S1:E31 | Ruling Your Wealth: How to Approach and Understand Key Issues Surrounding Inherited Wealth

Guest Speaker(s): Chip Fisher, Life Consultant, Ursus Advisory
Host: John A. Warnick, Esq., Founder, Purposeful Planning Institute


Chip Fisher advises on understanding and valuing the origins of family wealth and the associated challenges. He emphasizes building genuine relationships within and outside one’s economic peer group, including friends and partners. Fisher stresses the importance of selecting a life partner who comprehends the responsibility of wealth and values you beyond financial status. Additionally, he suggests understanding and relating to parents and siblings, managing tensions, and fostering personal independence and self-worth. Fisher highlights the significance of hobbies, interests, clubs, and third places for personal development and gaining perspective. Overall, his guidance aims at becoming a well-rounded individual with depth and breadth in life experiences.


Chip Fisher is an independent life consultant to UHNW NextGen’s, helping them navigate key topics which are the foundations of understanding inherited wealth. The discussion of these topics is key to creating a framework to manage one’s perspective on this daunting subject.

JOHN A: Well, good morning, everyone. I’d like to welcome you to our Purposeful Planning Institute Podcast today. I’m John A. Warnick, your host and founder of PPI. And the title of our podcast today is Ruling Your Wealth, How to Approach and Understand Key Issues Surrounding Inherited Wealth. And we have an eminently qualified guest to share this conversation with Chip Fisher, and Chip, rather than read your bio, if you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you to this is a little bit of a Purposeful Planning Institute tradition to ask our guest, if you’d be willing to share what we call your purposeful Odyssey, that’s the the journey of your life, how you got to where you are today, how you’re serving today. I think that would really give us some very helpful background for the conversation we’re going to have around inherited wealth. 

CHIP: Sure. Thanks, John A, and thanks for having me on the show. So this is my background: In essence, I grew up in New York. My father was a very successful businessman in the electronics business. He sold the company in the 1960s and he became a major philanthropist. I’m one of three children, I grew up in Manhattan (where I live now), and I sort of have studied this subject for a long time. I felt I inherited money when I was 21 and I really had an interest in studying the whole subject from that time forward of how money affects people, especially me. And so I thought about this very carefully. I felt it was not, let’s say, a luxury but a necessity to really understand the psychosocial aspects of wealth. I didn’t necessarily think I would become the life consultant I have today, working with ultra high net worth clients, but I did, at some point, think that I might, in the back of my mind, and now I’m enjoying doing that work and I’ve been doing it for the last 18 months. So, my journey really begins with understanding kind of how my father made his fortune, how wealth affected him or didn’t, in some ways, and basically trying to understand the whole world of wealth and how it’s made, how it’s spent, how people are influenced by it. And it’s really kind of a very interesting topic. One of the things that was fascinating to me sort of, unfortunately, kind of sad to me is that very little had been written about this subject. Certainly the time when I inherited money, there are many more books. There are dozens of books that are being written now. Not all of them are from people who came from money. The only one that I have read that I really loved in that category, certainly in the time that I was thinking about these subjects, was in the 90s, which is Paul Mellon’s seminal book, Reflections in a Silver Spoon, which I still think is classic. It seems, in some ways, a little bit dated today but this is a man who inherited a vast fortune, as many know from which was made by his father, Andrew Mellon, who became Secretary of the Treasury and was a very successful banker. But he came from a sort of a cold fish environment and he had to try to figure out all of the psychosocial aspects of money, and was one of the first people apparently in his generation, the 1950s, to go into analysis and really try to explore this and then wrote this fascinating book. The outcome of that book, the two lessons that I learned from that, amongst others, where that money really only buys you two things: time and privacy, and little else. And in this age, where there’s less privacy, it may just be time. But time is a really interesting topic, and I don’t want to get too far into that right now. But it’s sort of that you essentially have a luxury to do things that other people don’t have. There are only 24 hours in the day, 365 (days) a year, and so how you use your time and how you live your life is something you have to really think about, and think about very carefully. So I came to this, essentially, by self analysis and observation. I’ve always been fascinated with people, societies, certainly New York is so amazing in its multicultural diversity. You see people with different classes, I tend to love observing. So I’m someone who, obviously, can afford to just take cabs or Uber or whatever. And I take the subway and buses all the time, because I’m very interested in seeing what’s going on in a city of 8 million people. I feel very fortunate in that regard that I’m not living in a gated community and social isolation. So when I grew up in New York, New York was really kind of a hot mess in the 70s, and so I sort of always had this slightly Dickensian view of the world. That there are people from different backgrounds. Some people are suffering, it’s unfortunate, but that’s life and that’s the world. And so you have to try to do what you can to improve people’s lives, which is what I’m doing in business, and really try to understand how you can use wealth to your own benefit, personally, psychologically, and also, in some ways, many ways help others. But one of the reasons I segwayed into this is that I’m involved with an organization, that social organization where there a lot of younger people in it, and many of all ages, but a lot of young sort of people in their 20s. And some of great means, who in my sense were sort of struggling with these subjects. And so I felt because I had struggled with these subjects, these points that I’m going to get into that it would be very useful to have someone who’s not classically trained. I’m not.  I’m sort of a Life Consultant but I don’t have any classical training. I tell people that. And I’m speaking from personal experience, and that’s where I’m coming from. I’m not competing with them, and in some cases, people really do need professional help, psychologists and psychiatrists. I’m coming at it from a very personal narrative. So these are peer-to-peer conversations. That’s really what I do. So that’s basically where I came from and I’ve been fascinated by the subject for a long time, and now even more so in deep conversation.

