The Billion Dollar Secret

20 Principles of Billionaire Wealth and Success

First published in 2019 by
Panoma Press Ltd
48 St Vincent Drive, St Albans, Herts, AL1 5SJ UK

Cover design by Neil Coe

Typeset by Westchester Publishing Services

ISBN 978-1-784521-64-6
eISBN 978-1-784524-09-8

The rights of Rafael Badziag to be identified as the author of this work have been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any material form (including photocopying or storing in any medium by electronic means and whether or not transiently or incidentally to some other use of this publication) without the written permission of the copyright holder except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Applications for the copyright holder’s written permission to reproduce any part of this publication should be addressed to the publishers.

This book is available online and in all good bookstores.

Copyright © 2016 Rafael Badziag



This book can transform your financial life.

Brian Tracy, author of numerous bestsellers on success psychology, such as Million Dollar Habits, Eat That Frog!, and The Psychology of Achievement

The Billion Dollar Secret is a thorough and insightful masterpiece that puts on full display the dedication, ingenuity, and grit that are woven into the souls of Rafael Badziag and the 20+ billionaires he interviewed. Its strength as a worthwhile read for any entrepreneur is the almost scientific nature of Badziag’s methods: meticulously researching data from a diverse set of individuals who have exponentially divergent backgrounds and paths and finding the common threads among each experience that can be attributed to shared traits of their financial and professional successes.

This is not a piece written from the imagination and opinions of an armchair writer, but a labor of love written by a man who has literally traveled the world to learn from the best and share what he has learned with the people who have the same passion for success burning within.

Jannelle So, TV host/producer at TFC and Lifestyle Network

I highly recommend this book. It is a very thoroughly researched book on successful philosophies of life.

—Tony Tan Caktiong, Filipino billionaire, the World Entrepreneur of the Year 2004

Thank you, Rafael! A “must-read book” because every decade a book comes along that opens doors otherwise closed to most of us that changes the way we think about growth, financial success, and business. Excellent research, thought-provoking, and inspiring.

—Dr. Albert Allen, Lord of Crofton of Greater London, best-selling author, Emmy Award-winning film documentary co-producer, entrepreneur, commercial real estate investor, philanthropist

This is an unusually thoughtful book on the topic of success. It is also a product of extraordinary effort on the part of Rafael Badziag meeting with and extracting valuable lessons from the world’s top entrepreneurs. I am confident that the lessons can improve the businesses and lives of many people around the world.

—David Choi, PhD, professor of entrepreneurship and director of the Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship, Loyola Marymount University

Since the current economy is under huge competition, I recommend all entrepreneurs to go and have a look at this sensational book.

—Cho Tak Wong (Cao Dewang), Chinese billionaire, the World Entrepreneur of the Year 2009

Rafael Badziag demonstrates that privilege, education, upbringing, and big inheritances are not the prerequisites to building wealth. The billionaires in this book made their own way through hard work, ingenuity, dedication, nonconformity, and unbridled passion for what they do. The book is an inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere.

—Nikos Kalaitzidakis, general manager, Coca-Cola HBC Poland

Finally, a book that unlocks the window to the highly guarded world of the most prolific, enigmatic, and mega-successful business icons across the globe. Rafael Badziag was able to masterfully weave the unique life stories of each of the featured rags-to-riches billionaires into a tapestry of traits and principles commonly shared by the ultra-successful. I also applaud the amount of in-depth research conducted to bring this book to life. A must-read for entrepreneurs, executives, and practically anyone who wants to learn from the best of the best and are tired of the usual run-of-the-mill motivational books flooding the market today. At last, a modern-day Napoleon Hill.

—Melody Avecilla, entrepreneur, founder, Runway Heels

I recommend this book because it contains all the essentials of how you can make your business a big success.

—Vincent Lo, Hong Kong billionaire, founder and chairman of Shui On Group

Badziag gives a narrative journey of the private lives of billionaires with candid insight into their trials and tribulations and ultimate path to success. He identifies society’s misconceptions of this very small percentage of the population and a deep insight into the distinct similarities amongst billionaires. Badziag’s book brings out the entrepreneurial spirit in us all and the realization that anything is possible with hard work, passion, and a little bit of luck along the way.

—Tatania Minguet, senior manager, National Accounts, Mattel

Rafael’s book gives a unique insight into the mindset of this rare breed of beings who have the power and financial resources to change our world—for better or for worse. Rafael’s personal relationships have given him unrivaled behind-closed-doors access to this exclusive (and often reclusive) club of the wealthiest 0.0001%. His interviews and anecdotes both dispel and sometimes confirm the myths that surround this Ultra High Net Worth Magic Circle. Definitely a fascinating and riveting read!

