Three connected stories.
In 2009, just after the financial world had collapsed, and shortly after a banker had been reported in the newspapers as having spent just over £43,000 on champagne for a private party in London, the millionaire chairman of a private equity firm called Permira became an overnight hero of mine. Damon Buffini had taken his partners on a 3-day conference at a luxury hotel in Surrey, where a group of them complained about the food that the Michelin starred restaurant in the hotel had served up. Mr Buffini went into the kitchens that evening and asked the cooks to serve up burgers the following night, whereupon he stood up and gave his partners a severe dressing down for being so spoilt and not knowing how lucky they were. Mr Buffini himself, now a multi-millionaire, whom I have since met, was raised by a single mother on a Leicester Council Estate and had not forgotten.
In yesterday’s papers, there was an article about Kumar Sangakkara, a 37-year-old Sri Lankan batsman, who has just scored his 11th Test Match double century at a remarkable career average of 58.66. Having previously decided to give up his glittering cricket career at the end of the current series, he is now rethinking his retirement on the grounds that one more Test Match double century would place him alongside Sir Don Bradman, the greatest batsman of all time. Son of a lawyer schooled at one of the most prestigious private schools in Sri Lanka, whose cricket ground (at which I have been fortunate enough to play) is also a Test Match ground, a chorister and violinist, all of Kumar’s 3 siblings also had national honours. He grew up with an extremely privileged background.
Mother Teresa, one of the best-known names of my childhood, a Roman Catholic religious sister and missionary, lived most of her life in Calcutta. She was, by any standards, a truly remarkable lady, devoting her entire life to helping the poorest of the poor. In 1950 she started a mission in Calcutta whose aim was to care for, in her own words, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society”. By 1996, 46 years later, she was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries, still as devoted and caring as ever and still with her single unwavering focus on the poorest of the poor.
In their own completely different ways, these are three remarkable people. My question is this: what motivates them? And what motivates successful people generally? And why is it important to ask? I make some assumptions here, but for the majority of people, one usually has to go back to childhood to get to the source of someone’s motivations. Buffini, of private equity fame, clearly never forgot his childhood on that Leicester Council Estate and never took his later success for granted – did his motivation come from a deep-seated, even angry, determination to escape a poor upbringing? Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan batsman, on the other hand, had a golden, privileged childhood. Did his motivation come from a desire to live up to expectation, to not let his successful parents and family down? Mother Teresa had a calling from God, a deep religious conviction which undoubtedly gave her the strength and the motivation to achieve all she did against all the odds. The link between these three disparate people is that they were motivated to their core. Other forms of motivation might include a desire for some sort of immortality (such as artists and authors might seek through their work); or a fear of failure brought about by something in one’s own history; or a sibling or wider family rivalry or even enmity that leaves one determined to outcompete the other; or perhaps the need for acceptance amongst one’s peers, when one feels on the outer.
What do you think your own motivations might be? Or if you feel demotivated now, what might they become? You don’t have to be motivated, but don’t expect life simply to come to your door if you are not.