About Utah: Utahn Carl Richards discusses the art of going viral

Published: Monday, March 25 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Carl Richards poses with his “artwork.” His sketches have gained acclaim both inside and outside the financial community.

Lee Benson

PARK CITY — There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, if you asked Carl Richards, “What do you do?” it wouldn't take him a week to tell you.

But that was before he jotted down some sketches of simple financial advice on a napkin, The New York Times asked him to write a weekly column based on the wisdom behind those drawings, Penguin Books talked him into publishing a book based on his Times columns, the art world asked him to display and sell his drawings in one-man shows from London to Johannesburg, and professional speaker’s bureaus got in line asking him to talk about any and all of the above.

This all transpired, by the way, in a little over three years, meaning Richards ought to be in an emergency room for whiplash about now, if only he had the time and Penguin didn’t want another book and he wasn’t on his way to South Africa for yet another art tour.

Crazy? Carl would second that. “If this had happened 20 years ago the only person who would have seen any of it would have been my mom,” he says during a rare stationary moment as he reclines in a chair in the suite of offices he’s rented next to East Canyon Creek in Park City.

But this isn’t 20 years ago. This is the social media age when doodles on a napkin go viral and being on Twitter means “Going to lunch with 1,000 people any time you want.”

Carl Richards said that. Said it because he’s lived it.

Everything that’s happened to him in his personal whirlwind, every dot, can be connected to the amazing, and relatively recent, World Wide interconnectedness of us all.

For him, it began innocently enough when, as part of his work as a professional financial adviser, he decided to post his advice on a blog, which he accompanied with the common-sense sketches he liked to draw to get the point across.

A friend thought the sketches were terrific and sent one to Ron Lieber, a New York Times columnist and editor of the financial section. Lieber, too, thought they were terrific and, after a trial run that was received well by readers, invited Carl to write a column, with drawings, every Monday. The pay wouldn’t be great — as in he’d get to do it for free — but what exposure! Richards said yes in a New York Times second.

The regular columns started in February 2010. They’ve been running every week ever since, to enthusiastic response.

One avid fan of the columns happened to work at Penguin Books, which led to a phone call Carl received one day in the parking lot of White Pine Touring in Park City, where he’d just had his skis tuned. Penguin wondered if, in exchange for a healthy advance, he’d consider compiling his columns and publishing them in a book. Carl was so shocked he almost dropped the phone.

But that wasn’t the most surprising moment. That came after his book, “The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money,” was published in 2012 and the phone rang again. It was the Kimball Arts Center in Park City, wondering if Carl would like to display his “art” there in a one-man show.

“Art!” stammered Carl. “You think my sketches are art?”

Absolutely, they told him, and started making arrangements for his show. He framed and mounted his drawings, explained his artistic technique — “Sharpie on cardstock” — and put them on display. Before the show’s run was over, every piece had sold.

That was just the start. Galleries started calling from around the world. He did an art show in London at the Lord Mayor’s house, where they had to move a few Renoirs to make room. He did another one in the Netherlands and another in South Africa, where he’ll return again this summer.

The talks he gave at the galleries and on his book tour were so original, and so compelling, that speaking requests started pouring in from both the world of finance and art.

Carl, who just turned 40, is trying to take it all in stride. Just four years ago he had to sell his house in Las Vegas at a fire-sale price when the subprime crisis hit — not a great moment for a man dispensing financial advice for a living. And now, here he is, relocated to his Utah roots — he grew up in Park City and Salt Lake City; East High, Class of ’90 — and traveling the world: a veritable one-man conglomerate.

On his website, behaviorgap.com, you can buy his book, access his columns, order his art, or schedule him for a speech.

“I wish I could take credit for any of it, other than just continuing to follow the path,” Carl says, shrugging. “People ask me, ‘How does this happen? What’s your strategy?’ I tell them I don’t know other than sort of play in traffic and hope you get hit.”

Sketch to follow.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: benson@deseretnews.com

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