Rags to riches is a rare feat in the 21st century globalised business arena. And though it is genuinely still possible for those from the poorest of backgrounds to create great wealth in the name of entrepreneurial endeavour, the statistics demonstrate all too often that the odds are stacked heavily against them.
So says Bill Carney, himself a proud product of Harlem, New York, and now an internationally-accomplished Professor in Marketing at Instituto de Empresa in Madrid. He is careful, however, to position the debate away from a simple clash between the haves and the have-nots, to one of the responsibility of choice.
"I learned whilst studying in Switzerland that there was a whole world of support and privilege out there," he explains. "For most people in the world, choice is not an option – but for those with wealth, you have to come to terms with the fact that you have a luxury of choice."
Where wealth, power and influence among the next generation of business leaders is indeed a luxury, they also represent an enormous challenge. Sentiment suggests that it is their responsibility to use it wisely and to wider benefit.
The music industry, says Bill, is littered with examples of stars who did not know how to handle such rapid growth in their fortunes. "MC Hammer and James Brown are great examples of two people who made vast amounts of money, then managed to squander every last penny."
And yet even in this notoriously fickle sector are those that have a level of business acumen that demonstrates a solid understanding of wealth management. Rap artist Diddy refers to his music being a loss-leader for his clothing business.
More traditional role model entrepreneurs to catch Bill’s eye include Richard Branson, founder of Virgin and Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of Easyjet – "but both were born into comfortable families that meant getting access to the things they needed was relatively easy."
Your future wealth strategy?
According to Bill, regardless of how you have achieved your high net worth, the real challenge is only just beginning. The recently-turbulent global economy has been one of the biggest factors in our struggle to understand how capitalism can be revived as a force for wider benefit, and this places great pressure on those with wealth and influence to "do good".
Economists like Thomas Piketty have presented quite a bleak view that capitalism can only be self-defeating, by bringing about ever larger income inequality across the world. "For the next generation, this is going to be one of the biggest issues the world will have to wrestle with," says Bill.
So what strategy should they adopt? Bill Gates and Warren Buffet might show the way, in that they have invested – even given away – large sums of wealth for social improvements such as tackling the malaria epidemic.
"We’re seeing reflections of this, " says Bill Carney. "It’s very clear that in some parts of the world at least, there has definitely been a shift in social attitudes in terms of what people feel is right and appropriate. There are people who are thinking a bit differently, and in some cases, who are challenging their peers to follow suit."
That challenge is now laid squarely at the feet of the next generation – the chance to channel the assets at their disposal, and turn them into productive resources that benefit society as a whole.
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