5 principles to making money and being smart about it

Nov 19, 2015 by Ronnie Apteker

No one can deny that much of the Western world is bent on pursuing cold cash. Ask a bunch of high-school graduates what they want to do when they leave school and 9 out of 10 will say: “We want to make money.”

You often hear people refer to smart individuals with expressions like “he is a clever guy, he is going to make a lot of money”. There certainly seems to be a strong sense that smart people make money. Now, I know many smart people with money. But then I also know many, many smart people with no money. And of course, I also know many pretty dumb people who have made money too. My conclusion is that you don’t have to be smart to make money. It can’t hurt to be smart, but it is not a prerequisite for financial success.

There is that old Russian proverb : Knowledge is better than riches. And the Jewish translation : We should all be as knowledgeable as Rothschild.

Work hard and never give up

If I were passionate about creating ice sculptures, say, then I would have pursued that, but I am not sure how much money I would have amassed from such a journey. Even if I persisted and got really lucky, I mean, how much money is there to be made sculpting ice? Of course, I am just using this as a silly example. Perhaps if I looked into this further I may discover that there is indeed money to be made in the ice-sculpting business. But it would not have mattered. The money would not have inspired me. Following what I am passionate about would have been the primary motivator. But, enough of this. Let’s move on. The point is that people typically excel with endeavours they love working at, and, if they make money along the way, well, the way I see it, that is a bonus.

Not that success is measured by a number or a dollar sign, but it has been said that it is easier to cry in a Porsche than it is in a Lada. Just saying. Come on, laugh. Please.

There is a famous story about an interview with the American tycoon J Paul Getty. When asked about the secret to his vast fortune, he commented, “The secret to success is this: you wake up early, you work hard, and you find oil.” Yes, luck plays a big part of any business venture. If you love the work you do, and even if you work at it like there’s no tomorrow, there is no guarantee things will be a success. If you have bad luck, then all bets are off.

Look after ALL people

Let’s face it. Some guys are just idiots, clear and simple; they bark up the wrong trees all the time. But I will say it again. You don’t need to be smart to make money. You need to be persistent and you need to have luck. I know plenty of clowns in the world that have made big money by selling stuff to other clowns. Sorry if this offends any real clowns. I do like you guys. One thing, though: they are all persistent and they treat their customers well. “The customer is king”, they will tell you. The vast majority of them appear to spend very little time looking after their staff, but for the customer they will bend over backwards!

I think it is the smarter folk — or let’s say, the more inspired or perhaps even the more humble — who treat everyone the same. Treating your co-workers with respect and giving them the same time, if not more, than you give your customers, appears to me to be the domain of the more enlightened.

Yes, looking after the people you work with is important.

Do it from the heart and have fun

I came to know a man many years ago. He seemed like a very nice person. But he had no problem selling luftgesheft. He would sell you a car with a lemon engine and it didn’t seem to worry him. He made a lot of money from his efforts, and he was certainly persistent. He was quite a charming guy, which also must have helped. But, I knew one thing to be true, he would not hang on to that money for long — easy come, easy go. He certainly was not that enlightened or inspired or smart. Just as he took your money and sold you rubbish, so someone would do it back to him. This is how it generally seems to work.

When you love what you do and do what you love it is not a hustle. It can be a lot of fun when you are into it. Make people smile, create wonder, spread joy. You don’t have to be that smart to do that. You just need to put your heart into it. Be genuine. Be you. And break some ice while you are at it. People love having their imaginations captured.

Find people smarter than you

The most important thing I ever learnt in life is that you don’t invest in ideas; you invest in people. Technology, for example, doesn’t make money — people make money! And people with luck can make a lot of money. I was taught that you would rather invest in a bad business with good people than in a good business with bad people. Of course, a good business with good people is first prize.

Finding good people is hard. And finding people that are smarter than you is key.


Some people say luck is all about timing. A group of like-minded people coming together with a drive and passion is lucky. But making the business work in a market with many competitors, well, that has less to do with luck than with chutzpah, risk taking, inspiration, dedication and obsession.

You could cross the street tomorrow and meet the person of your dreams and end up getting married. That would be luck — good timing! But making the marriage work is not about luck. It is about commitment and sacrifice. It is about passion and integrity.

A very wise man once told me that business is about 10% seichel (smarts) and 90% mazal (luck) and those who use more seichel always end up making less money. When you get too clever for your own good, you often mess things up. Don’t mess with a winning formula! And don’t forget who you are and where you have come from.

I think the key to all of this is to be honest with yourself. We all have to play the cards we are dealt. And, when it comes to cards, luck is important.

Summing up

Now, not to say that life is all about making money. Far from it in fact from my perspective. Having a sense of purpose is the most fundamental thing.

Here are words from the son of the founder of the Merck pharmaceutical company : “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they never fail to appear.” – George Merck II.

This is what it is all about. Purpose. Being smart is good, of course, but doing something you believe in is far more important. Do what you love, and love what you do.

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