Beyond Success: Building a Personal, Financial, and Philanthropic Legacy (2007)

Book Review
Publishing information: 
Randall J. Ottinger New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, September 2007. 320pp. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-0714-9676-6, £15.99

What do you do once you have achieved financial success? How should you spend your time and money? What do you want to accomplish for yourself, your family and society? How do you want to be remembered?

Beyond Success is aimed at wealthy individuals who are beginning to ask themselves these questions. It is a ‘how-to’ guide to modern philanthropy and succession planning that gives a broad introduction to all areas of legacy building, from preparing your children for money, to constructing a ‘portfolio’ of social investments. Directed primarily at an American audience and replete with ‘life is a journey’ metaphors, it draws on hundreds of case studies to develop a framework for approaching legacy building in a more systematic way.

The book falls into two main sections. The first sets out the issues and needs of wealthy individuals at key points of transition. This includes deciding how much money is ‘enough’, establishing who to ask for advice and understanding your ‘purpose’ in life. The second section offers more practical guidance: on building trust within families, conducting thorough research, leveraging resources other than money, and planning collaboratively with advisors and stakeholders. Whilst the range of topics is very broad, the book’s basic message is that the skills of building a successful business can usefully be adapted to building a successful legacy.

Ottinger’s style is accessible and the material well organised, but the book’s greatest strength and weakness is its use of case studies. Many of the most interesting insights come from the stories of figures such as Michael Milken, Anita Roddick and Mario Marino. There are also engaging excerpts from interviews and biographies describing the thought processes of wealthy individuals as they ‘find themselves’. At other times, however, case studies are simply gratuitous and are only tenuously relevant to the arguments of the book: the Tsunami becomes a lesson in legacy leadership, Live Aid is an example of ‘leveraging celebrity’, whilst Starbucks has a ‘company culture with a soul’.
More broadly, Ottinger’s admiration for famous figures, campaigns and companies obstructs his ability to give a balanced or critical account of their impact. Though he rightly argues that social impact should be measured and results evaluated, he does not apply this to his own examples. There is insufficient analysis of results, of the actual changes that Bill Gates or Magic Johnsons’ legacies achieve for beneficiaries. Too often it is merely asserted that individuals or campaigns are ‘strategic’, ‘visionary’ or ‘successful’ without sufficiently unpacking the details of how success is defined or how we might measure it in practice.

Of course, it is arguable that this uncritical approach is deliberate: the author’s intention is to paint an optimistic vision that will inspire emulation, not disillusion potential donors by casting doubt over sustainable impact.

If inspiration is the aim, then the book’s tone of earnest significance and echoes of self-help literature make it less suited to a British audience. But for the reader keen to ‘contemplate the road not taken’, ‘connect with their soul’ and ‘maximise the time-value of life’, Beyond Success will make for an interesting and accessible introduction to modern legacy-building practices.


Matthew van Poortvliet is a Research Analyst at New Philanthropy Capital.

This book review is tagged under:

  • Philanthropy stats & trends
  • Strategy advice
  • Understanding philanthropy