David Potts August 05, 2012
''You can achieve maximum leverage by utilising other people's money, time, knowledge, ideas and labour''. Photo: Jessica Hromas
The ultra wealthy are a difficult breed to spot - and that's exactly how they like it.
Of the billionaires I know, admittedly a small sample, what stands out is that you'd never know looking at them.
If there's some genetic key to being rich, it's well hidden.
Except for this one clue.
They're tight. In my experience, the more money that's splashed around, the more likely it is to have been borrowed, or worse, and the more likely the person isn't rich at all. Or won't be for much longer.
The one occasion I've had dinner with a billionaire was no feast. You probably had it for dinner at home last night, except without the staff chef, I daresay.
Rupert Murdoch (no, a different billionaire) once told me he got all his suits made on the cheap in Hong Kong and I'll bet he's never spent more than $20 on a tie. Lately he's taken to not wearing one that often. Guess why?
These instances of, let's say, frugality, or what Thomas Stanley and William Danko in their book The Millionaire Next Door based on interviews with 500 millionaires call, approvingly, ''living below your means'', are a telltale sign of wealth. Incidentally, a focus group of millionaires who they invited to a swish function for their book just nibbled on crackers and ''it turned out the only gourmets on the scene were among the non-millionaire research staff''.
PINCH YOUR PENNIES
Frugality doesn't appear on Melbourne-based life coach Shannah Kennedy's list of characteristics on this page because she calls it ''respect for their money''.
Whatever. ''Successful people respect their money and know their cost of living and will spend half a day a month on their own finances making sure they're up to date,'' she says, adding that at her seminars for accountants and financial planners, when she asks, ''Who knows their cost of living?'', if five put up their hands she's lucky.
The point is the rich will always drive a hard bargain; they know how much every dollar earns and where it's gone. They never pay retail if they can help it and always ask for discounts. Also, like the Queen, they probably don't hold a lot of cash: everything is tied up in the business or investments.
Which brings me to something all the rich have in common. They started or ran their own business, and that means hard work.
''I don't know anyone who's achieved success who didn't have a strong work ethic,'' says John Symond, who took on the banks when he founded Aussie Home Loans 20 years ago.
Not only are they prepared to have a go, they revel in the risk.
BRICKS AND MORTAR
They also did well out of property. The rich buy their own place early on and from there speculate on both commercial and residential property.
That's another thing. Few seem to have built their wealth from the sharemarket, except for stock in their own company if it is listed.
Not even Kerry Packer, no slouch in making money out of the sharemarket, was a big trader or investor. He had a couple of spectacular successes and that was it.
But he had substantial property holdings, including what must have been half of the Northern Territory.
''I promised myself 20 years ago I wouldn't be distracted until the business was well up and running,'' Symond says. ''I've never played the equities market.''
Even the legendary US share fund manager, Peter Lynch, says: ''You should have first invested in a house,'' according to Tom Butler-Bowdon's 50 Prosperity Classics (published by Nicholas Brealey).
That way you can build up equity and go on to gear.
TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE
Using other people's money is essential for building wealth, and forgive me if I'm being presumptuous, but I'm assuming you don't have much of your own. And why stop there?
''You can achieve maximum leverage by utilising other people's money, time, knowledge, ideas and labour,'' Butler-Bowdon says.
That also includes knowing the right people. If there's one thing millionaires are constantly doing, it's networking and mixing with other millionaires.
They also know how to bounce back from misfortune. It's amazing how many of the self-made rich failed at some point only to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and go on to make a fortune.
Resilience must surely top the list of characteristics of the successful.
Have you noticed how many get-rich-quick books there are, mostly based on property investing? The funny thing is that usually the author has gone broke once or twice and it's sales of the book that proved the turning point. My book is imminent.
One last thing, in case you hadn't noticed. The rich pay as little tax as they can get away with.