Can you ever be too rich?

CAROLINE JAMES
Last updated 12:26 01/07/2014
John McGrath
McGrath Estate Agents CEO John McGrath feels “uncomfortable” disclosing exactly how rich he is.

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Imagine you start a business, work hard, wake up one morning and realise you never have to work another day of your life?

According to those who have achieved that kind of buy-an-island-today wealth, you can never earn too much money when you love what you do. Mountains of coin are a natural by-product of passion.

Flight Centre Travel Group's chief executive officer and managing director Graham Turner will earn about $883,000 from his salary this year.

Not too shabby, most will say.

But as co-founder of the global travel group, worth about $5 billion today, he also holds a 15 per cent share in the publicly listed company, which puts his personal wealth on paper close to $1 billion.

Asked if it is possible to ever become too rich, Turner says "I am sure it is for some people".

"Money is not important to me being brought up modestly on a pretty isolated farm in the '50s and '60s," says the 64-year-old, who grew up on an apple orchard in Stanthorpe in Queensland.

"But that's easy for me to say compared to most people."

Turner launched his first business in 1973; a double-decker bus tour group.

Like most start-ups it survived on a shoestring budget.

He and mate Geoff Lomas paid about £1200 (NZ$2337) for a second-hand bus, charged 17 passengers £100 (NZ$194) each, and departed for France, Portugal and Morocco for the maiden tour.

Top Deck Travel was born.

"It is important to do something you are passionate about and ideally something original," Turner says.

"There is no doubt it was challenging, you can expect in business you are going to hit hurdles; the buses broke down, no one would lend to us as they didn't see security in second-hand buses so we had to use all our cash to buy busses, that first tour cost us about £1000 pounds to operate, and in March 1974 we ran our second.

"After those first two we were making money and after three or four years we could see it was something we could make into a business; after seven or eight years we owned 70 or 80 buses."

Turner sold Top Deck Travel in the '80s after founding travel business Flight Centre in 1981.

Today the travel giant operates in 11 countries, its annual turnover is NZ$17 billion and it is still growing at about 10 per cent every year, Turner says.

Evidently mega-rich, Turner still feels passionate about his biz and is busy using his wealth to diversify. He supports Spicers Group; 99 Bikes (which his son Matt runs); Advanced Traders, which is the Australian distributor for European bike brand Merida; and groups including Bush Heritage Australia; the Koala Foundation; and the Sustainable Population Party of Australia.

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Turner says "there are plenty of ways to make your life meaningful" as a multimillionaire, including family, hobbies and your business.

"Providing dementia doesn't set in, I would think 10 to 15 years more [before I retire]," says the avid mountain biker.

"It is pretty boring staying in bed [every day] and [Flight Centre is] still an extremely interesting business I find engaging trying to work out its challenges every day."

John McGrath started selling real estate from his Sydney lounge room in 1988.

In 2013 McGrath Estate Agents franchise group posted $7.5 billion residential sales turnover from 7870 sales with 2023 properties priced at more than $1 million plus. It has 57 real estate agencies across its network.

Chief executive officer McGrath feels "uncomfortable" disclosing just how rich he is, but insists he is "exactly the same person as I was at the start", and one who doesn't live a "particularly different lifestyle today" to the one he did 15 years ago.

Like most aspiring entrepreneurs, he started off saying "oh, I'd love to be a millionaire" but his outlook has since shifted.

"When I started I wanted to be rich, successful, to have one office and if it was the best on the planet that would suffice," he says.

"But then you grow and get to a point in your career and life where you reprioritise things because you reach a certain level of financial security where it [wealth] is less important and I am not so fixated on the remuneration side of things, the money, and more focused on the relationships."

Asked what motivates him to keep working, McGrath says "I am now enjoying the sport of it".

"I love doing the tweeting every day and watching younger people coming through the business because I am a great believer that money, like many things, can be used for good or bad and that if you use it for the benefit of others and circulate it where needed, it can create real opportunities for growth.

"Some people have a fleet of cars or jets or multiple properties but that only makes life more complicated ... I read somewhere that 'you deserve less' and that resonated with me because when you accrue wealth you can enjoy choosing to live a simple life.

"I do try to travel lightly in life and in business and, in many ways, am just getting warmed up."

Dorry Kordahi, the co-owner of DK Blue, which started in his parents' garage in Sydney's west in 2002, says he had "no dollar figure" in his head signifying the "I made it" goal post.

Last year, the wholesale uniform and promotional product importer turned over A$20 million (NZ$21m) and recently lassoed a freshly inked global licensing deal with the iconic Australian hat brand Akubra.

Kordhahi turns 39 next month and admits he was "making more money in some ways" when he had one staff member and traded from his back shed.

In 2014 he and business partner/brother Danny employ more than 50 people and have offices in Sydney, Melbourne, London, Shanghai and Beirut, and a warehouse in China.

"I was making a lot of money in my mid-20s - sometimes I made my former annual salary in a month - and you can go one of two ways: spend a lot on lifestyle or use that money to grow your business, which was what I did," Kordahi says.

So why does he still spring out of bed every morning?

Without hesitation, Kordahi replies: "The fear of losing."

He does not think you can ever be too rich and stresses that you must continue to "go through the motions" even once you have sizeable riches.

"There is always a repetitiveness to some aspects of running a business, which is why I love setting new challenges and goals and adventures ahead to get me up in the morning, and to keep the balance," he says.

Some relationships have been affected by Kordahi's multiple millions but he accepts this happens to friends for many reasons and you cannot stop others judging you, so he tries to ignore it.

"The more success you achieve the more some people start treating you differently and sometimes you may grow out of friends because your aspirations are greater than theirs," he says.

"One of my friends said to me early on 'oh, you have changed' and I said 'I am still the same person, what has changed is your perception of me.'"

- Sydney Morning Herald

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