Yesterday I spent my early evening flicking through The Sunday Times Rich List, a pastime that I’m sure many people do simply to marvel at how the other half – or should that be the 0.00005% – live.
My day began by popping over the road to get my Sunday newspapers as my local corner shop opened for business at 7.00am. As I brought my handful to the sales counter I motioned to the The Sunday Times’ headline referring to the Rich List and quipped “I noticed that you’re not in it, Bob …”.
Quick as a flash, deadpan, he replied: “Yes, I ticked the box marked ‘no publicity’ …” and we both laughed.
Perusing the Rich List pages is a strange annual experience because, as this indulgence always does, it made it difficult for me to avoid the impression that, if just deserts had anything to do with it, I ought to have appeared somewhere within its pages – albeit perhaps towards the end – or should that be ‘would have done’ but for the singular lack of opportunity and bad luck that has undoubtedly bedevilled me along my way through life?
Several lines of thought occurred as I went about my task.
One of them was a rumination upon the qualities that go towards making a businessman or entrepreneur successful – that is, if success is to be measured solely upon the amount of money he or she makes.
This is against a background in which – if memory serves, which I must admit it may not – I once read or heard somewhere that something like 95% of new business start-ups either go bust or indeed never get going within twelve to eighteen months.
Is there such a thing as an entrepreneurial gene? Based upon my own personal experience, one of my fall-back positions on the topic is that – idly reviewing the evidence of my own family’s history of running their own businesses and/or the career paths my forebears and contemporaries actually took – there isn’t one. Or at least not running through my family, anyway. I’ve never felt I had one, for example.
In this year’s Rich List, business columnist and former City analyst Luke Johnson has written a piece based upon historian Rainer Zitelmann’s new book The Wealth Elite: A Groundbreaking Study of the Psychology of the Super Rich.
Apparently, self-made millionaires possess five overriding characteristics – they’re optimistic, nonconformists, driven by gut instinct rather than business analysis, likely to have been athletic in their youth, and good at selling and/or did sales work of one sort or another when growing up.
Yep, that seems to make sense – I reckon I score (or scored) 1.5 out of 5 on that basis, which may well explain a lot.
Johnson develops his theme by suggesting that a thirst for independence and freedom plays its part – entrepreneurs tend to prefer the prospect of earning less but running their own business than working for someone else for a bigger salary.
During my career in the media I met a fair number of independent television producers. If they had a ‘type’ I would say it was indeed the desire to run and control their own operation, come what may. Of course, you have to allow for the fact that it’s an alienable fact of life that those businessmen (or women) one comes across in any sort of ‘established’ working situation are those who’ve had some degree of success since by definition those less fortunate wouldn’t be in that environment anyway.
I once asked him what he regarded as his greatest success. Without hesitation – this was probably twenty years ago now – he replied “Managing to survive in this business for twenty-five years”. Nothing about any of the successful series he either devised and/or produced and directed himself and/or indeed the celebrity TV presenters and actors and/or the gongs and accolades that he and they received over that period.
Which again, I’d venture to suggest, says plenty about something.
After a spectacularly successful career in his chosen high-end industry he started his own business in it from scratch with his own money and no partners or financial backing.
It’s a tough, difficult world in which to make your way and two and a half years later – apart from the previously-mentioned angle that at least he’s survived – he has nothing to show for it in terms of yet being able to take a salary, still less being able to flash the cash because it’s been piling up in his bank account like there’s no tomorrow. He may appear serene to those around him on the surface but beneath the water his legs are peddling like crazy just to stay where he is, routinely working sixteen-hour days. When we spoke on the phone over the weekend he wondered aloud whether the game was worth the candle, if that’s the right expression.
He was referring to the industry, location and circumstances he’s in.
In this context, the one thing I took away from my delve into The Sunday Times Rich List last night was that, although there were a raft of the ‘usual suspects’ (manufacturing, internet, financial services, property) predominant in the industries in which the mega-rich had made their money, it also seemed to me there was barely a human activity or interest in existence in which somebody, somewhere, hadn’t made a mint.
It occurred to me, as I began my post today, that maybe this fact tends to support the view that successful businessmen and businesswomen are indeed a ‘type’ – i.e. rather than just having been damned lucky in terms of the industry in which they chose to get involved.