7 Things Mad Men Taught me About Financial Independence

I’ve just finished watching Mad Men and wow! What a series and here’s some of the parallels between Mad Men and your pursuit of Financial Independence.

1. Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

Over reliance on one client (Lucky Strike) for the majority of your revenue puts you at risk of being taken advantage of in the short run (like having to hold Lee Garner Jnr’s balls or firing Salavatore because you were told to) and in the long run if they leave you at one point; this puts you in a very vulnerable position. One which your friends will exploit and your enemies will know about.

For your professional life, think of this like if you have only one employer, in one industry – if things go wrong and you lose your job, you’ve no hope of finding another. Your weak position will be rewarded by below inflation pay rises and worsening conditions, no career progression prospects and instant coffee in the staff kitchen – so, who’s balls are you holding?

2. Don’t Worry (Too Much) About Industry Changes

There’s a subplot where one client wants to go from a fixed price contract to a reimbursable one based on hours worked. This shatters the old paradigm of Sterling Cooper developing a plan for say $1 million and keeping $200,000 in gross profit which then goes to pay for the office, client lunches and the ubiquitous bottles of liquor around the office. Switching to a reimbursable model threatens that but it doesn’t lead to demise. A few years later it’s a 50/50 split between fixed price and reimbursable.

If what you are selling is good, don’t be afraid of swapping how you are reimbursed. I’ve been contract (reimbursable) for about 2 years now – should have done it years ago and despite the differences between a salaried position (fixed price), it’s better for me overall and the companies I work for.

Silver spoon

3. Nepotism Helps You Get A Job But Not Keep It

Privilege will get you ahead in life but won’t keep you there. Social mobility works both ways.

Early on in Mad Men, Peter Campbell falls foul of Don Draper’s ire at a client meeting – the “Backbone of America” pitch and is given a (very realistic) mock firing before Bert Cooper explains who’s Pete’s family are and they call off the firing squad. Peter gets put in his place, keep’s his job, but his longevity in the firm isn’t based on his family connections alone (his family fortunes are exhausted a few seasons later).

For another character Danny; as he’s the cousin of Roger Sterling’s wife he ends up getting a job but when times get tough he’s first out the door.

Finally, despite not having blue blood, Peggy goes to show that with talent and hard work you can succeed in the face of overwhelming adversity.

For your own professional life, Even if you don’t have any rich Uncles (or the right school, college, or accent), maybe your white privilege will be enough for you to get your foot in the door – but it won’t be enough to keep you there.

Pete’s mock firing

4. Know Who Your Decision-Makers Are And What Your Role Is

In every client meeting there are different people in the room, some are there to make up the numbers and keep quiet. Some are there are there to make the client feel good (Account’s Men). On the client side, maybe only one opinion matters (the boss?) and some people just ask questions to justify their own existence in the room. Whatever it is, try to read to group dynamic; who is making the decision and what is important to them.

The same goes within your own career – your success or failure rests on the opinion and good will of a few people – maybe just one. This can mean that you get the job or that you keep your job – having someone speak up for you and their opinion count is very valuable. So be sure to know your decision makers because all the big decisions in your life are made when you are not in the room.

The Don in charge

5. Pay All Your Taxes and Don’t Cheat

Without giving too much away, one character gets into debt over a tax bill and decides to take an early Christmas bonus to pay the bill – embezzling company funds albeit with a Father Crillyesque excuse that he was going to repay before anyone noticed. He could have got away with it after he explained what happened to Don, but Don said “I can’t trust you” and from then, his fate is sealed – of course how you decide to play your fate is up to you. So don’t cheat and pay your taxes.

Bye bye Bryce

6. Money Doesn’t Make You Happy

It turns out that Don Draper is well disposed – his emergency fund is well stocked and he’s able to pay off everyone from his brother (lesson, don’t mix family and money) and wife (paying can make your problems go away). He’s worth millions, yet he doesn’t cash in his chips and walk away. When he does try walking away, he just manages to come back again – maybe smarter, maybe wiser, maybe it’s the hunt that he likes and not the kill. Remind you of our old friend RIT (www.retirementinvestingtoday.com)?

Did Don end up changing? That’s the question posed at the end and we’ll never know but I’m a soppy romantic, so I say Om Yeah!

RIT’s house just out of sight

7. But What Is Financial Independence?

It’s a moment before you need more Financial Independence.

Don at his best

You are happy with a 4% SWR? You are on top and you don’t have enough. You are happy because you’re successful for now. But what is Financial Independence? It’s a moment before you need more Financial Independence. I won’t settle for 4% of anything! You’re happy with your portfolio? You’re not happy with anything. You don’t want most of it. You want all of it.

And GFF won’t stop until you get all of it. 

5 Comments

  1. God I love Mad Men. And you’re right; so many lessons to take away from the series. And I’m totally with you about Don at the end. He had definitely changed. I can feel a rewatching of Mad Men happening for me next year.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s a great series. I am dying to watch it again but the Lady is resolute in her nit wanting to.
      I think that there’s so much to learn from it and this wasn’t my first attempt at a blog post – there’s many many storylines.

      Liked by 1 person

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