ROGER HAMILTON knows a thing or two about wealth, though not because he’s always been rich. On the contrary, his wisdom is a product of his twenties, which he mostly spent haemorrhaging money as a star-crossed serial entrepreneur who ran a series of failed businesses, including a publishing company.
Perhaps it’s this understanding of just how money flows out of a firm as well as in that has helped him become so successful as a wealth consultant. His XL Group makes him millions per year. Over 50,000 entrepreneurs have now signed up and participate in a global exchange of ideas.
Hamilton, 39, has one of those soft international accents that hints at a life of expat glamour and travel. Sure enough, he grew up in Hong Kong and went to university here before heading off to Singapore to make it rich. Now he lives in Bali, where he runs one arm of his business, the XL Vision Villas, which offers intense workshops and networking opportunities to businesspeople.
For a young graduate, moving to Singapore seems a little drastic but Hamilton had caught the business bug and wanted to follow it unconditionally. “I studied to be an architect at Cambridge,” he says, “but I began to find a lot more reward in building businesses than building buildings.”
For building businesses, Hamilton decided early on that location is everything. “When I set up in the 1990s, Singapore was the most connected place in the world. You can reach 3 billion people within five hours.”
Hamilton’s wisdom is concentrated in XL’s Wealth Dynamics programme, which teaches people how to best invest their business time and how to network. In short, to maximise efficiency in an intelligent way, not simply by chasing profit.
“I try to teach people to get into the money-making flow — a similar concept to sportspeople getting in ‘the zone’. If it feels like hard work, it probably is.”
So, what should entrepreneurs learn from Hamilton? Firstly, they should make sure that their idea is possible before they even start. “Often you’ll find entrepreneurs throw money and time into new ventures before they’ve even understood if it’s a worthwhile venture,” he says.
The best way to work out whether an idea might work is to ask people in the know. “You must network with the people who know straight away,” Hamilton says. “If you look at anyone — Richard Branson or Bill Gates — they will always be connecting to people in the industry who already know.”
Before starting Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson contacted charter airlines pioneer Freddie Laker. Laker gave the young entrepreneur invaluable insights into the industry and Hamilton bets it was the Laker influence that enabled Branson to get round BA’s dirty tricks campaign in the 1990s. “Successful people like to help successful people,” he says.
As this shows, entrepreneurs need mentors. Guru figures are an invaluable source of information and knowledge that should vastly reduce errors of judgement.
Equally important is that having a respected industry name sign up to your project means that you’ll have a much easier time flogging your idea to investors, suppliers and sponsors.
SMART VERSUS DUMB
Another key concept is “smart” versus “dumb” money. Dumb investment is the sort that comes from friends or family. This sort of money comes with no useful knowledge or potential attached to it. What you really want is “smart money”, investment that comes from people who are familiar with the workings of your industry, venture or who are used to making investments.
A mentor should also be able to introduce you to the right partners — a vital sign that your business is a goer is that suppliers are willing to talk to you. “Too often people haven’t checked,” says Hamilton. “Their business will either flounder or it will be that much harder to make it work.” Another key idea is that great entrepreneurs think how they can make people make money.
“It’s almost a cliché — wealthy people aren’t wealthy because they know how to make money, they are because they know how to make other people make money.” Take the booming business in Asia. Most people think: “How can I profit from their wealth?” Hamilton flips it around: “How can I help them profit more?” That’s where the money is.
Another of Hamilton’s theories is building an effective team to run your business. It’s about recognising the people who will work together. Your mentor and close team-mates should be of a similar profile to you. Then you can choose people with different profiles to do certain kinds of jobs. For example, what Hamilton calls a “mechanic” — someone like Jeff Brazer, founder of online retailer Amazon, or Ray Krok of McDonald’s — is great at building enormous systems.
A “creator” knows how to generate value just by forming a new business or product — Richard Branson, JK Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Bono are examples. Warren Buffett, the world’s richest man, is another profile, a “trader”, someone who is born to invest and play the markets. Steel billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, for example is a “lord” — he is good at consolidating industries and cashflow.
Unlike Buffett, he doesn’t need to play the stock market. This creates a business of experts, with everyone doing what they’re best at. Which sounds like a recipe for success.
CV | ROLODEX KING
HAMILTON was born in Hong Kong and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read architecture. He became an entrepreneur and moved to Singapore soon after earning his degree, but failed many times before his first success.
Hamilton now owns and runs businesses in publishing, property, event management, training and franchising. He is also chairman of XL Results Foundation, a global entrepreneur network and publisher of XL Magazine, the world’s first magazine dedicated to social enterprise.
XL Results Foundation also manages Asia Pacific’s largest online business network and directory, connecting Asia Pacific with more than 1 million entrepreneurs and businesspeople worldwide, with access to over 200 networking events in 150 countries.
By Zoe Strimpel
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