More millionaires nowadays; secret to success and riches

PETALING JAYA: There may be more millionaires in Malaysia now than before but they may not necessarily be feeling rich.

Besides the rising number of successful business owners, many high-salaried people are already millionaires based on the value of their assets and properties.

RAM Holdings Bhd group chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng said the term could also apply to those in the middle-class who could have earned the amount but had spent it on necessities such as on costly children’s education and high property prices.

He said although a millionaire was measured by his or her disposable income, those who have made their million would not have the same purchasing power compared to a decade ago, citing inflation as the main reason.

Dr Yeah said many in business had made their millions as a result of savvy investments and the growth of the industries that they were involved in, adding that overall, the rising affluence was due to sustained economic growth.

“We have seen a strong growth in certain sectors, including plantation, oil and gas and property, which have elevated entrepreneurs into the millionaire class,” he said.

Billionaires, however, remain rare. Malaysia now has 30 billionaires, just three more from the 27 on the list last year.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported last year that Malaysia’s millionaires almost doubled over the previous 18 months.

Citing a report by international financial firm Credit Suisse Group, it said Malaysia added 19,000 new millionaires since early 2010, bringing the total to 39,000 as of October.

The WSJ report attributed the rise to the weakening US dollar and careful spending.

Dr Yeah said those who invested their money wisely had benefited the most.

“In a free market and capitalist economy like Malaysia, people who have capital can generate millions,” he said, noting that many in the upper-income bracket had accumulated wealth past the million-ringgit mark.

Personal financial consultant Carol Yip said the rising cost of living had lessened the feeling of being rich.

“Today, even a small apartment can cost half a million,” she said.

She said careful spending was not a factor for the increase in the numbers of millionaires.

“If we are spending less, we won’t be seeing so many luxury cars on the road,” she said.

She said the rise in millionaires was also due to property prices which have shot up exponentially, adding that the definition should not include the value of the house that one was living in.

“If you still have a million in hand after you convert the value of your other properties, investments and have paid of all your debts, then you are a millionaire,” she added.

Financial adviser Fred Wong said making a million was not a problem these days as long as people were willing to work hard but being self-employed and investing wisely was the better route to riches.


Millionaires’ secret to success

PETALING JAYA: Ganesh Kumar Bangah made his first million at the age of 23.

The secret, he said, was as simple as knowing what people needed and delivering it to them.

“I knew what I was good at, which was IT. I used that to come up with something of value to the world.

“I also worked hard and persevered until I reached the goals I had set for myself,” said Ganesh, now 33 and the CEO of MOL Global Bhd, a company worth over RM1bil.

<b>Young and rich:</b> Ganesh (left) and Yap made their first million at the age of 23 and 26 respectively. Young and rich: Ganesh (left) and Yap made their first million at the age of 23 and 26 respectively.

He said that even when he was only 15, he had been using his skills to make money, like repairing his teachers’ computers for a fee.

At the age of 20, he started his own company, which made him a millionaire in three years.

“Be focused and set new goals for yourself to keep climbing higher. Real wealth is the satisfaction you get when you overcome a new challenge that brings rewards. Financial wealth should just be a by-product.”

Feng shui master and multi-millionaire Joey Yap said learning to make good use of time was a key ingredient to achieving financial success.

“In business, time is money, so make sure you use your time to acquire things of good value. Find out what your strengths are, work on your weaknesses and hone your talents,” said Yap, 35, who made his first million at age 26 by selling his first feng shui home study course.

However, having RM1mil does not necessarily make people feel rich, especially for those raising children in the city.

Carol Leong, 57, a mother of three, said it costs more than the amount for an average family to live in the city and raise a child to adulthood.

“There are medical bills, tuition fees, various expenses and their education to pay for. For our family, it has definitely come up to more than RM1mil per child,” she said.

Leong, a lawyer, said she and her businessman husband had placed their money in various investments, which in the long run had helped pay for tertiary education overseas for their three children.

“I would advise young parents living in the city and who are just starting a family to invest to secure some income for the future,” she added.



A million-dollar dream?

What would you do if you have a million bucks?

