Making the case for wealth; This nation cannot afford for wealth to become a dirty word

Making the case for wealth

This nation cannot afford for wealth to become a dirty word, says entrepreneur columnist Michael Hayman.

London Mayor Boris Johnson attracted a storm of criticism when he suggested that the nation’s wealthy should be knighted. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

By Michael Hayman

9:37AM GMT 25 Nov 2013

Times are changing and as the economy emerges from its period of sackcloth and ashes it will bring with it a great deal of new wealth. With it the profile of success and its exposure within society will change. But as we take the first tentative steps to recovery, Britain has the feel of the pasty holidaymaker and those early days defrosting on a warm beach. It takes a while to thaw and even longer to develop the confidence of that golden hue.The downturn has been a discrete age; one that has seen many of the most wealthy choosing the camouflage of the crowd in everything from clothing to cars. To be dubbed a fat cat, oligarch or plutocrat has been no compliment in a world that takes a dim view of excess.

Granted Mayfair and Knightsbridge may have maintained their international penchant for bling but the profile of wealth has been undoubtedly lower key.

Right now those that champion wealth as a force for good struggle to earn a hearing. Last week London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, earned derision from many when he called for an end to the “bashing, moaning or bitching” about Britain’s wealthiest taxpayers. Instead they should be given automatic knighthoods to thank them for their “heroic” contribution to the nation, he thundered.

Being accused of being “high on crack” was one of the more polite rebukes to emerge for Boris, who got a lesson in how some have come to perceive wealth: something that profits only the 21st century versions of Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney. Wealth is to be curtailed not created.

What’s more, social media has allowed the mass spotlighting of perceived misdeeds. It means there are no hiding places: extravagance can be quickly identified and punished around the planet. As the world turns to recovery, it would appear that the mood to curtail the excesses of wealth shows no sign of abating.

But we need to tread with care. We damage the urge to generate wealth at our peril. Right now Britain needs a surplus of commercial ambition not a deficit of it. That is what recovery means. Economic progress, business formation, profit growth, the creation of new wealth.

Mad Men’s Donald Draper when faced with a client in difficulty says, “If you don’t like what is being said then change the conversation.” This is a message that the champions of wealth need to consider.

Unless we start a conversation that is based on optimism, self-belief and opportunity, we risk maintaining an outlook that has become deceptively comfortable, namely that downturn is the only option. It is not.

In years to come 2013 may well be viewed as the year that the “great recovery” began. A year that saw 500,000 businesses registered and with them a new era of entrepreneurs creating wealth from scratch, new jobs, prosperity and with it national wealth.

I run my own business. I took the risk, along with my business partner, to set it up and in so doing I set back my earning power for some time. We have created jobs and careers from a standing start and each year the exchequer benefits handsomely from the fruits of our labour.

So, I start from the position that this is no selfish or individualistic pursuit. Wealth creation has a social as well as a commercial purpose and the fewer restrictions placed on it the better.

I also don’t accept that we have turned our back on wealth. We buy into it when we feel it has been “earned” and when its beneficiaries have purpose. Society is more than capable of respecting the “earned” wealth of entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson or Sir James Dyson.

And it’s not just entrepreneurs. Over the weekend the Swiss roundly rejected the 1:12 executive pay referendum to cap bosses’ pay at 12 times that of their worst-paid staff.

But the importance of wealth is about far more than just earning. In philanthropy the role of society’s most wealthy is pivotal. The Giving Pledge, a campaign launched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010 to gain billionaire commitments to give “at least half of their fortunes to charity”, had signed up 113 by July this year – almost 10pc of the world’s 1,200 billionaires.

Wealth has purpose here also. The UK is one of the more generous nations in Europe and according to a survey by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), the UK is the fifth most charitable nation in the world.

Over the last two years according to HMRC the number of Britons earning more than £1m a year has almost doubled to 18,000. In 2000, as few as 4,000 earned so much from salaries, investments and other income. And while many may carp, the fact is that the top 1pc of earners pay 30pc of tax, up from 20pc of tax a decade ago.

Wealth, and the quest to create it, is the great agent of change and transformation. Certainly its iniquities need to be checked. But wealth creation transforms society, people and businesses alike. It empowers ambition and it is why we cannot afford to think of a return to growth as anything but good.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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