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From taxi driver's son to $95 million business tycoon

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the second episode of the season.

Mining entrepreneur Tolga Kumova went from nothing to becoming a Young Rich lister worth $95 million.

Along the way he has changed many lives: from the local African economies which his mines has contributed, to the business partners who admire his drive and instinct.

But as a young stockbroker, he changed his parents’ lives – for the worse. He had lost their life savings – about $250,000 – after the financial institution he invested it through went bankrupt.

“I remember it like yesterday,” he told Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief Sarah O’Carroll during the New Investors show.

“You just think about your dad seven days a week, night shifts, as a taxi driver for 20 plus years and everything he’s ever worked for is now gone, right? Picture that.”

Tolga Kumova as a child and adult. (Image: Instagram/Tolga Kumova)

Understandably, his father was livid. So angry that he left the room.

But his mother then spoke, and it would change his life forever.

“She said, ‘Son, do you know what? The money you lost today, one day you’re going to spend it and you’re not going to care. It’s going to be irrelevant to you. The day after, you’ll do it again, it’s still going to be irrelevant.'”

“‘You are that smart. You are that intelligent. I know you are incredible. Don’t worry about it. Just go get it back.'”

Kumova credits that moment as giving him confidence in himself. Life was short and he now literally had nothing to lose.

“And then it got really exciting,” he said.

“That’s a person you should be most afraid of, the person that’s got nothing to lose…The person that’s willing to give up everything, which I was at that point. Nothing will stop them.”

He’s never looked back since. And he’s since paid back his parents’ money and more.

“Now my parents live on a four-storey house on the beach with a pool on their roof. And mum took [dad] aside and said, pick whatever you want. That makes me happy. Being able to put a smile on their face.”

Tolga Kumova and his mother. (Image: Instagram/Tolga Kumova)

Why are you so mad?

Kumova would soon move out of stockbroking and enter the speculative world of minerals entrepreneurship. He has made himself and several mining companies ultra-rich from investing then finding lucrative sites full of mineral wealth.

In Mozambique, he was responsible for creating the world’s biggest graphite mine. Kumova estimates he “gave up” six years of his life on the project to supply the world with a mineral that goes towards sorts of uses – electronics, pencils and lubricants.

To those that protest against the mining industry, he asks why.

He recalls one western group of protesters active at a village near the graphite mine.

“You guys all turn up in these beautiful trucks sponsored by NGOs. And you’re fed, and given mobile phones and you’ve got clothes on your back. You’re getting beautiful water,” he said.

Graphite is an ingredient for many electronics, including the very mobile phones the protestors were using.

“And you’re telling these people to worry about the noise and the dust this produces? They don’t have food. They’re struggling to drink, there’s no healthcare… Come look at how they live. Come look at how they used to live.”

Kumova’s proudest and most profound local impact came unintended.

Tolga Kumova in Africa. (Instagram/Tolga Kumova)

Kumova’s mine had a rule that all employees had to be at least high school graduates.

In a largely agrarian society, children are often put to work in the fields for survival – education does not enter the equation when families are trying to avoid starvation.

But one day, a staff member told him the local kids were no longer working in the fields.

“All of the people that work for the mining company now have got [motor]bikes. They can buy fuel, they can travel… In town, they can go eat out and stuff and things that we normally do. [Things] we take for granted,” he said.  

“And so, all the kids are like, ‘I don’t get to live that life without finishing my high school’.”

Now almost every child in the area finishes high school, according to Kumova.

“I was expecting things to get better and cleaner and more healthcare and all that stuff. I was expecting that. But the fact that every kid then goes and studies, and has an education… it’s probably the most defining moment in my life today.”

Investing in society

As a wealthy Australian, Kumova has had more than one advisor recommend he move overseas.

“But… my dad was a taxi driver. I went to a public school. I went to public hospitals. I used public roads,” he said on New Investors.

“The way I see it is someone once upon a time was paying their taxes who’s probably now retired and probably on a pension somewhere. All they did back then that were actually investing in me.”

And that’s why he doesn’t mind reinvesting back into the nation that invested in him.

“Just because I got lucky, just because I did well, it doesn’t mean that that person’s going to miss out on me being able to take care of them. It’s like an investment… If I’m paying [taxes], I’m investing in someone else.”

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople in Australia today. This is the second episode of the season.