Entrepreneur Asia: Power Players

Self-made billionaire: The how-to guide


You don't have a buck to your name, but you'd like to have a billon of them and wonder how the Gates and Jobs of this world did it?

A report released by the Centre for Policy Studies entitled "SuperEntrepreneurs: And how your country can get them" on Monday looks at how 1,000 self-made entrepreneurs managed to make their first billion.

The report examined self-made men and women who have earned at least $1 billion – who did not inherit their fortune -- and who have appeared in Forbes's richest people's list between 1996 and 2010.

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It's not a case of who you know… but what you know

Creativity, self-confidence, ambition and the ability to deal with failure are only some of the few personality traits that self-made billionaires have in common, the study found. But becoming a "SuperEntrepreneur" takes more than a fearless attitude, mostly, it takes a degree.

"Entrepreneurship", the report states, "is often knowledge-intensive."

Only 16 percent of U.S. Super Entrepreneurs do not have a college degree. In fact, half of U.S. super entrepreneurs have an advanced degree – such as an MA, MBA or doctorate – and they are five times more likely to hold a PhD than the general population.

A competitive spirit and a thirst for wealth are also high on the list. Successful entrepreneurs, the report states, "tend to be competitive and economically oriented in their thinking."

For 73 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed, economic profits were motivating factors and wealth, a sign of success and recognition by peers and by society.

And the old "divide to conquer" adage proves true. An entrepreneur is more likely to be successful by creating several companies than he would be if he'd relentlessly pursued a single business idea.

In terms of where the winning ideas come from, the report highlights that opportunities for the "SuperEntrepreneurs" are aplenty and in almost all industries – from health care, to renewable energy and rubbish collection.

But IT, biotech, finance and retail seem to be where most billions are made. Drawing on Forbes data, the authors points out that IT and biotech "absorb far more than half of all U.S. venture capital investments."

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Where are they?

Hong Kong has the most of SuperEntrepreneurs in the survey , with around three per million inhabitants, followed by Israel - with close to two per million. The U.S. comes third, followed by Switzerland and Singapore.

As a rule, countries with the most billionaires identified by the survey seem to have more competitive tax regimes, a high rate of venture capital investments as part of the economy and less self-employed people.

Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, for instance, have a 20-to-30 percent self-employment rate outside of agriculture, but their innovative entrepreneurship rate is low. In contrast, only about 10-to-15 percent of workers are self-employed in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Switzerland, but innovative entrepreneurship is high.

Overall, western Europe is lagging behind Asia and the U.S.. Only 42 percent of the Old Continent's billionaires are self-made entrepreneurs, the rest having inherited their wealth. In the U.S. however, 70 percent are self-made billionaires while in China, "virtually all" are self-made.

The report highlights that according to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average regulatory regime in Western Europe is twice as burdensome as in the U.S. And governments, including the European Union, who try to boost innovation, fail to realise the difference between self-employment and innovative entrepreneurship.

The report explains that policymakers assume that policies that promote innovative entrepreneurship and those that help out self-employed people and small and medium size enterprises are one and the same. However, it goes on, "many policies have the opposite effect on self-employment and innovative entrepreneurship."

If you succeed, not only can you lie back and enjoy your billion but be comforted in the fact that, as a 2010 Gallup survey shows, 84 percent of the public will have a positive opinion of you. Sadly, the same cannot be said for other wealthy individuals.

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