—Adam Jenkins, entrepreneur and CEO of Pekao TFI, preeminent investment fund manager in Poland

I highly recommend this book. It gives real-life stories of not only 1 but over 20 successful billionaire entrepreneurs. It’s not only a great pleasure to read this book, but I think it gives really exciting and valuable insights on how these entrepreneurs became so successful and how they built their fortune. And all of them did it from scratch. They did not inherit a family fortune. These are the stories of entrepreneurs who started with nothing and built a billion-dollar fortune. I think it’s really useful, interesting and enjoyable to read.

—Lars Windhorst, German billionaire, founder of Sapinda Group

Rafael Badziag knows what he wants, and he approaches his goals with focus. In the same way, he selectively and with determination interviews 20+ extremely successful people. It is great cinema: take a seat and marvel at how billionaires think and act. It is a great privilege for the reader to learn many aspects of these extraordinary entrepreneurs and human beings.

—Wolfgang Allgäuer, entrepreneur, author, and coach, awarded the Entrepreneurial Oscar by the Austrian Secretary of Commerce

This book has great insights and a unique perspective about the successful billionaires who have earned that revered title. Their battle scars and war wounds come from breaking barriers and disregarding norms, without compromising their values or quelling their inner rebels. It has many inspirational tales and uplifting stories that can inspire many an entrepreneur or a disruptor to reach for the stars, instead of just stardust—that is the difference between being a millionaire or a billionaire.

—Sandy Bhargavi, CEO, entrepreneur

This book would have been the right book for me when I was young. It would have saved me reading more than 20 biographies that I bought and read at that time.

—Lirio Albino Parisotto, Brazilian billionaire, founder and president of Videolar

I will never forget the first time Rafael told me about his book project. Back then I simply thought this would be impossible—but I soon realized that if anyone could pull this off, Rafael could. The book is more than a portrait of brilliant minds. It provides unprecedented insights on how the world’s wealthiest people think. Instead of repeating the stories of celebrity billionaires, Rafael made the right choice to focus on “off-radar” personalities, billionaires with contrasting backgrounds and compelling stories you have never heard before. A must read!

—Thomas Pamminger, serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and founder at Wollzelle and WeAreDevelopers

[This book contains] guiding success principles wrapped in compelling real-life stories of living self-made billionaires. Rafael delivers access and insights you have not read before, without Western world boundaries. A practical, inspiring read that is well worth your time … if you could use a billion.

—Paul Finck, State Farm executive

Most successful people I know have an innate curiosity and desire to find out what paths others took that led to their success. This book answers that challenge for everyone as it spells out the characteristics and steps that enabled many successful entrepreneurs to reach their goals.

A great road map that everyone can benefit from by learning from others.

—Jack Cowin, Australian billionaire, founder, chairman, and managing director of Competitive Foods Australia

Rafael Badziag’s The Billion Dollar Secret is both a motivational and informative read for any entrepreneur seeking to build a highly successful business enterprise. His research on the guiding principles and mindset of self-made billionaires provides insights and a useful framework for anyone determined to build wealth.

—Richard Stafford, PhD, associate dean and director of Executive MBA program, Loyola Marymount University

I got to know the author at a 100 km run through the Namib desert. He was well prepared, following the advice of an accomplished ultra runner. With this book, he follows the same strategy: modeling excellence.

I believe that learning from the most successful people, like those interviewed for this book, will help me a great deal in my upcoming projects.

—Martin Jansen, ultra runner, adventurer, and speaker

I come from an era when everyone wanted to know how to be a millionaire. Rafael Badziag has compiled a new age book about what it is to be a billionaire in the world of digital and exponential growth. Over the decades I think the reader will find the foundations for being a leader are still the same, but with a twist. It is the twist that makes this book exceptional.

—Chip Wilson, Canadian billionaire, founder of Lululemon Athletica

I have always believed that if you dream big, you must go for it. This book proves that point. The billionaires in this book—who come from all around the world—are dreamers who think big but started small and never gave up. The 20 principles in The Billion Dollar Secret light up all of the possibilities and guide you toward a life of abundance.

—Jacek Walkiewicz, psychologist, lecturer, top Polish TED speaker

I first met Rafael at a personal development workshop. Among all of the speakers I heard, he was the only one who had extraordinary passion, credibility, and true commitment to his mission. He was so good I asked him to speak at one of my sports clubs. After that, he became one of my mentors. It is thanks to him that I started to believe I had to aim higher. I started my business following the rules I believe in, doing what I love, and doing it as good as I can. And it worked!

