It was a perfect Sunday summer afternoon for a barbecue to honor a young man who had worked so hard to achieve his dreams. The sun was shining and the temperature hovered around seventy-five degrees. Friends and family were gathered together, some of whom had not seen each other for years. Kids played in and around the swimming pool and the smell of burgers wafted through the backyard. Perfect.
Marcus Drake had a lot to be thankful for. His parents, Bill and Margaret Drake, were classic middle-class, middle-America folks who'd worked hard to give their children a good life. Bill was an insurance salesman and Margaret had been a homemaker, staying home to take care of Marcus and his brother, Jack, who was two years younger. Margaret was part cook, part cleaning lady, part nurse, and part taxi driver to the two boys who were the love of her life. Bill was there for most of the boys' games and school events and did his best to get home for dinner with Margaret and the boys every night. The Drakes had the classic Ozzie and Harriet existence.
The barbecue was to celebrate Marcus's graduation from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and everyone was thrilled to be there. Few of the Drakes had gone to college, let alone business school. No, the Drakes were a simple family.
Marcus, however, wanted a different kind of life. He always had, in fact. In high school Marcus had been a three-sport athlete, lettering in football, basketball, and baseball, and had usually made all-league. But he wasn't good enough to get a full ride to a major college, so he decided to focus on school rather than sports in college.
Marcus grew up watching TV shows that showed the lifestyles of business moguls and for as long as he could remember had wanted to become one himself. He had read Forbes and Fortune since his early teens. He was a natural entrepreneur, first launching a blackberry-picking and distribution operation, then building a lawn-mowing company--not to mention his forays into the proverbial hodgepodge of door-to-door sales. In each of these ventures, Marcus was the business "owner" who got other kids to do the work. No doubt about it, he'd wanted to run a business his whole life.
He did well in college, majoring in business and graduating with a 3.5 GPA. He played intramural sports to keep his athletic skills sharp and to keep the weight off from too much pizza and studying. After college he worked for a large corporation for three years and eventually applied to Northwestern, where he graduated with honors. Marcus felt like he was set for life. From here on in, things were only going to get better.
Most people would consider Marcus brash. Everyone who met him certainly liked him, but let's just say no one would accuse him of being short on ego. He had big dreams, knew where he wanted to go, and did everything he could to get there. He knew he had a lot going for him: He was smart, funny, and optimistic about the future. Today was a day to sit back and enjoy, along with his friends and family, where all his hard work had brought him--to a stellar platform from which to launch the next stage of his life.
As Marcus sat and pondered his future, a hand slapped him on the shoulder and a voice boomed, "So, what's next, Bigshot?" The hand belonged to Marcus's Uncle Fred, an insurance salesman like his brother, Marcus's dad.
"Not much, Uncle Fred. Maybe start and sell a few companies, get rich, buy a nice little island in the Caribbean, and then, oh, you know, take over the world. What do you think?"
Uncle Fred laughed that big booming laugh and tilted his head back. "If anyone could do, it would be you, boy. I always knew you were destined for greatness. Now that you got that fancy-pants degree, it's just a matter of time," he said. "Really, though, what's your plan?"
"Well, actually, most people who graduate from business school go on to become consultants, which I don't really want to do. I want to start my own business."
"Oh yeah, what kind?"
"I have an idea that I think could be really big, but it's gonna take some money to get it going."
"Lay it on me."
"Well, it's kind of complex, but basically it comes down to helping companies from America connect with businesspeople in other countries who are seeking investments. I'd be putting the main players together and I'd also be able to use what I've learned about international currency trading. See, when money goes from one currency to another, it loses a percentage in the exchange. I think that there are some ways to increase the efficiencies in the exchange. I think it would especially benefit nonprofits that move billions of dollars around the world for things like disaster relief, mission projects, and things like that. I think I could potentially save organizations billions of dollars."
"Wow, that sounds huge…and well over my head! It's not too big for you though. Go get 'em!" With that, he walked off, presumably to get another burger.
