Reader's Digest interviews Hanna

"I was raised to think like a businessman," says Frank Hanna, 47, who credits a childhood spent hanging around his father's Atlanta real estate investment office for setting him on the road to success. This, plus good instincts and creativity, led to a brainstorm while Hanna was a student at the University of Georgia: He created a

method to help companies get rid of bad loans. At 27, Frank Hanna and his brother, David, tested it, using $160,000 of their savings to buy up loans.

It worked so well, they started an investment firm, selling it later for about $100 million. Other endeavors, including Hanna's current firm, Hanna Capital, have also flourished.

Early on, Frank Hanna contemplated his upward spiral and settled on philanthropy as a calling. Hanna gives generously to Catholic charities, among others, and has co-founded three Catholic schools in Atlanta. Frank Hanna's recent book, What Your Money Means (Crossroad Publishing), addresses basic questions about the positive role money can play in our lives.

Q. Do you believe in the notion of self-made men and women? 

Frank Hanna: No, I don't. In my case, I've worked very hard, but most of us have received many gifts; it's hard to be grateful enough for that.

Q. So money is a blessing to you?

Frank Hanna: It allows us to create and nurture relationships with others. When I pay you $20 for some good or service we have a relationship. It's not necessarily a close one, but it can be.

 Q. Is your Catholicism at work here?

Frank Hanna: I feel we're responsible for our brothers and sisters. I don't like it when the government takes over this role. It can end up usurping an act of love with an act of compelled humanitarianism, which is not humanitarian at all. We're intended to be stewards of the gifts of this earth. When we tithe—and I'm able to give about 10 percent of my income—we acknowledge that the gifts in our possession aren't solely intended for our own use, whether they're money, talent, energy, or affection. We're able to shift from "What's in it for me?" to "What can I do for others?"

Q. Isn't that easier to say if you're well-off?

Frank Hanna: It may seem that way. But what about the single mom struggling to afford groceries for her children? Money isn't the first order of reality for her either. The first order is the love God gave her for her children. Without love, no matter how little or how much money we may have, life becomes meaningless.

Q. Some say we should express these values with government spending. What are your thoughts?

Frank Hanna: To me, the term public service is hazardous. It implies that those not working in public service aren't furthering the common good. Not true. People who develop more efficient ways of growing food and then sell it, for example, benefit the world enormously, even if they make money doing so. The government didn't give us the telephone, modern agriculture, or vaccines. Private enterprise did. There's a role for government, but it is not superior to private enterprise.

Q. In tough times, why still give?

Frank Hanna: Because it's part of what makes us human. It's a manifestation of what's best within us, which is our capacity to love and to make a sacrifice for others. Tough times shouldn't dampen our humanity.

Q. How can average Americans make the most of charitable giving?

Frank Hanna: Be deliberate in the process. Most of us are more careful about researching the cars we buy than about how we give away money.

Q. What can the recession teach us?

Frank Hanna: To look at our own lives and at how we spend our money. Are we still grateful and generous with others? Crises bring out the best and worst in us. We'll see a lot of both.

By Arthur C. Brooks
From Reader's Digest - April 2009