Do Rich People Really Work?

For most of us who have "regular jobs" (in business-speak, we are), doing "work" means completing tasks in order to generate output/results.
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Answer by Patrick Mathieson, VC at Toba Capital

For most of us who have "regular jobs" (in business-speak, we are Individual Contributors), doing "work" means completing tasks in order to generate output/results:

  • Salespeople get on the phone in order to sell products.

  • Massage therapists give massages in exchange for cash.
  • Grave diggers put bodies in the ground so that their bosses don't yell at them ("what are all these corpses doing in the parking lot, Donald??").
  • Now let's upshift. What do Managers do? They organize the labor of other people to generate aggregate output (the combined output of many individuals):

    • A sales manager makes sure that the whole sales team hits its quota.

  • The manager of the massage parlor organizes the schedules of the therapists to minimize downtime/waste.
  • The director of the mortuary aligns bodies with graves with diggers to ensure maximum throughput of bodies into turf ("seriously, Donald, get these f**king corpses out of here!!!").
  • One more upshift... who are the very rich who don't work? In the capitalist world, these people tend to be the owners of equity & capital. They do work, but not the kind of task-oriented work that Individual Contributors do. It's a little more similar to what Managers do, except instead of organizing the labor of individual workers/people, they organize the efforts of entire companies and business entities.

    Have you ever heard the expression "what gets measured, gets managed"? It means that things get done better/faster when somebody is paying attention to them. I remember one time at my last job, Michael Dell (our CEO) came into the office for a day just to check on how things were going. Even though he was only around for a few hours, our work effort improved by 2-3x for weeks. Attention from the manager (or in this case, the manager of managers) spurred us forward to do better work.

    For the "very rich"/equity holders, it's exactly the same, except the attention is paid towards entire companies, not just teams or offices.

    The wealthy businessperson might own 10 companies. She spends her time deciding which of those companies needs to improve the most. Then, she spends her days paying attention to that company (showing up at the office, grilling the CEO, helping them hire some new executives) until things improve. And so on. The currency of the "very rich" is capital and time, and they spend most of their time deciding how to deploy these resources effectively.

    Well, and swimming in gigantic pools of money.

    Some people -- including my mom! -- have rightly pointed out that I'm only characterizing one type of "rich person", and that my definition of "not working" is rather loose. Those are both fair criticisms. What I attempted to do here was characterize the type of independently wealthy person that I come across most often in my life. There are certainly other types of rich people than the type I have described here.

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