Monday Starters – By Soo Ewe Jin

WHAT would you do if you have a million bucks? A poor government clerk from Bihar, a remote and poverty-stricken region of northern India, has become the first person to win 50 million rupees (RM3mil) on the popular Indian version of the gameshow Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Sushil Kumar’s win is a classic case of life imitating art as the script is similar to that of the 2008 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

According to the Associated Press, Sushil said he would spend some of his prize money to prepare for India’s tough civil service examination, which could lead to a secure and prestigious lifetime job.

He would also buy a new home for his wife, pay off his parents’ debts, give his brothers cash to set up small businesses and build a library in Motihari so the children of his village would have access to books and knowledge.

Real life slumdog millionaire: Sushil (left) says thank you with clasped hands as he receives his US$1mil prize from Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan during the fifth season of the Indian version of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? television quiz in Mumbai on Oct 25. Kumar, a computer operator who earns just US$130 a month, has become the first person to win the top prize. — AFP

Everyone loves a story like this. Although people can become instant millionaires by striking the lottery or pulling the lever on a one-armed bandit at a casino, using one’s talent at a tension-filled gameshow is more admirable.

And I applaud Sushil for his noble attitude in thinking of others to share in his newfound fortune. Bihar is one of the poorest states of India and its remoter areas, such as Motihari, have been largely untouched by India’s phenomenal recent economic growth.

Do you know that there are now at least 39,000 millionaires in Malaysia? According to a recent report by the Credit Suisse Group, 19,000 new millionaires were created over the past 18 months alone.

Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific Wealth Report 2011 by Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and Capgemini, also released recently, revealed that Malaysia’s rich prefer splurging on a fancy new set of wheels, luxurious yachts or private jets.

Up to 46% invested their ringgit in luxury collectibles like cars, boats and jets, the highest percentage of any country within the Asia-Pacific region.

Their counterparts down south seem less interesting and still prefer jewellery and luxury watches.

I know that the CEOs who read the business section of this newspaper may consider a million ringgit small change but to most of us, it is a very faraway goal, not something one can possibly achieve as a regular salaried worker.

But we can all dream and I was wondering to myself, what would I do if I suddenly had a million ringgit in hand? I suppose our wishes would coincide very much with our age, status, and ultimately our character.

To those who believe material pursuits equate to real happiness, a shopping spree would be fantastic.

Those who do not focus too much on material things may want to travel around the world and complete their Bucket List, which may also include going on a religious pilgrimage.

I believe that God never gives us more than we can handle, just as He never lets us go through trials and tribulations beyond our capacity to endure.

And that was when I stopped dreaming. Because I know, seriously, I will never be able to handle so much money at any one time. So I shall be content and count my blessings. I hope you will too.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin notes that the world’s population officially hits seven billion today. No one really knows who is Citizen Seven Billion, of course, but by the time he grows up, millionaires and billionaires will probably be a dime a dozen.

Give, you shall receive !

Give and you shall receive (brickbats)


The fact that billionaires are giving away their wealth to charity is not creating much impression among the sceptics.

CHINA was shocked when real estate magnate Yu Peng Nian, 89, gave away his whole fortune to his Yu Pengnian Foundation last year.

Coming from a poor background, Yu had no qualms about leaving his children nothing. When asked why, he only said that if they were capable, they would have made their own money.

Tan: ‘When you are wealthy, you can afford to give back to society.’

Similarly, one of Taiwan’s richest men, and apparently most generous, tech tycoon Terry Gou, 57, has pledged to turn over his massive wealth to charity before he dies.

Only last week, Malaysia’s own billionaire Tan Sri Vincent Tan, chairman and chief executive of Berjaya Corporation, pledged to donate half his wealth (worth RM3.8bil) to charity, saying, “When you are wealthy, you can afford to give back to society.”

Interestingly, he also said that he hoped to inspire more wealthy Malaysians to donate their fortune to charity.

This surprised, not to mention angered, many ordinary Malaysians who can only imagine that much money.

One shop owner in Cheras who only wants to be known as Makcik Mah says: “Really, the rich need to be inspired to help others?”

