You're standing outside a five-star hotel lobby. A blistering-orange McLaren glides into the breezeway with asphalt-shaking vibrations.
Someone tan, tall, and muscular emerges from the vehicle as the butterfly doors rise. Evidently, he didn't buy that sweater at JCPenney.
You've been watching this spectacle unfold before your eyes for about 20 seconds.
Here's my question: Is he rich?
My answer: Meh. Probably not.
Money isn't everything, but people sure do care a lot about it
For some reason, we have an obsession with wealth. Even though it's impolite to ask, we always wonder: How much money does she make? What's his net worth? How much is her house worth?
We all know money isn't everything. I can attest to that fact.
But in the hard-driving world of big business, huge deals, and power players, money is always on people's minds.
Some networking events feel like wealth competitions, with each person vying to prove that they're worth more than the next guy, while secretly hoping to meet someone who actually is rich so they can schmooze for a deal.
It's kind of disgusting.
I believe that every person in the world has value. Whether that individual has a 10-figure net worth or a negative net worth, they have true worth as a human being.
Yet the game goes on--who's the richest guy in the room, and how can you tell?
People try to fake it
When I was starting out in business, I was dazzled by displays of wealth. Since I was money-hungry myself, I tried to seek out people who looked like they had wealth.
I soon discovered that most of these wealth displays were pure show.
I would try to make business deals with showy people who actually had nothing to provide. In the big cities like L.A. and NYC, I met people who tried to appear as if the entire city was in the palm of their hand.
They would tell me about their "friends" (who invariably included people having the last name Icahn, Bloomberg, or Murdoch). I got an earful about their toys, which turned out to standard fixtures of the faux rich such as Ferraris, blingy watches, and SoHo penthouses.
They were full of it.
I learned to avoid these people, and sooner or later I naturally learned to spot ultra-wealthy individuals, even though my goal wasn't to befriend them or get to know them.
Here is how I learned to spot the truly rich. The tells aren't in what they do as much as what they don't do.
They're not that outgoing
Ultra-rich people don't go out of their way to meet others. This makes them harder to notice.
They're not overt in their behavior. In fact, they probably won't seek you out and try to talk to you. The richest person in the room is not the loud-talking guy making the rounds, glad-handing, and trying to get his business card into everyone's pocket.
Why not? Because the richest person in the room doesn't have a meet-and-greet agenda. They don't need to. They have nothing to prove.
This doesn't mean that they're rude. In, fact they probably have a very pleasant demeanor. But you won't see them flitting around with some agenda.
Most don't wear flashy clothes
A hallmark of the rich and famous is their glam wardrobe and expensive attire, right?
That's true only the night of the Oscars.
In their everyday wear, most rich people aren't trying to impress the world with trendsetting fashion.
They do possess a sense about their attire, which you can recognize by its subtle sophistication. They dress for comfort. Style is understated. Designer logos aren't evident. Darker colors are more common. Clothes fit well.
They don't name-drop
"Do you know my friend So-and-So?" "Yeah, I was at So-and-So's house the other day." "The other day, when So-and-So and I went out for drinks ... "
This is shameless name-dropping, and it's just the kind of thing that rich people avoid. It's easy to spot, because it's such an overt tactic designed to impress other people. It's an automatic disqualification from the who's-rich lineup.
If your name is being name-dropped, then you might be rich. If you are the one name-dropping, you're probably not rich.
They don't talk about their money or possessions
When you're accustomed to nice things and large amounts of money, you don't feel the need to talk about it.
I saw the opposite behavior one time. I took a restroom break while having dinner at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. While washing my hands at the sink, I saw a guy wearing a watch with more diamonds on it than I had ever seen at one time.
"Wow, that's a lot of diamonds!" I complimented. "Yeah, man, that's how I roll!" he responded. "I've never seen a watch with that many diamonds on it. Looks cool ... unique!" I said.
He glanced at my wrist and noticed my watch. "Oh, you're wearing a Patek Philippe." It was a six-figure watch, but it didn't have any diamonds. "What do you do?" (This question is often a thinly veiled way of asking, "How much money do you make?")
I responded, "My job is boring, I do internet stuff."
We walked toward the restaurant and kept talking. He tried to impress me with all of his successes and accomplishments. He started name-dropping celebs, told me all the Hollywood stars who would be at the party he was going to that night, talked about his cars, and started talking about doing business together.
"Hey, you and I can make an app together," he said. "We'll brainstorm for a couple of hours. Then, I'll call up some investors, where I can easily get together one or two hundred thousand dollars. Then we'll chill at the party. This home has got a sick view, and basically everyone is driving Ferraris and Lambos."
I should have shut down the conversation at that point. The guy was a dead-end.
Later on, I had my assistant look him up. It turned out that he was a party leech, a showoff, and a bankrupt failure who attempted to impress his way into the pockets of the rich and famous.
The wannabe rich feel like they have to talk about their riches, because they harbor a sense of insecurity. Those who are truly successful don't have these misgivings, and so you won't hear them talk about their wealth.
They don't care if you've heard of them or not
Once, while attending a reception in a hotel at Beverly Hills, I met a guy in the elevator. It was obvious that he was famous, but I didn't know who he was or what he did. He was wearing a large chain with an "XO" pendant, totally iced out.
"Nice chain!" I said. "What does it stand for?" "The Weeknd," he told me. I thought he was on drugs, so I murmured something about it actually being Tuesday. "No, man. It's the Weeknd," he said. "Um, I am pretty sure it is Tuesday," I said. "I have a business meeting."
I honestly wasn't sure what was going on. "Google it," he said as the elevator door opened, and he walked out. He wasn't concerned about whether I knew him or not, but as soon as he walked out, I Googled it on my phone: "The weekend xo"
I had been talking with a famous R&B artist who misspells weekend but is worth tens of millions.
Many celebrities and rich people are exhausted by the attention they get, so they try to avoid it whenever possible. If you don't fawn over them, ask for their autograph, or talk about how much you "respect their work," they'll be just fine with it.
They hang out with people who force them to level up
Have you heard the expression, "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room"?
Rich people seek out people who are smarter than they are in some area. This doesn't mean that they are looking for other rich people to hobnob with. Instead, they are looking for smarter people to learn from.
They tend to talk about what they are learning or experiencing
What do rich people talk about when they get together? The length of their yachts? The company they bought yesterday?
No. Their conversations mostly have to do with things they are learning. Their preferred topics seem intellectual rather than practical, and have little to do with money.
The richest people I know are also some of the most humble people.
With wealth comes a realization that there is a lot more to life than just money. Truly wealthy people don't feel a need to flaunt it, show it, talk about it, or prove it. Money is what it is--a tool, a means, but not the end-all and be-all.
As it turns out, it's hard to tell who's rich, because they might be hiding it.
Then how do you meet them? Let's face it. Most of the people you meet at gala receptions and glitzy gatherings aren't going to bring deep value to your life.
Instead, focus on your craft. Zero in on one thing. Hone your skills until you're the best in the world. Get really, really good at what you do.
When you possess an outstanding skill, you attract the attention of people who respect skill, hard work, and worthy achievement.
Eventually, the rich people will come and find you. You don't need to spot the richest person in the room after all.