Luxury Meter: When Money is Time

Atelier JuneWhen you’ve got it all, it is time that becomes a luxury. And in a delightful contrast to the stereotype of cigar-toting businessmen in old Hollywood movies dismissing wannabes with, “Time is money, honey”, the scenario today is brilliantly ironic: Those with money spending barrels to buy someone else’s time.

I’m talking of course about an anonymous bidder named J********n spending over USD 610,000 to spend half an hour with Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. And he only closely beat 85 other bids including one from Rakesh Kumar, founder of the startup, who had bid USD 580,000 and had hoped to use his coffee with Cook to showcase his website’s concept and gain some brownie points with high-profile investors in Silicon Valley, as reported in The Guardian. All this money isn’t going to Cook, though – it’s been pledged to the Robert Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights via Charitybuzz website, the organisers of the auction.

Though this is the first time ever that the Apple chief has offered his time for a cause, it is certainly not the first time that six-figure amounts have passed hands for a slice of someone’s time. The eight-year-old website – which plays fundraiser for over 1,000 non-profit organisations worldwide – had earlier sold an entire day with former US president Bill Clinton for USD 255,000. It has also sold backstage time with U2’s Bono for USD 211,000 and a meeting with Paul McCartney for USD 130,000.

Those amounts pale in comparison, however, when compared with the USD 3,456,789 that an unidentified bidder paid last year to have a meal at a New York steakhouse with Warren Buffett. The money from EBAY’s annual auction – which got 106 bids – went to the Glide Foundation, where Buffett’s late wife Susan used to volunteer. The philanthropist will volunteer another lunch hour this year for Glide; bidding will go on from June 2 to June 7, in case you’re interested.

Spending to buy an icon’s time is a luxury spread across professions. There have been politicians including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (lunch with him raised USD 185,000 for the Humane Society) and tennis stars such as Rafael Nadal who auctioned off a private tennis lesson for USD 100,000 to raise money for his foundation. Singers, of course, are ever popular: Barbra Streisand volunteered to have the highest bidder be her personal guest while she performed for guests including Bill Clinton, Josh Groban and David Foster in Malibu. The spot raised USD 80,000 for a women’s heart centre.

While the relationship between time and money has become far more humane and interesting than grubby impressions of a cold corporate world, the essence remains the symbiotic equation between price and value. There are always takers for an uncommon offering – whether it’s a rare item, an extreme adventure or someone else’s time or service. After a point, though, all the money in the world pales in comparison to the priceless experiences of a life well lived.

First published in the June 2013 issue of Atelier

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