Ryan Dunn & Jackass Investing

Friday, June 24, 2011:

Life is full of risks. Some are avoidable. Some are unexpected. And some are self-inflicted.

I am saddened by the death of Jackass movie and TV star Ryan Dunn. I didn’t know Ryan, although he was a local guy and the Jackass crew once shot a scene on my property. That came about because Bam Margera, one of Ryan’s co-stars, literally lived ‘around the corner’ from my office, which is in a renovated 17th century grist mill. One day, unannounced (and uninvited), they appeared with cameras and crew on our front field. I guess they found the setting irresistible.  But as far as I remember, we never met.

Ryan left life as he lived it. He died early Monday morning in a fiery car crash behind the wheel of his Porsche. Unfortunately, his death, and that of his passenger and good friend Zachary Hartwell, was both avoidable and self-inflicted. He lost control and launched his car over a guardrail at a speed well in excess of 100mph. He did this while driving his friend home at 2:30 in the morning, after leaving a bar with a blood alcohol level that was more than twice the legal limit.

I’ve read numerous blog posts, articles and comments about the crash that are mean-spirited or self-righteous. Sure, Dunn essentially killed himself and he killed a friend with him. We were fortunate that he did not kill any others who crossed his path. But by all accounts, Ryan was a great guy. He had many friends and, despite his Jackass reputation, treated people with respect. My heartfelt condolences go out to the families and many friends of both Ryan and Zachary.

It would be hypocritical for me to demean Ryan Dunn for his actions. I too have engaged in similarly risky behavior. I like fast cars and have raced them – both on and (recklessly) off the track. I did my own stunts, and not under controlled conditions. It was only through good fortune or the grace of God that I or an innocent person, who intersected with me at the wrong time or place, didn’t meet a similar end. But that doesn’t mean I can’t exploit both Ryan’s and my risky behavior for a positive cause, as I’ll explain.

Our similar misconduct and the scene the Jackass crew shot on my field are not the only connections I have with Ryan Dunn. He was in part the inspiration for the title of my just-published book, Jackass Investing: Don’t do it. Profit from it.” The book is all about risk – Avoiding risk. That’s why I say “Don’t do it.” To me, the definition of jackass investing is the act of taking unnecessary risks. Ryan Dunn got paid to take unnecessary risks – but that behavior also ended his life. In investing your money, you don’t get paid for taking unnecessary risks. Someone else takes your money from you.

But making people money is a far cry from saving lives. Or so I thought. Ryan Dunn and Zachary Hartwell, who was newly married, began their final night on Father’s Day. I am the father of three great boys, and what I’ve come to recognize is that the same philosophy I teach to investors is the basis for what I preach to my boys. Avoid unnecessary risks and take control of your own lives. Ryan’s and Zachary’s deaths cemented the realization that making and saving people money is only my job. My full-time occupation is being a father and shaping and saving the lives of Mitchell, Matthew and Charley.

With every opportunity, and Ryan and Zachary provided me a very public opportunity, I stress to my boys that they are in control of their lives, that whenever possible they should avoid placing their lives in the hands of others, and that they should avoid taking unnecessary risks. In summary – that they should avoid jackass behavior. I am grateful that my boys were not old enough to have been out on the road that night and that no one else’s son or daughter was in the way of Ryan’s car when he lost control. But my boys’ ages will not spare me for long. And that’s why Ryan Dunn, in his death, handed me a gift. He was able to teach my boys in a dramatic and very public fashion, the consequences of taking unnecessary risks. This week a very dark cloud enshrouds the lives of the families and friends of Ryan Dunn and Zachary Hartwell. But I am grateful to them for the silver lining they provided in the form of the unintended positive impact they’ve had on my boys.

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