Four personality traits of self-made billionaires

If you want to be super rich it helps to be determined, focused, curious and good at taking risks.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 16 Dec 2015

The self-made super rich are an endless source of fascination - just what is it that makes them so successful? (If, of course, you define success as making a whole lot of dollar.) PwC and UBS think they have it nailed: an intelligent approach to risk-taking, curiosity, intense focus and dogged determination.

The accountancy firm and investment bank analysed data on 1,300 billionaires stretching back 19 years, reviewing academic research, surveys and case studies as well as conducting their own interviews with more than 30 billionaires.

Here are the ‘distinct personality characteristics’ they landed on:

1. Clever risk taking

Self-made billionaires are ‘optimistic’ and unafraid of taking risks, helped by the fact they’re pretty good at it. The research found they are good at identifying asymmetrical opportunities, exploiting those that advantage them and getting out of those that don’t, while always keeping hold of enough to recover if they do fail.

As one put it, ‘When I sit at the negotiation table I always ask myself who is the fool at the table. If I do not see one I will most likely walk away because the chances are high that it is me.’

2. Curiosity

Curiosity didn’t kill these cats. Rather, it is ‘constantly driving them to look for unmet customer needs that create a significant business opportunity.’

3. Obsessive focus

And once they do find a lucrative opening, these wealthy entrepreurs are on it like it’s nobody’s business (apart from theirs, obvs). They have extreme ‘tunnel vision’, but try to avoid letting emotions play a part in deals – or are at least very honest with themselves if they do.

It can be hard to get their attention - ‘the one critical resource that even billionaires cannot buy is time.’ But if you do get in front of them, they’re all yours, even in an age of smartphone addiction: ‘None of the meetings we had was disrupted by an assistant, there were no calls and none of them looked at their mobile devices to check messages.’ (Or the self-made billionaires they talked to were just very polite.)

4. Dogged determination

It’s probably not surprising highly successful entrepreneurs are extremely hard working and uber-resilient. Failure is a learning experience. Risk is often seen as ‘from the perspective of not being positioned to capitalize on a business opportunity.’ And ‘most interviewees we asked viewed a life threatening (for their company) crisis as an opportunity’.

Ticked all those boxes? It helps to start young as well: 23% of self-made billionaires in the research had started their first company before turning 30, while 68% had done so before hitting 40. But don’t worry if you’re not a college dropout - only 18% of the uber-rich entrepreneurs were. And nearly half had worked in a big company before their big break.

Of course billionaires are also a diverse bunch. King of philanthropists and super-nerd Bill Gates is very different from the high-rolling publicity stunt-loving Richard Branson who is in turn not much like Monaco-living media-avoidee Philip Green – aside from their nouse, appetite for risk and determination to succeed.

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