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A growing trend of the ‘Rich and Lost’ population in the Open Source era
Is it possible to be ‘rich’ and be ‘lost’? You bet it is!


Among the trends of the 21st Century is leaders who have become successful at an unprecedentedly young age: the so-called billionaire teenagers.

The 2016 Forbes Billionaires List contained as many as 66 tycoons that were not even in their forties; a 7-times growth from 2010 and a new record. The youngest addition to the list was a Norwegian young lady who was only 19 at the time.

Although some did inherit their net worth from rich parents, but even people who became wealthy through own sweat and blood like Even Spiegel of Snapchat was only 25. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook stepped into the hall of billionaires when he was a mere 32 years old.

Indicators for business success in the new world are called Unicorn, Decacorn and Hectocorn: company valuation on the scales of 1 billion, 10 billion and 100 billion, respectively. Members of these groupings are the likes of Spotify, Evernote, Pinterest, AirBnB, and of course, Uber.

Since their launch in Malaysia in 2012, Grab – Uber’s regional competitor – services up to 2.5 million rides daily, making it the largest ride-hailing platform and the preferred app that the most drivers and passengers use in Southeast Asia. Grab is in 55 cities across the region, and its app has been downloaded onto over 45 million devices (Source: www.grab.com, 2016). With a fresh $2 billion recently raised in 2017, the company is valued close to six billion dollars. Even a fellow hailing start-up Go-Jek is reportedly valued at $3 billion, and it only operates in a single country, Indonesia.

The world sees this kind of skyrocketing growth doubled during 2012 to 2015. So, it is not surprising that the respective business owners would have accumulated their piles of wealth at an early age. Anthony Tan was only 30 when he founded Grab.

So, what is life like for this growing group of young billionaires? In 2016, The Independent published an article titled “8 people who became millionaires by 25 describe what it’s like to be so rich, so suddenly, so young”. I’ve integrated the reflections into this piece’s food-for-thought.

Leadership Insights:

1. People treat them differently. As the success and wealth of young billionaires became known, bystanders made a beeline to ask how they too can become rich. They couldn’t even go to the gym without being begged for stock advice. In contrast, old friends became distanced; figuring a mere office worker using public bus was not worthy for someone with a personal chauffeur. Even their mother and father felt intimidated to impart wisdom the way normal parents do. Simply put, they could never be sure if the people approaching them were genuine. Or that they might have a hidden agenda to go after the money and success.

2. They treat themselves differently. Some may think that ‘rich kids’ purchase expensive things without a second thought. But what we didn’t realize was that they often caught themselves being unconsciously frugal. For example, they would pay $10,000 for a night of hotel but stayed away from the mini bar because ‘it felt expensive’. True, the first time flying Business Class was thrilling, but it soon became a default mode of going gate-to-gate. The real threat was a growing intolerance towards life in Economy. “It’s a dangerous slope because once you fall down, nothing is good enough and nothing is luxurious enough. It quickly became an endless hunt for higher and higher satisfaction”. Strange to a mere commoner like us, being too well-off can be depressing.

3. What to do with life? Success comes hand in hand with loneliness. What these young leaders face is a daily life designed for people ‘older’ than their age group. The average age of billionaires in the US is 60+ years old. How would a youth in their late 20s and early 30s feel in such a matured environment? Just the clothes they wear to a restaurant would already be too formal for their years. What about all the ‘serious’ conversations, all the time? With such accelerated lifestyles, these successful youngsters feel lost, “What am I supposed to do – retire for the next 60 years? I’ve been asking myself that question every day for more than two years.” said one of the interviewees.

My close friend, the Managing Director of an HR consulting firm, shares a growing problem she has been hearing from leaders in this digital age. Some of these thirty-something business owners are among the richest in the country, yet it seems the wealthier they got the more stressful their lives became – meetings with clients, finding nicer places for dinners, fighting with parents, shopping for brand name products, arguing with relationships, going on trips around the world, picking up meditation, partying wildly – only to come home feeling lost.

“You know, sometimes I can’t help but think that people our age work until retirement and still wonder what to do for the next 10-20 years. How about them? What do people who can ‘retire’ even before they turn thirty think of their remaining 60 years?”

At the Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre, we coined the term Leadership Energy as the cornerstone of meaningful and positive change, and believe it is driven by an individual’s deeply-held values, clarity of purpose, and strength of mind. It is crucial for leaders to constantly examine and review these elements of their inner self. Because the journey is not a linear path leading from a start to an end but rather a cycle that keeps looping upward. A combustion engine that burns only once is not particularly useful. A dam that can only generate one cycle of electricity isn’t going make much impact. Leaders who can’t propel themselves forward on a sustainable basis will not fare any better. The summit that you conquered must become the base of your next climb, ascending to a higher cause.

Iclif’s new book Open Source Leadership: Reinventing Management When There’s No More Business as Usual, written and researched by Rajeev Peshawaria and the team, elaborates further on the concept of Leadership Energy; especially for leaders in the 21st Century.

While it may have been triggered by them, these challenges are not exclusive to young billionaires. In the current era of modernization, most of us in organizations live a comfortable life without the need to fight for survival. We are, in a way, billionaires when it comes to basic necessities. This renders the brain lazy. Leaders of all levels thus need to learn how to harness their energy in a sustainable manner. To continue asking ourselves what in the world makes us happy, sad, or angry – and how can we do something about it.

Jack Ma, the pride of Asia, said it best:

“When you have 1 million dollars that’s your money. When you have 20 million, it starts to become a problem – What about inflation? Which stocks to buy? When you have $1 billion that’s not your money—that’s the trust of people in you. I never thought this money belongs to me. If I believed this money belongs to me, I will have problems…. This is the money I spend on behalf of our society.”

Is it possible to be ‘rich’ and be ‘lost’? Sure, it is. But it is also possible to be rich and be changing the world for a better future.

These perspectives and insights were extracted from concepts in the upcoming new book, Open Source Leadership: Reinventing Management When There’s No Business As Usual, written by our CEO Rajeev Peshawaria.