How do people become wealthy? I’ve been interested in that question because you can learn from other people’s success. If you look up that question, you automatically find more information about how people like Jeff Bezos got rich.
But I’m more interested in learning from people that are not covered by the media. “Normal” wealthy people that live in your city—not the billionaires who live on Park Avenue. Why? If anyone from your city can get rich, you can too.
I know two of these wealthy people. I see them as friends and mentors. In this article, I will share their stories, as they’ve told them to me. I’ve only changed their names to protect their privacy, but the rest of the story contains their true path to becoming wealthy.
For the purpose of this article, I’m focusing on acquiring monetary wealth. Obviously, getting rich has very little to do with becoming happy. If you want to read my thoughts on happiness and money, read this article. We can have a good life without being rich. But if you’re interested in learning from people who are wealthy, read on.
Case study 1: The enjoyer of life
John is in his late sixties, has 3 grown kids, and two grandkids. He’s divorced and lives alone with his dog. He also has a girlfriend who he sees several times a week.
He has a small real estate portfolio (residential only) and spends a few hours a month managing his properties. He has outsourced most of the work, but he enjoys staying in touch with his tenants. So he visits them once a year.
That’s how I actually met John. He used to be my landlord. I thought he was a nice guy and believed I could learn a few things from him. His life is pretty good. He doesn’t have to work, lives in a big house, spends time with his kids and grandkids, and takes out his boat when the weather is nice.
“But my life wasn’t always this way,” he said when I asked him about how he started. His father did well, but he wasn’t rich. While John did have an advantage, he wasn’t born into wealth.
He went to college and after that, he had several jobs until he figured out he needed to start his own business. By that time, he was married and had a kid. But that didn’t stop him. He started a training & development company. He went to businesses and gave seminars on almost every area: Leadership, communication, sales, teamwork, you name it. Later, he hired trainers to do that.
He spent nearly 20 years building the company. “I was always at work. And I always enjoyed it. But I missed a big part of the childhood of my kids.” But still, he didn’t regret his decision to work hard.
He sees it as a price he paid to become rich. He built a business and created jobs. His kids are all doing well, they went to college, two of them have good jobs, and one has his own successful business. The life of his kids and grandkids is good now. But growing up, his kids didn’t like it that their dad wasn’t there.
“For nearly 20 years, I gave that company my all. By the end of the ride, I was drained. I got a good offer and I sold.” That’s when he became rich, in his forties.
After that, he worked as an interim manager for a few years. He went to distressed companies and tried to turn them around. But after a while, he got enough of that too. He never started another business again. Over the years, he slowly built up a real estate portfolio that now consists of around 20 units.
But once he sold his business and acquired some more money, he bought into a real estate investment partnership, that he’s still in today. Except for his boat and art that he loves to collect, he doesn’t live a fancy lifestyle and drives the same station-wagon for years. I’ve never asked him how much he’s worth but I know his portfolio and partnership. I guess it’s around 3 million dollars.
Lessons about getting wealthy
For the past decade, he’s been enjoying his life a lot. He’s always been someone who enjoyed life, no matter how hard he worked, but after many years it was enough for him. “It’s fine. I’ve had my fair share of hard work.” Here are my takeaways from John’s story:
- He realized he couldn’t get rich working for someone else
- He started his own business
- He built his company for nearly 20 years
- He sold the company when it was a profitable and solid business
- He invested the money he made with his business in real estate
- He enjoys his life now and spends time with his family
John’s story is not unique. If you look at most rich people who started with little, they all have a story that resembles this. We all see the stories of the millionaire startup founders or bitcoin speculators. That makes it seem like getting rich is like winning the lottery.
But that’s false. For most wealthy people, it’s a grind. And that grind has a price. Very few people get rich by being lucky. The question you should ask yourself if you want to get rich is this: Am I willing to pay the price? But this is nothing compared to the next case study.
Case study 2: The extremely competitive guy
Brian (late fifties) is one of the most successful businessmen I know. He has an international manufacturing firm with more than a thousand employees. I guess that Brian is worth about 50 million dollars—if not more. He has a mansion, fancy cars, vacation homes abroad, and many investments in other business and real estate.
His personal life has been less pretty. He lost his wife in his early forties and people who are close to him say it impacted him a lot. It took about 18 years for him to remarry. To be honest, I don’t know much about his personal life. We met through doing business and hardly ever talked about personal things.
I also know some of his friends. I know that Brian loves movies and cars. He’s not into things like working out, traveling, reading, nor does he have hobbies that I know of. He does play golf, but that’s more because other rich people do too.
Brian is an only child from a working-class family. After having a successful career as an engineer, he started his own manufacturing company when he was in his late thirties. He’s extremely competitive and aggressive in business.
He grew his company from 0 to 10 million in revenue in about five years. That doesn’t happen often. It’s no wonder he works 365 days a year (not an overstatement). His friends say that’s all he does. He has offices around the world. And for the past five years, he’s been taking over multiple companies in his industry.
“I like business,” is what he answered about why he does what he does. That’s the kind of guy he is. He just does things and doesn’t stop. But he isn’t entirely self-made. He has a successful mentor and partner who invested in his business when he got started. They are still partners today. Without that type of support, he couldn’t have been this aggressive.
He’s also a confrontational guy. I once witnessed a conflict between him and another big player in the market. About his competitor, who’s been around for decades, and was much bigger at the time, he said, “I don’t care who they are. I’m not stopping until I win.”
Lessons about getting wealthy
I don’t know Brian as well as I know John; all the above is exactly why. Competitive people don’t open up easily. They just do one thing: Play to win. That’s all they are interested in. And in the case of Brian, he’s very good at it. Here are my takeaways from Brian’s story:
- He works almost all the time
- He had a mentor and backer that supported him
- His primary way to build wealth is buying and investing in businesses (including his own)
- He’s very private and has a small circle
- He doesn’t stop creating wealth
- To be really rich, you need to be competitive
Now, there’s much more to Brian’s story. For example, he also gives a lot to charity. I just don’t know how much because I’ve never heard him talk about it, I heard this from others. What I do know is that most of his employees work for him for years. He treats them well.
But what strikes me the most is that getting very rich requires something different. You need to do things very few people do. As you can see, Brian was also willing to pay a bigger price than John. But his monetary rewards are also bigger. But I don’t think that’s what drives Brian. He simply wants to win.
Seek and you shall find
Getting rich is not math. There are no formulas for getting rich. If that were true, all the mathematicians in the world would be rich.
Getting wealthy requires something special. It’s more art than science. If someone ever presents you a “blueprint to making money” ask yourself: If this blueprint is so good, why is this person not using it themselves? That’s why you didn’t find one either.
If you want to get rich, you need to look for it. If you look closely, you will find that idea everywhere: Seek and you shall find. Henry David Thoreau put it best:
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
If you spend enough time on achieving something, you probably will succeed in time. You just have to keep going at it and find a way that works. It’s the same with getting wealthy.