JOHN A: Chip, that’s a wonderful way to start. I appreciate your purposeful Odyssey. Several things I want to just touch on, and then we’ll dive into the topic directly. First, a shout out to Jo Reilly. Chip was featured on Jo Reilly’s inheritance podcast. And that’s, I think, in part how I became aware of Chip. And then we had an amazing conversation that sparked my interest in inviting Chip to do what we’re just now about to do. The other thing I would say is there is another book out there that came a little bit later than the Mellon book, quite a bit later, in fact. This individual Thayer Willis Cheatham has actually written two books. The first book is the one that got all the headlines for its title, which the publisher chose, which is Navigating The Dark Side of Wealth. And the second title, which when she 10 years later had time to reflect on what she really wanted to write and rather than what the publisher felt would make it a bestseller. She changed the title to Beyond Gold, and really enhanced the book in a major way by including lots of exercises. So I only throw that book out there because it is another fascinating read that I think would be valuable to listeners if you’re enjoying what Chip shares with us today. Now, the other thing I’ll say is that when you spoke of what you learned from Mellon, those two key points, I wonder if we shouldn’t think of wealth as the currency of opportunity. That’s really at the end of the day, it certainly doesn’t guarantee privacy as you pointed out, and from the time aspect, it really is this liberating career sea of opportunity that it brings. So Chip, help us appreciate and understand, Fisher electronics was the name of the company that Chp’s father founded in, ran, and eventually sold, and that generated the wealth that Chip has benefited from and is using purposely to fashion a wonderful life. But speak a little bit to them about the unique challenges that come with that, and perhaps, how you would suggest to anyone who is inherited wealth, they build genuine and honest relationships both within and outside their economic peer group. 