Perhaps, our rich can take a leaf out of Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ bankbook: after giving away US$30bil through the Gates Foundation in an effort to combat disease, hunger and other global problems, he still came in second in Forbes’ latest list of the world’s billionaires at a worth value of US$56bil.

When Sunday Star asked around about how Malaysian billionaires can give back to society, there are many like security guard Ahmad Izuan Ahmad, 44, who says, “I know where they can donate their money – me, my foundation.”

Although not entirely convinced by the philanthropy of most multimillionaires, 20-something writer Smita Elena says it is still a good thing when the Vincent Tans of the world give up some of their capital.

“Charity is the big guy buying off the small guy. Indeed, it serves to strengthen modern capitalism by making tycoons look good and by ever so slightly ameliorating the conditions of the poor,” she quips.

Zain: ‘The wealthy should contribute to infrastructure and development for all.’

“Still, it’s much better to hear about Vincent Tan’s pledge than about a millionaire super club for consumerism, where rich kids buy helicopters and the like.”

Smita believes that the super wealthy should not do whatever they want with their money.

“I’d think, for starters, they could stop using their capital to exploit others! Then they should feel bad for being such greedy fat cats and give away ALL their money and declare themselves bankrupt and go live in an ashram and spend their remaining days in service to the poor.”

For the millionaires “who need persuading” to give away their bounty, she asks them to read what Andrew Carnegie has to say on the matter: “Mainly that nobody should die rich! And then they can go fund either a library or a university,” she says.

For Sen Tyng Chai, a researcher at Univer­siti Putra Malaysia, education is also the best charity for the wealthy to consider.

“For example, university endowments are rare in Malaysia and few donations are ever made for local research and development. We do have some private scholarships but more could be done in the area of education, apart from philanthropic work towards peace, social justice and social entrepreneurship,” he says.

Sen adds that it would be more meaningful if the act of giving is planned carefully so that the donated wealth is well spent to generate returns beneficial to society as a whole, rather than fuelling dependency or a false sense of entitlement.

“Sometimes it is not necessary to throw away huge amounts of money to ‘give back’ to society. Creating employment opportunities for marginalised communities or disadvantaged groups, making more environmental-friendly changes to their business processes or incorporating CSR policies and strategies are but some examples of how millionaires/billionaires and their corporations can contribute to the nation’s development.”

One possibility, he suggests, is to set up a charity to provide counselling, support and information to help people deal with gambling addiction or gambling problems.

Social media consultant Zain H.D. agrees, saying that instead of simply “donating” their money, the wealthy should contribute to infrastructure and development for all.

“A lot of poor people can raise the same amount one rich man has, but they don’t have the accessibility (or) consensus to build on something larger, like a school or telco grids in rural areas.”

He believes that the rich should either help the poor who are not able to help themselves, or specifically help those where there are multiple returns or impact to the whole society.

“It’s not just about utilising resources but also matching those to get the best outcome,” he notes.

Trainer Angela Kryss thinks it should not be about the amount of money given away but about how timely the help is.

“What’s the point of doing charity when charity comes too late, or the millions/billions amassed so far have already done damage – probably more damage than what the millions and billions can do in terms of the charities it’s going to support.

“Giving away 50% of a lot is not a big act of charity. Giving away 50% of the little of whatever you have is worth much more and is a much bigger act of kindness and caring.”

As she points out, ordinary people – and even poor people – give money to charities or to people in need, and this sort of help means much more because it’s always as an immediate and constant response to the need.

For the millionaires looking for a cause, she proposes the development of entrepreneurial skills for the poor.

“The rich should also support healthy competition in the market so that there will never be a situation where there’s a need for millionaires and billionaires to donate their money to get tax refunds. By paying their taxes in full and not try to get out of it, there will be better public goods, services and facilities.”

Social activist Hasbeemasputra is more sceptical. He believes donations by the rich and corporations are a sham.

“They will get tax rebates for some, if not all, of their charitable donations, which means we, the people, end up footing the bill. The money creation and supply mechanism as it exists in our current infinite growth paradigm is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, only benefiting the power elite of our society.”

