There is no formula for becoming a billionaire. To paraphrase Tolstoy, each billionaire is a billionaire in his or her own way.
Yet a growing body of statistical and qualitative surveys provide some common patterns among billionaires that offer clues into the “billionaire personality” and what it takes to make extreme wealth. The latest comes from UBS, which released its UBS/PwC 2015 Billionaire Report on Tuesday.
UBS and PwC researched 1,300 of the world’s billionaires through surveys, case studies and academic research, and interviewed 30 of them to find common personality traits.
“Billionaires are different,” the report said. “Self-made billionaires have distinct personality characteristics that allow them to approach the challenge of creating new value from most corporate managers and leaders.”
The report said there are three personality traits that are “essential” for entrepreneurial success and reaching a 10-figure fortune.
Smart risk taking. Just because you gamble or like taking a lot of risk doesn’t mean you’ll be a billionaire. Yet billionaires have keen instincts for risks that could be rewarding or in their favor. They “tend to have a very optimistic attitude toward risk, focus on risks they understand and find smart ways to reduce them.”
As one billionaire told the study authors: “If you want to be successful in a big, big way you have to go where the biggest risks are, because that is where the biggest opportunities are, as well.”
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It’s not that billionaires ignore downside risk. They just have a more accurate sense of how to “identify value at the risk level of risk,” the report said.
Instinct for asymmetrical opportunities. Billionaires tend to have a good gut sense of where they have an advantage (insights, funding, access) and where they can bring special value.
“In these situations, the risks for anybody without advantages will appear high and they are likely to walk away,” the report said.
Billionaires see a need that they alone have an ability to fill, and jump in.
Recovery from failure. Whether it’s a knack for the “quick pivot”—changing a business idea as market signals change—or brushing off a wrong move, billionaires see each failure as a necessary step toward success.
As one retail billionaire said in the study, “Our current business model is the result of a series of failures and the lessons we learned from them. If we would have stuck to the original business model, we would be bankrupt by now.”
Other secondary traits that are common among billionaires, were also identified, including a deep curiosity.
“Self-made billionaires are constantly scanning the world for untapped opportunity. Curiosity is constantly driving them to look for unmet customer needs that create a significant business opportunity,” UBS and PwC said.
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They are also obsessive, bordering on compulsive. One billionaire compared his tunnel vision and obsession to his business to a fighter pilot who ignores things on the edge of his sight. “This would only distract me and lead to a crash,” he said.
A dogged determination and starting young—way before they turn 30—is also key. More than one in five billionaires started their businesses before they were 30 and two-thirds started before they were 40.