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28/06/2017
I-FACTOR, THE ENTREPRENEUR'S GENE

Are entrepreneurs born or made? Natural talent!

Tony Fassina, owner of forty car dealerships, was a quick rally driver with the “necessary evil” (that is how he calls it) for someone who wants to win. Courage, but also a knack for precision. Corners must be carefully studied to avoid skidding off the road. “When you’re involved in motor racing you appreciate the fact that you meet with success not during the race but 15 days before”. Courage and precision!

Ernesto Colnago, manufacturer of the world’s most successful racing bicycles, actually wanted to be a professional cyclist. One day, however, he got badly hurt after a fall. So he asked the owner of the factory where he worked (Grazia in Milan) if he could work from home considering he had a leg in a plaster. That is when he understood how much more money he could earn doing piecework from home rather than going to the factory every day. Moreover, accepting part of the payment in raw materials (chassis, wheels, tires and so on) he could also assemble a number of bicycles to be sold directly. Pragmatism!

Giorgio Minarelli (over 10 million engines sold and now part of the Yamaha group), at the age of 18 (says half-jokingly)  “felt depressed” because unlike Alexander the Great, who had conquered Macedonia at that age, he had not accomplished anything. “What drives an entrepreneur is success. A business man wants to succeed, become important! Of course, life could pitch you a few curves and one might end up becoming, who knows, maybe a singer, but the driving force remains the same, ambition; you want to be the best, an opinion leader. All the rest is just nonsense” ! Ambition!

Francesco Casoli (manufacturer of cooker hoods) will not admit to having special talents. “Courage? I’m a sissy. Positive thinking? Well if that’s a natural talent, then I am definitely above average. Positive thinking, great energy, very little self-sacrifice, but a lot of resilience…. “Resilience?” “Absolutely, you can kill me but you cannot defeat me, I’ll be back”.

Vainer Marchesini, head of a “pocket size” multinational company, leader in screw conveyors, an invention attributed to Archimedes, has a quality in common with many entrepreneur: curiosity. “I should have been a priest, they did not keep me because of my inquisitiveness, not in the sense that I want to meddle in other people’s business, I am certainly not a gossiper. I want to know, understand the underlying reasons, how something works or can be made….”. The WAM group, during its 50 years in business has registered something like 205 patents and guess who, still today, is the head of the research and development department?

 

 

                                                                                                          

The qualities of an entrepreneur

I chose out of my book I-Factor (Franco Angeli, 2013) the testimonies of five entrepreneurs to provide some examples of their main qualities: positive thinking, pragmatism, courage, ambition, resilience and curiosity. Let us take a close look at these qualities to see if we own some of them.

Positive thinking. Entrepreneurs in general tend to have an optimistic outlook, in other words they always see the glass “half-full”,  they are convinced that “the best is yet to come”;  they see opportunities where others see threats, and even when they complain about something they already have in mind a way to overcome the difficulties. All this stems from self-confidence as well as trust in others (partners, suppliers, customers). They live in a state of “okayness”, a condition in which “I am okay” and “you are all okay”. This confidence can be contagious and is one of the driving forces behind success. This quality is probably the only one in common to all entrepreneurs. I have never come across a pessimistic or cynical entrepreneur.

Pragmatism. Some define it as “all you can touch with your hand”. The ability of turning every situation in  something tangible (money, products, customers, contracts, patents, machines, production plants) is a further characteristic of an entrepreneur. But how can someone become pragmatic? I am convinced that one of the possible ways lies in the use of our five senses: touch, smell, hearing, sight and taste. They are responsible for keeping us in touch with the world around us, and perceive all the changes taking place essential in developing the most important of all senses, the sixth one, common sense. In addition, they allow us to translate millions of apparently disconnected stimuli in numbers, actions and products. I remember that during an occasional chat, a businessman identified at 5 million Euro, the break even figure of the project I was financing. He had originally launched the idea, but then lost interest in it. I never spoke to him after that and he never attended a single business meeting. He, sort of, observed us from a distance, perhaps “smelling us”, but he did guess, there and then, the figure we had arrived to after several studies and evaluations. Pragmatism is the ability to “cut to the chase”. Besides using the above mentioned senses, entrepreneurs develop this quality also by identifying other indicators such as, margins, costs, revenues, sales, retail points and percentages, all things that cannot be touched by hand, but lead to a tangible result, one that can be touched.

