Updated June 10, 2018 10:38 p.m. ET
Arnold Schwarzenegger has had one of the most impressive—and oddball—careers in popular culture, from two terms as governor of California to four going on five turns as sci-fi icon the Terminator. The financial bets he has placed have been just as diverse. Some have been high profile, like his ownership position in Planet Hollywood. Others have flown under the radar.
In 1970, for instance, when he was a young Austrian expat with enormous biceps, he read that an airport for supersonic aircraft was being planned for the Mojave Desert. So, he spent $15,000 on 10 acres of land that had neither clean water nor electricity.
“The idea was that within a short period of time they were going to come in and bring electricity and water and roads and subdivide it, poker domino and there was a whole plan for the area,” says Schwarzenegger. “So, we said to ourselves, ‘We’re going to make a lot of money. We’re going to become millionaires.’ ”
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But soon after he bought the land, supersonic flight was banned over the U.S., and the airport never materialized. Recently, though, those 10 acres of barren land—which he still owns—have risen in value as a nearby town has developed. The last appraisal came in close to $1 million, he says.
Still, Schwarzenegger says his best and worst bets have had less to do with writing checks and more to do with investing his time and effort in getting ahead—as well as having a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and preparing for a job.
Best Bet: Moving to America
INVESTMENT: Relentless training as a bodybuilder
GAINS: Millions of dollars, movies, the governorship of California
By the time Schwarzenegger was 15, his mom charged him rent to live at home. After seeing videos of the U.S.—“the Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building, the huge highways, the big Cadillacs with the big wings in the back”—he didn’t just want to leave his parents’ house, he wanted to leave his home country, Austria.
Schwarzenegger decided that his ticket to America would be through bodybuilding. He began to train. He joined the Austrian army and continued training, his sights always set on moving to America. After he won the Universe competition in 1967—at 20, the youngest champion—he got an invitation from Joe Weider, one of the godfathers of the sport, to train in the U.S.