There’s a lot to like about Paul Allen – the Microsoft co-founder who died on October 15 at age 65. He was a brilliant man, whose perfect SAT score of 1600 during his college years foreshadowed his financial success.

Few can match this success. Allen died with an estate estimated at $26 billion. But it’s not just the size of the estate that’s impressive, it’s the scope of his interests that are remarkable, most of which played a role in building the value of his holdings. At his death, Allen ownership interests included:

  • Three professional sports teams – the Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Seattle Sounders
  • A space-travel company, Vulcan Aerospace
  • A film production company, Vulcan Productions
  • A real estate company, Vulcan Real Estate, with a large focus on the redevelopment of land in the Seattle area; and
  • An extensive fine art collection.

In 2010, he signed the Giving Pledge , a commitment by billionaires around the world to donate at least half of their fortune to philanthropic causes. He also invested in, or donated money to, a number of other initiatives, from artificial intelligence research to elephant conservation in Africa. More locally, he played in a band, Paul Allen and the Underthinkers, and was an accomplished guitar player.

The life lessons

Admittedly, we aren’t all billionaires with perfect SAT scores. So, what can we learn from Paul Allen? This quote from him says it all:

“You look at things you enjoy in your life, but much more important is what you can do to make the world a better place.”

Here are three takeaways that I think are worth considering:

  1. He enjoyed life: He owned homes in several countries, owned two of the largest yachts in the world, and surrounded himself with people accomplished in the art, sport and film world. He rarely courted media attention – and he remained low-key until the end – but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his life. So many people in every wealth bracket forget this important part of the equation.
  2. He followed his interests in making the world a better place: He saved sports franchises from relocation, movie theatres from demolition, and ensured that important stories were preserved and told. He knew intuitively that following personal interests was critical to his active involvement in projects and ultimately each project’s success.
  3. Much of his focus was local: We can likely do our most effective work if we focus locally, on the area of the world we know best. Paul Allen’s initiatives certainly had a global reach, but many of his projects were Seattle-based and he transformed the city and the U.S. north-west in significant ways.

Paul Allen’s estate is, not surprisingly, complex – and could take years to settle as this article explains. But it appears that the family business structure he left behind will continue to make the world a better place for many years to come.

 

Happy New Year – and thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag