5 Evil Traits Shared by Most Successful Business Owners

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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.

Related: The Real Key to Success is Cheating. Here’s How (and Why) To Cheat…

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:

Greed.

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.

Related: THE Only Person Responsible for You Being Better, or Worse off, Today

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. FacebookGoogleMicrosoft, 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.

Conclusion

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.

About Author

Scott Trench

A longtime fan of BiggerPockets and a Real Estate Investor managing his first property, Scott is the company’s Director of Operations. BiggerPockets is a BIG website, and Scott’s background in finance and big data analysis will be instrumental in the next phases of company growth and in helping to bring the resources of BiggerPockets to more investors worldwide. Scott is passionate about helping others build wealth and serving his community in whatever ways he can. In his spare time, Scott enjoys skiing, biking, and cooking, and he is a lifelong rugger.

40 Comments

  1. Kerry Smith

    Scott, interesting article. I have a different outlook on these than you do…and I believe you are speculating a bit on the businesses and personalities you’ve mentioned…

    Pride – You said “But in business, especially big business, it’s far better to have too much pride than too little.” I wholeheartedly disagree with you on Pride. You are blurring the lines between actual pride, or feeling overly confident in your performance and success, and simply desiring to do a good job. True pride leads to arrogance, arrogance leads to toxic leadership, toxic leadership leads to business failure. People do not leave businesses, they leave toxic people. You can still be a strong leader of a highly successful business without being “prideful.”

    Greed – Money is a multiplier and amplifier. It amplifies your personality, and your ability to make the world a better place. Someone who works diligently to establish wealth, with the intention of helping others, is not greedy. I believe that true greed is only living for yourself.

    Usury – It’s very easy for a real estate investor, whether they are flipping or a buy & hold investor to not charge interest in this business. In fact, the only way you are going to have to start charging interest as a real estate investor, is if you start acting as the bank – investing in notes.

    Envy – You’ve stated “But it is fantastic business.” Again, I have to disagree… Envy is obsessive, it is spiteful, and it leads to malice. If you are living in a life of envy of other businesses, I’m truly sorry… We should not envy other businesses, but assume a mindset of abundance and admiration. If another business is highly successful, if someone is a better real estate investor than I am – I am extremely happy and grateful for them! The better they are doing in business, and the happier I am for their success, the more successful I will be in turn. Learn to love and respect, not envy…

    Parsimony – You used the word “cheap” several times in this paragraph. Cheap and frugal are not synonymous. Also, being responsible with your personal finances and living below your means does not mean you are cheap, or even frugal. Frugal was originally defined as being miserly with food and consumables. Literally sacrificing your food and health for money. You can become a highly successful business owner without being cheap or frugal. Also, if you truly believe that your focus should be on being frugal, and not on building explosive revenues to become wealthy – you may be on the wrong roadmap to wealth!

    • Blake C.

      Kerry, your points are well said. I think you have drawn out the truths that the article was trying to communicate, yet also balanced them with the realities of life. Thanks for offering your insight. I seek to build a business that is profitable, but does so in a way that makes the world a better place. I never want to earn something at the net expense of someone else. You don’t have to be a nonprofit to offer the world good. You just have to offer a net win for someone and seek to be fair, not squeeze the last drop out of people because its possible.

      Additionally, I really agree about what you said about pride, greed and jealousy. These things have the ability to destroy a business and a person. While there are no perfect people or businesses, I actually wonder if the negative examples of the article actually hold the companies back in a way.

      • Scott Trench

        Blake – thanks for your comment. I think that you may be right about some of the negative examples in my article holding these companies back. I personally believe that all of these traits can be a double-edged sword. They can help and hurt. And they don’t have to be used to do evil.

    • Excellent response, Kerry! This article appears to be antithetical to my core beliefs as a real estate investor and human being. I’ve spent 25-years developing a real estate portfolio with the idea of providing financial security for my family. I think Blake was being kind to suggest that this article was “trying to communicate” something similar to your point of view; in fact, the article seemed entirely different in content and scope to your views.

      I couldn’t improve on what you said in your response. Excellent!

      Thanks!

    • Scott Trench

      Kerry – I agree with you on every point – at their extremes, each of the traits in the article lead to horrible business and a miserable outcome. The point here wasn’t to encourage these behaviors at their extreme, but to provoke thought on how they might be present to some minor degree in many successful businesses. A business that makes the owner hundreds of millions of dollars, as you state certainly is a “multiplier and amplifier” for the owner. But is seeking to every expand greater and greater wealth and influence, even to do good, at some point “greedy”? It’s not bad that some extremely successful men are able to do a ton of good – but at some point it’s nice to reflect from the other perspective – that perhaps it was because of a high degree of competitiveness and desire to attain ever more influence and power that they became successful in the first place.

