What does business success look like in 2016?

We're working longer and harder than ever to have it all. But what does being successful even look like these days? Is it a Beemer, a beach house, and a nest-egg in the bank? Or is material success destined to remain out of reach thanks to the increasing expectations of corporate climbers?

Sydney business development manager and personal trainer Damian Soldado, 26, sets the bar high. He currently owns three investment properties and wants to increase this figure to 12 by the time he hits 30.

Such a real estate portfolio, plus a successful business that doesn't take up all his time, would see him sitting pretty, he says. That, plus a family home with room for pets to run around, within reasonable distance of the city.

Million dollar question

In the past, owning a home may have been an enduring definition of success but times have changed, Soldado says. "A million dollars is nowhere near what it used to be – I think we've got to aim a little bit higher now."

That sort of expectation can cause considerable angst, says Sydney financial adviser James Gerrard. He finds himself stepping into the role of life coach for some high-achieving clients who are depressed by their prospects in spite of pulling in six-figure salaries to pay for all the trappings.

"These are people with household incomes above $250,000, owning houses in Sydney, [they] have families, kids, all the nice things which I think would make them successful, but they feel far from that," Gerrard says.

He cites the recent example of a couple he deemed in need of a pep talk, after they revealed they were "really down" about their finances.

"This was a case where household income was $400,000 a year, they had kids at private school, they lived in a nice waterside suburb in Sydney but they just felt like they're not getting ahead and feeling terrible," Gerrard says.

Top of the class

Seeing the Fotherington-Smythes off on another luxury cruise or tooling round town in a shiny new set of wheels doesn't help, but Gerrard cautions against the temptation to benchmark against one's peers.


"It's easy to put on a facade – I have seen clients with new BMWs parked in the driveway but they worry about paying for petrol as their credit cards are close to being maxed out."

Gerrard's observations are in line with recent research by Ipsos Australia for MLC Wealth, which found two-thirds of Australia's highest-earning households viewed themselves as 'middle class', 'lower middle class' and 'working class'.

Scraping along on a minimum household income of $200,000 a year, these top 10 per centers nominated $454,000 as the annual income that would see them eligible for 'upper class' status.

Meanwhile, the average net worth for all Australian households was $809,000 in 2013-14, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

"People get used to living a certain lifestyle and that needs a lot of money to fund that lifestyle," Gerrard says.

"$400,000 is a lot of money and a lot of people would be very comfortable on it, but for a lot of my clients who graduate from uni and start to build up their salary … over time they add more and more things on each month: the gym membership, the car lease … so their saving capacity or perceived wealth never really changes, even though their income's gone up by such a lot of money."

Climbing the ladder 

People's notion of what financial success looks like has shifted upwards and will continue to do so, says executive coach Andrew Sparks, whose clientele includes entrepreneurs and executives.

Thank human nature for the fact that where once having two or three investment properties may have felt like being set for life, many now view that as just as a start.

"As a species, we're always looking to [do] better," Sparks says. "If somebody has to prove something, they'll keep moving the goals down the road."

Measuring success by material possessions or bank balance holds little appeal for Gen Y entrepreneur Ben Handler, the co-founder of property buyers agency Cohen Handler, which employs 50 staff in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

"What success looks like in 2016 is health and happiness," Handler says.

"That's changed for me in the last few years where it might have been more financially driven or especially more directly work-related.

"Obviously as a founder of a company I've got clear goals in terms of revenue goals, sales and net profit, all the standard stuff but … that's not my definition of success and never will be.

"Getting up to own five properties is not what drags me out of bed in the morning. That's so far away from my 'why' and my purpose."