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The Money Issue

Welcome to our first-ever (and first annual) Money Issue. Don't worry, we haven't been possessed by the spirit of Malcolm Forbes. What you won't find in this issue are the utterly predictable (and totally unreliable) gimmicks that most business magazines trot out whenever they address money and investing: "The 25 hottest mutual funds for 2003!" "The 10 best stocks right now!" "How to retire before you turn 40!" If achieving success and financial security were that easy, many of us wouldn't be feeling so insecure these days.

The goal of this issue, appearing in such anxious and uncertain times, is to give money its due — and put it in its place. Nearly six years ago, in an early issue of Fast Company, we published an interview with philosopher Jacob Needleman called "Money and the Meaning of Life" (June:July 1997). Those were different times, of course, when business leaders were worrying about how to handle sudden affluence. (Raise your hand if you'd like to have that problem again!) But even in those heady days, Needleman counseled FC readers to keep their feet on the ground. "Money makes us unjustifiably feel that we're better and more important than we really are," he warned. "When money can make you feel humble, then I think it's really useful."

That is the spirit with which we approached the Money Issue. Polly LaBarre's cover story, filled with ideas and metrics for "How to Lead a Rich Life" (page 72), is the antithesis of the traditional get-rich-quick (or lately, lick-your-financial-wounds) fare. The story asks questions that are textured, thoughtful, and challenging: What's my definition of success? What does it mean to be rich? How do I know when I've made it? It is required reading for any of us who take our work seriously.

Companies wrestle with the money issue as well — especially in these times of profitless recovery. How can we increase profits if we can't raise prices? This may well be the most urgent question in business today. Charles Fishman traveled the country to lift the veil of secrecy on how companies charge for their products and services. His conclusion: The answer is not to charge higher prices but to charge smarter prices. All the more reason to ask, "Which Price Is Right?" (page 92). We believe that this eye-opening essay should be required reading for all CEOs who are serious about their company's prosperity.

There's much more to our Money Issue. We've included a colorful and gripping profile of 82-year-old John Sperling, "America's Education Billionaire" (page 80). As founder of the Apollo Group, which runs the revolutionary University of Phoenix, Sperling gets wealthier by making tens of thousands of people smarter — a remarkable turn of events for a kid born to sharecropper parents and who taught himself to read while working in the merchant marine. There are also in-depth case studies of two revolutionary banks: ING Direct and Washington Mutual Inc., innovators that are bringing new ideas and cutting-edge practices to the business of money itself.

Appropriately, our Money Issue also features the winners of our second annual Fast 50 global readers' challenge (page 49). FC readers from 45 states and 30 countries submitted entries describing their "moments of truth" — strategies, tactics, and decisions that made the difference between winning and losing in a harsh business environment. This year's winners demonstrate the power of persistence, the thrill of invention, the value of values, the rewards of solving problems, and the business of culture.

They also demonstrate where real wealth comes from: genuine business achievement and personal satisfaction. Mark Cuban, the youthful owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is hardly a philosopher. In fact, lots of people consider him downright obnoxious. But he has a philosophy of life that even Needleman would admire and that also captures the spirit of this issue. "To me," Cuban said recently, "success isn't about how much money I have in the bank. It's how big a smile I have when I wake up."

You can't put a price on that.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.