‘What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.’ So said Buddha long ago and it still resonates just as much today as, at its heart, what the great man was talking about is that you can become what you want to be, just by thinking or behaving like you are already that person. Too easy!
So, what would you like to be? How about a billionaire? That seems like a pretty good gig; lots of money, champagne, private jets, superyachts and supermodels in varying stages of undress plus – all the power that comes with all that money. Absolutely everyone wants to be your pal because they want in on the action and, if you’re Elon Musk, you can even sound off on geo-political issues and world leaders will take you seriously. I’m in!
Making our own Rich List
Whether we’re a billionaire or a street sweeper, there are things we all have to do each day like sleep and eat, so why don’t we look at what some of the billionaires from the top of the Rich List to see how they differ from us. Our list of billionaires includes some of the most well-known names in the world; Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin, Warren Buffett, Bernard Arnault and Richard Branson.
Once they’re awake, the billionaires don’t always dive straight into breakfast – or work. The first thing for Bill Gates to do is jump on the treadmill for an hour to get his body – and brain – active. While he does this, he watches the Teaching Channel just so he can learn something new, no matter what it is. This helps open his mind early so it will be ready for the new challenges/opportunities that pop up during the day. Gates’ buddy Warren Buffett is similar although, probably due to his generation, he prefers the old school variant of reading – around 70 pages per day – but with the same purpose; to learn something new. Jack Ma is also keen on mental and physical exercise early in his day although for him this takes the form of Tai Chi. Richard Branson uses this time online, “I can work through my emails before most of the world logs on.”
“Early to bed and early to rise makes and man healthy, wealthy and wise.” That’s a saying that goes back to at least 15th century England although a modern coining of it would probably include something about stress and productivity too. Research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has shown that insomnia, or difficulty falling or staying asleep, can cause a loss of productivity of up to 58% for the following day.
The billionaires on this list largely seem to value this advice as they cannot afford to lose productivity. Richard Branson is the earliest starter on this list with his 5am rising, on the other hand Warren Buffett wakes up at 6:45 am every day as he has “no desire to get to work at four in the morning”. Elon Musk wakes up each morning at around 7 am, which means he gets around six-and-a-half hours of sleep per night saying; “if I don’t sleep well, I won’t be able to be efficient even in my waking hours.” Mark Zuckerberg is positively slothful in comparison, waking up every day at 8am on the dot, largely because he is a creature of habit who tries to streamline all his decisions down to only those that matter most.
It’s interesting that the billionaires’ waking times are different from big company CEOs who brag about their nose-bleedingly early rising times like 3.45am for Apple boss Tim Cook and 4am for Pepsi supremo Indra Nooyi. Perhaps you need that extra sleep in order to think that extra bit bigger when awake?
Being a billionaire brings a lot of benefits, like powerful friends, Lamborghinis and jet skis – but even they can’t avoid some of the tedious yokes that plague even us mortgage-paying boobs; that’s right; suffering through terminally-dull meetings.
Of course, meetings aren’t such a big deal for most of the billionaires on this list who have no qualms whatsoever about cutting them short if they feel they are no longer constructive, or even ditching them altogether if they have more pressing issues to deal with. Elon Musk simply double-times meetings as the ideal opportunity to eat his lunch seeing as he is already seated and with a table in front of him. Meanwhile Jeff Bezos won’t even entertain the notion of a meeting until at least 10am as he’d rather utilise his early mornings for his family.
But not all billionaires are so dominant; for personalities like Sergey Brin, who is not very social and a self-confessed ‘weirdo’, meetings can be intimidating. Particularly if they feature alpha types who try to verbally bully him into a decision that suits them. Rather than verbally joust, the introverted Sergey does unusual acts to combat this aggression like walk on his hands or go into yoga positions. This type of behaviour throws the perpetrator, knocks them out of their rehearsed presentation and brings the status gap back to a more even keel. It also serves as a not-so-subtle reminder of who really is the boss here and highlights his status as someone who operates outside of the usual accepted parameters of business behaviour.
Warren Buffett’s breakfasts never cost more than $3.17 and he says he eats like a six-year-old – as they have the lowest death rate according to the actuary tables(!) – so that means plenty of McDonalds and Cokes for brekkie with the occasional foray into Oreo biscuits when he’s entertaining. While that may not sound particularly healthy or nutritious, Warren is 92 years old – and counting!
