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Personal Finance 101 – What Did You Learn at Home? – Part 3

My last post concluded with comments about how a senior banker lost his job in his early 50s and never recovered financially. He unfortunately passed away in his late 60s with little wealth which was mainly in non-income generating real estate. He had flatly refused to take up what he considered “lowly” jobs such as those that were coming up in the cooperative and microfinance sectors. He also felt that starting up a business in the informal “jua kali” sector was below his social class. I will discuss social class and status on another day.

This week, we shall document the lessons learnt from the teacher who ventured into publishing and made it big time. The gentleman was a gifted mathematician and would make minced meat of any mathematical problem presented to him. More importantly, he had no problem passing on these skills to students at various levels of learning – primary, secondary, tertiary, undergraduate or even post graduate. He was highly sought after by students and teachers alike and would always be offering tuition classes and therefore make the much needed extra coin to supplement the “meager” salary he earned from the Teachers Service Commission. The problem was that this extra income was not enough to change his lifestyle though he was always busy.

His break came when a friend asked him if he could write a book documenting all the lessons he had been teaching. His first reaction was negative since he believed that publishing was expensive and that cartels would almost certainly wipe out his profit margin. He was also pessimistic since one of his colleagues had his manuscript plagiarized before publication with the plagiarizers copywriting and smiling all the way to the bank.  After a lot of encouragement and assurances, he embarked on his first book upon being promised by his friend’s contact that publishing could be profitable as long as he could copy write the book, have it accepted as a  recommended text book by the then Kenya Institute of Education (now Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development) and sell high volumes.

The gentlemen did eventually publish his first book 2 years after the suggestion and though I never came to know how much he made from book sales, the change in lifestyle betrayed everything. He first bought a car and started distributing his books all over the country. He could sell the books every time he went to offer tuition thus earn both from book sales and tuition fees. The book sales from the publishers were also more than enough to sustain his lifestyle. He therefore bought land, took his children to private schools and developed rental houses. In my assessment, he could have earned more money in the 5 years following the book’s publication than he had earned in the preceding 25 years of teaching.

I never learnt anything from this experience until after 15 years when I read a book where the author challenges people to explore their talents and generate money from those talents. With hindsight, I have also come to appreciate that wealth is created more often through one’s connections than hard work – were it not for the friend’s suggestion and his connection’s assurance, the book may never have been published. In addition, the power of selling – or creating an asset that can – and the power of passive income (publishers may have been selling when the author was asleep) can never be overemphasized. Most importantly, I have come to learn that experience is the best teacher and it does not have to be your personal experience.

Weru Mwangi is the Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in Finance, Governance and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@theultimategroup.co.ke

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