A long line of well-wishers made their way to Marcus throughout the afternoon. His cousins were slightly envious and the older relatives were very proud. All in all, though, the family was thrilled for Marcus. It did feel a little weird to some of them, what with the whole MBA prestige thing going on--they had just never considered themselves "that" kind of family--but they were excited to see how high Marcus could soar.
At one point Jack pulled his brother aside. "What's going on, bro?"
"Not much. Just chillin'. What's up with you?"
"Just eating! Have you tried Aunt Susan's potato salad? It's awesome." That was Jack for you. Always about the food. Marcus was always about the money and Jack was always about the food. They had similar personalities and ran around together, but Marcus was just a little more, shall we say, focused. "In fact, I'm about to get some more. And maybe another plate of chicken wings. Want some?"
"No, I'm good. I have my fans to attend to!"
"Always the superstar," Jack said as he disappeared to get another plate.
All afternoon people had been piling gifts on a table near the sliding glass door that led into the kitchen; definitely one of the best perks of graduation. After everyone left the Drakes sat down to relax in the living room and watch Marcus open his gifts. Also joining them that evening was Margaret's mother, Beatrice, who was visiting from the little town in North Dakota where she lived. Marcus got the typical graduation gifts: travel kits, luggage, pens, stationery, and the like. His mom and dad gave him a very expensive briefcase that he had not so inconspicuously pointed out to his mother while on a trip to the mall the previous summer.
After all the other gifts had been opened, there remained just one. Beatrice got up and began to leave the room. "I will be right back. I left my gift in my room. I think you will like it." As she left, Marcus thought about his grandmother. He didn't know her all that well. His grandpa had died when Marcus was five and since she lived so far away and didn't like to travel, he hadn't seen her that often. As Marcus was growing up, he always thought Beatrice smelled like flowers. That really was the extent of it. That and the fact she always mailed him five bucks for his birthday, like virtually every grandmother in America.
At eighty, Beatrice took some time walking to the room she was sleeping in and back, and the family chitchatted in her absence.
"I bet she got you a bottle of cologne," Jack suggested. "Everyone knows you need it!"
"No, I am guessing a fingernail clipping set, which she should be giving to you instead. Do you ever cut those things? You look like a cougar."
"You boys better watch yourselves," Margaret interjected. "Your grandmother is going to surprise you."
"You know what she got me?" Marcus asked.
"I do. And it will be the best present you have ever received. I guarantee it."
"Really?" asked Jack. "Grandma came through for Marcus? Cool."
Just then Beatrice came slowly back through the door into the living room. While she walked a little slower these days, she was actually in good health, considering her age. She just walked slower than before. When it wasn't too cold out, she strolled around her small town to keep active. During the winter she did what she called "old people stretching" at the grange hall three days a week.
She didn't have a gift in her hand. Just an envelope. Marcus hoped it wasn't five dollars. As she got close to Marcus, she handed it to him and said again, "I really think you will like this. At least I hope you will."
This was the best gift ever? Marcus wondered. It couldn't be a huge check because he knew that his grandma didn't have that kind of money. What could it be? There was only one way to find out. He tore open the envelope and inside found a simple card that read:
A WEEKEND WITH BOBBY GOLD
Along with it was a slip of paper with a phone number that said cell.
Okay, this was strange. Bobby Gold was only one of the most famous billionaires in America. Marcus was very aware of who he was, but what did the card mean? Margaret smiled softly as she watched Marcus's confused look.
"I don't get it, Grandma. Is it a seminar or something? Is he speaking somewhere? What do you mean by 'a weekend'?"
"I mean you will be spending the weekend--actually four or five days--with Bobby Gold. I arranged the whole thing." She was beaming now. Margaret and Bill also looked happy, while Marcus and Jack just looked quizzically at each other.
"Okay, so I must be really in the dark. How am I going to spend a weekend with Bobby Gold? And what am I going to do with him?" The thought crossed his mind that perhaps his grandma might be pulling his leg.
