My Million Dollar Hong Kong Mistake

Bottom Line Up Front: Irresponsible free men are a danger to us all and we all know freedom comes with responsibility. American humorist Will Rogers said that freedom isn’t doing what you want to do, it’s doing what you ought to do. So, if we believe we deserve freedom—and financial freedom is a great place to start—it’s wise to prepare ourselves for that freedom by asking ourselves if we are ready for it.

Hong Kong, 1992: A million dollar offer on a count to ten and I turned it down. A British millionaire offered to underwrite a business for me as he re-built one of his own profit centers. I said no.

We lived in Hong Kong in a place called Tuen Mun in an apartment building called Faraday House overlooking the bay. Two floors down from us a 60-year-old British businessman invited me to have a drink.  He had made his fortune in cloth dyes. I was confident then he was the real thing and subsequent events proved he was, indeed, a very profitable, successful businessman who was generating annual 6-7 figure profits. As he poured us whisky he said,

“Shannon, I’m going to make you a business offer. You know more about China than do most western businessmen making millions in Hong Kong. You speak Mandarin Chinese (Remember, I was a U.S. Army China Foreign Area Officer in training). The offer I am going to make you is a good business offer and you would be wise to take it. It’s legitimate and I am confident of its success. Once I make the offer I will extend my hand and count to 10. If you shake my hand, it’s a deal and we start. If you don’t, I rescind the offer and won’t make it again. Are you ready?”

I said I was ready. I was very nervous. He extended his hand.

“I am willing to underwrite you to the tune of one million dollars for a year if you will agree to be my partner and help me build a business in China.”

And he started counting to ten.

I sat there on a nice leather couch in a very expensive apartment with a heavy crystal glass of good Scotch in my hand. I wanted to say yes. I wanted to take a chance.  I was confident in my own skills and work ethic and he was an experienced businessman. This was a great opportunity. However, as he counted, I could not bring myself to shake his hand because my doubts overpowered my confidence. I thought of my son (I was a single father). I thought of my girlfriend, Maureen, who I wanted to marry. I thought of the stability of my Army pay and career.

He completed his count and withdrew his hand. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He said, “Don’t feel bad. I knew you were going to say no. Do you know how I knew?”

“How did you know I was going to say no?”

“Because you’re middle class and have always had security. You’ve never been reduced to nothing.”

Prudence. Good, careful judgment.

I said no. Was it wise? If I had said yes, would I have learned as much? I don’t know. I will say this: in 2007 I lost just about everything. In 2007 I was reduced to just about nothing through bad judgment and many bad decisions that taught me valuable lessons. I have often wondered how my life would be different if I had taken that mentor’s hand. What would you have done? What decision would you have made?

Call to Action: Just ask yourself—“What has to happen to me to make me risk everything?” Think that through and journal on it. Ask yourself why.