CHIP: Sure. You have to really approach wealth, John, as an uptown problem. That’s where you have to start. And a lot of people don’t do that. They feel that this is a great  heavy weight, and it is, for many, a weight for many, and maybe in some cases, all people who inherited money because they are starting from a standpoint where some of them, if they’re competitive, begin to then compete with their fathers or their mothers and wish to try to make more money or become more famous or whatever. And so that’s a struggle. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to do all those things. You have to do something, and you have to push yourself forward. We’ll get to those details in a second. But basically, you have to recognize that you have a situation where you’re very fortunate not to have to worry about paying your rent, or depending on the zeros, of course, but paying your rent or having a reasonable lifestyle. There’s a statistic, although some people have challenged it, that there’s sort of a level in this country financially, which if you surpass it for four people:, the incremental, your stress drops dramatically, because you don’t have to choose between: paying your rent, or paying heat or putting food on the table. But once you pass a certain point, for most people, the incremental increases in happiness, based on the presence of money, are not that great. Now, that’s been challenged somewhat recently. But it’s as much as I’ve studied people with money in New York or elsewhere. I think it’s pretty much true, that really sort of happiness comes from within, and you have to recognize your good fortune and do what you can to live a good life and whatever, and deal with all of the things that I think people should deal with. So they’re the spokes of the wheel, in terms of kind of ruling your wealth, art as follows. I think this is the easiest way to get into conversation. These are the most important topics to me, and then ideas that I discuss very openly with clients, how to understand and appreciate the origins of your family’s wealth, and the unique challenges posed by its creation. I think this is critical, I think you have to start with understanding where you came from, where your money came from, why it was created, who created it and how, because it gives you an appreciation for going from zero to whatever the number is, and how long that took. And my father was very good about explaining the course of the empire in terms of building his business, which is a very challenging thing. And really maybe it might have been a little bit too much of a heavyweight for like a 15 or 16 year old, but I appreciate it now that I realized how great a struggle it was. One of the things that he said to me. He said two very fundamental things when I inherited money, he said, “You will never know and you’ll never understand unless you try to do this yourself, which I have. And I successfully in some cases not built four or five businesses, how hard I had to work to make this money. You will never understand it until you do it yourself. So don’t screw it up.” The second thing is, he said, and this is really one of the best for someone who really wasn’t that intuitive emotionally, this is probably the best thing that he ever said to me. He said, “You’re inheriting a lot of money now and with my money and my fame, is a backdrop. And the fact that you want to live in New York, I would not want to be in your shoes. I don’t envy you being my son.” He said, “You have a very heavy weight, trying to either compete with me or be in my shadow or whatever. And sometimes I don’t feel sorry for you because you’re getting something really great here. But you shouldn’t try to, you really shouldn’t spend your whole life trying to replicate what I’ve done. That would be an unhealthy move.” And I thought that was an incredibly intuitive thing to say from someone who wasn’t generally intuitive. And so I really gained an enormous amount of respect for him. And he and I were very close, even though we were different generations, he was much older. I was born when he was 50, which is easily 60 today, so there was a huge generational gap. And he died when I was 37. So I really didn’t have the benefit of his counsel for a while, but we were so different in terms of generations and perspectives. That it was hard for him to be helpful in many regards, although he tried. And I appreciated the lessons that I’ve learned. So the second point is, what do you think you’d like to do in life, how to pursue directions within the confines of your best skills. So I’m not a I’m not a career counselor. But I am very good at helping clients eliminate bad choices. When you have the ability to do everything, you immediately feel empowered, as I did. In certain cases, making certain decisions about businesses, you think that because you have money, you can sort of ride through problems. You can do that up to a point. The emotional energy involved in managing businesses or managing enterprises, whether it’s business or nonprofit, or whatever, is enormous and you have to be ready to sign on to take on the challenge and complete it. I think some people are, and some people aren’t. I was even in my worst nightmare running a small business in New York, when I had an enormous challenge when I first started. I really challenged myself to say, “Do I need to do this?” And the answer was, “No, I didn’t really need to do it.” But I felt like I should stick it out because I’d already invested money and time. And I wanted to make it work. And I did, but it took a long time, as has my current business in the mental medical device field in mental health. So you have to kind of think about what you want to do and you have to eliminate bad choices. