Rich Pickings: Maha Sinnathamby: The rise, fall and return of a property Rich Lister and his 10 rules for success

feature-maha-200Not every Rich List member would nominate Mahatma Gandhi as his inspiration, and help put together a book based largely on the Indian leader’s philosophies.

But Maha Sinnathamby is not your average Rich List member.

Ranked 39th on BRW’s Rich 200 with a fortune of $820 million, Sinnathamby’s fortune is based on the creation of an entire region – the Greater Springfield master plan community, located outside Brisbane. In the last 20 years, Sinnathamby and business partner Bob Sharpless have taken the project from a parcel of apparently unusable land to a mini city that has more than 23,000 residents, overcoming the usual property developer’s curse – little or no funds – several times.

But instead of celebrating his success with a party or a jet or a sports car, Sinnathamby has marked the milestone by helping to publish a book called Stop Not Till the Goal is Reached.

The book, written by Scottish author Karen McCreadie with Sinnathamby’s full co-operation, is a part biography, part business guide and part self-help manual.

At the core of the book are the 10 principles that Sinnathamby says he has based his life around. But interwoven is a biography (which, it must be said, portrays him in an extremely positive light) of his career.

The book can be hard to follow at times, as the narrative moves back and forth in time, with various incidents used to support the 10 life rules of the property mogul. But what comes through is a picture of an entrepreneur with three core beliefs drawn from his “idol and inspiration”, Mahatma Gandhi: persistence, hard work and positivity.

“They are fundamental beliefs that I’ve had for 30 years,” Sinnathamby told SmartCompany.

“Gandhi changed the course of history. He had no money, had no army. He had the self-belief that righteousness and truth could win alone.”

Sinnathamby’s 10 rules are:

  • Make one idea your life
  • Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached
  • Work relentlessly
  • Be fearless – face the brutes!
  • The darkest night bring the brightest dawn
  • Pure in thought, word and deed
  • Character is established through a thousand stumbles
  • Everyone is great in their place
  • Create your own destiny
  • All power is within you

He says the last rule is most important. Above all else, he says his message is about self-belief and self-awareness.

“You’ve got to believe in yourself and you’ve got to trust yourself. You are your best friend. Trust your friend, believe in your friend.”

Beyond the 10 rules, the book tells a quite remarkable story of a property developer who arrived in Australia with nothing, made a fortune, lost it and then took on the extraordinary project of building a new city.

Sinnathamby arrived in Australia in 1959 at the age of 20 to study engineering at the University of New South Wales. He was married by arrangement in Malaysia nine years later and after working as an engineer in his home country he decided to chance his arm and move to Perth in 1971, where one of his brothers was living.

It was a poorly timed move. Perth was in one of its mining busts and he was forced to contemplate going on the dole. He and a Swedish migrant sold rulers to hardware stores (the metric system had just been introduced, and the Swede had a supply of rulers with metric units on one side and imperial on the other) before Sinnathamby moved into selling real estate on commission. His wife and young family joined him in Perth in 1972, just months before Sinnathamby landed a job at the Perth Municipal Water Board.

But the real estate bug had bitten and Sinnathamby spent his weekends dragging his kids around Perth’s suburbs trading real estate. In 1976, he and a Water Board colleague set up a company called Murdoch Projects and entered the world of property development.

According to the book, Murdoch Projects grew quickly, with its value increasing from $17,000 to $7 million. Sinnathamby and his partner were millionaires and he bought a house in the exclusive Perth suburb of Peppermint Grove.

But things started to go downhill in 1982 when his business partner moved overseas. A year later, with a recession brewing, he launched what would be a disastrous attempt to raise $14 million through a public trust. When a key investor pulled out of the capital raising, Sinnathamby was forced to hand the money raised back to investors and was left with debts of $42 million.

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