Be Smart About How Lucky You Are



I asked a wealthy client about the beginnings of his fortune. As a child, he accumulated $600 through odd jobs and gifts. While in college in the early 1960s, he invested this savings into the stock market. By the time he got out of school he had multiplied his stake into enough cash to support himself for years, travel to Europe, and finance his first business.

I remarked, “Even in the go-go bull market of the 60s, that is an amazing return. You must have made some very smart investments. Why didn’t you continue onto a career in investing?”

My client is not a modest or self-effacing man, but he does see events clearly. He replied, “I did make some good investments, but I was smart enough to know I was lucky.”



Maybe this is why we use the same word, fortune, for both “chance” and “wealth.”



See also, The Lucky Rich on this blog.



Be Cautious of Conceited Counselors

Stock Bubble

During the Internet bubble, I assisted with a large event for entrepreneurs by working the registration desk. It was busy until a few minutes after the speech began, a How I Did It presentation by an executive at a suddenly large dotcom.

One of the organizers said, “I can handle the late arrivals. Go in to hear the talk.”

“That’s okay,” I replied. “You go.”

“Don’t you want to hear it? He’s one of the founders!”

“Why would I want to hear him? All he can tell me is what he thinks is the reason it worked, but he doesn’t actually know. He got lucky but believes he’s a genius.”

Too many successful business people do not realize that being struck by lightning doesn’t make you an expert on electricity.

We all make thousands of decisions and take millions of actions. After assessing the results as a “failure” or a “success,” we attribute the outcome either to (more…)

Lucky, Rich Alumni



Chicago Booth Business School

The winners of the Distinguished Alumni Award at a top business school were asked, “What leads to success in business–a lucky experience or a series of planned decisive steps?”


Chicago Distinguished Alumni

These Chicago Booth graduates:

  • Broadway producer
  • Goldman Sachs COO
  • Harley-Davidson CEO
  • Morningstar COO

easily agreed:


It is luck.



Give yourself some slack. Success involves chance as well as virtue.



Luck plays a meaningful role in everyone’s lives.

–James Simons
#1 Hedge Fund Manager