—Miłosz Świć, owner and guide at the runners’ club Wild Boar Commando

It was a unique and inspiring experience to take part in this global book project. I would like to thank the author of the book for giving me this opportunity to pass my message to the audience of ambitious people and share my real-life experience with them. It would be my pleasure if my words could inspire these people and help them to achieve their goals in life.

I would also like to thank Rafael Badziag for conducting such an intriguing interview in a pleasurable, personal atmosphere. He took me for an enjoyable trip to the early days of my life during which I had the opportunity to touch my memories of how I built the success I have today. His questions let me think about every aspect of an entrepreneurial life. I had the chance to revisit the different stages of my career.

I’ve always valued the real stories of successful people from their very own tone of voice. Therefore, I would really be interested in learning about the success stories, mindsets, and motivations of the chosen business people around the world.

—Petter Stordalen, Norwegian billionaire and hotelier

I met Rafael in January 2015, and from the very beginning, I was impressed by his enthusiasm. He has an extraordinary ability to evoke positive emotions and fascination. Whatever he does, he does on a BIG scale and always with a smile: desert ultra marathons, relentless travels, Internet businesses, and, above all, this project. The fruit of his labor is this exceptional book, which I am sure will change the lives of millions of people around the world in the coming decades.

—Kamil Stasiak, ultra runner and entrepreneur

Rafael is truly inspiring.

—Y, magician, mentalist, and TV star, founder of Magic of Y

I was dubious about agreeing to be interviewed for this new book. I was, however, pleasantly surprised at how well you had researched both myself and my company and came fully prepared. Today there is a distinct lack of professionalism throughout all walks of life and industry. It was refreshing that you restored my faith.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you. I thought the questions you asked were relevant and sensible, and I look forward to not only reading what is said about me but also the many other successful people you hope to include in the book.

—Peter Hargreaves, English billionaire, founder and chairman of Hargreaves Lansdown

Rafael Badziag knows even more about how billionaires think than the billionaires themselves do. Unlike dime-a-dozen books that pitch overnight “get rich” schemes, Badziag’s work gives you a front-row seat inside the brains of many of the world’s wealthiest people and insights that can’t be found anywhere else. The Billion Dollar Secret is a road map to help entrepreneurs at any stage achieve even the most seemingly insurmountable financial goals.

—Rick Frishman, publisher, publicist, speaker, and author of numerous bestsellers, including Guerrilla Publicity and Networking Magic


For my family

I love you all



Foreword by Jack Canfield

How It Came About and What to Expect

1. It’s Inside You

2. If You Want to Fly, First Leave the Nest

3. Hungry Eagles Soar Highest

4. Build Your B.O.A.T.

5. The Gold Digger’s Trap

6. The Six Skills of Business Mastery

7. The Six Habits of Wealth

8. Sharpen Your Vision

9. Don’t Be the Flag, Be the Wind

10. Be Bold or Be Broke

11. Stumble Forward

12. Keep Fighting to Win

13. Do Not Conform

14. Outwork Them All with Passion

15. Are You F.A.S.T.?

16. Be Smart with Money

17. Never Stop Improving

18. Live with Integrity

19. Gratefully Give Back

20. Pay the Price


Appendix: The Billionaires


About the Author



When Rafael Badziag approached me five years ago with his idea to interview over 20 billionaires from all around the globe and get them to share the secrets of their success, I wasn’t at all convinced he could pull it off. Think about it. How do you convince over 20 billionaires to take serious time out of their incredibly busy schedules to work together on a book project? Millionaires, maybe. But billionaires who are running large multifaceted empires? I had been studying the principles and practices of successful people for more than 40 years, and I knew nobody had ever attempted that before.

As I continued to meet and correspond with Rafael several times over that five-year period, to my surprise I discovered how doggedly he was committed to the project, and by applying the same principles and disciplines he was learning from the billionaires he was interviewing, he actually pulled it off. And he did it on a global scale. And he not only managed to get access to 21 billionaires, he convinced some of the very best billionaire entrepreneurs in the world to work with him.

Since 2003, the most successful entrepreneurs from each country in the world have been coming together each year in Monaco to choose the World Entrepreneur of the Year, the person they believe to be the very best entrepreneur in the world that year. And since 2003, 8 of those 15 people named World Entrepreneur of the Year have been billionaires. And out of those 8, 5 chose to participate in this book and share their wisdom with Rafael and now you, the reader.

There is no other book available anywhere in the world that contains this much entrepreneurial experience, insight, and wisdom in it. From his countless hours of interviews with these highly accomplished billionaires, Rafael has managed to identify 20 powerful principles that led to their success … and that are now available to you to help you achieve your entrepreneurial and financial dreams.

