Power Players

Author who studies self-made billionaires: 9 things that motivate the ultra rich to succeed

Investors from major global investment banks, as well as billionaire philanthropists such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma, are looking into renewable energy, as more than 100 globally significant financial institutions have implemented policies restricting investments in carbon-intensive fossil fuels.
John Lamparski | Getty Images

Self-made billionaires share many similarities: They're all passionate about their work and are consistently motivated to achieve great things.

So what are their reasons for waking up each morning? What gives them the energy to pursue such ambitious goals? What motivates them?

I studied and interviewed more than a dozen self-made billionaires to find out. The high achievers I spoke to come from all over the world and each have their own areas of expertise.

Surprisingly, many of them said that money was never a motivating factor. Instead, they simply view money as a byproduct of their hard work.

Steve Jobs, who had a net worth of $7 billion, according to Forbes, put it best when he said in a 1996 PBS documentary: "I was worth about over $1 million when I was 23, and over $10 million when I was 24 and over $100 million when I was 25 — and it wasn't that important. I never did it for the money."

Here are nine things that motivate the ultra rich to succeed:

1. To get out of poverty

Naveen Jain, co-founder of Moon Express, was born in rural India. When I asked him what he aspired to be when he was young, he answered, "Oh God, I just wanted to get out of poverty and do something useful with my life."

Jain says his mother's serious dedication of "making sure that we escaped the cycle of poverty" was what motivated him the most. "She knew that the only way to do that was through education," he says.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey was also born into a poor family. But she went on to build a massive media empire and is now worth $2.5 billion. In 1998, Winfrey formed Oprah's Angel Network, a public charity that creates opportunities to enable undeserved women and children to rise to their potential.

2. To solve problems

"The problems I encounter in everyday life inspire me to find solutions," Michał Sołowow, an investor who founded the construction company Mitex, tells me. "It's a self-propelling mechanism. Becoming a billionaire was never a motivating factor."

Bill Gates shares the same perspective. "We need a lot of innovation to solve problems like malaria or obesity, but we're also going to be focusing more on improving the quality of life," the Microsoft co-founder wrote last year in a blog post.

3. To improve products and services

"I'm driven by the desire to do things well — not perfectly, but well," Solowow tells me. "I draw satisfaction from making products and services increasingly better."

Similarly, Amazon's core value of having high standards has helped make Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world.

"Leaders have relentlessly high standards," according to the company's statement of its 14 driving principles. "They are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes."

4. To innovate

Billionaires are driven by the prospect of trying new things and acquiring new knowledge.

Manny Stul, CEO of Moose Toys, says that "not standing still" is what motivates him the most. "I find the new directions and avenues we're going into extremely exciting. It's innovative and it's different," he tells me. "If we kept doing the same thing over and over, I'd be bored."

As Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla, once tweeted, "Pace of innovation is all that matters in the long run."

5. To compete and win

Sergey Galitskiy is the founder of Magnit, one of Russia's largest supermarket chains and cosmetics retailers. He says that at first, his biggest motivation was to support his family. But that quickly changed the day he met with leaders from a competing business.

"When you feel somebody's intellectual superiority, it wears and pushes you down — and you have to position yourself differently," he tells me. "It can turn competition into an obsession."

6. To build things

Billionaires are creators; they take pleasure in making their visions become reality.

Tony Tan Caktiong, founder and chairman of Jollibee Foods Corporation, one of the world's fastest-growing Asian restaurant chains, says he's driven by two things: "I just want to build bigger things and dream bigger dreams."

Frank Hasenfratz, founder of auto parts manufacturer Linamar, tells me his motivation every day is to build a sustainable business. "I've got all the money in the world, but I'm still working," he says. "Money, of course, is a motivator. But to build something that lasts for a long time is the most gratifying achievement."

7. To create social impact

"I'm driven to go to office at 6 a.m. every day because I believe that the only way to reduce poverty is to create more jobs with higher incomes," says N. R. Narayana Murthy.

Murthy co-founded the India-based tech giant Infosys, which has been recognized as one of the top companies with the most high-paying job openings.

Investor Tim Draper tells me that his life philosophy in a nutshell is simple: "You have an opportunity to make an impact, and you have about 80 years to do it. GO!"

8. To survive

"When you start a business, the number one factor is survival. Will I survive? Not everyone likes to admit it, but fear of failure, for many entrepreneurs I know, is a huge factor," explains Jack Cowin, the fast-food mogul who founded Competitive Foods Australia.

He continues, "So from the very beginning, all you want to do is to survive with the hope that [your business] will turn into something that you're proud of having been part of, that people don't hate you for having ruined their lives because the thing went broke."

9. To have freedom

Freedom has a lot to do with having control over your life. This was especially the case for Cowin. "My main drive from the beginning was to have something that I could have some influence and control over and be a free person to do what I wanted," he says.

Frank Stronach, who founded Magna International, believes that "if you're not economically free, you're not a free person. I wanted to be a free person," he says. "So I can say anything I want to say and can do the things I want to do."

Rafael Badziag is an award-winning author, entrepreneur and expert in the psychology of entrepreneurship. He has interviewed more than 21 self-made billionaires from all over the world to learn about their secrets to success. His new book, "The Billion Dollar Secret: 20 Principles of Billionaire Wealth and Success," is an Amazon best-seller. Rafael has been featured on NBC, CBS, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.

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