Wednesday, 25 June 2008

First-million story #9 - Be in love with your idea

In 1980, when the younger of her two daughters started kindergarten, Doris Christopher "started feeling this urge to get back to work." But not just any work. "I wanted to do something meaningful that had responsibility attached to it."

After months of deliberation, Christopher came up with a concept that accomplished her aim, and eventually put her at the helm of a $700-million business. She founded the Pampered Chef, a Chicago-area company with a sales force of 70,000 "kitchen consultants," who sell kitchen tools to guests during in-home demonstrations. Her company went big-time when it was sold to the Berkshire Hathaway investment group (Christopher remains as chairman), but she cooked up the idea around her kitchen table.

Christopher, a former home-economics teacher, loved cooking and teaching, but was wary of the demands of a full-time job. While brainstorming ideas with her husband, Jay, she noticed that friends often didn't have the small kitchen tools that she considered essential. "When people were in my kitchen, they'd ask, 'Where did you get this? Can you get one for me?' That was the notion that finally clicked."

Selling kitchen tools suited Christopher's background and her desire for flexibility, but her husband's entrepreneurial experience was critical. "My husband had the idea that you could try something and it might work, or it might not," says Christopher. "That was very helpful."

Borrowing $3,000 against a life-insurance policy, Christopher prowled the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, picking up good-quality kitchen tools at wholesale prices. At her first home show, in October 1980, she sold $175 worth of vegetable peelers, kitchen shears and other gadgets. By year's end, she had grossed about $7,000.

The business grew slowly. Says Christopher: "You have to be in love with your idea because you're going to spend a lot of time with it." It wasn't until 1987 that the Pampered Chef surpassed $1 million in annual sales. But "I was as busy as I wanted to be, and I was successful."

TIP #9: Enjoy what you're doing. Doris Christopher's affinity for cooking led her to found the Pampered Chef, a purveyor of kitchen tools.

Friday, 20 June 2008

First-million story #8 - Take desperate measures

A year and a half ago, Chip and Kim McAllister of Coto de Caza, Calif., were paddling furiously to stay afloat in their real-world version of "Survivor." Their company, an information-technology firm, had just gone bust, victim of a bad business partnership. Their house was in foreclosure. They had two kids at home and no jobs.

"In desperate times, you need to take desperate measures," says Chip, who came up with the idea of vying for a spot on "The Amazing Race," a reality show in which 12 couples take part in a stunt-packed race round the world. With time on their hands and nothing to lose, the McAllisters embarked on a six-week, country-hopping expedition that won them a cool million at the finish line.

Not bad for a pair of middle-aged desk jockeys. But their biggest challenge was competing against 9,000 other applicants to get on the show in the first place. To qualify, the McAllisters submitted a video that was eye-catching enough to make the cut. They also survived several tiers of interviews, culminating in a weeklong vetting by a team of producers. "They liked my husband's personality," says Kim. "He likes to talk."

Once chosen, the McAllisters spent $1,000 of their own money on equipment, then grabbed their new backpacks and set off on an adventure that included scaling cliffs, luging down mountains, trekking up ski slopes and scarfing down a stomach-churning two pounds-plus of caviar in one sitting. They won the race by booking a flight that got them to their final destination 10 minutes ahead of the second-place team.

Chip and Kim each got a check for $500,000, so they held a million bucks in their hands before paying about $350,000 in taxes. The rest of the money spared their house, valued at $1.8 million, from foreclosure, and they now have more than $1 million in home equity. They donated a portion of their winnings to their church and invested the rest in their business enterprises. Considered the most likable of the participants, the McAllisters have parlayed their TV exposure into a career as "inspirational speakers," giving lectures (for a starting fee of $7,500) on teamwork and how to build a successful marriage. (Learn more at www.chipandkim.tv.)

Aside from winning the money, Chip says he and Kim "enjoyed every single second we were on 'The Amazing Race.'" Even the caviar? "I enjoyed that after it was over."

TIP #8: Make your luck. Chip and Kim McAllister beat out 9,000 other contestants to win a million bucks on "The Amazing Race," a reality TV show.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

First-million story #7 - Invest a little and let it grow

Neil McCarthy started investing in the stock market when he was 34, in the depths of the 1970s bear market. "It got scary for a while," he recalls, "but my philosophy was to invest a little bit and let it grow. When stocks went down, I would buy more."

McCarthy contributed the maximum to both his IRA and his 401(k) at Union Carbide, where he started as a research chemist and got a boost from a 100% employer match. He and his wife, Maureen, who worked as a teacher for several years, continued to save for retirement, even while they were paying for their two sons' college educations.

Their big payoff came with the 1990s bull market. "Everything kept adding up and compounding, and then it doubled in three or four years," says Neil. "It was $500,000, and suddenly it was $1 million."

The McCarthys invested mostly in stock funds, but avoided technology companies. "People were going wild with Internet stocks, but it didn't make sense to me," says Neil, who did financial analysis when he worked in marketing for Union Carbide. "When I saw P/E ratios of 200 to 300, I thought it was absolute nonsense."