He cites the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) or the Ronald McDonald’s Children’s Charity (RMCC) as examples.

“McDonald’s has donation collection boxes at all their counters where people drop in their loose change. The money is channelled to RMHC, an independent charity which supposedly aims to provide free ‘home away from home’ accom­modation at hospitals across the UK, enabling families to stay close to their child and maintain a degree of normal family life (as described on”

He alleges that by funnelling this money (which wasn’t even theirs to begin with) to RMCH, McDonald’s is entitled to tax rebates. In some countries, the rebates can be up to equal the value of the donation, which means that for every $1 they donate to RMCH, they get $1 in tax rebates.

If multimillionaires are serious about helping society, he says, they can look into funding empowerment programmes that wean people off dependence on “the System” or, as he puts it, “Teach the people how to fish instead of giving them fish.”

As postgraduate student Jenny sees it, there will be no need for philanthropy if there is a more equal distribution of wealth.

“Doesn’t it make sense to say that there wouldn’t be a need for charity if wealth was more equally shared in the first place? The government plays a huge role in ensuring that there isn’t the very rich versus the very poor,” she says.

A world with extreme wealth in the hands of a few while the majority struggle to make ends meet is an untenable scenario to maintain in the long run, she opines, citing the Pareto economic principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity).

“I remember an economist who said that if you envision this situation like a champagne glass but without the base, the rich sitting on top in the mouth of the glass (hoarding the bulk of the world’s wealth) and the not-so-rich squished into the handle part of the glass (sharing the remainder of the world’s wealth), and there is no base at the bottom, you can see that the glass is balancing precariously and can topple over any time.

“This is how the world is today – and the financial crash in the US two years ago is symptomatic of this situation.”

Spreading their wealth & giving back quietly, a pledge from the heart!


Some of Malaysia’s richest individuals have been quietly supporting philanthrophic causes.

HOW much are our super-rich worth? And are they giving back to society?

According to Forbes Asia, which released its 2011 rich list on Thursday, Malaysia’s top 40 richest individuals increased their wealth by 22% over the 2010 list. Their total fortune? A staggering US$62.1bil or RM188,320,000,000!

The number of digits alone is enough to make us ordinary folks sit up and take note. While many Malaysians still dream of making that first million or are still struggling for our bread and butter, our super-rich have zoomed far ahead.

Last week, Berjaya Corporation Bhd founder Tan Sri Vincent Tan pledged to donate at least half his wealth to charity through the “The Giving Pledge” campaign that was initiated by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, his wife Melinda and investor Warren Buffett.

Tan, a self-made entrepreneur who made it to the ninth spot on Malaysia’s rich list with a fortune estimated at US1.25bil (RM3.8bil), may well be the first billionaire outside America to openly make the pledge. (see story on Page 20)

So far, 59 billionaires in the United States have officially signed the pledge, an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving the bulk of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charitable organisations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death.

Generous gesture: The Giving Pledge campaign initiated by Bill and Melinda Gates (above) and Warren Buffet has so far signed up 59 billionaires in the United States. – AP

The world’s youngest billionaire and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is said to be worth US$6.9bil, signed the pledge last year. The 26-year-old entrepreneur believes it is a mistake to wait “when there is so much to be done.”

Others who have made pledges include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Star Wars director George Lucas and CNN media mogul Ted Turner.

While not all our billionaires have openly pledged to give away their fortunes, a number of them have been quietly involved in philanthropic causes, some for decades.

Philanthropy is generally seen as a private matter in the Asian context, says Dr Yeah Kim Leng, chief economist of Rating Agency of Malaysia (RAM).

He believes that in Malaysia, some wealthy individuals have contributed substantially to philanthropic causes but kept a low profile.

A simple Google search shows that most of those on the Forbes list have channelled substantial sums to charity organisations or set up foundations for the poor or needy students.

“They are publicity shy because in Asian culture, contributions must be seen to come from the heart. I think it’s a personal choice we should respect,” says Yeah.

