Halsey Minor goes bankrupt buying paintings like Peaceable Kingdom

Halsey Minor, who co-founded CNET, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Minor was a mega-millionaire who once was pegged by Fortune magazine, back in 1999, as having a net worth of $350 million.  Now his net worth could be negative $90 millionaccording to a Wall Street Journal blog post.  He even owes money to his former executive assistant.

CNET was sold to CBS in 2008 for $1.8 Billion, although he had left years earlier before the DotCom bust of 2000.  Minor, is a descendant on his mother’s side to Admiral Halsey, also was a tech investor who picked some winners.  One was acquired by Google and became Google Voice. Minor was also an investor in Salesforce.com.

CNET, Salesforce, Google Voice — clearly the man is a tech genius who knows how to identify tech’s next big thing. He made a fortune by the time he was in his thirties. So what went wrong?

Minor’s financial troubles seem to stem from expenditures and investments that later proved disastrous.

He bought expensive real estate. Case in point: A house in posh Bel Air that he bought for $20 million and put back on the market a year later for $12.9 million.

Then there was the house in Presidio Heights, San Francisco, that he bought for another $22 million — and claims to have put in another $15 million in improvements.  There was other real estate, too, including the Landmark Hotel, Charlottesville, Virginia, that he was developing for $31 million — among other properties.

Let’s not forget the race horse. He paid $3 million for a Kentucky Derby contender that went lame before the big race.

And then there was the expensive artwork. He bought millions of dollars of artwork at Sotheby’s auction house, and then was sued for not paying for it.  One of the paintings in question was Peaceable Kingdom (pictured above), by artist Edward Hicks.  Minor ended up in litigation, lost and paid $6.6. million to Sotheby’s.

And now he’s bankrupt.

I don’t write about Minor to gloat about someone else’s misfortune. On the contrary, “there but for the grace of God go I” is more of my sentiment in such situations.

But it does suggest two points for entrepreneurs to take away from this sage of “tech millionaire goes bankrupt:”

  • You can be a genius in one area and be a huge success — but get out of your element and it could be a completely different story.  When it comes to diversifying, walk carefully.  On the one hand, diversifying can reduce risks inherent in over-relying on a single area. But get too far afield from what you know best in your business, and it increases different kinds of risks.
  • Financial independence is not so much about how much you make — it’s about how you spend it.  Even multimillionaires can spend it all foolishly.  Cost control in business, in government and in your personal finances is important. Don’t be the one who goes bankrupt.

Image: Peaceable Kingdom

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