scottsdale-based commercial real estate company Schaefer + Associates LLC, has dealt with enough high rollers to become quite successful himself.

“They’re people that you wouldn’t know, by looking at what they’re driving or what they’re wearing or even what they’re saying, are in that category.”

But Schaefer also knows others in “that category”—meaning the 1 percent, the small slice of American households that earn an average of $1.5 million a year and control 43 percent of the nation’s wealth—some flaunting their wealth, spending lavishly on expensive extravagances while the majority of the nation wrestles with unemployment or stunted earnings.

“I’ve seen examples of that,” Schaefer says. “But those are not the people that I make my friends.”

It’s easy to forget, amidst all the unfavorable caricatures we’ve lately come to identify with the super rich in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and Mitt Romney’s famously inelegant remarks against the “47 percent,” that not all millionaires are alike—or even know each other. In Arizona, home to 166,000 millionaire households, according to a 2011 study by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services, shaking hands with every millionaire—not to mention our handful of billionaires—could keep one busy for years.

Sure, there are some who fit the Rich “Uncle” Pennybags stereotype. Arizona’s newest entry on Forbes World’s Billionaires list, 61-year-old Go Daddy founder Bob Parsons (estimated net worth: $1.5 billion), has drawn criticism for shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe, supporting the unpopular SOPA anti-online piracy bill and running racy Super Bowl ads, despite his sizable philanthropic donations.

On the other hand, there’s nothing more delightful than strolling through the Dorrance Sculpture Garden outside the Phoenix Art Museum with Jacquie Dorrance, who, with husband and Campbell Soup heir, Bennett Dorrance (net worth: $1.9 billion), funded the transformation of the bland 90-foot long lawn sandwiched between the original museum and its added wings into an aromatic, playful work of art in itself.

Dorrance enjoys showing the good things her family fortune has been able to provide the community.

“I come here a lot for meetings, and I just walk through and there’ll be all these kids enjoying the space, and I’ll snap pictures of them,” she says.

But, like Schaefer’s more unpretentious friends, she demurs from talking about the Dorrance fortune. “Oh, I know that Bennett would never want to call attention to being a billionaire!” she says.

So how do you manage being wealthy today in a culture that has, some charge, demonized the American millionaire? You can “stealth shop”—limit your extravagant purchases to buying online or through private exchanges. But Schaefer says the best way for the rich to stay real starts with investing in things you personally love (he was an early fan of Apple, and bought stock when it was less than $90 a share) and foregoing things like a private jet in favor of the practical.

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