The characteristics of the world’s most successful business leaders

Donald Trump has only added to his fortune

When profiling some of the world’s richest and most successful business people, it’s notable quite how many ways they’ve managed to build and retain their fortunes. Being successful isn’t just about knowing how to play the market and stay one step ahead of your competition – in many cases it comes down to personality, and having the right amount of belief, vision and resilience. Getting and staying successful is a real skill, so we’re going to take a look at who does it best, how they are doing it and how you can apply the same techniques to help you grow your worth.

Jeff Bezos

Bezos is the founder of Amazon

The Texan native may have been born into an intelligent family with land out in Texas, but his beginnings are still relatively modest in comparison with his current estimated $95 billion worth. Beginning life on Wall Street, Bezos conceived the Amazon business plan on a drive from New York to Seattle, before setting up the fledgling online retail business in his garage in 1994.

Bezos wasn’t struggling, hard up or bored. He was doing well in New York, with a well paid job and enough security. This brings us to our first point. Bezos took a huge risk, throwing in the towel at something ‘easy’ and getting out of his comfort zone. The vast majority of successful businesses are built on risk, either through borrowing or the willingness to do something that doesn’t instantly seem like a safe move. By taking more risks, Bezos was able to hit the market early, which is the second factor in his success story.

The US Supreme Court had just ruled in favour of exempting mail order retailers from collecting taxes in states where they didn’t have a presence, making remote sales more viable. This, mixed with the excitement surrounding the then-new internet, helped to create a market opportunity that few were ready to accept. Bezos spotted an opportunity and got in before anyone else did, displaying foresight. Foresight is one the best business ‘cheats’ going, as long as it is followed up swiftly with a decent solution.

Bezos briefly became the world’s richest man thanks to a stock rise earlier this year. Amazon are close to becoming the world’s largest retailer.

Interestingly, Amazon have a less than 1% profit margin – as the company is constantly investing into new areas, and buying more fulfilment centres. Despite not turning a profit until 2001, and being in debt until 2009, Bezos has managed to convince the company’s shareholders that confidence and bravery is king when it comes to leading a business in the 21st century. In fact, among the business’s only truly ‘profitable’ areas is its very simple platform, which allows it to take commission from its sellers.

Some industry commentators wonder whether Bezos’s speculate-to-accumulate approach has been a game-changer in the post-recession economy, where going after higher revenue is seen as bolder than protecting profits.

Jack Ma

Jack Ma has made his fortune through Chinese retail

China’s answer to Bezos, Jack Ma is the founder of online retailer, a service similar to Amazon that operates in the Far East. Ma’s story is a little different to that of Bezos, thanks to a tougher start.

Ma applied for 30 jobs after graduating, and was rejected by every single one. Even KFC, who hired 23 of 24 applicants who applied when he did, turned him down, along with Harvard University who refused to admit him 10 times in a row. His business ventures weren’t an overnight successes and he required help from venture capitalists to get Alibaba off the ground after multiple loans were refused.

Before going into business, he earned a modest living as an English teacher – and it was while working as a translator in the US, and finding it impossible to find Chinese brands online, that he saw the potential for Chinese e-commerce. It was practically non-existent at that point, and the vision Ma had to see that counted for everything in his path to success.

As well as vision, resilience is another major theme with Ma. His first attempt as an internet business – China Pages – was ultimately frustrating, as he lost control of the company having agreed to a merger with China Telecom. But that didn’t stop him trying again, when internet fever was hitting Wall Street in the US, and he set up Alibaba with 17 friends.

Alibaba quickly started to dominate the Chinese marketplace – but his biggest challenge came in 2004, when eBay arrived in the country. Ma decided to go on the defensive immediately, setting up consumer-to-consumer platform TaoBao to retain Alibaba’s customers, while eBay signed exclusive advertisements with the likes of Sina and Sohu and pursued an aggressive marketing campaign. What really killed eBay in China was Ma’s pricing policy. Alibaba was free to sellers – eBay wasn’t. Today, Alibaba is the leader of the Chinese e-commerce market with its two platforms, TaoBao and Tmall.

Despite boatloads of knock-backs, no’s and moments where it seemed futile to continue, Jack persevered anyway – a strategy which has allowed him to amass a net worth of almost $50 billion.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump is now among the most powerful people in the world

The US President may have swapped the boardroom for the Oval Office, but before his days in politics Trump was of course a ‘successful’ businessman.

Granted, he started off life with a small ‘loan’ from his multi-millionaire father who was also a real estate mogul, but Trump has built several brands and businesses over the years which allowed him to become the American answer to Alan Sugar, hosting the Apprentice USA.

One of his most notable business ventures was the creation of several major casinos in Atlantic City the 1980s. Although his casino ventures were ultimately complete failures, there a couple of lessons that can be taken away from the sloppy deals that cost investors millions of dollars.

Being afraid of failure just isn’t an option for Trump. Although brash and sometimes over the top, the confidence he exudes is incredible, with insults about his businesses, appearance and political statements simply brushed off, or met with a similar nasty riposte. His response to failure is to come back even stronger than before.

Trump wasn’t afraid to take advantage of opportunities, either. He was so transfixed about opening up a casino empire in Atlantic City that he used every trick in the book to get his plan off the ground. Instead of using personal wealth or looking for a guaranteed loan, two common tricks used to finance casinos; Trump went to multiple investors looking for a smaller investment. Although certainly not guaranteed, the returns promised were good and casinos were seen as a very safe investment. This, coupled with Trump’s existing developments, made for an attractive proposition; there were many powerful people who believed in the potential of Trump’s casino empire. However, these ‘junk bonds’ were completely worthless by the time Trump dropped his global entertainment and casino brands following years of losses and poor management.

Teddy Sagi

Israeli Sagi has had a very colourful life, turning his life around after a criminal conviction and going on to become Israel’s sixth richest person according to Forbes magazine. Diversity is the lesson that Sagi brings to the table, with his $3.6 billion personal wealth made up of everything from real estate to software companies.

As well as ownership of Camden Market in London and several other property interests, Sagi has gained a name in technology start-ups, most notably Playtech. The online casino game giant specialises in creating games that are used on third party sites, including online slots and poker rooms. The FTSE 250 company, of which Sagi owns 6.3%, is just one in the portfolio of e-commerce, advertising, and clearing companies aimed at online gambling, keeping his investment interests diverse and less likely to fail.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook

One of the youngest billionaires ever and a rival to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for the most famous tech celeb, Zuckerberg started The Facebook (as it was known) in college as a way of finding out which girls on campus were most attractive. Fast forward a good decade and Zuckerberg is now resting on a personal fortune larger than the GDP of some countries. The strange piece of advice that can be taken from Zuckerberg is that money be made from nothing. Facebook didn’t produce anything, it didn’t need tons of capital and its growth was organic. The key takeaway is that Zuckerberg rode a wave of transformation, getting onto the social media bandwagon as it was picking up speed and shaping it into a solution that would eventually make money through advertising and diversification into other brands like Instagram.

In conclusion

These figures totally prove that business isn’t about having the best product or service, but the best approach. Some of these characters started with nothing and effectively made money out of nothing, whereas others started out with a lot and ended with the same. It’s certainly a driving force behind many entrepreneurs who are looking for the same level of success, with the mantra ‘it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog’ more than applicable to those who, unlike Trump, don’t have Daddy’s millions to get them started.


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