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take risks. You should, but you should understand what you’re going into and realize and try to figure out whether you’re really all in for a real struggle, or not. And if you’re not, you shouldn’t beat yourself up without trying to do something. But where your goals are a little bit more modest, you can have a much more pleasant life doing that. Friends, partners, and how they relate to you and how you relate to them feeds into your wealth and how that affects your relationship with him. I think a lot of young people that I see today have a really hard time because a lot of people know who they are and are aware that they have money, and react to them very differently than if they were a more modest means. And you have to really figure out who your friends are, and who are the ones who enjoy your company for your company. And you can’t buy your friends. I see clients taking friends out because they’re the ones who have the money and paying a 900 dollar bar bill or whatever, club something like that. And you can’t find your friends and you shouldn’t. When you hang out with friends who are of lesser means, for example, you have to do things that they can afford, not what you can afford. If you want to hang out with wealthier friends, where you’re on par with everyone else, that’s a different narrative and a different set of people. But you have to be very careful about that. And the same thing is true with partners in terms of how they perceive you, and whether they’re on board, and more about that later. So choosing a life partner based on the presence of wealth, understanding the need for someone who can comprehend this responsibility, I think that it’s a very important topic. And a lot of people in our world where everyone’s trying to be more open and not kind of stick to people that they know or marry the guy next door or the girl next door, whatever. That they’re trying to embrace the broader world, which most people when you go to college now, you’re in a much more diverse population in most schools, and nationally and internationally and which is a good thing. But it also leads you into situations where you’re interacting with people socially who may or may not understand the entire nature of a dynastic wealth, or what that is, which is kind of a heavy topic. And so you have to really choose carefully to understand. If you’re partnering with someone who’s not coming from money whether they understand those weighty responsibilities, and you have to do things in return to understand their world. Parents and siblings and your relationship with them and how their perspective about wealth may differ from your own and why that distinction is important. I think everyone is influenced by family members in terms of money, and how you live versus how they live, and how you deal with that. And it depends on what the purse strings are with your parents in terms of how much control they have over your spending. And whether you have to kind of adjust your perspective on wealth to theirs, either for your own survival, or just in terms of conversation, if not insulting, kind of going back to the origins of wealth, the people who’ve made it. And I’ve always been very respectful of the money I inherited. I didn’t feel it was necessary. I felt it was a multi-generational effort, not necessarily for me to potentially blow through whatever I inherited, and I haven’t. So that’s a very very important topic. And then the last one, which is really one of my favorite ones to talk about, is the importance of hobbies, interests, clubs, and associations and the meaning of third places. How to become a full person and gain breadth in perspective. I think in periods of social isolation, as we saw it in COVID in particular, but also the isolation that exists now with social media, email, everything else, people working remotely, the whole package. You have to really (and especially since you can’t afford it) seek out groups, organizations, hobbies, and things which will make you a full person. I think, if you look back at whether you liked these people or not, when you look at sort of early 20th century, late 19th century, successful business people, they all had very interesting interests, whether it was book collecting by JP Morgan. You can go on and on, and I don’t have a long list of them, but people felt that money was just one element of their success personally. That they needed to enrich themselves with learning, and developing social connections, to enhance not just for the purpose of building their wealth, but to enhance themselves intellectually and emotionally, and spiritually. And so I think that that is a really important thing that is often overlooked as perhaps a luxury, I think it’s a necessity. And so all of the associations that I have going back, all the way to college and through my adult life are based on making friends and having conversations with people in odd circumstances which enhance by accident, enhance your life, and you can enhance others. And so those are the really fundamental topics, but I’m happy to dive into any one of those in greater detail.