And with all philanthropists, it’s always the case of “giving back” to society. While each country has different needs, Malaysian philanthropists tend to focus on education and related causes of improving oneself. Tan himself set up The Better Foundation Malaysia in 1997.

Vincent Chin, the partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Malaysia says that in America, the tradition of giving back to society goes back to the days of oil magnate John Rockefeller.

“There is great understanding that society has given you a lot and you have the responsibility to give it back,” says Chin who is also BCG’s regional leader of philanthropy work in the Asia-Pacific region.

Datuk Ruby Khong, President of Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK), however believes there is a tendency for many wealthy people to keep their fortunes within their families because of traditional and cultural beliefs.

“Our forefathers left their homeland to earn a living and they believed that every single cent is important. Tan’s gesture sets a precedent which hopefully, others will follow. People need someone they can relate to and emulate,” she points out.

Khong also hopes that people will look at Tan’s pledge in a positive light instead of questioning his motive.

Whatever the case, there is definitely a need for funds, says Josie Fernandez, director of Philanthropy Asia.

She points out that there are many overcrowded orphanages and homes which have to rely on the services of volunteers instead of full-time staff.

“The need for philanthropy will be greater in future with escalating prices,” she notes.

In other parts of the world, philanthropic activities centre on the greatest needs of that society as well as the passion of the giver, says Chin.

For instance in poorer countries, philanthropic contributions are often directed towards providing shelter, food and clothing whereas in richer economies, causes like the welfare of animals, the arts and culture gain attention. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how the money is utilised as long as it is channelled to the needy.

Chinese businessman Chen Guangbiao, 42, for instance has pledged to donate his entire fortune to charity when he passes on and leave nothing for his descendants. Worth RM2.35bil, the father of two has donated RM635mil so far.

For Chen, wealth is like water.

“If you have a glass of water, you drink it yourself. If you have a bucket of water, you keep it in your house, but when you have a river, you have to learn to share it,” he said in an interview with StarBiz last year.

Billionaire Quotes

Passing down fortunes from generation to generation can do irreparable harm. In addition, there is no way to spend a fortune. How many residences, automobiles, airplanes and other luxury items can one acquire and use?

– Herb and Marion Sandler, former Co-CEOs of Golden West Financial Corporation and World Savings Bank

“People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?”

– Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Ridiculous yachts and private planes and big limousines won’t make people enjoy life more, and it sends out terrible messages to the people who work for them. It would be so much better if that money was spent in Africa – and it’s about getting a balance.

– British entreprenuer Richard Branson

Is the rich world aware of how four billion of the six billion live? If we were aware, we would want to help out, we’d want to get involved.

– Microsoft founder Bill Gates

If you’re in the luckiest 1% of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99%.”

– American industrialist Warren Buffet

My father used to say, ‘You can spend a lot of time making money. The tough time comes when you have to give it away properly.’ How to give something back, that’s the tough part in life.

– Lee Iacocca, former president and CEO of Chrysler Corporation

Giving back quietly

Many of those who made the rich list have been quietly supporting philanthrophic causes. Among them are:>Tan Sri Robert Kuok Hock Nien, 87, has again made it to the top of Malaysia’s rich list, with a fortune estimated at US$12.5bil (RM38bil). He has held pole position since 2006 when Forbes Asia began ranking the 40 richest Malaysians. Unknown to many, the Kuok Foundation was set up in 1970 and has disbursed RM157mil in study loans, grants and scholarships from 1970 to 2009. As at end of 2009, more than 7,500 awardees have completed their studies.

>Telecommunications magnate Tan Sri Ananda Krishnan, 72, ranked number two on the list, is another publicity-shy billionaire. According to Forbes, he helped the 1985 Live Aid rock concert project that raised US$240mil around the world for African famine relief. Ananda, who is worth US$9.5bil (RM28.83bil), has donated millions to education, the arts, sports and humanitarian causes in Malaysia through his privately-owned holding company, Usaha Tegas, and its three main listed subsidiaries: Maxis; satellite TV company Astro and Tanjong. In 2003, Usaha Tegas pledged RM160mil to various education funds in the country.

