If you're an investor, you've probably heard of Scrooge McDuck. Heck, you've probably heard of him no matter what your present financial situation may be. After all, who doesn't dream of a gigantic vault full of money to play in from time to time?
But there's more to Scrooge than his money bin. Since he first appeared on the scene in a Disney (NYSE:DIS) Donald Duck comic in 1947, Scrooge has become the preeminent Disney duck, and that's provided authors and artists ample opportunity to flesh out his character. I recently sat down with the Don Rosa graphic novel The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck to learn a little more about Duckburg's richest citizen, and I came away with a few important lessons from Scrooge's history that I think you might like.
Work harder (but smarter) than everyone else, and keep an eye out for con men
In "The Last of the Clan McDuck," 10-year-old Scrooge is an unsuccessful shoeshine boy on the streets of Glasgow until his father contrives a trick. The elder McDuck sends a filthy ditch-digger to his son with an American dime -- Scrooge's Number-One Dime -- which Scrooge receives after half an hour of exhausting shoeshine work. Scrooge feels cheated by the useless foreign coin, but he also learned two lessons: "Life is filled with tough jobs, and there'll always be sharpies to cheat me ... well, I'll be tougher than the toughies and sharper than the sharpies, and I'll make my money square!"
The value of perseverance and hard (but smart) honest work -- paired with a constant vigil against grifters, con men, cheats, and thieves -- is central to Scrooge's personality. Scrooge keeps the dime to remind himself of where he came from, and it eventually inspires him to travel to America to earn his fortune. In "The Terror of the Transvaal," Scrooge's wariness hardens into paranoia after being robbed by a supposed friend, and he promises that "from now on, I won't trust anybody once!" That's probably taking things a bit too far, but as you go about building a fortune for your own money bin, it's important to be cautious of anyone who promises to help you build it -- many times, they'll only be looking out for themselves, at your expense.
Don't ignore the value of good connections to family or friends
Young Scrooge comes to America with little more than the clothes on his back in "The Master of the Mississippi," but one of the first things he does is seek out his riverboat-captain uncle. Scrooge's only connection in his new country makes him a teenaged riverboat captain several years later. After the riverboat adventure, Scrooge went into the cattle-driving business and met Teddy Roosevelt, who would wind up saving him from thieves years later as president (don't ask me where they come up with this stuff). A number of other fictionalized historical figures provide Scrooge with support during his adventures as well, and these bonds are usually forged from mutual respect.
Scrooge is often portrayed as a somewhat reluctant family man, willing to delegate significant management responsibilities over his businesses to the rest of the McDuck clan and its offspring. Despite his innate wariness, Scrooge does trust those who prove themselves trustworthy.
Persistence pays off ... eventually
Scrooge's riverboat business flops because railroads became a better option. After that, he goes west to become a cowboy, but that business dries up as well. A copper-prospecting opportunity almost makes Scrooge rich, but family tax troubles force him back into poverty. However, Scrooge remains optimistic and persistent throughout his journeys, even after multiple gold-mining efforts come up short. There wasn't gold at the end of most of Scrooge's rainbows, but in "The New Laird of Castle McDuck," he reaffirms his overriding optimism by exclaiming that "there's always another rainbow!" Scrooge's story is familiar to many entrepreneurs and self-made men, who often go through several failed ventures before they find one that really works.
Sometimes what you really need is a stroke of luck
In "King of the Klondike," Scrooge spent years trying and failing to strike it rich around the world before finally finding a gold deposit in the Yukon. The value of hard work and an expert knowledge of prospecting surely helped him discover the gold. However, in Scrooge's origin story, it's made clear that much of his success comes from having arrived in the Yukon before the gold rush began, and then happened to chance upon a completely isolated spot in Canada. It was only because of a spirit quest in the Australian outback (I am not making this part up) that Scrooge decided to venture to the Yukon. In every other failed prospecting adventure, he was simply following the news of other discoveries.
Why do some brilliant people succeed and other similarly brilliant people fail? Sometimes it's strategy. Sometimes it's connections. Sometimes it's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Put your money to work for you
Two years after Scrooge found gold in the Yukon, he'd pulled enough out of the ground to become a millionaire. At the prevailing exchange rate of the day, that means he'd managed to dig up about 3,300 pounds of the stuff. After that, he decided to become a businessman -- and that business, naturally enough, was bank ownership. According to "The Billionaire of Dismal Downs," Scrooge became a billionaire within five years of transitioning from laborer to lender, which is a pretty incredible growth rate of almost 300% per year. We human beings probably won't come close to matching Scrooge's annual rate of return, but the lesson is clear: Investing your money in good businesses is smarter than simply stashing it away in a money bin. Scrooge himself makes it clear that his money bin is just a part of his total fortune, much of which is in banks and properties around the world.
Are there other lessons to be learned from Scrooge McDuck? Let the world know by leaving a comment.
Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter, @TMFBiggles, for more insight into markets, history, and technology.
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