At the other end of the scale, Sergey Brin starts every day with a cup of green tea – purely for health reasons as he’s heard it retards the progress of Parkinson’s Disease long term. Elon Musk usually doesn’t bother with breakfast, just grabbing a coffee on the run. As for Jeff Bezos, well once he ordered Mediterranean Octopus for breakfast and now uses that act as an analogy for his business failures where he bought companies he didn’t understand but thought wonderful and exotic at the time.
Clothes maketh the man, or ‘vestis virum facit’ as it was in its original Latin, is a pretty easy maxim to understand and billionaires, like the rest of us, fall into one of three categories; formal, smart casual and well; ‘tech’.
Unsurprisingly Bernard Arnault slots smoothly into the former category as his company’s products are all luxury items so it is rare to see him without a tie – even on the weekend! Many of the others are more smart casual types although Jack Ma is no stranger to formal attire. The king of this category would have to be Richard Branson who is notorious for his hatred of ties, even going so far as to snip them off other people’s necks. (Definitely wait until you are a billionaire to try this one!)
Branson’s counterpart in the tech division is Mark Zuckerberg who wears the same T shirt every day – not the actual same item of clothing but an identical design, more on that later. In contrast, serious tech head Elon Musk is happy to switch between all three categories, depending on whom he’s jamming with; SpaceX investors, Grimes’ lawyers or Joe Rogan.
This is probably the one category on which the billionaires agree most; they just don’t have the time to shilly-shally around. Jeff Bezos says he gets paid to make a small amount of decisions each day – not thousands of them so he is happy to delegate anything that isn’t major. Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg only focuses on big decisions as he believes all of the mundane choices that pop up each day, like what clothes he should wear, just waste brain power by distracting him from his larger mission.
Elon Musk and Bill Gates use ‘Time Blocks’, a simple idea that is easier to describe than actually do. You just divide your day up into sections and assign a task to each block and do nothing other than what is in your box for the section. It seems to work for them which is testament to their focus – especially in the case of Musk who must have so many distractions running Tesla, SpaceX, Twitter and the Boring Company amongst many others!
Jack Ma is always solution-focused and regards problems as ‘gifts’ in that they are new opportunities to excel. Importantly, Jeff Bezos knows when NOT to make a major decision, if it’s 5pm or later, he says to come back tomorrow at 10am – his peak decision time.
Some of the billionaires take an aggressive attitude into their decision-making; Larry Ellison says, “it’s my job to go into the marketplace and win” and even if that literally means going through Bill Gates’ garbage, he’ll do that, gladly. Whereas Bernard Arnault has more of a gentlemanly approach; “business is like a game of tennis. You battle it out and shake hands at the end.”
Recent events at Twitter have given us an open window into Elon Musk’s cavalier attitude towards his staff as he has blocked them from working at home and sending them meme emails informing them that they have been fired. He is not alone here as Jack Ma was once a proponent of the horrendous ‘996’ principle, i.e.; you should be at work from nine until nine, six days a week.
Perception may be a long way from reality but Richard Branson appears to be at the other extreme, even famously posting a selfie of himself alongside a staff member sleeping on the job along with a comment that he understood why the worker was so tired. Larry Ellison is big on pep rallies for his staff using gospel singers, musicians, and lots of chanting to get everyone fired up – in hating Bill Gates and Microsoft.
Bernard Arnault seems to be the pick of the bunch here as he is a true believer in talent. At LVMH, he allows each House the freedom to develop and maintain its own brand. He gives them each a budget – which is reviewed twice a year – then steps back to allow each company to work, create and design as they see fit. Of course, he has the final word on whatever goes out – it is his baby after all – but, as he wants each House to have its own brand personality, and therefore separate section of the market, he can’t see the point in limiting them to just different facets of his own character. He realises there are only so many customers for fashion accessories dreamed up by ageing white French guys and so doesn’t want to limit his business horizons accordingly.
Kooky behaviour by the poor is always seen as ‘crazy’, whereas exactly the same traits in their rich counterparts is universally referred to as; ‘eccentric’.
Sergey Brin once conducted job interviews dressed as a cow while Richard Branson ran an entire marathon wearing nothing more than a butterfly costume. A large part of whatever appears on Elon Musk’s Twitter feed could easily be described – at best – as; ‘dorky’. Yet, because they are billionaires, it’s all okay. But it is safe to say that if you or me ever did or said any of these same things at work then we’d swiftly find ourselves eating alone in the cafeteria at lunchtime.
