The human being is a copying machine. So rather than trying to counter this assumption, it is better to use it as an opportunity.
That’s why I thought I had to share with you the inspirational boost that is Pasquale’s story.
“But who is this Pasquale?”, I hear you ask, you who have just arrived on this blog.
Pasquale, it’ s the famous person of whom I spoke to those who are registered to my newsletter. He is 49 years old, and has accumulated a net worth of CHF 25 million.
I’ve met him in real life; he’s a chill, and he likes to share his story if it helps others learn from it, and also avoid his mistakes.
Interview with Pasquale, this Swiss multi-millionaire
MP: Hello Pasquale. We finally managed to find the time to do this interview. Thank you for having me in your home so that we can talk numbers without worrying about the next table!
Pasquale: With great pleasure Mr. MP. I’m not sure what to expect, but let’s do it :)
MP: What I’ve learned from analyzing other people’s careers is that we all see our lives from too subjective a point of view, too biased. So, I’m going to ask you to describe your life from birth to today in an objective and journalistic way. Without trying to draw any conclusion or postulate. After that, I will ask you more specific questions where you can be as subjective as you want. Is it working for you?
His story, from his birth to his 49th birthday
From 0 to 10 years
Pasquale: OK, so, let’s see… I am the son of an immigrant. I was born in a commune in the east of Lausanne.
When I was 4 years old, my family and I moved back to southern Italy. My father’s mother was ill, and he had always promised to be with her for the end of her life…
My father was a mason, so he started his business there when we arrived.
As for me, from the age of 4 to 10, I lived the best years of my life as a child thanks to the freedom that the Southern villages provide.
Nevertheless, from a purely economic point of view, those years were hard in southern Italy. My father had a hard time getting paid for his masonry work. He was a nice guy… I remember how he suffered from not being able to make enough money from his business, even though he was a hard worker… When I watched him, I told myself that I didn’t want to become like him. I said to myself: “Pasquale, when you grow up, you won’t trust people blindly.”
If there is one thing I remember from my 0 to 10 years old period, it is that I learned to recognize assholes!
Seeing my father work hard and not get paid taught me how to recognize assholes!
This doesn’t mean that I don’t trust anyone, mind you. Because I find that I am basically a “good guy”, it’s just that I grew up sharpening my negative vibe detector ;)
My mother was a housewife. She was able to educate (in my opinion) me and my sister in the best possible way, without any pressure of academic or other results. With all this family surrounding me, I received all the love a child can dream of, and I am still very grateful for that.
From 10 to 20 years
After 6 years of hard work with his own masonry company in Italy, we came back to Switzerland because the economic situation became too hard.
I developed my passion for soccer during those years. So much so that I wanted to make a career out of it. My dream came true when a Swiss professional club offered me a first trainee contract! But, with the seriousness that characterized me, I asked a friend who had already started his internship… that’s when I learned that he earned less than a masonry apprentice…
My mother had seen my father work so hard as a mason… she didn’t want me to follow that career. But she didn’t stop me. But for me, it was either soccer or masonry so I could work with my father. The reason pushed me towards this manual profession. As my apprenticeship progressed, I liked the job more and more. But it was hard.
I had joined the same company where my father worked as an employee. We worked like crazy. And while the real estate crisis was in full swing in Switzerland in the early 1990s, my father and I took the risk of building our own house. Mortgage rates went up to 7.75% at the time, it was crazy! But we worked and worked, every Saturday and Sunday, and we were able to keep our house. It was not an easy time, but it made me strong.
From 20 to 30 years old
After getting my feet wet and learning the masonry trade, I decided to attend masonry foreman school. I successfully obtained my federal mason foreman certificate at the age of 24 (note MP: for those who are not in the field, a foreman is like a site manager who manages and supervises a construction site from A to Z).
Then, the first trigger for my future wealth appeared. As it happened, I found myself hierarchically under the son of my employer. Apart from the power conferred by his title, this guy was not competent in his field. One day, we got into a heated argument over a project.
I went home at night (I was still living with my parents), and I remember saying to my father: “If this jerk can be an entrepreneur and run a business, then we can too!”
My father was 48 at the time, and I was over 25.
A few months after that fight, we both quit our jobs and started a masonry company together!
We didn’t count our hours. We worked about 14-18 hours a day, including Saturday and Sunday. I was lucky that my wife understood this “hard-working” side and supported me with this rhythm. But as time went on, and as I gained experience and met new people, I realized that you can’t make a fortune by working your ass off.
Nevertheless, it’s only thanks to the work of my hands that at 28 years old (in the 2000’s) I was able to buy my first land, where we built our masonry warehouses. And that, without having to ask for any loan from the bank — because the banks don’t lend you money when you are an independent mason with “only” your income…
From 30 to 40 years old
I then accumulated other funds thanks to the services of my company and the savings I made on certain contractors, because I managed the sites myself. Because yes, the banks recognized these hours of mandate (construction management) as downpayment funding. This is what allowed me to build two houses. One to live in with my family (i.e. my kids and myself), and another that I rented.
The machine of passive and recurring returns was launched.
I also took over my father’s shares in our masonry business. It was convenient for him because he was close to retirement, and it also allowed him a more serene end to his career. And it suited me to be the owner, in terms of name and reputation for the relationship with my customers.