>At number three spot is Puan Sri Lee Kim Hua, 81, the widow of casino magnate Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong whose family’s net worth is estimated at US$6.6bil (RM20.03bil). In 1978, Lim set up Yayasan Lim, a family foundation that donates regularly to educational and medical institutions, old folk’s homes, various organisations for the physically handicapped and other charitable causes. In 2009, the Group contributed to Women’s Aid Organisation, Malaysian Paediatric Foundation, Hospis Malaysia, Alzheimer Disease Foundation, Malaysian Liver Foundation, Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation, Gujerati Association Federal Territory and Selangor, Divine Life Society and others.

> Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary, 59, who ranks No. 8 on the rich list and has an estimated worth of US$2.5bil (RM7.6bil), set up the AlBukhary Foundation which funds the AlBukhary International University AIU) in Kedah.The Foundation also does extensive work beyond Malaysian borders as well – it has done work in Afghanistan, Australia, Bosnia, Indonesia, Iran, Nepal and Pakistan among others.

A pledge from the heart


Saying it’s no publicity stunt, Tan Sri Vincent Tan explains why he made the pledge to give away half his fortune.

TO all the doubting Thomases out there who think his pledge to donate half his fortune is just a publicity stunt, tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun, 59, has one request – to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“People shouldn’t pre-judge me but look at my actions over the next couple of years,” he tells Sunday Star.

Tycoon on a mission: Tan sharing a light moment with children from the Nurul Iman Welfare Society For the Children of People Living with HIV/AIDS, Malaysia. He hopes to help as many organisations as he can.

“If more wealthy people give half their wealth away, the world will be a much better place. I do not want to put pressure on anyone but just motivate more to contribute (to society),” he says, while acknowledging that a number of fellow billionaires are already donating to charity and education foundations quietly.

Tan adds that he will leave enough for his children so they are “comfortable”, but not to the extent that they don’t have to work. His 11 children, he stresses, have been supportive of his decision.

“They say it’s my money and I can make the decisions. They know I didn’t inherit it and that I started with nothing,” says the Berjaya Corporation chairman, adding that his inspiration to pledge half his wealth came from the Giving Pledge, an initiative by US philanthropists Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet.

Tan adds modestly that even if he is worth RM1bil, half of it would mean RM500mil.

“That’s still a lot of money,” he points out.

Forbes Asia’s list of Malaysia’s top 40 richest individuals released on Thursday placed Tan on the ninth spot with a fortune of US$1.25bil (RM3.8bil). His Berjaya Group has diverse interests in food and beverage, financial services, telecommunications, property, resorts and gaming. Many are familiar names like Digi, Sports Toto, McDonald’s, Starbucks and 7-Eleven.

While all causes are deserving, Tan says he admires Mercy Malaysia, the Tzu Chi Society Buddhist organisation and World Vision for their work.

“These are organisations that I would like to work with,” he says, adding that contact had been established with them.

But, he says, he is not closing doors on other causes because he wants to be as diversified in his philanthropic work as he is in his business endeavours.

“We want to touch more lives,” says Tan whose Better Malaysia Foundation already supports a number of charities.

Tan, who has pledged RM20mil to charity this year, explains that he would not be able to give everything immediately but will do so gradually as he needs to divest some businesses and personal investments to bring in the cash for charity.

“With divine blessings, I can live to 80. That’s another 21 years. If I can give an average of RM50mil a year, that would be RM1bil,” he says.

So will it be difficult to part with all that cash?

“It doesn’t really affect my lifestyle, so it’s not difficult. We are only custodians of wealth. The public supports our businesses, so it is only right to give some of it back to society.”

For those who aspire to join the Billionaires’ Club, Tan says hard work is essential to achieve success. But he believes luck plays a major role too. In his case, he was lucky to get the franchise for McDonald’s in 1982, he adds, revealing that he wrote hundreds of letters over a seven-year period before McDonald’s responded to him. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I was persistent. You have to be hardworking but many hardworking people never had luck,” he grins.

Tan, who only studied until Form Five, also believes it is important to have a good command of English.

“It is important to understand and be able to speak English because it is the language of progress. If I didn’t have a good command of English, do you think McDonald’s would have chosen me as their partner?”

