Wealth is always regarded as elusive, but numbers suggest otherwise. Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report reports that as of mid-2010, there were over 24 million High Net Worth Individuals—people with at least $1 million of investible assets, excluding home value—in the world. As The Economist put it, there are literally more millionaires than there are Australians.
One interesting tidbit from the report is that the majority of these millionaires are self-made. Less than a sixth of them inherited their wealth; for most, the money came from business. This shows us that the way to a sweet life is not so much about saving money, but making it. Rich minds think alike. Business acumen will get you there faster than a retirement fund.
How did these millionaires do it? Here’s a look at their common traits.
A Sense of Equality
Successful entrepreneurs don’t consider themselves the boss. Or rather, they know they are, but it means little more to them than a title. They consider themselves on the same level as their managers, employees, and fellow businessmen, and treat them all with the same level of respect. This is why modern organizational structures are horizontal—rather than some people being higher or lower in rank, everyone differs only in their roles. This trickles down to an entrepreneur’s sense of management: by making it clear that everyone is crucial to business, they encourage people to get things done on tim
Organization and Flexibility
Owners of million-dollar outfits follow a plan, but know when it’s smart to stray from it. True, some people stumble upon their luck—the founders of both Google and Facebook started out with simple projects for which there turned out to be a huge demand—but when it starts to take off, a plan of action always come in handy.
Setting goals will also help you keep your performance in perspective. By some standards, making $1 million in your first year of business is good—but it can pale next to your goal of $2 million or $5 million. Knowing how well or badly you’re doing is your cue to stay on your current plan or explore other options.
They say that to be successful in business, you have to be either the first or the best. Both require creativity. Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, was the first to see that bloggers sometimes had ideas that wouldn’t fill out a full-length article, but simply had to be put out there. So he came up with micro-blogging, which allowed people to make SMS-length posts from their phones and computers. The company made an estimated $150 million in 2010.
More often, however, it’s creativity that wins over originality. Many technologies weren’t trailblazers, but improved versions of the original. Beta tapes and laser discs both preceded VHS and Blu-Ray, but the latter two were more successful. In video gaming, Sony’s PlayStation became the industry leader even though Sega’s Dreamcast was first on the scene. Those who make it big see opportunities where most of us see a blank space.
Very few businesses make it to the million-dollar club without a few rough patches. And even then, ups and downs are not uncommon: just look at the dozens of carmakers that took the brunt of the recent recession. A bad businessman would throw in the towel and live on what’s left of his wealth, doing little if any to get back on track. A good one, however, will not even consider closing up shop. They will look into alternatives and try one solution after another until the tables turn again. Apple has had its share of failures—the 17-pound Macintosh Portable was too bulky even by 1989 standards, and the third-generation iPod Shuffle was slammed for being too small—but it learns from its mistakes and keeps on going. To date, the company has made more hits than misses—and its $65-billion net worth in 2010 can attest to that.
Value in Action
Finally, successful businessmen don’t sit around. A brilliant idea is well and good, but it’s not going anywhere without a push. The best entrepreneurs will pat themselves on the back for a job well done, but also know not to rest on their laurels too long. They’ll always try to make things better. Coke and Pepsi will probably stay profitable even if their owners don’t set foot in the office for a year, but they always have something new up their sleeve. True, not all their ideas take off—few people mourned the end of Vanilla Coke—but it’s from constantly being in action that they stay relevant. If you think you’re successful enough to retire at 35, well, you’re probably not.
Cathy is part of the team that manages Credit Card Finder, a complimentary credit card comparison service and a personal finance blog based in Sydney, Australia. Before she joined CCF, she was a staff nurse at Clark Airbase Hospital and conducted lectures on First Aid, Bio-terrorism and Disaster Management.