You are now about to intimately get to know and learn from 21 no-nonsense business heroes who started with nothing and have gone on to build hugely successful companies, as well as contribute greatly to their local and global communities through their extensive philanthropic activities. They are now available as true role models for anyone with a compelling vision and who is willing to work hard and work smart to make that vision a reality.

As you will discover, Rafael has a unique gift in that he is able to get people who are mostly very private about their work and their wealth to open up their hearts and share their innermost thoughts and feelings about their journey to success. As you read this book, you are now the beneficiary of Rafael’s gift as you gain true insider access to the beliefs and behaviors that are required to achieve greatness in the business world. And because of the way Rafael has organized the book, it feels like you are right in the same room with them. They share the challenges they faced, the lessons they learned, the disciplines they developed, the solutions they created and discovered, and the results they produced in everyday, easy-to-understand language.

The end result is this astonishing book that you hold in your hands. As you turn each page, you will find old ideas and misconceptions about billionaires being gently washed away. One of the most powerful things you’ll discover is that these men did not start their careers by inheriting large sums of money that they were able to increase through a little bit of good luck. In fact, every one of the billionaires in this book is self-made. Some of them even came from extreme poverty and had seemingly hopeless beginnings, and you would have easily written them off if you had met them in their youth, but they never gave up and eventually achieved extraordinary things in business through their sheer, unbelievable tenacity.

As you get to know these remarkable men from their more human side, beyond what you would normally read about such people in Forbes or Fortune magazine, you’ll discover that they are basically just the same as you and me, but what sets them apart is that they have mastered the art of self-belief, and they came to realize that the only limitations any of us have are the ones we place upon ourselves. As you read their stories and come to understand their billionaire mindsets, you’ll see that when these psychological limitations are removed, the potential to achieve anything you desire is truly limitless.

You now have access to the inspiration, motivation, and information from 21 billionaires who will act as your mentors for the next 280 pages. And if you apply what they teach you with commitment, dedication, and perseverance, you’ll find that your potential for greatness is as limitless as theirs.

I’d normally end this by saying “Good luck,” but it is not luck that you need. It is simply the resolve and the courage to put into practice the life-changing principles and tools you are about to discover in this book. So instead I’ll end by saying, “Enjoy the journey!”

—Jack Canfield

#1 New York Times best-selling author of The Success Principles, How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, Dare to Win, The Power of Focus, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series


How It Came About and What to Expect

If you can count your money, you don’t have a billion dollars.

—J. Paul Getty, the wealthiest man in the world in the 1950s


In 1908, when journalist Napoleon Hill was assigned an interview with Andrew Carnegie—the wealthiest man in the world at the time—he didn’t imagine the journey that was awaiting him. Carnegie, himself an extremely successful entrepreneur, had the conviction that something resembling a success formula must exist—one that could be shaped into an infallible system that anybody could follow.

Impressed by Hill’s wit, Carnegie asked him if he was up to the task of formulating such a system by interviewing the most successful people in America and analyzing the results. Hill jumped on the opportunity. Carnegie gave him a letter of introduction to automotive magnate Henry Ford. The latter then introduced him to Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone), Elmer R. Gates (inventor of the fire extinguisher), Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb), and Luther Burbank (agricultural pioneer).

Hill went on to interview these individuals and many others who were among the wealthiest and most successful people of his time. After 20 years of research, he published his Philosophy of Achievement as a formula for rags-to-riches success in his monumental work The Law of Success. He condensed this knowledge into his famous work Think and Grow Rich, which went on to become one of the best-selling books of all time—and continues to sell in multiple versions and formats.

Hill’s publication was the seminal event in establishing a universal success philosophy. In the last 100 years, Hill’s philosophy has come to dominate the Western—or shall we say, distinctly American—school of thought on this subject. All of the figures referenced in Think and Grow Rich were American, after all.

How It All Started

Five years ago, I was attending a success conference. Thousands of people were high-fiving each other and shouting enthusiastically, “You’ve got a millionaire mind!” I went there inspired by the success books I had read, books on millionaire thinking, including Hill’s book. But I somehow felt awkward. Something didn’t feel right, didn’t let me cheer with others. There was something strange in the air, a feeling, a perception that I couldn’t grasp. Then it struck me. Of course!

Of course, I’ve got a millionaire mind. Back in the 1990s, I was pioneering e-commerce in Europe. I created the first fully functional online shop selling bikes in the German-speaking market. Having built a multimillion-dollar company, I am a millionaire myself. So what? I don’t feel like an overly successful entrepreneur with it. Others have developed their businesses faster, grew bigger with seemingly less effort. On top of that, my business felt like a continuous uphill battle. Being just a millionaire is rather a mediocre performance in the world of business. I’d rather have a billionaire mind. That would be something desirable for every entrepreneur. But this I apparently can’t learn here, at this conference, from people struggling to reach their first million.

