The Wealth Elite: A Groundbreaking Study of the Psychology of the Super Rich by Rainer Zitelmann. Published by LID Publishing
Rainer Zitelmann’s study of the psychology of the super rich is an ambitious project. Few could be better qualified for it than Dr Zitelmann – an historian, sociologist, journalist, businessman and investor.
There has been no comparable study and it is a compelling read for all who need to understand the characteristics and motivations of rich entrepreneurs. These people drive economic growth, back innovation, create jobs and finance philanthropic projects.
So why has such a study never been attempted before? It is hard to access these people and design questionnaires that generate a meaningful response. Most are surrounded by minders and have developed an image they wish to protect, including the ‘story’ of their success.
Dr Zitelmann had privileged access through contacts from his business career, enabling him to conduct interviews with 45 individuals. The results form the core of the study.
The conversations covered childhood, motivation for founding a business, sales skills, optimism, risk propensity and the relationship of analytical and intuitive decisions.
They addressed personality traits of the ‘big five’ theory (neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness), swimming against the tide and dealing with setbacks.
The study has limitations, having been based on personal contacts, with all the participants being of German nationality, with 40 per cent in property, and only two in manufacturing. That being said, the findings make for some interesting reading.
What of the conclusions? It will be no surprise that they have only a few things in common and most succeeded precisely because they are different. Most were rebels at home and school and few were particularly successful academically. Many had success in competitive sport.
They place heavy reliance on ‘gut feeling’ (derived from experience) and are able to take advantage of setbacks. They score well on conscientiousness and willingness to confront challenges.
It is worth the read to see how they express those differences, as the day we fit entrepreneurs into neat boxes will mark the end of capitalism.
Michael Maslinski is strategic adviser at Stonehage Fleming