In our new series, Making Money, we’ll talk to entrepreneurs, business leaders and celebrities about how they made their fortunes. In the first of our Q&As, we catch up with one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs, and prophet of the financial markets: Jim Mellon.
A Sunday Times Rich List stalwart, Mellon is well known for his views on ‘disruptive technology’, and opportunities in bioscience which he sees as being the winning investment sector of the future. In this interview he reveals his earliest financial ambitions, how his background shaped his attitudes and led him on the road to being a multi-millionaire. The entrepreneur also offers clear advice as to how we can all emulate his success.
Growing up, what was the biggest lesson you learnt about money?
The first lesson I received regarding money is that I wanted to get some of it. My father was a diplomat, so we had a reasonable lifestyle. But this was superficial, and not an income which I aspired to. I wanted to be in business, to make money.
Why does someone who could just “coast it”, bother to push themselves further?
I had a couple of aspirations. The first was to live abroad. Second, you can live in a comfort zone, and yes, I could have probably got a job as a civil servant, or got a position in a big company and rising through the ranks. But I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I was very fortunate in joining a company which was both entrepreneurial and paid salaries to people like myself from the outset. So I had a job going straight into business. It was within a successful, well funded and growing environment, and was very lucky. This is not the type of thing which happens very often today.
What were the biggest strengths and weaknesses you learnt about yourself?
Almost immediately. I am totally over impulsive. The good ideas generally outweigh the bad. But I need restraining on the bad. That is why I have built up a team around me which is good at providing that kind of advice. For example, wherever I go I want to buy a house in that particular place. Therefore I am significantly “over homed” as I have been told. I also feel the need to make investments in almost everything. As a result my portfolio became littered with failures, because of my impulsive nature.
So the message is to learn your strengths and weaknesses early, and to be able to push ahead despite the failures?
I would agree. However, learning from mistakes and learning from failure is to be applauded. But you do not want to be doing this just to get lessons in life. There are people who regard failure as a badge of honour. But I regard it as an avoidable tragedy.
What is your dream job?
The kind of things that are available today in bioscience or robotics did not exist [all those years ago when I started out]. So I would say that starting out I got my dream job working for a financial company in Hong Kong. I was pretty naïve, but I was able to travel around Asia interviewing companies with my boss. This was a great opportunity for a young person. I was just 20 years old when I started. If I was starting again I would like to start in bioscience as I think it will be by far the biggest industry in the world and by far the most important.
What was your first business?
I became the managing director of a fund management company focused on emerging markets, and within four years we sold the business for a significant sum. The experience taught me that I could take risks successfully, as well as establishing I did not want to work for anyone else.
Do you have any advice for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs?
I think there are three really important things. One is that you have to be adaptable. They say that the average kid going into the work place now is going to have to do 35 different jobs during his or her career. I believe that, especially given the longer lived population and the pace of technology change. Second, you need to be really curious about the world around you which means plenty of reading. The third is application. If you think you can just drift into a job that will make you rich, you are barking mad.
Of course there are the founders of Snapchat, Facebook, or Microsoft. But these really are the exception, and the chances of being them really are less than winning the National Lottery. So these three things – adaptability, curiosity, and application really are the keys to business success.
Zak Mir is is the author of chart topping books, including 101 Charts For Trading Success and 49 Golden Rules of Technical Analysis, and is generally acknowledged as being one of the most experienced independent technical analysts in the UK.
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