I left, disillusioned and determined to find a way to learn it.

Have you ever asked yourself why is it that despite all your hustle every day, you aren’t where you want to be in life? How is it possible that some people during one life span manage to build organizations of hundreds of thousands of people and create the amount of value that an average person would need hundreds of thousands of years to create? What is their secret? Is it just a question of lucky circumstances? Is it their environment? Maybe it is their education? Or does the secret lie in their personalities? What are the keys to their phenomenal success? What do their belief systems consist of? How did they get where they are today, and how can you embark on the same journey to success? What are the mindsets and success rituals that these influential people have used to create such massive wealth? What drives them? What is the source of their exceptional motivation? What gives them the energy to relentlessly pursue such outrageous goals? What is it in the personalities of self-made billionaires that made them achieve so much more than an average entrepreneur and become so extremely successful in business?

This book in your hands, The Billion Dollar Secret, is the result of a five-year journey that took me several times around the globe to find the answers to these questions. It revives the 100-year-old idea of Napoleon Hill. However, I have taken the research one step further by interviewing some of today’s most successful business personalities—all of them self-made billionaires. This time, in contrast to Napoleon Hill’s work, I approached it globally, talking not only to American business giants but also to self-made billionaires from all parts of the world, representing different nations, cultures, and religions, as well as people from various industries, social backgrounds, and age groups. Today, we live in a globalized society. Asia now has a greater population of wealthy people than Europe and North America. Various cultures, religions, and mindsets around the world have developed their own paths to wealth.

The personalities of the self-made billionaires in this book are all quite different. They have their own areas of brilliance, their own unique personal interests, and their own individual quirks. In spite of these differences, however, there are specific common denominators, a set of personality principles shared by all of them that contributed to their successes and pushed them way over the top. It distinguishes them from everyone else. These principles aren’t inborn. They can be learned, trained, and internalized.

I call this set of principles the Billion Dollar Secret.

It is one thing to analyze public appearances or to cull third-party materials and draw conclusions from them, as most authors have done in the past; it is an entirely different thing to ask the super achiever face-to-face about his or her methodology of success, motivation, and way of thinking, as I have done here. Firsthand data allows a genuine, inner view into the heads of these outstanding personalities; access to their true thoughts and emotions; and original insights into their understanding of business and the world.

This book is the first attempt to extract the success principles directly from the world’s most successful self-made billionaire entrepreneurs themselves.

What Is a Billionaire?

The definition of a billionaire won’t be a revelation to you: He or she is a person with a net worth of at least $1 billion. What you may not realize is that a billionaire is an extremely scarce creature. Statistically, only 1 out of every 5 million citizens in the world—or 1 in 10,000 millionaires—is a billionaire.

It is difficult for most people to imagine how much money $1 billion really is. You would need about 22,000 pounds of $100 bills to amass $1 billion.

All 21 individuals interviewed for this book created a multiple of that value in their lifetimes. They did not inherit their great wealth or “luck” into it through some other means; they earned their fortunes through painstaking work and had to overcome steep trials and tribulations to reach their current status.

I must clarify the most common misconception regarding billionaires. They don’t sit on mountains of money. Nobody has a billion dollars in cash.

Seldom do these people have billions of dollars sitting in their personal bank accounts, either; when they do, this is only for a limited time between transactions. Rather, almost all of their money is invested in companies, stock, and/or real estate. It would be irresponsible to have so much cash lying around. The money would be eaten up by inflation, and there is also always the risk of a bank going bankrupt.

Artist Michael Marcovici created a work of art, One Billion Dollar, which physically depicted $1 billion in printed money. When the piece was exhibited in Vienna, Austria, Marcovici was asked why he didn’t use real money. His answer? Nobody could afford the ticket. Even if he borrowed it at only 1% a year interest from a bank, it would cost around $200,000 to have that real money used in a one-week exposition.

An entrepreneur or investor usually wants to see profit from his money—say 5%. In this case, keeping $1 billion in cash around the house would mean $135,000 opportunity cost each and every day. This is more than most people earn in a year. Few people do this voluntarily.

Many people fail to see the difference between a millionaire and a billionaire. In reality, the differences are gargantuan. Consider the following examples from several interviewees in this book.

Maybe this anecdote will make the difference between a millionaire and a billionaire more tangible for you. Recently a friend told me he was making $500,000 profit a year, pretty impressive earnings for most people. He has been making this amount of money for several years already and investing it. His net worth is several million dollars. By all means, he is a millionaire. But what I realized is that in order for him to amass a billion dollars, he would have needed to be born before Jesus Christ and would have needed to save every penny, not pay taxes, and then only if there were no inflation. Compared to that, billionaires create a fortune of a billion dollars and more in just one life span.