It was at my 35th birthday that the real trigger of my net worth happened…
Because of my job, I was immersed in real estate day and night. Together with my father, we had acquired our own masonry company, and then, I built my two houses.
On the eve of my 35th birthday in 2007, a friend of mine, an architect (the same one who encouraged and trusted us when we started our own business), suggested that I join a consortium of 4 contractors to build two buildings in Eastern Vaud.
When an opportunity arises, and it is interesting, I tend to go for it. So I accepted my friend’s consortium proposal, on one condition/proposition: that only 2 entrepreneurs would be involved. He and I. And not four.
Everyone around us told us that we were crazy to build in such a “remote” region of French-speaking Switzerland, that it would never be rented, etc.
But we were confident, we had done our research and analysis of the local market. We found a banker to follow us.
We didn’t pay attention to the naysayers because we knew what we were doing. We built the two buildings. And we rented it all in a few weeks.
Moreover, my architect friend was 15 years older than me, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as possible from his experience. He was a mentor of sorts, even an elder brother (we are still good friends today).
This was the trigger that made me change my mind about my net worth. Working your ass off is good. It teaches you the reality of the field. But once you understand that, then moving to mortgage leverage is the next step.
The machine was in motion. Since this first real estate project in Switzerland, we have been able to mortgage and re-mortgage. It’s the first million that gets you off the ground. Then, the banks agree to follow you, because you can put your buildings as a guarantee. Besides, all my mortgages are linked to my buildings, and nothing is linked to my company so as not to put it in danger.
It’s the first million that gets you off the ground. After that, it becomes easy [with the banks].
From 40 to present (i.e. 49 years old)
From my late 30’s until I was 45, I was fully engaged in my business as an administrator/manager.
And in parallel, I continued to build buildings with a snowball effect on my monthly rental returns.
If it were up to me today, I would only do real estate development. And no more building sites. But my employees are like family to me, and I can’t imagine closing the company. So I’m keeping it.
On the other hand, since 5 years, I am much more passive in my company. I mainly take care of my properties privately, and bring my relational and business side to my company in terms of contact with our clients. And I refocus our business on projects where we do the overall promotion of the properties, because that’s where there’s still room for profits to be made.
Thinking at everything we just discussed, the only thing I would like to emphasize is that yes, I have a theoretical net worth of about 25 million CHF today, and that yes, I make a lot of cash that certainly makes people dream. But all this cash, at the root, comes from my hands as a mason. It didn’t come overnight on a silver plate.
MP: Wow, what a life journey!!! I would have some lessons to draw from this whole story, but I will detail them at the end of the article. In the meantime, let’s move on to the readers’ questions, which I’ve grouped by theme.
MP: “What is your profession and do you think that currently, if someone enters the same profession, he will be able to have the same wealth as you at your age?”
Pasquale: Looking back, being a mason and/or administrator is very difficult for three reasons:
- You have to be very hungry. And what I notice in today’s youth is that they value well-being more. I’m not judging because maybe they are right, it’s a different time. But this well-being on many levels takes away your hunger. I think that out of 100 people, 1 can make this journey
- Just like in soccer, you have to deprive yourself of a lot of things to be able to obtain certain results. Or should I say you have to drastically prioritize your life choices. But these days, people no longer want to prioritize things for a job. I feel like society has changed in that regard.
- The third reason why it’s harder than it used to be is that the banking system has gotten worse. Bankers are more reluctant to follow certain projects or people, because they are more and more scrutinized
MP: “Was knowing French and/or German key to your success?”
Pasquale: The language did not play, no.
However, what played a key role in this was my communication and interpersonal skills. This is much more important in my job than the languages you speak.
On a more personal note, I miss English socially, as, in my opinion, it is a sign of “ignorance”. That’s what I would like to work on one day.
MP: “At what point did you decide to stop working for a company (when before, you needed a guaranteed salary)?”
Pasquale: It was life that led me down this path via a conflict with my boss’s son at the time. He was a person who wanted to be a boss, but didn’t have the skills. He was forced by his father to take over the family business… without the right entrepreneurial mindset to go with it. The clash with this person made me start my own company.
MP: “Were you able to make your fortune entirely in Switzerland, or did you also have to rely on international trade/clients?”
Pasquale: Only and entirely in Switzerland, yes. And only through the leverage of real estate.
MP: “Did you start your business with the intention of growing it to several million Swiss francs?”
Pasquale: Not at all! I didn’t have a specific goal. I did everything as time went on and as opportunities arose. Money was never my primary goal. I liked to build things, and leave a trace. I never said to myself: “My goal from now on is to make as much money as possible!”
Well, if I think back, I still had a goal in my subconscious. I was looking for independence for the freedom it brings you. That’s what I’ve been repeating to my children since they were very young: “True wealth is freedom!”
“True wealth is freedom!”
MP: “Did you encounter many obstacles to do business in Switzerland? If yes, which ones? Which one was THE most important, and how did you overcome it?”
Pasquale: Hmmm, good question. I would say that the hardest part was being the son of an Italian immigrant, but maybe it was also my strength. A lot of the old native-born Vaudois people were looking forward to laughing that I was screwing up. I overcame that by working hard and being more serious than the others.
Content of the part 2/4
In the next part, we will discuss Pasquale’s lifestyle and investments.
Photo credits: Pexels & Google Maps