Making Money

How did I get Wealthy?

As I sit drinking a coffee, on a flight, on my way to New York for two days of meetings, I was running through various topics for my next blog post. While this blog is predominantly money focused, I am also passionate about leadership and storytelling. I love taking complex subjects and trying to make them simple. I also have a keen interest in the planet. This latter interest was stirred on a trip last year to Bali. You can read more about what I discovered on that far off paradise, here.

My money focus was instilled in me, by my father, or rather my father’s greatest fear.

He was a salesman and threw himself into his work. A little less into his family, but I recognize he had trouble relating to us as kids growing up. He was a kind man, a helper of the underdog, but was also passionate about being first.

His greatest fear? Not being able to provide for his family.

My father’s father died when he was in his teens, a heart-attack while playing tennis and my father, and his older sister, were brought up by my overly-strict and protective grandmother, much of whom I barely remember, other than her 1974 lime-green Chevrolet Firenza, which I later inherited in life, when I first got my driver’s license.

I don’t think I have ever really wondered how my Dad experienced that time of his life. Did he love it? Did he loathe it? Was he scared growing up without a father? Did he go to sleep at night wondering about him? Wondering what it would have been like if he had not played tennis that day in the hot South African sun? Did my Dad miss his father?

Sadly, my father passed away two years ago, and I never got to have that conversation with him. I never got to ask him those questions. I had run off to another world with my career. Just at that time when a boy becomes a man and can start having those types of conversations with his father. And yes, if you’re wondering, I do regret it.

My father’s fear of not providing for his family was palpable, although growing up in a peaceful environment I was never privy to it. It is actually only in the last few years that I have realized that it is too my greatest fear. It is what motivated me to build wealth. It was a silent fear, tucked somewhere deep inside me.

I never started on my journey to build wealth out of some idealistic notion that I wanted to retire early to go save the planet. I am certain though, that I probably adopted that mindset at some point to try and bring reason to my insatiable desire to get rich.

 

My introductions to Wealth

 

When I first discovered Financial Samurai, a lot of what Sam was saying made sense to me. I liked the financial angle, the mathematics behind early retirement and the 4% rule. It appealed to my mathematical side. And it allowed me to remain blind to the emotional reasons behind my quest.

I had already experimented in trading the stock market, studying company fundamentals and looking at graphical trends and projecting them.

I had, after all, an advanced degree in Finance and I also held the Chartered Financial analyst designation, so the stock market was not foreign to me.

In my first year out of university, I had made my annual salary several times over through trading stocks. However, that wealth didn’t hang around to long. It did however enable me to move to Europe, where the serious wealth building started.

 

My first Wealth-Building decision

 

My parents built a lot, if not all, of their wealth through real estate and that was my first foray into the world of wealth. After two years in Europe, I was earning 50.000 euros/ year working for a global media and entertainment company. That was when I bought my first apartment.

I could barely afford it, in fact every last cent of what I had went into the deposit. Bye-bye security fund. I couldn’t afford to completely renovate the apartment, so I had to learn how to do a lot of it myself. I also had to go quickly as I couldn’t afford the mortgage payments without rental for more than a couple of months.

I remember the relief I felt when the apartment was finally rented. It got snapped out about a week after I put it on the market. A young lady from UNESCO. She stayed two years. By that time, I had bought a second place and gone through double the stress, as it was more expensive that the first place, but the apartment was rented out quickly as well.

Based on my calculations and savings at the time, if one of the two apartments were empty for more than a month, I wouldn’t be able to afford the mortgage payments any more. Such was my desire to build wealth that I took on a fair amount of unreasonable stress.

A year or so later, after my wife and I had married, we decided to move out the city and bought a beat-up old turn of the century house in a close suburb.

That purchase again wiped out our savings and we had to live without a couch or cupboards in our room for about a year before we were able to build back our savings. The house was a four-story antique with a tiny little garden out back on a busy road.

We couldn’t afford much help, so me mostly did the renovations ourselves and after each bonus we were able to do a little more.

But being a sucker for punishment we decided to buy a fourth property in another city. This time off plan. I only had to install the kitchen myself. We had a weekend to buy the Ikea kitchen and fit it out. I had sorely underestimated the time it took to build a kitchen and ended up working almost through the night the first night. I ended up finishing it about an hour before we were scheduled to leave, with lots of plasters stuck all over my hands.

 

The big break(s) and hard work along the way

 

It was about 7 years after the purchase of the first apartment when our first windfall arrived. My wife had not been enjoying her job and was able to successfully negotiate a severance payment. It was enough to pay off one of the apartment mortgages which significantly improved out monthly cash flow. I was also promoted to Vice President of the company I was working for and my first real stock option awards started taking off.

Two years later I was promoted to Senior Vice President and we were able to pay off the second apartment. My wife had also walked into a higher paying job a few months after exiting her old company for a much higher pay, so things financially were looking up.

