Forbes' lists of the world's richest and most powerful people are a source of yearly intrigue. This year has seen many of the richest take a hit along with the world economy. Aside from the entertainment value of seeing billionaires shuffled about in an international game of musical chairs, the recurring people on these lists hold valuable lessons for us. We'll look at some of the things that can help land you on the Forbes list.
Focus - Find What You Do Well, Then Do It A Lot
One might expect to find a tendency towards diversity in any list of the most powerful people. After all, many of them have left an imprint in many different countries, industries and so on. However, the impact and the power these people wield is a byproduct of their narrow focus.
Whether it is finding undervalued companies (Buffet), connecting with and understanding viewers (Oprah) or hammering a baseball out of the park (A-Rod), the athletes, actors, politicians, entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs on the Forbes list have concentrated on taking their particular talent and honing it to near perfection. That said, they didn't do it entirely by themselves.
Family and Friends Count
Although far from the most important factor, there is enough of a trend on the most powerful lists to suggest that the old adage "it's not what you know, but who you know" holds true. Many people who have appeared on Forbes' lists have come from higher-income families and spent time at prestigious schools - although equally as many (Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Michael Dell and Lawrence Ellison among others) didn't stay there.
The connections available through influential families and Ivy League friends can't be discounted. Joseph Kennedy took his gains as a stock manipulator and, a few generous contributions later, secured himself an ambassadorship along with his sons' future in politics.
There are, however, many people who have made it without any special connections - not just athletes, but regular yet highly motivated people like Carlos Slim Helu (Telmex), Ingvar Kamprad (Ikea) and Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) whose heirs hold several spots on the Forbes ranking.
Of course, being rich helps a lot. Even the politicians on Forbes' lists have a net worth in excess of a million dollars. Money allows the people on the list the mobility and time to pursue things they feel are important. Inherited wealth is still a factor, but many of the people on the list have earned their millions and billions within their lifetimes. (The average person can do it with a little discipline and the help of some powerful savings vehicles. Learn how in Become A Millionaire.)
Some of them will be remembered less for the fortunes they built and more for the fortunes they gave away. Both the names of Gates and Buffet may vanish from the list someday because the majority of their top ranking fortunes will be used for charity rather than passed on to children.
If You Have To Work, Pick the Right Job
Entrepreneurs hold quite a few spots on the list, but there are CEOs and politicians who worked their way up from employee or public servant to positions of power. Some jobs, the president of the United States for example, all but guarantee power. Presidents appear on the Forbes' lists of powerful people whether or not they have a multi-million dollar net worth. (Making this dream come true takes work, but it's well worth the effort. Check out 10 Steps To Retire A Millionaire.)
The Bottom Line
It's hard not to be overwhelmed when looking at the Forbes lists. There are not many people that can golf like Tiger Woods or sing like Madonna, but there's no reason that we can't emulate their drive and focus. For investors in particular, there is a huge incentive to learn from Buffet's disciplined approach to investing or Soros's big trades. You don't need a spot on the Forbes list to be successful - that's something that only comes after all the hard work is done.