Obliquity: the roundabout route to success

Rather than be prescriptive, try the indirect approach to achieving your goals - obliquity, in a word ...

by John Kay

Why is it that some of business' wealthiest people never directly set out to become rich? It's almost as if they had stumbled across their fortunes as they looked the other way. Sam Walton, Wal-Mart's founder, has confided that 'creating a huge personal fortune was never particularly a goal of mine'. And the wealth of Warren Buffett was not so much his objective as a means of keeping score: he lives in the bungalow in Omaha that he has occupied for 50 years, and still works hard at the age of 78.

Amassing wealth isn't billionaire Donald Trump's primary objective either. 'I don't do it for the money. I've got enough - much more money than I'll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form.' The property magnate claims to engage in business not as a means, but as an end in itself. Building a successful company - the main route to a spectacular fortune today - requires devotion to business, exceptional talent and immense hard work; which is not at all the same as love of money - a lesson that the failed Lehman Brothers did not learn.

'I think Lehman went under in part because the culture there was not conducive to teamwork ... they (the partners) diverted earnings from the firm in the form of swollen bonuses and dividends to themselves'. These comments were not made after Lehman's failure in 2008; they come from John Whitehead, then chairman of Goldman Sachs, Lehman's rival, commenting on the earlier collapse of Lehman's in 1984. Lacking a corporate culture that valued the practice, as well as the profits, of banking, Lehman fell victim to the profit-seeking it extolled.

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