"Oh yes, I suppose it appears strange, doesn't it? I arranged for you to spend that time with Bobby so he could teach you a little about business. That should be fun, don't you think?"
"Well, sure, Grandma, it sounds great, but how did you pull this off?" He still wasn't sure it was actually true.
"I called him and asked him if he would do it for me," Beatrice said matter-of-factly.
"You just picked up the phone and asked a guy worth eighteen billion dollars if your grandson could hang out with him?"
"Mom," Margaret said, interrupting their obviously confusing exchange, "perhaps you should explain how you know Bobby."
"Oh yes, that's a good idea. It sounds outlandish, doesn't it?"
"You know Bobby Gold," Jack and Marcus said in unison.
"I do. Well, more accurately, I did. You know me, I don't like to brag, so I never told you that I was Bobby's nanny for three years when he was growing up. From the time he was eight until he was eleven--such a nice young man. But I moved away when your grandfather got transferred for work and I didn't keep up with what had happened to him until I started reading about him and seeing him on television. He has become quite successful, you know."
"Of course I know." Marcus looked at his mom and dad. "Did you guys know that she knew Bobby Gold?"
"No, we knew she was a nanny for a little boy whose family had some money, but we never knew who it was. We didn't know until she asked if you would like this for a gift."
Marcus turned back to his grandma. "So, how did you get this arranged?"
"I called him up and left a message with his secretary and asked him to call me. The next day he did. I told him that you were graduating from Northwestern's business school and asked if he would spend some time with you. He remembered me--we always got along so well--and said he would be happy to do it. Then he looked at his schedule and suggested that you accompany him on a little trip he has planned. I checked with your parents and they said that you were free and so that is how it came to be. I thought you would like it."
"Grandma, I love it!" Marcus got up and went over to give his grandma a hug and a kiss to say thank you. She still smelled like flowers. "Thanks so much, Grandma. This is going to be awesome."
She squeezed him tight. "You are welcome, Marcus. I am so proud of you. You should be able to be as successful as Bobby has become."
Marcus stood up. "Well, let's start with my first million before we get to a billion--or eighteen." He turned to Jack. "Dude, I am going to be hanging with Bobby 'Nothing's Better Than Gold' Gold!"BOBBY "NOTHING'S BETTER THAN GOLD" GOLD
Bobby Gold. How does one describe Bobby Gold? At age forty-seven and the tenth richest American, the press has used an endless amount of words to describe him. Some people might consider him arrogant, but that is far from the truth. Perhaps the best word to describe him is flamboyant. Showy, colorful, loud, and flashy would also work. Modest and reserved? Not so much. Above all else, though, Bobby Gold has an abundance of charisma and vision, an unparalleled work ethic, impeccable business acumen, and an amazing sense of timing.
He was raised by affluent parents who worked just outside Chicago. In many ways he was similar to Marcus. He started a string of businesses, played the same three sports, and also wanted to become a successful businessman. Unlike Marcus, he never finished college. He got into computers his sophomore year, and as soon as he saw the business potential he promptly quit school, much to the chagrin of his parents--at least until he started what would become the first major hit of his business career: Gold Hard Drives. The computer revolution was in full swing and what people really needed was more storage on their hard drives as games and applications got bigger and bulkier. Of course, many big companies were into the business but Bobby Gold dove right in like David to their Goliath and eventually took a major market share. When he took the company public at age twenty-six, he hit the jackpot for $750 million. Since then he had been on a twenty-one-year tear through the business world, diving into every industry that caught his eye: software, media companies, music labels, hotels, clothing, and the standard billionaire luxury, a major league baseball team. Not to mention a plethora of other companies he owned that most people knew nothing about.
He branded all his products with the claim that "Nothing's Better Than Gold." It was brilliant, really--especially considering that his products were indeed the best on the market. He was true to his word. Even the hapless baseball team he bought ended up winning the World Series a few years after he took over.
Excerpted from The Art of Influence by Chris Widener. Copyright © 2008 by Chris Widener. Excerpted by permission of Crown Business, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.