This was really the time things went into overdrive, both from an earnings point of view and wealth wise.

The three apartments together were worth in the low seven figures and we had finished renovation of our house, which had also significantly appreciated in value.

Our first son was 4 years old and things were looking positive. I was, however, still working harder than ever.

 

That’s something I should have mentioned earlier.

 

All the promotions and increased salaries came at a sacrifice. Unfortunately, there is no way other than working hard to get a promotion. There are lots of little things you can do to increase your chances. Check some of them out here. But at the base you need to work hard and succeed at what you are doing to be seen as being ready for a promotion.

However, sometimes life throws you a bone when you least expect it. My bone was a new CEO who was hell-bent of changing her entire executive committee.

At that time I had been through two CEOs and I was solid in my role as Chief Financial Officer, but when the new CEO arrived, I knew things were going to be different. She immediately ignored me and barely responded to my emails. She was often absent and spent almost no time with her executive committee. She also started spreading false-hoods about me to the board.

At first, I fought back, reaching out to the board members I knew well, but soon I started to realize that I couldn’t win against her. She was the CEO and she called the final shots. I had no choice but to try turn the situation to my advantage.

 

The biggest break

 

To win a negotiation, the most important thing you need to know is what your adversary really wants.

 

This is the most critical piece of information and you need to really understand it. It is often not the thing you think it is. Going into a negotiation without knowing this will mean you will most definitely lose.

There is no way to win a negotiation if you don’t know what your adversary wants.

I knew she wanted me out.

 

The second way to win a negotiation is to make your adversary worried about the damage you could do to them, if you don’t get what you want.

 

However, this needs to be subtle. You can’t threaten directly your adversary as that could be used against you. They need to know it indirectly.

So, I used the board members I knew and spoke about her erratic behavior, about the fact that she spent no time with me, her second in command. I always spoke to them on the basis that it was a private discussion. I knew it would get back to her.

And it did.

 

The third way to win a negotiation is to anchor what you want first.

 

I provoked a discussion with her at the point I knew the information about what I was saying was getting back to her. I approached it as my need to do something new. I said I felt I needed to expand my wings and wondered what else I could do for the company. I knew the answer was nothing as there were no open roles, but I needed her to say that.

She eventually did and that was when I suggested a negotiated exit as long as the company recognized my time and achievements.

 

The fourth way to win a negotiation is to have a very viable Plan B.

 

You can never go into a negotiation, unless you want to be on a weak foundation, without a real plan B. That’s not to say you can’t be moderately successful in a negotiation without a Plan B. You can, but you’ll never win exactly what you want.

My plan B? I had an imminent offer from a bigger company at a higher pay and closer to where I lived.

That enabled me to negotiate from a position of force.

The CEO offered me a very generous severance.

 

Realizations about my road to wealth

 

With a windfall of more money than I could reasonably have expected to save in a decade, we were able to move back into the city (for better schools for the kids – now two) and also pay off our remaining mortgage debt. It also enabled us to buy another rental property.

My move into my new job, while turbulent at times, has brought new opportunities and also new realizations.

 

I realize that my fear of not providing for my family, is still around – even though I could lose my job and still care for them for more than a lifetime.

I realize wealth has not provided the security and peace of mind I thought it would.

I realize I’ve squandered a fair few years on chasing a career and money.

I realize wealth has also paralyzed me with fear I might lose it all.

 

But what does one do with these realizations?

 

Building wealth is a long road, and you need to be focused on it.

Wealth is about money in this sense. Wealth comes from saving more, making more or taking risks that pay-out. You need to be prepared to give up things to achieve greatness in a career. To win a risky bet, you need to be prepared to actually lose. When you give up things, you often never can get them back.

I can’t get back those conversations with my father.

However, I can try and share what I’ve learnt along this road. Not so that others don’t take that path, but so that other’s figure out a better path. I can have those conversations with my sons. I can concentrate on my wife and our relationship more than my career. I can concentrate as well on my health as I’m sure I’ll outlive my current role.

 

I can try and change these things now.

 

This blog has been and will always be about sharing what I’ve learnt and what I’m learning.

 

Your Chief Money Man will continue to show you how to get rich, get promoted fast and build wealth, save the planet  and he’ll also promise to share the realizations he awakens to along the way… Just in case some of those realizations gets just one of you thinking in a slightly different way for the better.

 

Happy wealth building

The CFO

 

 

 

2 Comments

  • MC Munis

    Think of the nation’s prominent institutions of higher learning, our public transit systems, our major highways, cities and towns – these assets have staying power measured in decades and centuries. Maybe that is the single most important introspection one might have when thinking about maintaining wealth. Do you own assets that have generational staying power? Wealth preservation may depend on the answer.

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