F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." But there's at least one thing they share with the rest of us: loopy investments. You might not have a hundred million or two to squander on a badly run bloated media company. But you can learn from their mistakes. Witness some of the billion-dollar blunders that rich folks have made over the past few years.
Ted TurnerIn case memories of the Enron disaster are starting to fade, here are two more words to remind you not to keep all your money in your company's stock: Ted Turner. Turner, the former vice chairman of AOL Time Warner ( AOL), founder of CNN, Mouth of the South and ex-husband of Jane Fonda, lost much of his $8 billion fortune in AOL Time Warner stock. When AOL and Time Warner merged, Turner was enthusiastic about the marriage, equating the event with the first time he made love. And he had the bulk of his wealth tied up in the company's stock to prove how excited he was. But the combined company quickly crumbled, and Turner's wealth evaporated as the stock price sank. True to form, Turner didn't sit by quietly and watch his money evaporate. He put pressure on Steve Case to step down as chairman and got his wish. And Turner's finally gotten around to diversifying his one-stock portfolio. He's sold more than half his stake in AOL Time Warner. Hopefully, his chain of bison restaurants will turn out to be a better investment that the Civil War flick he funded, Gods and Generals. Lesson: No matter how in love you are with the company you work for, you shouldn't have most of your money tied up in its stock. You already work there. Your livelihood is tied to the company's fortunes. If you own the stock in your 401(k) plan, you should figure out when you can sell it. And you shouldn't buy even more of it through a regular brokerage account.
Ted Turner might not have enough money left to buy back CNN from AOL Time Warner. You might not have enough to buy a cable subscription.
Allen basically took a gamble on a single, still-emerging industry -- cable. And it's incredibly difficult to find the one or two companies in a new business that will turn out to be the ultimate winners. One of those investments might deliver a 1,000% return, but it won't make up for all the losers you bet on trying to find that one winner. Lesson: Concentrating all of your investments in just one industry or sector can be treacherous. On top of that, betting on new companies in new industries adds even more risk. To Paul Allen, Procter & Gamble ( PG) ought to be looking pretty good right now.