To illustrate; a current male workmate of mine constantly puts on pop music from female performers like Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Doja Cat then jumps up onto his desk to act out all the dance moves from their videos including every flipped hand gesture and hip thrust. As you can imagine, this has made him a figure of fun within the office and the criticism is fierce and incessant. Yet if my workmate was actually a billionaire, not only would this behaviour be tolerated but self-help authors would waste no time putting out books explaining how dance is good for the soul and that irregular movement is so marvelous for releasing pent up stress. It would swiftly become de rigueur for boardrooms across the business world to feature freak out sessions before every AGM and every office elevator would feature Skrillex instead of Simon & Garfunkel.
Being a public ‘character’ isn’t for every billionaire; Bernard Arnault would probably struggle internally with wearing a butterfly costume along to a Louis Vuitton sales presentation – yet fellow French fashionista Jean Paul Gaultier had no issues donning a kilt and feigning Gallic boredom on the Eurotrash sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll British TV show back in the 90s. So obviously, persona is separate from wealth as Bill Gates and Sergey Brin have very different personalities from the likes of Larry Ellison and Elon Musk.
One of the many benefits of being a billionaire is it allows you down time to do what you actually like doing as opposed to what you have to.
Warren Buffett likes to play bridge and read, a trait he shares with Elon Musk. Richard Branson plays chess and famously is rather obsessed with hot air ballooning, although he is open to pretty much any kind of extreme sport, especially kite-surfing. Larry Ellison flies jets and is completely infatuated with yachting – or at least, in winning yacht races – even eschewing his own keynote address to the Oracle annual conference in order to cheer on his damn team as they snatched the America’s Cup from our grasp in 2013. But curiously enough he also writes plays and short stories, unstaged or published as yet but, who knows, one day…
Of course, you don’t have to be a billionaire to be philanthropic but it sure helps as there is usually still plenty left over for those other day-to-day lifestyle essentials such as; superyachts, private jets and Caribbean island ownership. Many on our list definitely are philanthropic and through their efforts over a sustained period of time Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have built a strong global impression of: billionaire = philanthropist.
But again, it is not a universal trend. Larry Ellison really doesn’t give a damn about anyone else and is distinctly unapologetic about rivalling Scrooge McDuck in rolling around in his wealth saying; “being a billionaire is great, I thoroughly recommend it.”
So, what do philanthropic billionaires spend their money on? According to the Insider, protecting the environment is a hot button for many with Elon Musk a prominent donator here – perhaps in response to his family’s mining legacy? Education is also a big winner with luminaries like Gates and Buffett busy across Africa and Asia as well as in their home country of USA, their rationale being it is better to teach a man how to fish rather than just to give him one. But it is the arts who are also big winners here with several institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Tate Modern largely existing due to massive cash injections from billionaires.
At the other end of the scale, poverty and homelessness – the very antithesis of billionairedom – receive very little attention from those who could change it most. Jeff Bezos is one of the few to actually use his donations to directly fight poverty and homelessness but even then his contributions only add up to a tiny fraction of the funds received, let alone what would actually be required to remedy it.
That doesn’t stop billionaire promises in the sector though as Elon Musk infamously promised to donate $6 billion to end world hunger just a year ago – but then suddenly decided that splurging $44 billion in order to get Donald Trump back on Twitter and his ex-girlfriend off it, was a much better way to spend his money. ‘Eccentric’.
What can we decipher?
Looking at the above, it is clear that billionaires are not all alike, they don’t all get up at the same time, eat the same things or wear the same clothes. But there are a few things that, as a whole, they do tend to attempt; to try and expand their minds by reading or absorbing new material – often way outside of their wheelhouse; exercise regularly; and minimise the number of petty decisions they have to make each day. They are also universally time-poor and usually have some strategy to cope with that.
Another common theme is that billionaires rarely do things randomly or senselessly, whatever they do, there is always a purpose or rationale behind it. This is really what separates workers from billionaires – the attitude of being a boss is behind your every move or decision. So, if Buddha is right, if you start acting like a boss it’s only a matter of time until you too will be kicking ass and taking names as a globally-famous billionaire!