9 December 2019
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What can you learn from billionaires?

Earlier this week I caught up with a fractional billionaire or multi-millionaire — Mark “The Mentor” Bouris — who shared with me an unforgettable tip he got from a 24-carat gold billionaire, Kerry Packer. 

“Kerry once asked me what I was selling?” he recalled. “And I said home loans.” But Mark was set straight by his new business partner who told him he was selling hopes, dreams, security and all the things we Aussies love about owning a home.

With Bill Shorten promising to raise wages for all, I thought it timely to see what we can learn from those who are wage-less — billionaires! Also this week, I was encouraged by a great clickbait story entitled “Self-made billionaires like Warren Buffett and Elon

Musk prove if you don’t make time for these 6 little things every day, you’ll never be successful!”

As someone always in the market for success, I had to read it — yep, I’m a sucker for ‘suck you in’ success headlines. And why wouldn’t you be?

This reminds me of a time when I emc’d a small business conference where the organiser gave me a stand for someone from my office to sell copies of my then new book 350 Ways to Grow Your Business.

An Aussie attendee saw that his South African mate was flicking though the book and said: “It’s $29.99.” And to that, the more businesslike South African entrepreneur replied: “350 ways to grow my business and if only one out of 350 helps me, it’s certainly worth $35!” If I wasn’t on stage, I would’ve thrown in, “and it’s tax deductible!” 

Back to the CNBC story, which was ‘penned’ by Dustin McKissen, the founder of McKissen + Company, a strategic communications firm in St. Charles, Missouri. Apparently this guy was also named one of LinkedIn's “Top Voices in Management and Corporate Culture.” 

First, he reckons lots of billionaires read books daily not related to their business or position. Not surprisingly, Elon Musk reads science fiction and I remember an old economic history lecturer, Ian Inkster, who told us science fiction has a history of running ahead of real science and in many ways has been an inspiration for scientific discovery, invention and innovation.

Second, they challenge themselves and get outside their comfort zones. As Jim Rohn has said and I’ve often repeated: “Just about everything you want in life is just outside your comfort zone.” And yep, billionaires and many other successful people have nailed this one to explain their success.

Third, a five-year study of rich people by Tom Corley, who wrote, Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to be Happy and Successful in Life, found the rich had a healthy habit of exercise. “Those who have forged the habit of exercising aerobically have tremendous competitive advantages over those who don't,” he argued.

Fourth, these moneyed people don’t mind giving back, with the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, who have famously thrown $US36 billion at causes linked to improving health, education and poverty.

Fifth, they respect their rivals but often use it to drive themselves and their teams. Apple’s Steve Jobs never forgot who he was battling, with the likes of IBM and Microsoft always being powerful forces that drove him to business greatness.

Sixth, Dustin reckons billionaires can walk and talk at the same time and use this activity to do something that has historically given many entrepreneurs a competitive advantage — it’s called thinking!

A study from the American Psychology Association found that outdoor walks helps creativity and problem-solving. “When there is a premium on generating new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate walks,” the research revealed.

Last week I had another brush with a real billionaire in Gerry Harvey — if not to play tennis, we meet at least two other times a year because there are two reporting seasons, when we have to do a bit of sparring.

So how does Gerry fit the six characteristics of a billionaire? Let’s test him.

1. Reads non-retail books: check, as he has loves biographies of other successful people and especially older, high achievers like Frank Lowy, Warren Buffett and so on. He also like young people who know stuff others don’t.

2. Getting out of his comfort zone: check, as his forays into Ireland, NZ, Croatia, Slovenia, Singapore and Malaysia have shown, he’s up for challenges and this part of his business now delivers 25% of the group’s profit!

3. Exercise: check, and he has a mad, bad and dangerous serve that I’ve occasionally had to try to return.

4. Giver: he does have controversial views on this subject. In Matthew Kidman’s book Master CEO’s in 2008, he said giving money to people who “are not putting anything back into the community” is like “helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason”.

He went on: “That is not to say we don't give money away to charities because we have given plenty away over the years. At the end of the day, the more quality individuals you develop in the community, the better off the community should be.” He prefers a very Gerry way of helping the community.

He said he believed in helping “develop people to their potential” because “when they achieve [their potential] they will put a lot more back into the community”.

A lot of employers believe they are giving back in employing, paying and training their people and there is a reasonably strong case in support of this view.

5. Respect rivals: check, and yes, he knows JB Hi-Fi is a quality competitor but doesn’t rate Amazon as a retailer as they haven’t made a profit out of doing what he has done for decades!

6. On thinking: I’m not sure because he does a lot of talking when I’m with him but given what he has achieved from absolutely nothing and given he’s a billionaire, where he and his wife and CEO Katie Page own 55% of Harvey Norman, I reckon this old rooster can string a thought or two together.

You might not want to be Gerry Harvey, Richard Branson, Alice Walton of Walmart or Gina Rinehart, but you have to know if you’re happy to be successful, these legends can give you valuable lessons.

However, Dustin left out a big common characteristic of these billionaires, which you must embrace and it’s the core characteristic. What is it?

You have to want the success deep down and you have to be focused on it nearly 24/7. That means you have to love what you’re doing. If you don’t, you can do OK but you won’t become a legend.

I think a lot of billionaires and very successful people are in tune with the old US radio disc jockey, Casey Kasem of the American Top 40 show, who used to end his programme telling us: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

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