The gap between millionaires and billionaires is colossal not only with respect to their wealth, but also in terms of the power and impact they have. Billionaires literally change the world.

The Billion Dollar Secret explains what distinguishes the billionaire thought process from everyone else’s and answers these questions: Why do some successful people who become millionaires remain at this level, whereas others become billionaires and change the world? What makes the latter achieve so much more?

No matter what endeavor you are attempting, you should always learn from the world’s best. Why? Because whether you learn from a third-league player or a world champion, the amount of time and effort you put in would be exactly the same. However, your results would be completely different.

If you desire is to be the world’s best soccer player, for example, you won’t get there by teaching yourself or by learning from a local hero—no matter how talented and experienced he or she might be. But if you were to get advice from past and present all-time greats, such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pelé, and Mia Hamm, you would gain instant insights—both mental and physical—that would give you the best chance possible to achieve all-time greatness at the sport.

Likewise, if you seek to become successful in business, you need to learn from the world’s best entrepreneurs. Yet how do you even determine who these individuals are?

There is one objective measure of business success: net worth. This is the universal score for business performance. Success might mean different things to different people, but in business it is relatively easy to determine the world’s most successful entrepreneurs: These are the people who have created the most dollar value during their business careers, the highest net worth.

By definition, the world’s best entrepreneurs are the wealthiest people in the world. Concretely, this means Billionaires—with emphasis on the capital B.

For the truly ambitious entrepreneur, it is senseless to consult with “average” millionaires or multimillionaires. In today’s business world, these businesspeople are far removed from consideration as the best performers. In the United States, 1 in every 20 entrepreneurs is a millionaire. So don’t learn from the millionaires. No, you need to learn from the best—from the billionaires.

Among other billionaires, the following top business personalities shared their wisdom for this book:

As you read the book, you may be wondering how I managed to gain access to all these illustrious personalities and convince them to participate in this global book project. Well, that story would fill another book (which I may someday write). Suffice it to say, this project took me around the world several times and let me see behind walls that are normally inaccessible to outsiders.

Last but not least, it allowed me to meet the most extraordinary business personalities of our times—all for the purpose of sharing their innermost wisdom with you, dear reader. Yet this is not a book about them—the shining diamonds of our business world, the mavericks, the 1-in-5-million ones, the “black swans”—per se. It is about the secret of their phenomenal success, told directly by them, in their own words. It is about the Billion Dollar Secret.

This book provides you with a road map so you may embark on your journey toward achieving similar results in your life and business.

Let’s begin.



It’s Inside You

Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.

—Friedrich Nietzsche


It is astonishing to consider how deeply public opinion about billionaires is dominated by stereotypes. The average person knows little about their reality—a world that represents a mere 0.00002% of society.

This knowledge deficiency is distorted by the media, which focuses on flashy images and dramatic incidents to create and promulgate envious sentiments. The picture painted by the media and accepted as fact by the general public is heavily skewed and a far cry from reality—at least insofar as self-made billionaires are concerned.

Let’s start by refuting some of the most common misconceptions. The following will give you a taste of the kind of people we are talking about and introduce you to their world.

Billionaire Misconception: Billionaires are born in rich, developed countries.

If you think it is necessary for a person to be born in a rich, developed country in order to become a billionaire, you are mistaken. The story of Narayana Murthy provides a good example.

N. R. Narayana Murthy was born in 1946 in India, one of the poorest countries in the world. Narayana’s family didn’t have furniture; everybody sat and slept on the floor. His father advised him to choose his hobbies carefully and select ones that wouldn’t drain his meager budget. Reading, listening to music, and talking to friends became his hobbies of choice. He couldn’t afford to buy a newspaper, so he would go to the public library and read a copy there.

In the early 1980s, India not only was one of the poorest countries in the world. It was also one of the countries most hostile to free enterprise. India had a socialist government that had developed an array of restrictions and ridiculous regulations that made it almost impossible to conduct business. This led to extreme corruption; government officials had the power to decide which enterprises would succeed and which ones would fail. As a result, India’s economy was strangled.

In 1981, when Narayana Murthy, together with several partners, founded the software company Infosys, the problems they encountered seemed insurmountable. The country’s frequent power shortages were one of the lesser obstacles they eventually would face.

Consider this: Do you think it is possible to run a software company without a computer?

Well, Infosys didn’t have one. Why?

Because a license was needed from the government in order to import a computer to India.

