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What Makes an Entrepreneur?


Rupert Steiner in his book 'My First Break' attempted to define the secret of becoming an entrepreneur and following interviews with over one hundred entrepreneurs, Steiner concluded that there was not one defined path. He has, however, drawn out observations of an entrepreneur's personality traits. They have a tendency to be rebels, outsiders, original thinkers, risk takers and break new ground. Entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for new business opportunities and have the guts it needs to start up a business. They have total commitment to what they are doing, which verges on obsession behaviour.

Although some of the traits that they exhibit are similar to those of 'ordinary' businessmen, entrepreneurs have a tendency to come up with good ideas, which they execute better than anyone else. The have the flair to identify niche opportunities and are able to secure finances and to build an infrastructure and to keep the organisation afloat until it starts to make a profit.

Sue Birley, Imperial College Management School Professor of Entrepreneurship has tried to identify when the spark of an entrepreneur comes from. She concluded that to get a business established you need someone with persuasion, persistence with no inhibitions about identifying resources to transform the vision into reality.

People do not typically switch on being an entrepreneur. Some comes from nature, some from nurture. It is hard for people to be taught to be entrepreneurial: they either have it in their genes or in their upbringing or not at all. People cannot be taught to relish risk taking. Imagination is not taught in the classroom.

However, academics believe that education can help to provide those with a spark with at least some of the skills they will need to turn that spark into something more substantive. Michael Hay, Director for the Foundation for Entrepreneurial Management at the London Business School says it is possible to give aspiring entrepreneurs some insight and help to build their confidence. He says that you cannot teach people to have a good idea but you can develop inter-personal skills, sales and marketing and general management skills. You can make them better prepared and increase the odds for success. He says that it is crude to say that people are born entrepreneurs but thinks they are shaped by early experiences and role models.

Other theories regarding the psychological traits of an entrepreneur suggest that they are driven by specific psychological traits or even flaws. Some have a passion to be able to prove to themselves and to others that they can achieve although deep down they are suffering from low self-esteem. It has been found that some entrepreneurs are profoundly insecure and they strive to prove to themselves that they are better than they perceive themselves to be. However, they do tend to have an insight into other people's strengths and weaknesses and have a great ability to lead and motivate their staff. They generally have a gut feel for what customers want.

Extensive research has been carried out on the psychology of entrepreneurs by Cary Cooper who is Bupa Professor of Organisational Psychology at Manchester University's Institute of Science and Technology and he states that many entrepreneurs are 'bounce-back' people with a powerful desire to achieve. He says that '?.they do not get distracted by either success or failure; they just plough on, never satisfied and constantly in fear of 'being found out'. Often after one success they think 'I fooled them' and need to do it again to prove it was not just a freak event.'

Cooper also says that entrepreneurs see failure as confirming their inner fears but following failure they do not give up; they just get started again to try and prove that they can get it right a second time. Cooper also observes that being an entrepreneur has negative aspects to it. They tend to be unable to have and miss out on close relationships and the family life that others have. Their focus is only on the business to an obsessional degree, which can be likened to a drug. Only a few entrepreneurs actually set out to build big businesses and to attain wealth and, interestingly, money I is not a prime motivator.

Cooper has classified entrepreneurs into two categories; those who are functional and those who are real. He suggests that functional types are not genuine entrepreneurs. They tend to have one success and subsequently live off that success and need to show to people that they have been successful. They like to be seen with their money as they have little drive to establish another success. This varies significantly from the real entrepreneur. They keep coming up with new ideas to prove to themselves and to their peers that they are capable to doing so. Their main driver is a fear of failure and not for tangible wealth benefits. A real entrepreneur never stops.

It has been demonstrated that many entrepreneurs grow tired of their business after a while and sell them or recruit fresh managers to free them up from day to day involvement. Once the buzz has gone from the original risk, many are on the look for their next entrepreneurial 'fix'.

By definition they are risk takers, modern merchant adventurers avoiding the stifling bureaucracy and politics of big companies.

Cooper notes that many entrepreneurs are actually incapable of running a business. They do not like the tedium of building a company. They employ a strong team of managers to do this

Cooper says entrepreneurs are driven by a need to control the world in a way that they were unable to control in their childhood's. In a survey he discovered many were inspired by a caring parent or a mentor. More than 70% of entrepreneurs could identify some significant shaping event in their childhood. A factor common too many entrepreneurs Cooper has researched are the number who suffered bereavement at an early age.

Richard Branson of the Virgin Group says that he would not have been able to start Virgin if he had not done so whilst he was a teenager, with no mortgage, dependants or ties. He states that half of his success is getting the right people around him and encouraging them to be committed to what he is doing. He states the importance of having a passion for what you are doing.

Krueger and Thueson using the Myers-Briggs Type Personality Indicator would describe an entrepreneur as having an ENTP type of personality - extrovert, intuitive, thinker, and perceiver. An ENTP looks for one exciting challenge after another. They are highly inventive types whose enthusiasm leads to a variety of activities. Their inventiveness is attributable to their rich intuition which gives them a world of endless possibilities, which, when combined with their objective decision making facility and directed outwardly converts everything to ideas and schemes.

During an interview with a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, he described entrepreneurs as extroverts. Serebriakoff describes entrepreneurs as an outward looking, socially friendly and uninhibited type of person. Enjoys company, feels at ease in a large circle and tends to form a large number of relatively shallow relationships. They are confident, assertive and friendly, we can represent this extreme type as a boisterous, talkative and friendly commercial traveler who is very much at home in a bar or at the club.

The constant variable in being an entrepreneur is getting a break.

Any country that ignores its entrepreneurs quickly runs into trouble!

Aurel Voiculescu MBA http://www.aurelvoiculescu.com Corporate strategy research - Media Industry - The honey pot for entrepreneurs. http://www.aurelvoiculescu.com/mba/strategy.htm For a full list of references follow the links in the resource box.


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