Does success in business necessitate crossing the boundaries between good and evil? I certainly don’t believe that. But I do believe that a few character traits commonly associated with the darker side of human nature are at least helpful in facilitating long term success, especially in business.
It’s open for debate whether the traits I write about below are good or evil. At the very least, they blur the line. But I don’t think anyone is going to argue with me when I say that these traits make for damn good business.
In compiling this list, I looked at 5 of the most recognizable massive companies that I admire: Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Walmart. All of these companies have been accused of doing wrong in the past, yet they are some of the largest, most influential businesses in the world.
I firmly believe that my life is better off because of these companies. Because I consider the increased opportunities associated with access to information, people, computing power, and items a good thing, I am forced to acknowledge that the opportunities in my life have increased in unfathomable ways over what might have been without them, whether or not I consider them to operate in a “good” or “evil” manner.
With that said, let’s get to the list.
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5 Evil Traits Shared by Most Successful Business Owners
Evil Trait #1: Pride
Pride, or hubris, has long been considered the most serious of the 7 deadly sins. Too much pride can absolutely be devastating to those of us who want to be successful over the long term.
But in business, especially big business, it’s far better to have too much pride than too little.
Pride leads competitors to work harder, longer, and smarter. Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Sam Walton all went from close to nothing to billionaire managers of fortune 500 companies in remarkably short periods of time. They defended their right to ownership and leadership (for the most part) in their companies from those who would take it from them, and they stuck to the core principles that made their companies great in the first place.
It is impossible to win over the long term without the desire and motivation to do so. Be proud of your pride. You’re going to need it if you want to win.
Evil Trait #2: Greed
Greed, if I can believe Merriam-Webster, is the “excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.”
There must come a point at which human beings have enough wealth. That number will of course be different for every individual, but surely $10 million or more in assets is “more than is needed” for most of us. I’d imagine that seeking wealth beyond $10 million can reasonably be described as “greedy.”
Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Walmart are businesses have made their respective founders (and the heirs of those founders) some of the wealthiest human beings in history. I am unconvinced that these men had any need for fortunes greater than the first $10 million or so. Why did they continue to expand their wealth? There can be only one answer:
And there is nothing wrong with that.
I will never lie to myself. I understand that in my business, as in all businesses, there is only one true ultimate purpose:
To generate income for the owner (me).
Organizations that serve a higher purpose than producing income for their owners like charities and nonprofits are certainly admirable, but I have yet to meet the successful owner of a business that puts something other than the the long-term profitability of his business first in making business decisions.
Evil Trait #3: Usury
Usury, which can be described as charging interest on a loan or investment, is perhaps the driving force behind today’s economy. However, this widespread acceptance of moneylending is a relatively recent phenomenon. Since ancient times in Greece and Rome, it has been considered an outlawed, evil practice.
Christianity, Islam, and yes, even Judaism originally forbid the practice of charging interest, but today we accept it as a given that successful business owners will charge and receive the highest possible returns on their invested dollars.
While it is possible to grow a business without outside funding, it’s almost impossible to grow it into a large one. Notice that my five favorite large companies here are all public. All of them have accepted money from outside investors — and rewarded those investors handsomely. And you can be sure that these companies are earning interest on their assets. Even Apple, famous for its unusual financial management, earns at least some interest on its cash and cash equivalents.
It would be foolish not to.
I won’t apologize for my personal goal of achieving Financial Freedom (more passive income than lifestyle expenses). That’s absolutely usurious. And I love it. I can’t think of a better financial objective for almost anyone looking to expand the control they have over their life and leisure.
Call that evil if you will, but it’s good for business, good for investors, and good for me.
Evil Trait #4: Envy
Successful business owners are often envious of the success of others. It’s only natural to look at those who have succeeded, envy their success, and set out to repeat or surpass it.
I’ve really only come up with a tiny number of truly original ideas in my fledgling business. Most of my “innovations” both at my day job and landlording side business are really just small tweaks to best practices of competitors. In a sense, every time I copy something, I’m demonstrating my envy and desire to possess the same degree of success as the business that I got the idea from.
Some might say that copying great ideas is “evil,” that it’s cheating, manipulative, and destroys the hard work of others, and that may be true.
But it is fantastic business.
Arguments have been made that the super successful businesses I’m looking at have copied ideas from other businesses in their history — and not just with small ideas. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have all been accused by one party or another of copying ideas, or at least not being the first to come up with them.
Every day I examine my business and personal life for flaws or areas that need work, and then I research best in class practices to solve those problems. I’m envious of and admire the success that others have had in solving the problems that confront me, and I think that this envy can be a powerful tool in building a strong and successful business.
Evil Trait #5: Parsimony
Unfortunately for those of us that are creatures of comfort, it looks like being cheap is part of the deal for many businesses looking to become big and successful. Time and again I hear stories about billionaires that are famously cheap. That’s not a surprise to those of us who have read The Millionaire Next Door, but the levels of frugality exhibited by many successful business owners, especially in the early days of their businesses, always surprises me.
You know what Apple, Google, and Microsoft all have in common?
They all started in garages.
Facebook began in a dorm room.
Walmart, of course, was founded on an extreme commitment to cost-cutting, a tradition continues to see it grab larger and larger shares of the world’s retail market.
Parsimony (or if you prefer, “frugality”), especially in the early stages of business (and life), can be critical to long-term success. It is the first focus of my business and lifestyle, and I believe strongly that the rewards will be vast when practiced consistently over the long term.
Is a dedication to cutting costs, sometimes even at the expense of employee wages, jobs, benefits, or hours evil? That’s up to you to decide. But it’s hard to argue that it’s not profitable and indicative of smart business over the long term. And I won’t apologize for using resources as efficiently and effectively as possible in my business and personal life.
Even the most wonderful of us have at least a little of the dark side of human nature in us. I have no shame in admitting that I possess all of the above to some degree. I can only hope that tempered appropriately, they will motivate me to excel and do good.
How about you? Do you share some of these traits? Have they helped or hindered you on your path to success?
Leave me a comment below, and let’s talk.