FROM ALMOST A BANKRUPT TO ALMOST A BILLIONAIRE

At 45, Maha Sinnathamby was A$30 million in debt; 30 years later, he became almost a billionaire. How he did it is the stuff of legends.

biMaha Sinnathamby looks like an ordinary man. Thinning hair, sparkling eyes and a genuine smile, at 76, he is still walking tall with movements that are charged with energy. His laugh is carefree, hearty and infectious but his life story is nothing short of extraordinary. Maha is a man who took failure like a champ and emerged with the world’s best master-planned community, the Greater Springfield along with a net worth of A$740 million.

He grew up in a small town called Ranau in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia—in a hut with no access to running water or electricity. From sleeping on worn mats with five other siblings to travelling 36 km every day by bus to and from school, Maha was born into a life of hardship. His father earned a meagre living working in a rubber estate plantation and at the same time lent his skills as a hospital assistant at the village dispensary. All the while, his mother held the fort together.

In 1962, Maha travelled by boat to Australia to pursue his studies in civil engineering at the University of New South Wales. Hailing from a small town, he had a hard time adjusting and coping with the sudden change of environment and ended up failing—twice—before eventually graduating and working as a civil engineer back in Malaysia. But he knew he was destined for greater things, so 10 years later with only a few thousand dollars in his pocket, Maha and his family emigrated to Queensland. Since then, Maha had ventured in a business and lost A$7 million dollars, became a taxi driver in Sydney, started another business and got into an A$30 million dollar debt. How he climbed his way out of the debt into eventually becoming one of the top 50 richest men in Australia is an inspiring tale that’s worth being told again and again.

We were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down and chat with him during his recent appearance at the FIABCI World Congress in Kuala Lumpur.

APR: Tell us who your inspiration is and who are the people you credit for your success?

MS: My inspiration from the age of 22 has always been Gandhi. He had no army, money, and had no family connection. When he died, he had only seven items with him and he wouldn’t even get two dollars if he tried to sell them. He never fired a bullet and armed with only a strong sense of self belief, that man changed the course of human history—no one has ever done it quite like him.

My parents were the biggest contributors to my success. They taught me the importance of a good education and good work ethic. The first time I failed, I wrote to my dad and told him that I was sorry I let him down, I thought he would be upset. Instead, he encouraged me to just keep on going. He said: “The darkest night brings the brightest dawn, so don’t ever give up.” What a father I had!

APR: What inspired you to develop Greater Springfield?

MS: I was inspired by a master planned residential community that I saw overseas and at that point I was on a lookout for an opportunity to do something big. So when a parcel of old forestry land outside of Brisbane came up for sale in 1991, I saw an opportunity. Many were doubtful of my decision—even my wife thought I was crazy. It was a fierce battle trying to get the plan in motion. Having to convince so many people wasn’t easy, I had to negotiate a planning process so involved that it required legislation to be passed by the Queensland Parliament. However, I already had a vision and I wanted to make sure it came true. The lesson learnt here is not to listen to anybody who says anything negative to you. Today, the township boasts about 33,000 population, with 15 schools and major corporations in the area.

APR: What would you say is your biggest edge?

MS: See, I was actually in charge of building a city so I had to think bigger. So I asked myself, what am I going to leave behind? Am I going to make the money and leave or am I going to create something larger and leave behind a legacy? So I pursued the path of building a community and in doing so ensured that the community that I built will be prosperous and sustainable.

Too many times we’ve seen suburbs that are deprived of the younger population. So we put emphasis on education, health and training so that in the last year of school, they have a choice between pursuing a higher education, to go into trades or take on ordinary jobs. This way they are able to thrive and stay within the community and in an environment where employment is abundant. These young people will then become the workers that keep the community economically strong. This guarantees that the community will keep on growing.

APR: How much does your environment impact on your success?

MS: If you find your environment crippling you, do something about it—you can either choose to exclude yourself from the environment or just move out of it. You can also choose to project positivity instead of absorbing the negativity. Otherwise leave and create your own environment where you are happy. It’s crucial to understand that you have to be happy in order to be successful.

APR: Do you have any regrets in life?

MS: There will be a time in life where you’ll regret a few things that you’ve done wrong. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life but regretting my mistakes isn’t going to change anything. Stay focused and just keep going forward because eventually your mind will gravitate towards your goal.

 

MAHA’S pearls of WISDOM

  1. As long as you live, there will always be dark times. During these dark nights, just keep pushing yourself because the darkest night brings the brightest dawn.
  2. Persistence, persistence and persistence. Never, ever give up. Because if you give up, you are demeaning yourself as a human being.
  3. It is important to have a very strong sense of selfbelief. Because you are the only person who can change the way you want things to happen.
  4. Don’t ever tell yourself that you can’t do it.
  5. Always think positive. When things are not looking up, tell yourself that tomorrow will be a better day.
  6. Your mind is like a white sheet and negative thoughts leave stains. It’s like an ink drop on a cloth, the more ink you drop on the cloth, the dirtier it becomes.
  7. No matter the trouble, don’t focus too much on the problem, instead seek a solution. You are only living in the problem when you are thinking of the problem. Thinking of a solution however, solves the problem.
  8. Money is a byproduct. Chase the success, and money will follow.
  9. Your mind is your most powerful asset because it works like a sponge. Keep negative people around you and you’ll absorb negativity, keep the positive ones and you’re on your path to success.
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