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Who was Adolf Merckle and Why are we Writing about Him?

(We are delaying the upcoming series of blogs about the six psychological money traps for one week to discuss a dramatic story of Poverty Thinking)

Do any of you know who Adolf Merckle was? Last year, he was one of the wealthiest people in the world. And just a few months ago, he made the headlines for a different reason. This blog is dedicated to Mr. Merckle and the financial and life lessons he offers for all of us.

Merckle was a German billionaire who took over a family company with eighty employees in 1967. He turned it into a giant corporation with 100,000 employees. He owned Germany’s largest cement company and amassed a fortune of about twelve billion dollars! With the global economic meltdown, he lost six billion.

How many of you would be financially content with six billion dollars? Like myself, I assume you can answer that question in a New York minute.

After his loss, Merckle was negotiating with forty banks to get a bridge loan to refinance his investment company. Although he was consistently able to overcome adversity before, this time extreme Poverty Thinking overtook him.

He committed suicide by laying down on the tracks of a speeding train. The ironic conclusion to this story was that his bridge loan was approved less than two days later!

Why did he kill himself? According to a statement by his family, “The desperate situation of his companies… and his powerlessness to act, broke the passionate family entrepreneur…” One of his friends, Ernst Junger, said: “His companies were his life and when he was going to lose control of them he obviously felt he would lose control of his life, that is the only way I can see it.”

Our attempt to understand Merckle is based upon the idea that money means different things to different people. Very wealthy people usually derive a great amount of passion, meaning, purpose, self-esteem and even identity from money. When they lose a large amount and their identity and ego are highly wrapped up in their wealth or power, they usually become depressed. When they believe they are not going to regain their position (as Merckle did), their depression can become suicidal.

The purpose of today’s blog is to see what life lessons we can learn from Merckle’s suicide. Several that come to mind quickly are:

1) Our own lives are more important than money.
2) Relationships (and family) are more important than money.
3) Living in the present moment is more important than money.
4) Six billion dollars is more than enough.
5) When our identity is based upon something external that we cannot control, watch out!

Below are three interviews related to today’s blog:

The CNN interview on Anderson Cooper is where Dr. Gottfurcht speaks about the psychology of billionaire suicides. The Associated Press link afterward provides additional insights into how the wealthy are handling losing so much money. More importantly, in the Vanguard interview, Dr. Gottfurcht gives practical tips to help all of us to handle the economic turmoil.

Associated Press Interview

Vanguard Interview

We invite your comments about what Merckle’s story means to you, what you learned from it and what tools your are using to help yourself to handle these challenging financial times.

James W. Gottfurcht, Ph.D.

www.psychologyofmoney.com

Zoreh Gottfurcht

www.coachzoreh.com

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