Not a (self-confessed) self-made man, but so much morethan meets the moneywith Samir Pinto, MIS, Kuwait Investment Authority
A resident of the State of Kuwait for the last ten years, he consults for the MIS department of the Kuwait Investment Authority - the oldest sovereign wealth fund in the world. A seasoned Accounting & Auditing professional with over 25 years of experience, Samir is a self-confessed desi when it comes to cricket and Bollywood who is inspired through books and travel. He regularly volunteers for the causes he cares about and is passionate about social good as well as technology.
Q: What does wealth mean according to you?
SP: To be honest with you, historically wealth has always been associated with time. The older you are, the richer you are. I'm not talking about rocket science here or giving formulas like “N cube or NC square.” But I’m sure everyone is aware that today, wealth is no longerassociated with time. It's all about the ideas you can bring to the market, how fast you can take them around and how quickly the market adopts them. For example, Vitalik Buterin the creator of Ethereum (ETH) says that, “I am no longer a billionaire” - with the fall of cryptos. Basically, young money has made people very rich. With the onslaught of Bitcoin, etc. you suddenly become quite rich, and you don't know how. So, wealth now means different things to different people at different points of time in their lives. This is my understanding. For example, wealth for an eighteen-year-old or twelve-year-old would probably mean playing Minecraft and getting their hands on the latest Roblox. For someone in his mid-20’s, 50’s and 80’s it is completely different. My definition of wealth is different from a very rich man’s meaning of wealth.Probably for the super-rich, wealth no longer is something to be bequeathed to their children but for generations beyond that.
Q: There used to be a time when wealth was equal to being on the Forbes List or the World’s Richest List. But today, it is no longer equal to just money. Like you said, for this generation, wealth has taken a different path. Where is it leading?
SP: Coming from a non-personal or professional perspective, it is more than what you can fit in an article. For example, there is a tightening rate cycle. The narrative is that interest rates are going to rise, etc. so you look at equities and risk. It is just a risk ratio - the more risk you take, the more rewards you will potentially get. Obviously, buying a lottery ticket is not considered risky. Risk is more like a binary event. You either make it or you don’t make it and the probability of you not making it is almost 100%. But otherwise, from an investment perspective, you look at risk and reward parameters to conclude what your risk appetite is. That’s the classic investment philosophy. From a professional perspective, investing in a sovereign wealth fund provides a longer-term cushion and you don’t have to worry on a day-to-day or monthly basis, while also receiving the benefit of having the smartest people advising you for free. Whereas a common man would probably have to either pay for it with his own money or pay for it in terms of opportunity cost by not going to work and sitting down in front of a computer and hunting for the information. Either way, there is a significant cost for the common man versus somebody investing in a sovereign wealth fund or managing wealth products. In our case, the mandate is to deploy funds and then generate a return. That’s really the job description. We don’t really have a choice but, of course, best-in-class and promising blue-chip technologies would definitely go on creating wealth. Value and growth size are the factors that one considers for sustainable capital appreciation.
Q: Have you seen a change in terms of how you define wealth vis-à-vis the current stage you are in?
SP: In the last 2 years, the very concept of “I will make ‘x’ and I will stop doing ‘x’ going forward” has not replaced wealth because “health is the new wealth.” Post pandemic, I kept feeling like perhaps everything that had happened was a bad dream that I’m unable to wake up from. To be honest with you, the question in my mind was “Are you in my dream or am I in your dream?” COVID-19 strain versions 1, 2, 3, 4... to now monkeypox. Everything has changed dramatically. Today, I don’t think money is all that great, and if you look at it historically, 10,000/- a hundred years ago was a big amount. Today, it gets you nowhere. What wealth was 100 years ago is no longer the same, 100 years later. I get that there is inflation, but then what? Like I’ve mentioned earlier, if you look at it from the perspective of time, you can see that wealth has a different meaning across generations. Today, a child at 10 years of age is also interested in wealth or at least, needs money. He needs gadgets like an iPhone, data plan subscriptions, etc. This wasn’t the case when I was growing up. During my father’s time probably, the opportunity of putting food on the table was wealth. The concept of wealth today is dynamic. It shifts. Today, what I say wealth is, will not be the same as tomorrow. For example, let’s say we are exporting wheat and suddenly, we decide to ban the export of wheat and then declare a shortage in the country. The question is, “What were you thinking when you were exporting it and what were you thinking when you banned it and what are you thinking now when nobody has anything to eat? What has happened?”
The answer is - wealth was money, wealth was food, wealth was what you should have done to address the issue. In 3 days, the definition of wealth has changed completely. Therefore, I believe having good health is the number one quality of wealth. Apart from this, the statement, “When I reach ‘x’ I will stop” has to be addressed. The follow-up question should be “Stop and do what?”. Time is short, you have just one life. One thinks of just going on until they can. That’s the one good thing about the Middle East - you don’t have the option to continue, unlike in India. There is a door for entry and similarly, there is another one for making an exit after a particular point of time.
Q: Which of the following resonate with you?
