Friday, August 31, 2012

The Wisdom of the Rich

Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest person and the world’s richest woman has just caused something of a storm Down Under. The storm she created centred around a speech she gave on poverty – she is quoted as telling people to stop complaining about millionaires and billionaires and “Drink Less, Work More.”

Her remarks have irked politicians from across the political divide and she’s even offended no less than the treasurer himself, Mr Wayne Swan. Her remarks are as they say, “Politically incorrect.”

Let’s face it; Ms Rinehart is not a Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, who made her own money by revolutionizing an industry that has benefited millions. Her Aus $ 29.2 billion fortune is based on mining (a case of nature’s generosity) and was inherited (someone else worked for the fortune). As with the case people who inherited their fortunes rather than built them, there is always a temptation to ask what she did to earn the right to lecture others on how to live their lives.

However, let’s look beyond Ms Rinehart and look at her message. Has she said anything that is intrinsically wrong? I don’t believe she has. If one examines how fortunes are made and lost, you’ll realize that they’ve usually been made by the people who have worked more and drunk less. They’re made by the people who have focused on their work instead of complaining about how unfair life is.

Let’s face it, life is generally unfair. People, who are rich, usually have advantages in life that ordinary people don’t have. The rich can send their kids to good schools and having a family brand name can open doors that would otherwise remain unreachable. I think of myself as an example. Dad had the means to finance me through university and between my parents; I had enough contacts to open doors which were unobtainable to most. I could function as a free-lance PR consultant with less than a year’s experience because I was a rookie who could get the editor of the leading woman’s magazine to take my calls.

Yet, despite these advantages, I’ve not established the financial status I should have. Look at my Central Provident Fund (CPF – the national savings plan that all Singaporeans have) and you’ll suspect I’ve spent the last few years as a street urchin instead of being the PR consultant to the likes of GE Commercial Finance, Underwriters Laboratory, Alcon and 3M. It’s not that I haven’t made money but I’ve been foolish with it and I’ve not acted on things that I’ve known – namely the importance of preservation.

Somehow, whenever I had money, it always seemed easier to have fun with it rather than to use it wisely. My biggest weaknesses as they say involved the chicks and the booze. I think of the times it felt so easy to stay out and try and hit the pub with friends rather than to preserve that extra bit of cash. I wasn’t socializing with the people who wanted me to succeed but the people who hopped I could buy them another round of drinks.

So, I look at what Ms Rinehart says and appreciate that she’s right. I, for one, should have drunk a bit less and focused a bit more on work – and I am by no means lazy. However, had I followed Ms Rinehart’s advice, I might have preserved more of what I had and be in a better position to build more.

I think of Bill Gates who once made the point that life is unfair and we should get used to it. I also think of Vinod Shekhar, who once made the point that he ‘focuses on himself rather than what other people get.’
When you realize that life is unfair but you haven’t been dealt with the worst possible hand, then you focus on how to play the hand you have rather than on complaining about what someone else has.

For some reason, I decided to change a part of my outlook for this year. Instead of focusing on my indulgences, I decided to follow what my Dad suggested I do – try and look after a person or two. Haven’t won the lottery nor have I hit the jack pot with a huge job. However, I’ve found that after I decided to shift that focus, I found that whenever I’ve been about to run out of funds, someone or something has come up and given me something to keep me afloat.

So, I put it this way – Is Ms Rinehart wrong when she suggests that we stop complaining about the well to do and work more and drink less? I don’t think she is.

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