Narayana Murthy told me he had to endure three years and 50 visits to Delhi to obtain that license. The time frame barely hints at what was involved in this endeavor. Infosys was located in Bangalore, and Delhi was some 1,500 miles away. (To put this in perspective, it’s 200 miles more than the distance from New York City to Miami, Florida.) Narayana couldn’t afford to fly, so he needed to travel by train two days each way. As mentioned, the bureaucracy required 50 visits to Delhi; if you do the math, that is the equivalent of 200 days in total travel time in a three-year period!

Now, you are probably asking yourself: During the three years they didn’t have a computer, how was it possible for them to run a software company? How did they program?

The team found a customer in America who was amenable to allowing them to program on his computer. Six of the cofounders traveled to the United States to work on this, while Narayana remained in India in order to clear up the formalities and obtain approval to import their own computer.

Communication was yet another problem. Narayana informed me that it took the average Indian company five to seven years to get a phone line. Aside from the technological backwardness, the reason for the long wait was that retired government officials were prioritized to get phone lines.

The obvious question here: How did he communicate with his cofounders and customers in the United States without a telephone (and in the days before email)?

Narayana made regular visits to the post office, where he used a public phone box to call them.

I asked Narayana what happened if they needed to contact him. He smiled at me and replied, “Well, they couldn’t, they just couldn’t.”

After a year of struggling, they finally had a phone line installed. But having a phone line didn’t necessarily mean they could also get connections—especially with the United States. Most of the time there was no signal on the line; when there was a signal, it was usually busy.

As previously mentioned, it took three years for them to obtain a license to import the computer. Yet having a license didn’t mean they could afford a computer. Complicating matters further was the fact that the software they were creating required a minicomputer, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars—money the founders just didn’t have. Infosys was founded with $250 saved up by seven founders. Narayana Murthy faced another problem and performed another miracle, which we will discuss later.

After the computer was imported and installed, the six cofounders returned to India to work on it. But that still wasn’t the end of the bureaucratic obstacles they had to overcome. They now had to figure out how to get the code they produced to the customer in the United States. This occurred pre-internet, so it wasn’t as if they could simply email the code to the customer. The only way to do it back then was to save the program on magnetic tape and send it via the traditional mail service. On the other side, the customer loaded it from the magnetic tape to his computer. Unfortunately, this solution didn’t work between India and the United States.

Why not? Because any package being shipped from India to the United States needed to go through Indian customs. It took customs officials about two weeks to perform the customs procedure. This meant that it took three weeks for the code to be shipped from Infosys in India to the customer in the States. With every change Infosys made to the program, they needed to wait another three weeks before they could receive any feedback from their client. The consequence was that project durations extended to what seemed like an eternity. This process was unacceptable and akin to an entrepreneurial hara-kiri. They needed to shorten the shipment time considerably to speed up their production cycles.

How did they solve this? The team came up with the idea of printing out the code on paper and faxing it to the United States where, on the other side, another Infosys employee typed it manually from the fax into the customer’s computer. Of course, this required additional manual work and wasn’t error free. But it dramatically increased the speed of their software shipments.

That was not all when it came to challenges: Imagine the conditions they had to work in and the obstacles they needed to overcome while building their company in this poor developing country.

I had a firsthand taste of these conditions when conducting the interview with Narayana Murthy. At that time, it was 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in Delhi. This kind of temperature isn’t exactly conducive to performing physical or intellectual tasks. But people in India must perform their work in these conditions on a regular basis.

Today, Infosys is considered one of the wealthiest and most developed companies in India, offering the best working conditions available for their employees. And, of course, there was air-conditioning at the Infosys guest house in Delhi, where we conducted the interview.

Even so, there was a power outage during the meeting, and the air-conditioning system went out. Our own attempts to switch it back on failed, and the temperature rapidly became uncomfortable. Narayana called a maintenance team. After 10 minutes of fumbling, it finally clicked on. Five minutes later, there was another power outage, and the air-conditioning once again went out. We decided to leave it alone because we didn’t want to lose any more time.

I had only a tiny glimpse of what working life is like in modern-day India. For those readers who have never had such an opportunity, can you imagine what it may have looked like to work in that environment 30 years ago—when India and Infosys were far less developed?

Today, Narayana Murthy is a billionaire. Infosys is the largest software company in the world, employing 200,000 programmers; this is more than Microsoft, Apple, and Google combined. In 2003, Narayana Murthy was named World Entrepreneur of the Year—the best entrepreneur in the world, if you will.

It is therefore a myth that only people born in rich, developed countries can become billionaires. In fact, not only has Narayana himself become a billionaire, but he also made six of his cofounders into billionaires and at least 4,000 of his employees into millionaires.

