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Stephen Batman offered life lessons at a lecture on campus last week.
Andrew Dixon | Collegian

Stephen A. “Tony” Batman has made more money than most people his age, but his biggest piece of advice for Hillsdale stu­dents at a lecture last Thursday was not to over­value money.

“There’s nothing wrong with making money, but some people make money their entire life,” Batman said. “If you ask them what is most important to them and they say money, you don’t want to be friends with them. There’s some­thing in their char­acter that is not right.”

Batman, founder and former chairman and CEO of 1st Global Inc., spoke on “How to Live a Life to Praise and to Prize” on April 1. In his talk, he shared advice from his career as a financial analyst to teach stu­dents how to succeed both in the work world and in their per­sonal lives.

Batman spoke on the idea of utility, which he said drives nearly every aspect of modern life, and dis­cussed where it is useful and where it goes too far. Mon­etary utility, for example, is not always a good thing, because a person who loves money more than any­thing else is con­temptible. Another type of utility is “tac­tical utility,” Batman said: young people change jobs at a far quicker rate than middle-aged and older people, because of their curiosity. 

“Employers don’t like that, because they invest in you and then that investment is turned into naught. But they under­stand that that is part of the process. I just want you to know that they know that that is part of the process,” Batman said. 

Employers who prefer an older employee to a younger one aren’t engaging in “age dis­crim­i­nation,” he added, they just under­stand human psychology.

His advice ranged from how to succeed in an interview — let the person inter­viewing you know what you can offer them if hired — to Aristotle’s “Nico­machean Ethics.”

Batman recounted the three kinds of friendship Aris­totle out­lines: friend­ships of pleasure, which end when pleasure ends; friend­ships of utility, which end when utility ends; and friend­ships of virtue, wherein friends don’t require any­thing from one another besides friendship.

“I read the ‘Nico­machean Ethics’ and it changed my view about who my friends are,” Batman said with a laugh. “I realized I probably only have about two or three friends.”

A char­tered financial analyst and the chairman of SVB Interests, Batman and his wife, Vicki, live in Dallas, Texas, and are involved in phil­an­thropy to advance their four core values, faith & worship, knowledge & edu­cation, business & com­merce, and civics & patriotism.

Batman is a “trail­blazer,” according to the American Institute of Cer­tified Public Accoun­tants, for his vision and entre­pre­neurial spirit con­cerning the future of the accounting pro­fession. Accounting Today mag­azine voted Batman one of the most influ­ential accoun­tants in America for 13 years in a row, from 1996 through 2008. He sold 1st Global, now known as Avantax Financial Ser­vices, to Blucora Inc., in May 2019. 

In addition to his success in the world of financial man­agement, Batman shared about his deep and abiding interest in higher edu­cation with Hillsdale stu­dents. A graduate of the Uni­versity of Kansas, Batman told the audience how he has com­pleted nearly 100 online courses from dif­ferent uni­ver­sities in order to learn about the great books — from ancient Greek and enlight­enment phi­losophy to world history and Judeo-Christian the­ology. He has been fas­ci­nated with clas­sical edu­cation since a child, when he observed his father’s col­lection of the great books of the Western tradition. 

Batman tapped into this knowledge for his lecture, even when advising stu­dents on some­thing as simple as how to speak — or, “expressive utility”: omit “like” and “you know.”

“It is OK to be silent. Silence is power. If you have nothing to say, say nothing. There is no power in saying, ‘you know,’” Batman said.

He returned to Aris­totle when explaining the purpose of starting a business.

“Every­thing has a purpose,” Batman said. “That light here: one purpose of it is ambiance. One purpose is a dec­o­ration. But the highest purpose of light is illu­mi­nation, and perfect illu­mi­nation. Likewise, the purpose of business is not to make money. Those are sec­ondary pur­poses. The primary purpose of business is to make other peoples’ lives better. If you do that, you will make money.” 

Russell Richardson, an insti­tu­tional advancement asso­ciate who attended the lecture, said he was impressed by how humble Batman was.

“He was an incredibly suc­cessful man, and yet he was inter­ested in helping other people become suc­cessful,” Richardson said. “There are often two types of suc­cessful people: those who are just inter­ested in them­selves and in self-glo­ri­fi­cation, and the rare type of people that are inter­ested in helping others reach their level.”

Senior Taryn Murphy also remarked on Batman’s eagerness to aid and instruct. 

“One of the things that really stood out to me was his com­mitment to helping other people,” Murphy said. “Also, that success doesn’t come from just chasing some sort of ever-moving bottom line, but that genuine success and ful­fillment will come if you commit yourself to help people. That doesn’t mean you won’t run into failures — I mean, he was sort of frank about times when he was fired and so on — but that com­mitment to help people can be a driving force.”