I’ve spent some time recently coming to grips with the new economic reality. It takes a chunk of a billion dollars to live a comfortable upper-middle class life style, as reported in the post Make my day. My attempts to respond with an attempt at humor have apparently caught the attention of the editors of the New York Times, and they have fired a new salvo over my bow.
Today’s New York Times has a front-page story,”Lure of Great Wealth Affects Career Choices.” It begins as follows:
A decade into the practice of medicine, still striving to become “a well regarded physician-scientist,” Robert H. Glassman concluded that he was not making enough money. So he answered an ad in the New England Journal of Medicine from a business consulting firm hiring doctors.
And today, after moving on to Wall Street as an adviser on medical investments, he is a multimillionaire.
We learn that Dr. Glassman decided there world would be a better place if he moved on from healing people to heaping his wallet to overflowing. Reading on, we find:
He (Dr. Glasman) won’t say just how much he earns now on Wall Street or his current net worth. But compensation experts, among them Johnson Associates, say the annual income of those in his position is easily in the seven figures and net worth often rises to more than $20 million.
“He is on his way,” said Alan Johnson, managing director of the firm, speaking of people on career tracks similar to Dr. Glassman’s. “He is destined to riches.”
Indeed, doctors have become so interested in the business side of medicine that more than 40 medical schools have added, over the last 20 years, an optional fifth year of schooling for those who want to earn an M.B.A. degree as well as an M.D. Some go directly to Wall Street or into health care management without ever practicing medicine.
“It was not our goal to create masters of the universe,” said James Aisner, a spokesman for Harvard Business School, whose joint program with the medical school started last year. “It was to train people to do useful work.”
We find further instruction on the art of noblesse oblige courtesy of John J. Moon, a managing director of Metalmark Capital, a private equity firm:
Still, Mr. Moon tries to live unostentatiously. “The trick is not to want more as your income and wealth grow,” he said. “You fly coach and then you fly first class and then it is fractional ownership of a jet and then owning a jet. I still struggle with first class. My partners make fun of me.”
Next time I fly in the coach section I will look for Mr. Moon, so he can let me struggle with first class, though I expect by that time he’ll probably have his own jet.
Not everyone finds it a struggle to deal with wealth. I recall reading some years back the obituary of Elanor Robinson Belmont, widow of August Belmont, Jr., an early investor in the IRT branch of the New York subway, as well as the creator of the Belmont Race Track. He had a private car to take him to the track, and Ms. Belmont showed panache in living with serious money:
A private railroad car is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately.
Fortunately, the New York Times offers a more balanced view, courtesy of the story, “The Ballad of Big Mike,” by Michael Lewis, that appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on September 24th.  It’s an inspiring story about a young black man, Michael Oher, who grew up in grinding poverty, but who is now destined to almost certain success in the National Football League, mainly because of the efforts of many people who took them under his wing, in particular Leigh Anne Tuohy:
Leigh Anne Tuohy grew up with a firm set of belief about black people but shed them for another — and you could tell exactly how it happened, except to ay, “I married a man who doesn’t know his own color.” Her father, a United States Marshal based in Memphis, reaised her to fear and loathe blacks as much as he did. The moment the courts ordered the Memphis City Schools integrated in 1973, he pulled her out of public school and put her into the newly founded Briarcrest Christian School, where she became a student it its first year. “I was raised in a very racist household,” she says. Yet by the time Michael Oher arrived at Briarcrest, Leigh Anne Tuohy didn’t see anything odd or even awkward in taking him in hand. This child was new; he had no clothes; he had no warm place to stay over Thanksgiving. For Lord’s sake, he was walking to school in the snow in shorts, when school was out of sssion, on the off chance he could get into the gym and keep warm. Of course she took him out and bought him some clothes. It struck others as perhaps a bit aggressively philanthropic; for Leigh Anne, clothing a child was just what you did if you had the resources. She had done this sort of thing before and would do it again. “God gives people money to see how you’re going to handle it,” she says. And she intended to prove she knew how to handle it.
Indeed, I just came across an interview that shows how one open-source entrepreneur is handling his new found wealth. In a flurry of fury, Dr. Marc Fleury has taken time off from learning to deal with his wealth by sharing his insight, Another 15 years of Java: JBoss’ Fleury on the GPL, IBM, patents and Microsoft, which says in part:
Sun was very open with its partners, “and polled them on how they should open the virtual machine. Our vote, as Red Hat JBoss, was to go GPL. I don’t want to take the credit for it, but we’re happy to see they’re doing the right thing.”
Dr. Fleury feels that much of the criticism that has been aimed at Sun has been unjustified.  “A lot of the Sun bashing really came from other private interests,” he said, “that like to paint themselves as the guardians of open source and Bad Sun as ‘a little bit saucy’, when in fact, within the JCP, the governing body of Java certification, open source people have been present since 2003. The input of the open source community, and how we work with the JCP has already been worked out. We were a key contributor to the [Enterprise JavaBeans] 3.0 specification, and we’re leading Web Beans, which is the way that next generation Web applications will be written.”
He was less generous about Sun’s critics. “IBM reacted negatively to the Sun announcement because IBM’s approach to open source is what we call ‘strip mining’, which is to let the open source community do things – then IBM comes and packages them, and adds proprietary code, and markets the result – witness WebSphere – so they have this dual strategy of proprietary products and low-end open source,” he said. This kind of strategy “usually works well with BSD style licenses where you can create, as a vendor, a competing offering that is proprietary.”
Dr. Fleury forgets to say he once worked for Sun.
I do take some offense at the “strip-mining” charge against IBM, which last I heard was a partner of Red Hat. IBM has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in open-source, including a substantial amount of it into Linux, to make Linux better. There is also Eclipse as well as many contributions to the Apache Software Foundation, such as the initial contribution of the Java database that once was known a Cloudscape and is now known as Derby
Perhaps Dr. Fleury has been distracted by his recent efforts to enrich the English language. He is after all, the inventor of the term “Professional Open Source:
JBoss, a division of Red Hat, pioneered the disruptive Professional Open Source model, which combines the best of the open source and proprietary software worlds to make open source a safe choice for the enterprise and give CIOs peace of mind.
I was apparently under the mistaken impression that the efforts of the Linux community over the last fifteen years, as well as those of the Apache Software Foundation over the last decade, were professional.
But his efforts are not in vain; indeed he has given his name to a new word: fleuridation.
1. Michael Lewis is one of my favorite authors. See especially “Liar’s Poker,” one of the great books about the Wall Street boom of the 1990’s; “The New, New Thing:A Silicon Valley Story,” about James Clark, co-founder of Netscape; and “Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life,” one of the best books ever written about the NFL.
2. Dr. Fleury is not a doctor of medicine, but the holder of a Ph.D. Paul Starr, author of The Social Transformation of American Medicine, points out that physicians were considered quacks until the arrival of medical education in the early 19th century. The graduates of the newly-formed medical schools insisted on being called “Dr.” to distinguish them from those without formal education. They did so quite effectively, so that today many people assume “Dr.” is reserved for medical doctors, even though anyone with a Ph.D. is entitled to be called “Dr.” I have found that dentists in particular make a point of using “Dr.” for non-physicians, so when I go to the dentist, everyone says, “Hi, Dr. Shields.”