What most people fail to realize is that wealth in developing countries grows much faster than in industrialized countries. In 2016, the number of billionaires in Asia surpassed the total in all of North America.

In my research I stumbled upon the phenomenon of immigrant billionaires. Yes, a strikingly high percentage of self-made billionaires made it big outside their countries of origin. They came from poor or war-torn countries with nothing in their hands, yet found ways to build great wealth. We will discuss this in greater detail later in the book.

Billionaire Misconception: Billionaires come from well-off, supportive families.

If you think a person must be born into a wealthy, supportive family to have a chance at becoming a billionaire, you are likely unaware of the story of Mohed Altrad.

Mohed Altrad was born a nomad in the Syrian Desert. His Bedouin tribe lived in tents. They set up camp where they found water for the animals and stayed there as long as the vegetation was enough to sustain their herds. Then they folded the tents and moved farther in search of better pastures.

When Mohed was born, his father disowned him. He expelled Mohed and his mother from their home and slaughtered his brother to death. Mohed was forced to live with his mother on the periphery of the tribe, his life so unimportant that nobody even noted the day or year of his birth. Even today he doesn’t know when he was born. He told me that the dates he uses now were invented because his children wanted to celebrate his birthday with him.

That is far from being the end of this Dickensian tale. When Mohed was four, his mother died. His grandmother assumed responsibility for him and raised him with the belief that his destiny was to become a shepherd. She didn’t want him to go to school because she thought it was for “do-nothings.” Every day, Mohed escaped from home and walked barefoot through miles of desert to the nearby village, where he could attend school.

The teacher gave him a notebook and a pencil because he didn’t have either of these things. He had gone to school empty-handed, as well as barefoot. The only thing Mohed owned was a torn djellaba (a type of robe), which he had outgrown years earlier.

On several occasions, Mohed tried to get basic support from his father to obtain the bare necessities, but was consistently rejected and humiliated by him—sometimes even beaten.

When Mohed was in third grade, however, a miracle occurred: He received a present from his father—an old bicycle. It was the first and only gift his father ever gave him.

With that bike, Mohed’s entrepreneurial genius appeared for the first time. He rented the bike out to his schoolmates for a fee, earning him a bit of money. It wasn’t much, but it allowed him to purchase some school materials.

Realizing that school was his only chance to get out of his lot in life, Mohed studied hard. Soon he became one of the best students in his region and was granted a scholarship to study abroad.

Many years later, after he completed his education, Mohed took over a bankrupt scaffolding company in France and developed it into a world leader in the industry. Over the next 30 years, he added over 200 companies to his business, the Altrad Group.

Today, Mohed Altrad is a billionaire. In 2015, he was named World Entrepreneur of the Year—the best entrepreneur in the world, if you will.

So, if you think one needs to be born in a well-off, supportive family in order to become a billionaire, you have been clinging to a misconception. Mohed Altrad was born a Bedouin on the margins of society in a poor country. He was disowned by his family, who wanted him to become a shepherd. But this didn’t stop him on his way to achieving unbridled success, proving that it can be done.

My experiences with self-made billionaires reveal that a considerable percentage of them didn’t have an untroubled, protected childhood. From early on they were forced by circumstances to take responsibility for their lives. We will talk about that in greater detail in later chapters.

Statistically, over 70% of the world’s billionaires are self-made, meaning that they don’t come from wealthy families. They created the mind-boggling value of at least $1 billion by their own means in less than a lifetime, which is astonishing in itself.

By contrast, this means that less than 30% of the billionaires inherited their wealth. Among this group there is a significant share of people who weren’t born rich, but inherited their wealth from their spouses.

To summarize, the stereotype of the rich man born into a privileged family and enjoying affluence all his life may apply only to one-quarter of all billionaires.

Billionaire Misconception: They have studied at the best universities.

It would be fair for you to argue that, despite all the obstacles they faced, Narayana Murthy and Mohed Altrad did manage to receive good formal educations that were critical to their respective success. But what about those who didn’t receive that education early on in life? Did all billionaires graduate from the best universities?

Cao Dewang (or, in official Mandarin pronunciation, Cho Tak Wong) grew up in war-torn China during the Cultural Revolution in a poor village in the Fujian Province. Before he was born, his father had abandoned the family and left for Shanghai without choosing a name for the expected child. This is especially important in Chinese tradition, where the father is supposed to give a name to the child.

As a result, the boy didn’t have a real name and instead went by a nickname until the age of nine. He and his five siblings were raised in poverty by his mother.

It was required by law for children to go to school, but the family couldn’t afford it for several years. Finally, he was able to go when he was nine, but still didn’t have a name—an important detail for school attendance. His uncle gave the matter a great deal of careful thought and ultimately named him Dewang.