7 Wealth-Building Lessons from Billionaires

There is no shortage of billionaires today. In 1985, there were fewer than 20 of them. Today, there are more than one thousand.

Wealth is gradually moving away from the United States. In 2003, eight Americans made the top 10 in Forbes’ annual list of billionaires. This year, only two (Warren Buffett and Bill Gates) made the list. And less than half of the entire list is made up of Americans.

Still, 443 American billionaires is nothing to sneeze at. Nor is their collective net worth of around $1.6 trillion. At least for the moment, the U.S. still has the world’s largest and most profitable economy. But India and China are catching up. Their economies are growing fast. And they are not wasting trillions of dollars on foreign wars.

With the dollar falling and our economy on the brink of a depression, it’s highly likely that Americans will continue to get poorer in the next few years. It’s also quite possible that the U.S. will be passed by China or India and become a second-tier economy. Even if that doesn’t happen, Americans will have to take quick and drastic action to protect themselves and preserve the wealth they have.

One of the best ways you can create and maintain wealth is by following the lead of people who’ve already done it.

About 33 percent of the very rich got their money through inheritance. The Waltons, for instance. The rest – two out of three – created their wealth through business. About half of those mega-entrepreneurs started with family money, and the other half started from scratch. These are the people – like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page – who earned the wealth they have. These are the people I’d listen to if I wanted advice on how to succeed today.

I don’t know any of these billionaire entrepreneurs (BEs) personally, but I’ve done a lot of reading about them. I figured you might want to know what makes them tick and how they got where they are. Here is what I’ve discovered:

  • Formal education matters – but not always. The great majority of BEs – about 90 percent – have a college degree. But it’s not necessary for success. Among the world’s super-rich today, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Fred DeLuca, David Geffen, and Andrei Melnichenko didn’t graduate from college. And David Murdock (Dole Foods), S. Truett Cathy (Chick-fil-A), and Richard Desmond (British publishing magnate) never finished high school.
  • BEs work harder and longer than the people who work for them. Most say they work 50 to 55 hours a week. Some, like centibillionaire Canadian communication mogul Ted Rogers, work 12 hours a day. And some, like Bill Gates (when he worked at Microsoft) and eBay founder Jeff Skoll, took no vacations for years while their businesses were growing.
  • BEs are constantly looking for profit opportunities. When they hear about an economic or business development, they think, “How could I profit from that?”
  • BEs don’t dwell on mistakes. They view problems as learning opportunities. “I don’t remember any mistakes,” the late pharmaceutical billionaire James Sorenson told Forbes, “only the opportunity to overcome problems.”
  • BEs think neither completely positively or negatively, but strategically. Instead of thinking, “That’s impossible” or “I can do anything,” they think, “Is that possible?” and “If it is, how could I do it?”
  • BEs don’t believe in luck. In a recent Forbes poll of the 400 richest people in the world, none said they had become wealthy entirely by luck. Some said they considered luck to be a minor factor. Most, like Oprah Winfrey, consider luck an outsider’s way of describing someone who works hard and seizes opportunity. “Luck,” Winfrey says, “is preparation meeting a moment of opportunity.”
  • BEs are not driven primarily by money. “Studies show that the desire for financial success is no stronger among entrepreneurs than among those not starting a company,” says entrepreneur expert Kelly Shaver. Wharton School management professor Raphael Amit agrees: “No one is saying they don’t like their wealth; but what matters more is the innovation, the intense commitment they have to an idea and the difference it can make. Money is a byproduct.”

If you want to survive and prosper in the first decade of 21st century, emulate the habits of the world’s richest people. Educate yourself about money. Make conservative investments. And seize opportunities to start and/or invest in entrepreneurial businesses.

[Ed. Note: Michael Masterson has said it before: One of the very best ways to get wealthy is to start your own business. At ETR’s upcoming 5 Days in July Internet Business Building Conference, you’ll learn how to build your own Internet business from the ground up.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]