Who Wants to be (thinking like) a Millionaire?

The most successful guy I know started his business in a railway arch. Now he employs a hundred people and he’s worth somewhere north of ten million quid. Qualifications? He’s got one, and he’s proud of it. “I’ve got a certificate for the 25m breast-stroke,” he says. “Mind you, I put my foot down half way. But the teacher didn’t notice…”

I told this story at a recent Alternative Board meeting – and there were echoes all round the room. We started talking about self made millionaires that we know. What makes them different? How do they think? And the $64,000 question – can you copy their thinking and become just as successful? In no particular order of importance, here are half a dozen of the common characteristics we identified:

Focus – an absolute focus on what they want to do, to the exclusion of everything else. I remember having dinner with our millionaire swimming champ – as soon as we finished talking about his business he fell asleep.

Confidence – bucketloads of it. “I made a big mistake in business,” one of the Board members said. “Took me two years to get over it. Not financially – but psychologically.” That simply doesn’t happen with our millionaires. They make a mistake, shrug, forget about it, get on with the next project.

They’re stubborn – it’s almost a one-dimensional view of the world. Tell them something can’t be done, that it’s never been done that way and they just look at you and say, “Why?”

They’re not introspective – this goes with confidence and being stubborn. Self-made millionaires don’t pause to ask themselves if they’re doing the right thing. They don’t examine their motives. They just do it.

They didn’t do very well at school – you’d think this would change as more people make their fortunes from technology and the internet, but apparently not. Doing spectacularly badly at school – even to the point of getting expelled – was another common characteristic. And so was dyslexia – Richard Branson is famously dyslexic, but the evidence from around the table was that it wasn’t just well-known entrepreneurs that suffered (or should that be benefited?) from dyslexia.

It wasn’t about the money – interestingly, none of the TAB members said they thought making money was the motivation for the entrepreneurs. It was nice, it was a good way of keeping score. But the entrepreneurs were turned on by the deal, by doing what they’d been told they couldn’t do. Besides, what was money at the end of the day? One of the TAB members quoted his very-rich friend’s favourite saying: “There’s no pockets in a shroud.”

A fascinating discussion, and then everyone started arguing. Because having identified some common characteristics, the question was ‘could you be coached to think and act like a self-made millionaire?’ And the room split right down the middle. On the one hand, there was the ‘rich are different’ faction – who said that some people can sing, some can dance and some can make money.

On the other was the ‘Yes you can’ lobby. You can mirror behaviour, you can consciously imitate until one day, you’re doing it unconsciously.

Me? I struggled to keep the peace. But I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. Yes, I think you can watch and learn. But I also think there’s something that can’t be taught. Singing, acting, sport and business. Sometimes you just see star quality. And when you see it, there’s no mistaking it.



  1. demhalluk · September 10, 2010

    I certainly hope you can teach this quality to your clients! 😉

    • edreidyork · September 10, 2010

      That would be worth paying for, wouldn’t it?! I’ll continue to try my best for you Diane!

  2. Neil Huntington · September 10, 2010

    Great blog Ed, really enjoyed this weeks, thanks.

  3. Ed Roberts · September 10, 2010

    A good book on this subject is “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” – worth a read every now and then

  4. Jim Swift · September 10, 2010

    Ed, My official title is:

    Jim Swift (B.S.c.; S.S.c)

    (Broze Swimming Certificate, Silver Swimming Certificate)


    he’s just copying ME!

    • edreidyork · September 10, 2010

      I wish I could boast a SSC as well……..

  5. Dick Jennings · September 10, 2010

    You’re quite right Ed about the inverse relationship with success at school.

    Think of Paul Sykes, one of Yorkshire’s richest, who left school at 14 and made his first fortune breaking old buses.

    The one certainty about all those people who seek paper qualifications in “Entrepreneurship” is that they wouldn’t know how to be entrepreneurial even if their lives depended on it!

    Dick Jennings MA Oxon, Solicitor, non-millionaire (see what I mean)

    • edreidyork · September 10, 2010

      Dick – totally agree with your thoughts on “entrepreneurial paper qualifications”; a misnomer if ever there was one!

  6. Mark · September 13, 2010

    Luck and timing probably pay a part, but giving that confidence can quickly become over confidence following success I wonder how many would admit it! (OK, so there is juts a little of the green eyed monster in there…)

  7. Rich Cadden · September 13, 2010

    Theres a zen saying which says “Dont look to copy the Master, look to copy the goal/vision they sought”…..

    Theres a lot to be said for the Nike slogan…..I think its just down to the individual in how they want to apply it…..
    JUST DO IT!!!!!!! 🙂

  8. Peter Bowerman · September 17, 2010

    Fortune does seem to favour the unconventional.

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