One of his dream projects is to set up free or subsidised tuition classes for English throughout the country to help the young generation improve their grasp of the language.

Asked if he would consider pledging 99% of his wealth just like Buffet and Gates, Tan replies that the percentage pledged depends on one’s wealth. He points out that Gates and Buffett have tremendous wealth that will last generations even after giving them away.

“I think 50% is a good start. If I were much more wealthy, perhaps I would give more,” he quips.

‘I want to be a millionaire’

No longer a dream but a possibility, today’s youth aspire to be rich, become a millionaire by the age of 35, and are confident that they can attain their ambition.

WITH role models like Mark Zuckerberg, 26, founder of Facebook and youngest self-made businessman worth more than a billion dollars; and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founders of Google, it is no wonder that the young think they can hit the jackpot too. The lure of being young and successful is strong – with icons that made their millions barely out of university.

In today’s world of success equals wealth, many see their paper qualification as a mere stepping stone to routes that will bring them an income beyond a simple salary.

To aspire to be a millionaire is no longer an abstract phrase but a very doable achievement. Obviously, 96% of 1,678 youth up to the age of 30 surveyed in the “So You Want to be a Millionaire” poll think so too.

The poll run by Sunday Star with YouthSays and Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman found that most youth indicated that they aspire to become millionaires.

Rajen Devadason, a Securities Commission-licensed financial planner with MAAKL Mutual Bhd, attributes the rise to the existence of successful role models like Bill Gates in the United States, Richard Branson in Britain and Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes here in Malaysia.

Role models: The success of Google founders Page (left) and Brin has spurred the young to think that they too can hit the jackpot.

“They are all exciting beacons of possibility for a generation looking for ‘heroes’ to emulate,” says Rajen.

“The appalling lack of political calibre we see everywhere, both in Malaysia and internationally, and the flaky behaviour of some entertainers and sports personalities, have caused today’s young people to increasingly choose to look toward business icons as role models. Financial success is, naturally enough, tied to high achievement in that arena,” he adds.

Joel Neoh, the executive-director of YouthSays, is surprised that almost everyone who took the poll aspires to be a milionaire.

“What is interesting is how many would eventually become one. Many won’t be able to achieve the goal,” he opines.

He is not too sure if the term “millionaire” means having RM1mil in cash or collective assets or a combination of both.

“If it’s collective assets, it’s very possible to achieve it today. About 10 to 15 years of savings can amass to that amount (car, house, etc). However, if it is RM1mil cash, this is quite a challenge to do so before the age of 35 if one is a salaried worker. But if one is running a business, then the chances are higher,” he says.

Neoh believes there is a rise in the number of young adults working towards such a goal and attributes it to how materialistic society has become.

“Materialism is a big part of our society. Many of our parents tell us to get a good degree and good job. For many, being successful means being rich,” he says.

CEO of youth agency Summer Sands, Bernard Hor, shares that there is an increasing market for “how to get rich” courses, citing the many wealth academies and programmes available for those who want to learn how to make money.

“Many of those who go for such programmes are college students,” says Hor.

He adds that the multi-level-marketing (MLM) concept has the most active penetration in the campuses. He claims that research indicates that at least nine out of 10 students are exposed to what MLM has to offer. Hor says that six or seven students join MLM in one way or another.

“They have been sold the idea of making their millions through such marketing,” says Hor, adding that many of them aim to reach their goal before turning 30.

In fact, almost 75% of respondents agreed that being a millionaire was the single-most important thing in their life.

So what is the motivation for becoming a millionaire?

For ATCEN Founder and Group CEO Ernie Chen, being a millionaire is just sexy.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be one? Every kid I’ve met wants to have the cars and houses. They get the idea from TV shows and movies – pop culture, basically. The founders of Google were only in their 20s when they became not just millionaires, but billionaires,” says Chen who runs the Millionaire Business School.

But it is more than just being rich for glamour’s sake; saving for retirement is an important consideration too, especially with the increasing cost of living and inflation.