JOHN A: I think there’s so much there. You call them spokes, if I understood you correctly, that they kind of come from this kind of common origin of adapting to understanding, inherited wealth dealing with it. I think that was a very great introduction. And there are two areas that I’d like to explore before we want to run out of time today, Chip. One is, could you share the story of the naming rights story that you shared with me previously? I think that’s a marvelous kind of illustration of a very mature way to deal with the legacy aspects of inherited wealth. And then I also love to ask you another question to follow on around this choice of life partner. But could you share the symphony, all stories? 

CHIP: Sure, you mean how that all came about?

JOHN A: Yes. 

CHIP: Okay. So my father felt that he had made a substantial enough fortune that he wanted to give it back to the people who had helped build that fortune. And we had a fFisher Radio, which was an electronics business and they produced amplifiers, turntables speakers. They are available today, but not in the way they were because people listened to music on their phone 30 or 40 or 50 years ago. And so they were the premier account at the time. He was just deciding what he wanted to do as a gift and Lincoln Center in New York (which is a performing arts center, for those who don’t know), needed to renovate a hall, which had been poorly renovated. It had been poorly constructed acoustically. And so he gave third of his fortune actually, to do that, to clay, to create an endowment, also pay for the construction of reconstruction of the interior of the hall, which has now just recently been in its fourth or fifth incarnation 60 years later, and finally, they got it right. And they did get it right when he did it. But there are always little things that go wrong. And anyway, it was 90% when he did it. And then he did not originally want to have the hall named in his honor but Lincoln Center asked him to, because he was so carefully and historically connected to the world of music, and they felt it would be an enhancement to have his name on it, rather than someone who had hauled toxic sludge up the Hudson River, something like that. So it was a very good connection and then he was honored and did it. And it was terrific, and really enjoyed being part of the process of renovating the hall. He was on the board of Lincoln Center. We also have the Avery Fisher Artists Award Program, which is now, I believe, one of the two or three oldest Arts Awards programs in the country. It is a very prestigious award, which is given to rising musicians and also we have a lifetime achievement award for those who have been around a long time. So, it was very, very satisfying to him. And I think that in terms of philanthropy, if you’re someone who’s inherited an enormous amount of money, you have to think very carefully about the subjects that really affect you if you’re going to go into philanthropy, and you have to be very careful about who you give money to, and how, and why. And you have to be part of managing it. So that things are executed to your satisfaction. Because if you’re writing the check, you have every right to say what should be done, which is what he did. He didn’t want to give money to someone who would then just spend it randomly. And there are a lot of situations where that happens today. So he was very, very focused. And it was a very enjoyable thing for him to do as a follow on as sort of a later stage in life effort to to become a major philanthropist, and have an interesting name associated with music.

JOHN A: And then Chip, how did that eventually come back to you? You were faced with a dilemma

CHIP: Well, you mean later on?

JOHN A: Later on. 

CHIP: Are you talking about the renaming?

JOHN A: Yes. 

CHIP: Our family discussed this and agreed that this was the right thing to do, that the hall needed to be renovated. We were no longer in a position to do it financially at the level that he had. And we felt that others should be able to access money to renovate it, which they have very successfully. So we were pleased to let that happen. And we had to get permission, because that hall had been named perpetuity. So any legal challenge would have come from the heirs. And we absolve ourselves of that responsibility.

JOHN A: Which I think I love both sides of the story, the intention that your father had, and then the fact that recognizing, appreciating, and benefiting from the legacy that he had created, his heirs wouldn’t stand in the way of a renovation, and recognize that it was really the right thing to do to allow Lincoln Center to be able to raise the amount of money. The capital it would take to do the renovation. So just a shout out to you and your family for a very magnanimous decision. And I’m sure that would please your father, no doubt.

CHIP: I think we know it was in Andrew Mellon’s book, his biography. He thought about his father, when he made decisions and the famous line that he and his brothers used when they were making decisions because their father wasn’t around, “What would father do?” And I always remember that having read that biography, I think that he would have been very pleased, he would have felt that this was the right thing to do at the right time. And so we did what we felt he would like us to have done. It being his legacy, more than ours.

JOHN A: That’s a beautiful way to end this podcast. I love that, “ What would father have done?” I think we should all live so that our progeny would one day ask, what would we do? And we also need to guide ourselves by reflecting back to the values and the great decisions that our parents have made. Well Chip, we didn’t really get into depth around any of these, which leaves a very ripe possibility open, which is we have you back to explore some of the more deeply some of the hubs that you touched on. But I think the conversation was a very wonderful start, and we thank you for your time today. And with that, we’ll say goodbye. 

CHIP: Thanks, John. I’m ready for round 2, 3, 4, or 5, whatever, however deep you want to go on this. There’s much more to talk about but thank you for having me and great start, and I hope everybody appreciates the outline of the subject matter.

JOHN A: It was wonderful. Thank you.


CHIP: Thanks so much.

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