Meet the ‘Cheapest Man Alive’

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He owns a successful investment firm, employs 1,000 people, and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He also brings a homemade lunch to the office every day, had the office carpet repaired with duct tape, pays “only for the meat” and nothing else at holiday parties, and, after company meetings, gathers up paper clips so they can be reused.

Edward Wedbush, profiled by the LA Times, may be the cheapest chief executive around, though I’m not sure he’s the “cheapest man alive” as one of his employees said, anonymously (and wisely). Warren Buffett is known not only as a brilliant investor, but also as a total cheapskate in his personal life, as are many economists and other folks who know lots about money. Dick Yuengling, owner of Yuengling & Son brewers, is another rich cheapskate CEO, who drives a beat-up 2002 Ford Taurus (that he bought used) to work and rinses Styrofoam cups to reuse them. (More on Photos: Those Things Money Can Buy)

But in terms of rich cheapskates, Edward Wedbush takes the cake—and then he probably returns it to get a refund.

Wedbush does Yuengling one better on the car front by driving a 1992 Lincoln Town Car. At work, Wedbush takes cost controls to new levels, per the LA Times:

He refuses to issue company credit cards to his employees. He personally signs expense-reimbursement checks, just to remind subordinates that he’s watching every dime they spend traveling or entertaining clients. He brings his lunch from home and drives a 1992 Lincoln Town Car.

Alfred E. Osborne Jr., a member of Wedbush Inc.’s board of directors, recalls seeing the company founder and chairman gathering up paper clips after a board meeting at the exclusive California Club.

Surely, these strategies are good for the bottom line, if not employee morale. But, in the same way that frugality can turn into compulsive hoarding, Wedbush’s tightwad approach is unhealthy at times. How so? Well, the reason the LA Times is covering Wedbush is because of his eyesore of a home in the ritzy Ladera Heights section of Los Angeles. The house is covered with a patchwork assemblage of tarps to cover up a roof that leaks badly. Neighbors say they sometimes see Wedbush himself—who is 78 years old—up on the roof in a bathrobe inspecting the shingles and messing with the tarps. The roof has been covered in tarps for years, and Wedbush obviously hasn’t done much to fix that. Why? It doesn’t make sense to fix a roof that sits atop a home that’s so filled with mold the entire place should probably be knocked down, now does it?

And so Wedbush doesn’t do much of anything about the roof—other than standing on the dilapidated, leaky roof in a bathrobe like a crazy person, that is. That’s dangerous enough. But while Wedbush’s wife refuses to go inside this home (she stays in their other house in Rancho Santa Fe instead), Wedbush still spends several nights a week in his tarp-covered, mold-infested edifice. He explains:

“I’ve had to live in that place and I’ve got some potential infections from the mold,” Wedbush said. “My wife won’t even enter the house. We’ve suffered.”

Then, um, dude, you might want to do something about that. I regard most cheapskates with a mix of awe and admiration, but I hate people who are cheap in the cheap-bastard-screw-your-neighbor sense, and it’s beyond silly to put one’s health in jeopardy to save money—especially when you have a lot of freaking money. (More on Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Money)

Overall, however, there is much the frugal-minded consumer can learn from Wedbush. His company, after all, made it through the financial crisis in far better shape than others in the financial sector. As another executive at Wedbush Inc. told the LA Times:

“I’d much rather be frugal and be in business.”

By extension, there’s some advice for the rest of us. In a sense, we all run businesses at home, and some of us run them more efficiently and frugally than others. The question is: Would you rather be frugal or be “out of business,” so to speak, with your household budget in the dumps?

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