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Lessons on Life and Business

Interview with Dr Rainer Zitelmann, expert Real Estate Investor and Author

Dr. Rainer Zitelmann is a German historian, author, management consultant and real estate expert. He is a profilic writer and has written 19 books. He was previously a senior editor at Die Welt newspaper, later he became the leading communications consultant for the real estate sector in Germany. The Wealth Elite, his best-selling book now published in English for the first time represents one of the most comprehensive modern-day studies of the super-rich. The leading German current affairs magazine DER SPIEGEL (7/2017) hailed Rainer Zitelmann’s new book as “the first academic study to conduct an in-depth exploration of the thought processes and behaviour of the wealthy… No previous researcher has got as close to individuals with a personal net worth in the tens and hundreds of millions as Zitelmann does.” 
  1.  What is the most valuable career advice you can give to people just starting out?

Dr. Dr. Zitelmann: Establish yourself as a brand. Even within your own company. No matter how well you perform and what results you deliver, it’s a waste of time if you don’t sell your performance to your customers. And, as an employee, your most important “customer” is your boss. You might not know this, but when a chicken lays an egg, it cackles to let the world know. We should all be more like chickens! We all need to “cackle” more often. Another thing: Set yourself BIGGER GOALS. 95% of people set goals that are far too small and unambitious.

2.You’re doing research on wealth. Tell us, what is the most exciting part of it and why are you so interested in this topic?

Dr. Dr. Zitelmann: I am interested in the personality traits of successful and rich people. The reason they are rich is because, compared to average people, they act differently. And they act differently because they think differently. So, it was important for me to find out how rich people think.

3. Your book, The Wealth Elite: A groundbreaking study of the psychology of the super-rich, provides a comprehensive insight into the world of the super-rich. Tell us: How do they think, behave and make their fortunes?

Dr. Dr. Zitelmann: In relation to the genesis of individual wealth, it became increasingly clear that one of the areas my research should focus on was the personality traits that are the basis for financial success. So, I wanted to know: Which personality traits do the super-rich share, what do they have in common, what distinguishes them, and what influence did these traits have on their financial success? I conducted 45 interviews (each lasting one to two hours) with individuals whose net worth in the lowest category ranged from 10 to 30 million euros and, in the highest category, from several hundred million to several billion euros. A majority of the interviewees have net worth of between 30 million and one billion euros. Most are self-made millionaires. The transcriptions of the interviews filled 1,740 pages. In addition, each of the interviewees completed a Big Five personality test with 50 questions.

One key finding was:

Few of the Big Five personality test’s 50 questions got such as positive response from the interviewees as the statement “I would describe myself as someone who prefers to forge my own path.” A majority of the interviewees – especially the investors – attributed much of their financial success to their ability to swim against the stream.

Another important point: In modern entrepreneurial research, the ability to sell has largely been underestimated as a factor in achieving economic success. However, there is almost no other point upon which the interviewees agreed so strongly: sales skills have contributed significantly to their success – regardless of the industries in which they have earned their fortunes. Two-thirds of the interviewees stated that the ability to sell successfully was a key factor in their success.

4. Do you think luck is a prerequisite for becoming rich?

Dr. Dr. Zitelmann: No, I don’t. In fact, I wrote a whole chapter about luck and have studied it intensively. Of course, luck can play a role, but its contribution should never be overestimated. No one can be lucky, or unlucky, all the time. Over several years or even decades, positive or negative coincidences will generally balance each other out. For example, if you become a millionaire through pure luck, you will most likely lose your money again. After just a few years, many major lottery winners are in a worse financial position than they were to begin with. Why? Because they did not have the right mental attitude to build and maintain a fortune. Conversely, there are many examples of people who lost all their – self-earned ­– assets and were able to rebuild their fortunes within a few years.

5. Do rich people have a greater responsibility towards society?

Dr. Dr. Rainer Zitelmann: We know from wealth research that most people have become rich as entrepreneurs. I therefore do not accept the widespread belief that the rich must “give something back” to society. If you look at the list of the richest people in the world, you will see that these people did not get rich by taking anything away from others, but because, as entrepreneurs, they created great benefits for society as a whole. Bill Gates was the pioneer of the computer software we all use today; Jeff Bezos became rich through Internet commerce (Amazon); Amancio Ortega might not be so well known, but his businesses (e.g. the clothing company Zara) will be familiar to most people. And almost everyone has heard of Mark Zuckerberg because he invented Facebook. These individuals have become so wealthy because they satisfied the needs of countless consumers with their innovative ideas and their companies’ great products. As consumers, it is us who have made them rich.

6. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a multimillionaire? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

Dr. Dr. Zitelmann: I was very impressed by many of the rich people I interviewed. There’s one I can even name, despite the fact that my interviews were anonymous: the multi-billionaire Theo Müller, who started with four employees and now has over 20,000. He made his fortune with dairy products. And he told me this beautiful allegory: A herd of cows is walking along a path. On the left, there’s a lush field. On the right, the field is quite dry and the grass is nowhere near as lush. 99 cows go to the field on the left. The grass there is quickly eaten. Only one cow goes to the right. This cow gets to eat and eat, long after there is no more grass left in the field on the left.

7. Tell me about a time you struggled with work-life-balance. How did you solve the problem?

Dr. Dr. Zitelmann: The whole notion of having to strike the right
work-life balance is misleading because it is based on the mistaken assumption
that “work” and “life” are two mutually exclusive things. I have always enjoyed
my work. I actually feel very sorry for people whose “life” only takes place
outside of work. I strongly urge them to change jobs immediately!

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