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How My Dad Taught Me the Value of Money

A quick story from my childhood illustrates just how large a role prudence and “financial modesty” played in my family’s household when I was growing up. In 1965, when my family and I moved back to the U.S. following a three-year job stint for my father in Europe, Dad bought a brand-new red Plymouth Valiant. Over the next 17 years, as he rose through job ranks at Carnation, ultimately to become President of the International Division, this car remained his preferred form of transportation for virtually all business and family activities. Even when the presidents of overseas divisions turned up in Los Angeles to meet with Dad to conduct business, they always drove to company dinners not in some shiny Lincoln Continental or Cadillac, but in my father’s red Valiant!

My father so loved this Valiant that for its 25th anniversary in 1990, we bought a vanity license plate for it that read, “65 JUNK.” When 65 JUNK finally gave up the ghost, my father pulled the Mercedes that my grandmother had bequeathed him years before out of storage and began to drive it. By then, it was only 20 years old. “Still has many years of useful service in it,” he told us.

The lesson my father taught us by keeping that less-than-fashionable Plymouth Valiant around for so long was clear: “Image isn’t everything. Don’t squander your assets. Preserve your wealth and use it for worthwhile pursuits no matter how much of it you might have.” The message he sent to his division presidents was equally clear: “Cost control is important, and I lead by example.”

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