1. Wealth gives me independence
2. Wealth gives me recognition and power
3. Wealth gives me the ability to influence and create impact
4. Wealth gives me the ability to realize my material aspirations
SP: This is something very recent. I do not know whether it has been there for
the last 2 years, but I am not quite sure whether this is just the beginning of the end. “Wealth gives me health” is the other option I would add. Also, for me independence would be the ability to think. There was a colleague of mine who once asked, “Mr. Samir, what do you think this place (the Middle East) offers?” I said if I want to get to the airport and I am driving at 120 kmph, I can. In India, there's no way I can do that. The fact that you have the time to do what you want is quite important and if money helps with that, then it’s a good thing. Recognition and power, the ability to influence and impact material aspirations is also important. Everything depends on where you are at, in your life. Are you a 20-year-old or are you a 10-year-old? For a 10-year-old statement number 4 would be important, for a 20-year-old it would be number 3.
Q: Does wealth give one the ability to use time proportionally to do the things they like to do rather than the things that they have to do?
SP: Yes. For example, both of us in a sort of way, are constrained. Let's say you want to golf or watch a movie or maybe do something for society… can you do it? NO! You can do what you would like, but in your free time and that free time starts around 8 PM. Let’s say at 8 PM you go out to do what you want, and you are told, “Sorry Sir, the doors are closed. Please come back between 7 AM to 5 PM.” The funny thing is that, along this duration curve, across the ages of 10/20/50/80 years, everyone will have a different concept of how much time they have. A 10-year-old will say, “I have all the time in the world.” A 20-year-old will say, “I have 20 years left.” A 50-year-old will say, “Who knows... ” An 80-year-old will say “I don’t have any time left.” Surprisingly, actually all of them have the same amount of time - 24 hours in a day. They don’t actually have more or less.
Q: Which of these do you resonate with the most?
“Rejection of the status quo is good”
“Difficult to accept the easy way is good”
“Sacrificing short-term thinking for the long-term is good”
“Hunger to never stop innovating is good”
SP: All these statements are quite valid to be honest with you. I don’t find any one statement outdoing the other.
Q: What is your mantra for success?
SP: There's no single success mantra like “work hard” because there's obviously luck and there are other factors like family. Earlier in the interview you called me a self-made man. I wanted to say that no, I'm not a self-made man. There are a lot of factors that add to success. At the end of the day, a lot of factors attribute to success - family, friends, colleagues. For example, I had some deposits with SBM which contributed in a way to help me manage and grow my wealth because I invested it in ABC and then moved it to XYZ as part of an opportunity. But if I want to attribute my failure to something then it will only come down to one person and that's myself. Yet, I would like to reiterate, success is not one thing.
Q: What is your philosophy towards wealth?
SP: One of my idols at some point in time, Dhirubhai Ambani... one could say he is a self-made man. He worked hard, he took risks, etc. I don't think he would say that because he was so very smart. But the generation after his, inherited all that wealth. So, either you create wealth or you inherit it. You have to have your feet on the ground and not just your eyes on the top, because you never know how long you're going to go in that direction. If you have your eyes only in the front, you do not know how long it will take you to reach the top. So, one must look all around. I don't think it's humility. You have a pair of eyes. Thank God for that and look around 360 degrees. If you define that as humility, fair enough.
Q: What would your advice be to the younger generation tryingto make money?
SP: This guy called Steve Jobs had said, “Don't chase wealth. Do justice to what you are doing, just work hard at creating amazing products or services, and the money will follow.” He's not the richest man in the world. It was his competitor Bill Gates who was. Hard work doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need to grab an opportunity. The second one is by a guy called Elon Musk. When asked, “What do you look for when you look for a candidate?” He said, “I look at a person's heart. At the end of the day, he may or may not know the formula to what I am asking for and I can tell him and teach him. But what I cannot do is, give him a new heart.” So, my advice to the younger generation would be to be focused and content. Wealth is not always a number.
Q: What are the three areas that will make or break society within the next decade?
SP: Anything that challenges the status quo.
Q: Does age play an important role in determining wealth?
SP: I don’t think it's only about personal wealth. It is also about health. You see a young person drinking and smoking because he doesn’t value his health and on the other hand, you will see an 80-year-old on dialysis, taking injections and staying away from smoking because suddenly, he values it. It's not specifically money that is changing the way people look at wealth.
Q: What were you led by in terms of wealth?
SP: When I came to the Middle East, I was very money-motivated. If I had already made the money I now have in that time, I wouldn’t have pursued most of the things that I believe have enriched me in the process. So, I think gaining a little less wealth than the intended target is what has kept me motivated. If I had billions of dollars today, I wouldn’t beinterested in having this conversation. Also, if a 10-year-old says that he wants to invest money, we would marvel at what a deep thinker he is. It’s because he isn’t perceiving his present. He is perceiving his future. But if the same 10-year-old encourages his father to take a loan to buy an iPhone, his perception says that the present matters more. He wouldn’t believe in the future then; it would be irrelevant for him. That is how wealth is to be seen and earned - through perspective.