A sign of the times: suicidal businessmen

So, I’m reading the (subscription-only) Wall Street Journal yesterday and there is a front page article on the suicide of a German billionaire.  Right next to it was a story of a real estate CEO who shot himself.  Right next to that was a list of other suicides of prominent businessmen, some of whom are mentioned in this article.

Two thoughts came to mind:  this is like the Depression when businessmen jumped off of buildings after the market crash.  And the other was of the line from Clarence the angel after he jumps into the water to save George Bailey in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life:  “Ridiculous of you to think of killing yourself for money.”

I wish every businessman (curious you never hear of a businesswoman killing herself) who is thinking of suicide could see the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  Or, even better, I wish they could hear the Gospel proclaimed to them.  What an incredible waste.

I imagine these people after they are gone looking back at such a decision and saying, “wow, I was sent to the Earth, and I made all this money, and the money became the single most important thing in my life, and when I lost the money I thought the world had ended.  But here I am, and I continue on, and now that money doesn’t seem very important after all.”

Please don’t get me wrong.  I understand that some of these people who committed suicide may have been suffering from an unbearable amount of shame.  They had family members and business associates and investors who counted on them and who would despise them for losing the money.  Some of them may have faced jail sentences.

But let’s look at the worst case for a billionaire who loses his billions:  he and his family will have to live in a modest house and drive a modest car.  If he is convicted of fraud, he faces years of trials and perhaps several years in a white-collar prison.  Yes, he will face incredible shame, but what will he have learned?  Perhaps he will have learned humility and perhaps, in a best-case scenario, he will find out what is really important:  the family members who stand by him and the friends who turn out to be real friends.

I write all this as somebody who has spent a fair amount of time around high-powered businessmen and near-billionaires in my career and business life.  Without seeming too judgmental, most of them do believe their money is the single most important thing in their lives and they can’t imagine living without it.  But there are some of us, who have spent a lot of time around great wealth but have chosen other paths, who see that life is much better without great riches.

Helaman 13: 21–22:  “For behold, he saith that ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them, and have not hearkened unto the words of him who gave them unto you. Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches.”

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

13 thoughts on “A sign of the times: suicidal businessmen

  1. Frankly, I wish the rich would spend more time caring about the poor by investing in job growth industries and philanthropy efforts. Even helping out the respective governments with more financial backing would make them useful. Other than overhead, millionaires and Billionaires have way too much personal fortune and do nothing to enrich anyone else. They literally have more money than they can ever use and then do nothing constructive with it.

    This isn’t an argument for forced distribution of wealth. However, I do think people should be more enraged that some have far more than what is needed for basic survival. I don’t have any pity on the super-rich. Let them kill themselves. They have seen more of life than most anyone on Earth and then treat everyone else as dirt. I don’t care how much money they give to causes. I will respect them when they do as Jesus requested of the rich young man; give it all away to live a life of true service. They can afford it and have a choice.

  2. In Joseph Conrad’s biographical Mirror of the Sea, he wrote of his early adventures smuggling in the Mediterreanean as part-owner of the Tremolino. In the end, the ship was trapped at sea by the coast guard due to an informant in the crew, and the crew escaped capture by wrecking the Tremolino and washing up on shore. The informant was the nephew of the senior sailor, Dominic Cervoni.

    He pulled the oar out of the ground and helped me carefully down the slope. All the time he never once looked me in the face. He punted us over, then shouldered the oar again and waited till our men were at some distance before he offered me his arm. After we had gone a little way, the fishing hamlet we were making for came into view. Dominic stopped.

    “Do you think you can make your way as far as the houses by yourself?” he asked me quietly.

    “Yes, I think so. But why? Where are you going, Dominic?”

    “Anywhere. What a question! Signorino, you are but little more than a boy to ask such a question of a man having this tale in his family. Ah! Traditore! What made me ever own that spawn of a hungry devil for our own blood! Thief, cheat, coward, liar–other men can deal with that. But I was his uncle, and so . . . I wish he had poisoned me–charogne! But this: that I, a confidential man and a Corsican, should have to ask your pardon for bringing on board your vessel, of which I was Padrone, a Cervoni, who has betrayed you–a traitor!–that is too much. It is too much. Well, I beg your pardon; and you may spit in Dominic’s face because a traitor of our blood taints us all. A theft may be made good between men, a lie may be set right, a death avenged, but what can one do to atone for a treachery like this? . . . Nothing.”

    He turned and walked away from me along the bank of the stream, flourishing a vengeful arm and repeating to himself slowly, with savage emphasis: “Ah! Canaille! Canaille! Canaille!. . .” He left me there trembling with weakness and mute with awe. Unable to make a sound, I gazed after the strangely desolate figure of that seaman carrying an oar on his shoulder up a barren, rock-strewn ravine under the dreary leaden sky of Tremolino’s last day. Thus, walking deliberately, with his back to the sea, Dominic vanished from my sight.

  3. Jettboy, it is one of those curiosities of life that people have so much while so many have so little. I don’t resent them for it — most rich people I know (and I know a lot of them) are pretty miserable. I also know a small number of the very rich who seem to use their money in good ways, helping the poor and performing service.

  4. Jettboy,
    This I can agree with:
    “Frankly, I wish the rich would spend more time caring about the poor by investing in job growth industries and philanthropy efforts. ”

    The rest of your comment was drivel. Have you followed Jesus’ request to give up everything you have to live a life of service or are you ok being a hypocrite who demands something of others that you refuse to do.
    Your callous disregard of human life makes me wonder if you really “mourn with those that mourn.” or whether you “covet your neighbor’s house.”

    “I don’t have any pity on the super-rich. Let them kill themselves.” How is this any different than someone who writes “I don’t have any pity for the poor, let them work and enrich themselves.” Don’t think me rich either, but this kind of hypocrisy enrages me.

  5. NOYDMB, I agree with your comment but don’t agree with the rage. “Contention is of the devil.” Rage comes from the bad guy. Don’t worry, be happy.

  6. If money is a curse, I can only hope to be blessed with such a great trial whereby I might learn to be a better person. :-)

    I can’t imagine killing myself over the loss of money, but as you see, I am one merely with sufficient money for my needs.

  7. I was just about to mention that Naismith. There has also been more recent studies suggesting the recessions don’t increase the suicide rate at all. However people, presumably because of stress, return to activities once given up. (Smoking, drinking, gambling, etc.)

  8. Naismith, you make an excellent point. I am re-reading Amity Shlae’s book “The Forgotten Man,” which points out that there were fewer suicides in 1929 (when the market crashed) than in 1928 (in the middle of the economic boom). The reason I mentioned it is simply the image that comes to mind from the Depression of people killing themselves because of losing all that money.

    I will point out that there were probably not that many billionaires killing themselves in 2006 (a boom year relatively).

  9. Didn’t President Hinckley once remark on a visit to Chicago during his depression, where a guide showed him a building and said something to the effect that “every week, somebody jumps off”?

    Not that that proves anything . . .

  10. Wow, let me rephrase that:

    Didn’t President Hinckley once make a remark about a visit to Chicago during the depression, . . .

  11. What the Great Depression didn’t have is the 24 hour gloom and doom news reporting. I’m glad to hear jumpers are myth though. As sad as this is, my first thought about the current suicides is how willing they are to leave their families alone to face what they can’t.

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