Their practical investing style preserved their millionaire status when the market crashed. They also benefited from a bit of fortuitous timing when Neil, who spent the last 14 years of his career working for BP Amoco, retired in 2000. He took his retirement payout as a lump sum and invested part of the money in an immediate annuity just before interest rates started to fall, getting a bigger payout than if he had chosen the company's pension annuity.

Neil, 65, and Maureen, 61, have $1.3 million in savings, which they haven't had to touch. Counting the annuity and Neil's pension from his 20 years with Union Carbide, they have a net worth of about $2.1 million. And that doesn't include their house in Roswell, Ga., valued at about $525,000, which is almost paid off.

The McCarthys are classic stock-market millionaires, reaping the benefit of steady investing through bull and bear markets. But one piece of simple advice made all the difference: "If you wait to save out of what's left over from your salary, it's not going to happen. Pay yourself first."

TIP #7: Don't cut and run. Steady investing through bull and bear markets helped Neil and Maureen McCarthy build a comfortable retirement kitty.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

First-million story #6 - I was trained to work hard

Petro "Pete" Kulynych made his millions the old-fashioned way: He started at the bottom, as the bookkeeper for a small hardware store in North Wilkesboro, N.C. Eventually, that store grew into the Lowe's hardware chain and he ended up a top executive.

Actually, Kulynych, 83, started below the bottom. The son of Ukrainian immigrants, he left Pennsylvania's coal-mining country after high school to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps and helped build the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Appalachians. "I earned $21 to $25 a month, and sent part of it home to feed other family members," says Kulynych. "I was trained to work hard."

He later moved to the National Park Service, attended the Merchant Marine Academy, got married, served in World War II, then used his GI benefits to pay for accounting school. In 1946, he was hired by two brothers-in-law, named Lowe and Buchan, who owned what was then North Wilkesboro Hardware. His starting salary was $25 a week.

As the first employee of the Lowe's chain, Kulynych was always on the executive team -- "We were all CEOs," he says. He became a managing director in 1978 and retired in 1983. Spending his entire career with one company never got boring, says Kulynych, because the company was growing by leaps and bounds, and because he did so many different things -- such as running the company's foundation and working on its retirement plan. "I enjoyed fulfilling our dream of expanding from coast to coast," he says of Lowe's, which now has more than 1,000 stores nationwide, with annual sales of more than $30 billion. "The man I went to work for in 1946 said, 'Stick with me and I'll make you rich.'" That might not be as easy to do today, but "you have that guy who started Microsoft in his college dorm room."

Kulynych's fortune grew with the company. When he retired, he not only benefited from the profit-sharing plan, but also had accumulated "lots of stock options from the early days." Because of splits and dividends, one share of Lowe's stock bought for $12.25 when the company went public in 1961 is now worth $28,000.

Like many members of his generation, Kulynych has always been cautious with money. "I never bought a Cadillac until I could write a check for it," he says. "I live in a small town and I don't stick out any more than the guy down the street who works in the service station."

One of his proudest accomplishments has been paying for the education of his two daughters, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. And he has spent lavishly on philanthropy, donating millions to two family foundations run by his daughters, Brenda and Janice. When he was told that teens in the North Wilkesboro area needed activities to keep them busy, he financed a teen center and theater and helped create a soccer field and skateboard park.

Being able to distribute considerable income "makes you get up in the morning and go to work," says Kulynych. "It's been a good life."

TIP #6: Take the long view. Over his 37-year career, Pete Kulynych rose from bookkeeper to a top executive of the Lowe's hardware chain.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

First-million story #5 - I knew I would have to earn this

Scott Patterson, star of the "Gilmore Girls" TV series, worked for years to get into the big leagues, honing his craft in small towns and throwing a curveball or two to keep things interesting. And that was just his baseball career.

Patterson pitched in the minor leagues during the 1980s, and came tantalizingly close to the majors. He was traded to the Yankees and then cut from the team.

Undaunted, he started a second long-shot career, moving to New York in 1986 to study acting. He worked with members of the Actors Studio and appeared in a couple of commercials a year to earn money to pay the rent. "I knew I would have to really, really earn this," says Patterson. "It turned out to be an endurance game."

He made a short-lived breakthrough in 1991, when ABC flew him to Los Angeles to audition for a TV movie, but that "crumbled very quickly." Back in New York, Patterson landed a few theater credits and then returned to L.A. He crashed on friends' couches and slept in his car -- a 1966 Pontiac Le Mans -- as he made connections that led to small movie roles and TV appearances. Eight years later, he says, he read for the part of Luke Danes, the male lead in "Gilmore Girls," and "I felt like I was home."

He didn't get rich the first year. "The money was good," he says, "though not as good as you'd think." But his salary has risen with the series' popularity, and as his character has grown. With a net worth in the millions, thanks to some astute investing, Patterson says he "can parachute out of this series and be pretty comfortable for the rest of my life."

Now Patterson shares his wealth by helping raise funds for a new pediatrics wing at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and for the National Children's Alliance. His advice: "Even when you've been pounded for 20 years, don't give up. If you stay in the game long enough, you get lucky."

TIP #5: Don't let setbacks get you down. It took actor Scott Patterson of "Gilmore Girls" 14 years and several big disappointments to become a Hollywood star.

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