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Elite Wealth Interview with Rainer Zitelmann

Tell us about the research process for the book. 

When I came to research this book, I found there were very little studies about becoming and staying rich, both in Germany and in the US. There was one interesting piece from a researcher at the University of Boston, but she focused on people worth about €1.4m on average, which, for me, is not really that rich. In the group I interviewed for the book, the ‘poorest’ had between €10m and €30m. Most of them were between €30m and €1b, and some were billionaires. My aim was to find out whether there is a correlation between their personality traits and their financial success.

Were they all male?

Mostly – 44 male and one female. She started her own business at 24 and she was one of the richest – she was amazing.

Some weeks ago I saw a poll in the US that asked young people whether they wanted to become rich or not. 60% of young men said yes, but for women it was far less. It’s about the aim. I asked in the interviews – ‘did you use visualisation techniques, did you write down your goals?’ About half of them did. One of them had written on the top of his door ‘one billion’.

What kind of backgrounds did they come from?

Most of the richest people became rich as entrepreneurs. There are some CEOs of big companies who earn millions, but I think it’s only 5% of the super-rich who become rich as employees. Some of them had rich parents, but most were from middle class backgrounds, which was interesting. And a lot of their parents, 6 out of 10, were entrepreneurs, not employees – they weren’t rich, but they were self-employed.

Were they high achievers?

There were a few high achievers, but in the poorest troop. One of the richest, he lives in Switzerland, he didn’t even study. He has no diploma.

What was very interesting, is what they had in common. Half of them were competitive athletes in their youth, in different fields. I think it was a very important learning experience to deal with victory, to deal with defeat. And most of them earned money when they were at school, but not like most student do. They didn’t do odd jobs – they were selling things. They sold anything that you could imagine – cosmetic products, insurance, refurbished old motorcycles, radios they built themselves, to give just a few examples. I asked them about their grades at school, or at university – they were mostly average.

These people are all non-conformist. One stated – “I eat completely differently to anyone else, I sleep differently, I think differently. I have always been an outsider. I always think what no one else would do.” They were swimming against the stream. If you do what everyone does, you can’t be rich – you have to do different things. And to do different things you have to think different.

Who would benefit from reading your book? 

Everyone who wants to succeed. This book is for everyone who doesn’t know 45 billionaires – it gives the opportunity to get their advice.

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