Money Lessons From These Iconic American Institutions

Susy Zinn
3 min readAug 7, 2020


“What the wise do in the beginning, fools do in the end.” — Warren Buffet

I love a great story — the hero dreams, springs to action to accomplish them, runs into an obstacle that he eventually overcomes and succeeds in the end. What’s more captivating and inspiring is if they happen to be real-life stories too.

So, let’s explore these true stories of big business tycoons as they started, saved and grew their businesses into the empires that they are now.

Pacific Mutual Life issued its first policy to Leland Stanford, the company’s first president, in 1868. After his son, Leland Jr., died of typhoid fever in 1884 at the age of 15, him and his wife Jane, were determined to instead use their wealth to do something for other people’s children. As both believed in the importance of education to prepare young men and women to be productive and successful, they established Leland Stanford Jr University in Palo Alto, CA in 1891 with a pioneer class of 555 students.

Leland died in 1893 and the fledgling university’s financial support became uncertain, to the point where Jane tried unsuccessfully to sell her treasured jewel collection in 1897. Set on preserving the university and avoiding a “temporary” closure, she used her husband’s life insurance policy proceeds to help fund operations and pay faculty, allowing Stanford University to weather a dangerous six-year period of financial distress.

Stanford University is ranked among the top five universities in the world in major education publications. Moreover, it boasts of having as alumni one president of the United States (Herbert Hoover), 30 living billionaires, and 17 astronauts.

Walt Disney was starting his theme park but had a very difficult time getting banks to support his vision of a mouse and duck that would bring in people from around the world.

Thankfully, he had previously built his own bank using Whole life Insurance. He borrowed against his life insurance and sold his second house just so he could develop his idea. Studio employees worked on the project paid from Walt Disney’s personal funds.

Because Walt Disney had this guaranteed access to liquidity, he was able to eventually capitalize on his dream and create a multinational empire for generations to enjoy.

And, despite the loans he took out from the policy, the cash value continued compounding. Not only that, but his policy continued to provide valuable protection for Disney’s family.

Today, The Walt Disney Company has an annual revenue of nearly $70 billion.

J.C. Penney had his chain of department stores with cash-flowing nicely during the boom of the Roaring 20’s. Like most business owners at this stage of prosperity, he diversified into a vast stock portfolio as well as acres upon acres of Florida Real Estate. He also got himself a very large Whole Life Insurance policy, with its conservative but steady growth rate.

His Whole Life insurance policy quickly became his favorite asset class after the Stock Market crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression followed. Real estate fell, especially overvalued Florida real estate. Banks failed too as the masses came in demanding their deposits back.

J.C. Penney used the cash value in his life insurance policies to meet the payroll, purchase inventory and day-to-day expenses of his department store. This allowed the company to stay open and ultimately rebound from the Great Depression.

Around the same time the crash hit, his health was starting to give way. How reassuring it must’ve been for J.C. to know that even though he took a large loan against his cash value to save his business, there would still be a substantial death benefit paid out to his family if he were to pass away during that tumultuous time.

Good thing was his health got better and so did his business.

James Cash Penney supported his family and many others because his business provided a way to make a living during lean times.

His company eventually went public, creating a multi-generational family legacy.

In all these stories, the takeaway is that investment in Life Insurance not only protects the people you love but also supports your dreams and passions.

For more information on the benefits of life insurance for personal and business, email me at for a free consultation and policy review. Let’s talk!



Susy Zinn

Susana Zinn is an Independent Life Insurance Agent based in Los Angeles, California.