Loo Chuan Boon, Youth for Change (Y4C) convener, believes that the word millionaire is just a metaphor for making more money.

“There is an assumption that the price of everything will go up and there is a need to make a lot of money to survive, ” he says, adding that many youth are starting to invest in unit trust and other funds.

Alvin Chia, 21, a third-year business student, aspires to be a millionaire by 30. He cites lifestyle needs as a reason to make his millions.

Neoh: ‘Materialism is a big part of our society’.

“We know that in order to maintain the lifestyles we’re accustomed to, we need more than just a basic job to get that million ringgit. My priority in terms of a career right now would be a first job that would broaden my horizons. I’m going to try to earn as much money as I can once I’m done with studying,” he says.

Rajen says that most Malaysians now in their 30s and 40s who hope to retire between the ages of 55 and 65 are likely to need between RM500,000 and RM5 mil, depending on their lifestyles.

“The snowballing effects of inflation will almost certainly kick in well before we retire, thus necessitating millionaire status simply to afford simple amenities in the 2040 to 2050 time period,” he says.

He believes the growing ambitions of today’s youth are also indicative of higher expectations they are willing to place on themselves.

“All this suggests that more young people are willing to pay the high price, in terms of discipline, diligence and courage, to break the bounds of conventional employment and build businesses or professional practices that will grant them their lofty desired economic outcomes,” he adds.

But while almost everyone wants to become a millionaire, not everyone will succeed in doing so.

“I’ve met young people who have huge aspirations. The reality is that some will make it, some will not. If everyone does well, the economy will get better, our country will do better,” says Chen.

Hor: ‘Increasing market for courses on how to get rich’

He travels all over the country looking to recruit students for his “millionaire school”. He thinks that students are very lost because of the numerous options before them.

Spoilt for choice

“We didn’t have very many choices growing up. Now you can be anything you want. There are a lot of ‘professional dreamers’, as I like to call them, out there but they don’t take any serious action towards realising their dreams,” says Chen.

He adds that becoming a millionaire, billionaire, or achieving financial success involves a lot of hard work. And therein lies the problem.

Only 36% of those surveyed believe that hard work is essential to reaching their goal. However, 47% believe that becoming a millionaire is based on opportunities – being at the right place at the right time.

“Young people don’t understand what hard work is,” says Chen.

Similarly, Rajen believes that most youth who talk about setting such high economic goals are unlikely to follow through with the appropriate actions.

But for those who do, they are the top performers in professions like law, medicine, engineering, accountancy and financial planning; players in the oil and gas sector; successful sales professionals of financial products, including life insurance and unit trusts; and persistent entrepreneurs who are willing to face the 1-in-10 chance of having a new business succeed.

Working for someone is viewed as unlikely to help you reach your goal and this is probably the reason why almost 60% of the respondents ticked owning their own businesses and entrepreneurship as the way to achieve their target.

“The heavy emphasis on business and entrepreneurship is correct. That is the way to wealth, at least in terms of earning big bucks,” opines Rajen.

He adds that the entrepreneurs are the ones who have already learnt to be respectful and considerate employees.

“Working initially as a conventional employee for at least three years is, in my opinion, a vital step in the maturation process of becoming a great employer or business owner,” he says.

Neoh says the entrepreneurial route has been proven to work. Their yearly National Youth Entrepreneur Conference has resulted in a few successful startups.

“The Government and businesses have realised this, and are coming up with special with grants and funds for young people to start a business,” he says.

Hor believes the entrepreneurial route requires a lot of patience. He lists his own experience as painful. Many entrepreneurs who have made it big talk about the time when they had only roti canai or Maggi Mee to eat for a long time. He himself had to contend with red beans and bread for almost 10 months.

The need to support one’s family can be a big obstacle in venturing out and taking risks.

“Many want to be bosses and own their own businesses, but after university, they have to send money home. Entrepreneurs don’t get a salary for nine to 18 months. They have no choice but to opt out of the dream and take up a regular job,” says Hor.

Chen, however, says that there are many ways of achieving financial success. “You can be a millionaire even if you are an employee. The key is having businesses on the side and investments,” he says.


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