The Undercover Millionaire

“These people cannot be millionaires! They don’t look like millionaires, they don’t dress like millionaires, they don’t eat like millionaires, they don’t act like millionaires–they don’t even have millionaire names. Where are the millionaires who look like millionaires?”
~ VP of a trust department, after dining with several first-generation millionaires

The above quotation opens Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko’s book The Millionaire Next Door in which they note the misconceptions many people have about millionaire lifestyles. Individuals with enormous net worth generally do not flaunt their affluence by driving Ferraris, purchasing multi-million dollar summer homes, or dressing according to fashion trends in Paris or Milan. Rather, they drive beat-up pickup trucks like Sam Walton or dine at McDonald’s like Warren Buffett. Indeed, in the low-consumption lifestyles of millionaires we glimpse a key secret of their wealth: humility.

Humble people rarely adorn the headlines. They self-consciously avoid the spotlight, preferring to make their contributions anonymously. Grace Groner epitomizes the ethic of low-profile leadership.

Hidden in Plain Sight

A child of the Depression, Grace Groner was orphaned by the age of 12 and raised by friends of her parents. She attended Lake Forest College in the Chicago suburbs and then worked 43 years as a secretary. Miss Groner resided in a small, one-bedroom home in Lake Forest, and actively volunteered at the First Presbyterian Church. She was a kind-hearted woman, oftentimes funneling money anonymously to needy families in the community. She enjoyed attending football games at her alma mater, and she had many friends throughout Lake Forest.

At the age of 100, Grace Groner passed away. She had arranged for the proceeds of her estate to be given to Lake Forest College. The college was aware of her intentions, but jaws dropped when the school realized Miss Groner had bequeathed $7 million dollars to it! Hardly anyone had been aware of the simple woman’s net worth, and her lifestyle certainly didn’t indicate her riches.

Back in 1935, Miss Groner had purchased $180 in stock, and the investment had, over the course of time, multiplied into a sizeable fortune. Although by no means a miser, Miss Groner was frugal, content to live with only a few items of furniture and an outdated television set. By living simply, she was able to give generously. Her donation to Lake Forest College is allowing thousands of students to have study-abroad and internship opportunities that never would have been open to them otherwise.

The lesson of humility given to us by Grace Groner is this: To see the smallness of our own needs and the bigness of the needs of those around us.

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