      I will say that I think that when you define these words, you use a much harsher definition than what I intended to infer in my article. For example, you say that “Envy is obsessive, it is spiteful, and it leads to malice”. In that sense, Envy is absolutely evil – no gray areas there – but in the way I describe envy in my article, envy creates good business by causing some to discover and duplicate good business.

  2. Jean Bolger

    Love this article, Scott! As much as we’d love our lives and decisions to be black and white, we live in a grey world. The same actions can look very different depending on where you stand in relation to them. Kerry’s response is a perfect example of that.

    I not quite with you on your use of the word usury though. I think it is really specifically about the charging of interest on a sum of money lent, To apply it generally to businesses that “charge and receive the highest possible returns on their invested dollars” is a very loose interpretation. The plainest example of usury in our modern world is the payday loan industry, which IMO is a terrible blight, and indeed evil. But that is because it is for the most part preying on people and putting them in a worse situation than where they began. I have no problem with the general concept of lending at interest between parties that are using it for mutual betterment. But yes, if you are a strict fundamentalist, I guess you’d better not get into private lending!

    Everything we do has repercussions, and it’s probably impossible to have them all be good. It’s wise to look at a course of action from several angles so we can more clearly judge it’s impact, for us and everyone else.

    • Jean Bolger

      BTW- since you work at BP could you put in a request to be able to edit comments on these articles the way we can on forum posts. I never see my errors until I hit send, for some reason. (Did you spot the grammar fail in my post above? I guess it’s my PRIDE rearing its head :blushing: )

    • Scott Trench

      Thanks Jean – I think you understood the point I was trying to make here that a little bit of gray certainly does influence our decisions in business. Someone who takes great pride in their business, and makes sacrifices and strong efforts as part of their desire to succeed may do great things for the world.

      I’ll agree with you on a strict, modern day definition of usury – the charging of interest at unreasonably high rates. The only true example of that that I can think of is a payday loan company as you suggest. But at the same time, one could make the argument that investing in something that will earn a 20-25% annualized return (like many successful billionaires) is a usurious investment. It’s a different way of looking at the concept, but the result is still the same. A great investment may provide a usurious return – but that may just make the world, the investor, and the company invested in better off.

    • Scott Trench

      I prefer not to think of it as bleak or dramatic. Why not just change the words in my article to the following:

      Passionate
      Ambitious
      Opportunistic
      Inquisitive
      Thrifty

      Less bleak? Same message. But perhaps less thought provoking.

  3. Toby Seiler

    Nothing you describe will make employment for others. Yes, you seem greedy as you make no mention of either a legitimate business or how you legally earn such wealth. Is that greed evil? Well wouldn’t that depend on how you came into the wealth and the good you do for others with it? That trait seems very far from your M.O.

    • Scott Trench

      I hope that I did not infer that one needs to behave illegally or immorally to achieve success in business. I believe that doing good, at least for society overall, is the only way to achieve long term success in business.

      I’m simply arguing that to do a LOT of good, and to be very successful, it helps to have a hunger to succeed, which can have the side effect of producing those traits in the article above to some degree.

    • Scott Trench

      I’d agree that these traits can certainly be used to describe evil bueinssmen in the companies you describe. They obviously fit these traits too well. Good businessmen would of course possess these traits to a far lesser degree, and apply them in a legally and morally sound way to build their businesses and better the world.

  4. Jeff S.

    There have always been powerful people that have a lot of bad in them. I think you are missing the point though because it is not the envy, greed or other animal spirits that make people get ahead. You will do better to focus on those traits that really do help like self sacrifice, hard work and focus, self discipline and strength. Most people are unwilling to “pay the price” of success which is the same price saints pay to be outstanding.

    Evil traits have more to do with cheating and taking shortcuts which come from these things you describe
    IMO.

    • Scott Trench

      I strive to work on the traits you outline here. But I will admit that perhaps part of my desire to work so hard on the very things that may help me continue to grow as an honest, successful, and industrious investor stem from my desire for personal success and financial well being. Call it Pride and Greed. I want to be successful – especially so in the long run.

      “Good” traits can just as easily lead to cheating and shortcuts. I don’t think that certain politicians are out there to make the world a WORSE place, yet they continue to enact certain policies that simply postpone and delay the inevitable… though perhaps politiciants aren’t the best examples of a good counterpoint to “evil”…

  5. Not Fair Scott;
    I’m just a poor Irish boy. At some point we sailed across an ocean or two to steal the very food that people relate to the Irish (the potato).
    I got carried away on my first attempt to respond. From cursed and banned from businesses to the very top position, the Irish know the good and evil side of achievement from both sides of the street. Personally I think the greatest show of respect is imitating but in that same respect the mighty mentioned and unmentioned at times stretch things to bullying. Some of them have exerted great force against individuals that should have flattered them. At one such time Lord McDonald exerted force back on the corporate giant on behalf of a Scottish girls sandwich shop as to whose name it really was.
    Injustice is done but I believe that great deeds are rewarded and the scales of justice eventually prevail.

