The Millionaire Next Door Tells All (Hint: It’s Not About the Money)
In the New York Times best-selling The Millionaire Next Door, School of Business professor Bill Danko debunked the myth of the millionaire. It is not the neighbor with a Lamborghini in his driveway, but the guy who maintains the same car for ten years and eschews expensive restaurant meals and vacations.
Of those who follow the precepts of his book, Danko explains, “We are not ascetic monks. Money allows you to maintain a lifestyle and clarify your values.”
When Millionaire was published in 1996, Danko had been associated with UAlbany for more than 25 years, having begun his college career here as a freshman, continuing on for his MBA and then returning as a lecturer after earning a Ph.D. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. At the time of his retirement from UAlbany in 2007, Danko had risen through the ranks to tenured associate professor and served as chair of the marketing department for three consecutive stints of three years each, unprecedented at the time.
Millionaire resulted from an academic exercise, provisionally titled Big Hat No Cattle. Danko compared it to writing a dissertation. The book came about when Danko was a UAlbany undergraduate in the School of Business. The late marketing professor Tom Stanley invited him to assist in the research of the “affluent market,” and later encouraged him to enroll in UAlbany’s MBA program so that they could continue their research into, as Danko put it, “who is actually rich versus who just looks rich.”
In 1996, as the book was published, Danko had family issues to deal with, in addition to his academic workload and book promotion. His mother suffered a stroke. She was a widow who had primary responsibility for an adult son, Tony, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Danko managed to care for his brother along with his professional activities.
Tony inspired his second book. Danko notes that his quadriplegic brother never lost his perspective on what is important in life, though he was incapacitated from the time he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 23 until his death at age 68. “Tony reminded us that we are all on the same path and we should be grateful for what we have,” said Danko, “It was a great life lesson to care for my brother.”
In collaboration with Rich Van Ness (brother of UAlbany management faculty icon Ray Van Ness) Danko wrote Richer Than a Millionaire: A Pathway to True Prosperity, building on the first book. The moral? Do not put too much faith in money saving you. “Being rich is good, but being rich and happy is better,” said Danko, “How money is spent reveals aspects of our lives.”
Danko walks the talk of Richer Than a Millionaire. In 2001, he established The Milton & Mary M. Danko Golden Rule Award, named for his parents, which provides a scholarship to a School of Business student who “gives of his/her most precious resource, time.” Winners have demonstrated selflessness through volunteerism. Half of the funds awarded each year go to the student, while the other half are earmarked for a charity of the student’s choosing.
Danko spreads the wealth in other ways. He supports the work of former students. Former student Mike Taubleb '86 represents him through his Promenade Speakers Bureau. Another student, Mike Weinberg '89 is a marketing consultant and fellow author, and according to Danko, “One of my best advocates.”
Once a professor, always a professor. In response to the popularity of his books, Professor Emeritus Danko regularly speaks, in-person and via podcast, to brokerages, banks, insurance companies and not-for-profit organizations. After his second book was published in Polish, he addressed entrepreneurs at ASBiRO in Warsaw, Poland.
He has written and been interviewed on money and happiness by many news outlets. Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post chose Richer Than a Millionaire for her Color of Money Book Club.
The former professor maintains his UAlbany connections. On the day of the interview for this story, he got together with Associate Professor Emeritus Sal Belardo. The pair then paid a visit to former School of Business Dean Don Bourque, a regular occurrence. Each semester, Danko visits the finance class of Senior Associate Dean David Smith to talk about the concepts of his books. He serves as godfather to the son of Clinical Professor of Information Systems and Business Analytics Jakov (Yasha) Crnkovic. Danko regularly corresponds with more than 50 former students and recipients of his scholarship.
Danko, who lives in Niskayuna with Connie, his wife of 45 years, regularly gathers his family at their year-round Adirondack camp. His daughter Christy is a professor at Hood College in Maryland, son Todd is a research scientist at GE Global, and David is a computer-systems engineer at Lockheed Martin. Five grandchildren round out the family.
Life is short and uncertain.
I implore everyone to reflect on the wisdom of the parable of the rich fool:
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?
For a truly satisfying life, we should all seek a path to true prosperity.
I hope that the ideas of Richer Than A Millionaire will be embraced by all.