  6. David T.

    From a BP editorial perspective, this article is a dramatic change in terms of a negative perspective. Normally you guys run a mile from anything that does not present itself as a totally positive sound byte for all the newbie traffic streaming through this website.

    Real estate investing is a very serious, humorless and cruel environment and most of the investor decisions are based on rules none of us have or ever had any input into making.

    With this blog, you take a scatter-gun approach and challenge the morality of every individual entrepreneur scratching a living out of property investing and who use your website, Talk about biting the hand that feeds you, lmao.

    Lucky for you, we’re all too busy to care what you think.

  7. Jerry Kisasonak

    Someone has a flare for the dramatic! These traits are twisted into their worst possible light (or darkness). This post reminds me of the bitter people who call all successful business owners “Those damn greedy capitalists!”

    Yes, those greedy capitalists… those who live below their own personal means so that they can create something that adds value to society – those who stay up late at night trying to find new ways to add value to people’s lives – those who look at other successful business owners and feel that they can do it too and possibly do it more effectively – those who create a business culture based on noble principles and disciplines which some would look at and call “pride” – those who walk away from the shelter and security of a job (if by perception only) because they know they can reach more people by starting their own business – those who would take large amounts of their profits and donate it to philanthropic causes (like Bill Gates who donated more than $26 billion dollars) – ah yes… Those damn greedy capitalists! Very few people see a capitalists wealth for what it is: a side effect. In my estimation the guy who makes $15/hour and is demanding a raise is the greedy one. He hasn’t dared to do any of the things just mentioned yet he wants the rewards. How unfortunate and misinformed.

    This post should go down as the most evil post ever written. Don’t believe a word of it! Now let’s all go out and grow our businesses! (and expect to be called a greedy capitalist!)

    • Scott Trench

      Jerry – I agree with you completely. I am one of those “Damn Greedy Capitalists”. I live below my means and spend my weekends repairing my properties. I strive to create value and study other businesses for best practices and insights into building and protecting my own. I do it for my community, my family, and probably most of all – to consider myself a success in my own eyes.

      Call me a greedy evil capitalist.

      And yes – it was dramatic.

  8. Julia Rowling

    Wow! If I believed in this author’s view, I would have to quit REI before I’ve even begun. I couldn’t disagree more with nearly everything stated here, beginning with the notion that the sole purpose of any business enterprise is to make a profit (for the owners). That kind of antiquated thinking is what’s wrong with the capitalist model we currently live within and, if it doesn’t change soon, will lead to irreparable economic, social and environmental imbalances. I’m glad that the majority of views I’ve seen in the BP community don’t reflect the values expressed here.

    • Scott Trench

      Thanks for the comment Julia. What is the primary purpose of your business if not to create profits for you as the owner?

      I donate a significant amount of money and time to local charitable organizations, and strive to help those in financial crisis. Those organizations’ first priority is to help those in need and better the community. They are not businesses.

      My landlording business aims to do several things – house tenants, improve the communities of my investment properties, and (eventually) to employ members of the community meaningfully.

      But if that business doesn’t generate a profit, it no longer exists.

      • “Thanks for the comment Julia. What is the primary purpose of your business if not to create profits for you as the owner?”

        See, that’s what I want to know. Scott, you wrote an article on successful business owners, not on how to be a successful philanthropist or city planner.

      • David Dachtera

        Hi, Scott,

        If the primary purpose of your business is to create profits for you as the owner, your business is doomed.

        Profits are a by-product, NEVER a primary aim – with the possible exception of organized crime, of course. For example:

        Ford and the other auto makers produce profits by building and selling automobiles.

        Real Estate investors make profits by turning useless properties into useful properties.

        Even the epitome of evil in Corporate America, Wal-Mart produces a profit by selling products retail for higher prices than they paid to acquire them wholesale. (What makes them evil is the way they attempt to keep gross profits by cheating workers out of their fair due, imposing demeaning working conditions, etc.)

        The money a business takes in is a by-product of the business’s primary activity. The level of net profits is a product of their business plan’s effectiveness.

        My $0.02…

  9. Alan Mackenthun

    I have to agree with Kerry, the 1st commenter. None of these traits are good when used as originally intended, but you blur the definitions assuming them to be a lot more behaviors than originally intended. Envy is not the admiration of what others have or have done, but rather covetousness. It leads to the stealing of ideas or things that aren’t rightfully yours. It’s the difference between competing and clear patent violations or copyright infringement. It’s good to debate, but I don’t think it wise to encourage the extremes of these traits.

  10. Jerry W.

    One of the things I use to rate a blog as good or bad is do I have more knowledge or insight now than I before I read the article. I appreciate your time in writing the article, but I think including it as one of the top 60 posts of 2015 is a bit grand. Have a nice 2016.

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