Courage. An entrepreneur once told me his motto: “load, shoot and aim!” I obviously thought he was wrong but he insisted, “ …no, you understood correctly. If before shooting one wants to be sure to hit the target, then he will probably never shoot. Only if you shoot you can see the effect produced and you can then aim more precisely”. An entrepreneur’s courage is displayed by the ability to “try”, perhaps a bit rashly, putting himself, and his self-respect on the line. Nobody likes to go wrong, but the entrepreneur sees this as a moment of growth, a further stage in a process of improvement in which “…the best is yet to come”. However, after missing the target, the important thing is remembering to aim again and better, only then “the best will come”.

Ambition. The dream of leaving a tangible sign of your presence for posterity is not a sin, actually, it can be considered one of the richest and most engaging expressions of life, the greatest, and impossible, challenge to our inevitable earthly destiny: immortality! Ambition is an attitude, or, as some would say, a mindset. I once asked a group of young people with high potential to explain their view of ambition, whether it should be considered a virtue or a sin. The result was 50/50. A bank manager attending the workshop took me aside and said: “I married an American woman. If she asked the same question in her country, 100% would reply, “it’s a virtue”. Ambition is a cultural trait, comes from the family as well as the environment we grow in. The Latin route verb amb-ire means “to go around seeking for a consensus on an idea, a project or a challenge”. An ambitious person seeks to make sense of life and this can help also those who are unable to do so, that is why we have Leaders.

Curiosity.  An inquisitive spirit is also essential in business as it stimulates initiative and a research for innovative solutions. For many entrepreneurs this is a state of restlessness that drives them to look for new adventures, never satisfied with the results already achieved, in short, to compete. The most successful entrepreneurs do not fight, they compete. There is a large difference between them as in the first case one tries to defeat an enemy, while the latter case means seeking new solutions together (cum-petere). Two different approaches that involve the consequences we have identified in the following box:

Those who compete

Those who fight

Focuses on himself and the market

Focuses on the “enemy”

Sets long term goals

Sets short term goals

Reaserches/investigates

Struggles

Runs

Chases

Develops skills

Develops products

Develops synergies

Develops hostility

Innovates

Imitates

Is a Leader

Is a follower

Esteems the competitors

Downplays the competitors

 

Curiosity provides the needed boost to compete, the necessary interest in finding new solutions aimed at meeting people’s needs. Inquisitive people may not be aware of this, but they take care of those around them. They are generous.

Is natural talent enough?                                                                             

Are natural talent and inclinations enough to become a great trader, create a prestigious bicycle brand or becoming a renowned engine-maker? We will never know for sure, even after a thousand interviews. I personally think it highly unlikely. I firmly believe that entrepreneurs are not born, they become such. Having a knack for business helps, but is it sufficient? A fundamental condition is needed: the environment. Think of natural inclinations as fruit seeds. Spreading them around will hardly be enough to see trees growing, they also need favorable conditions: atmospheric conditions, temperatures, soil, habitat. Giorgio Minarelli told me, with mischievous modesty that, the “climate” of his days was so favorable that even I could have achieved his same results or even better. Mario Righini, a great vintage cars and motorcycles collector, told me that back in the 40s and 50s, in Emilia Romagna alone (a region in northern Italy), there were as many as 85 different motorcycle brands. These stemmed from the thousand producers of bicycles located in the Padana plain (it would have been impossible in the Alps), who started experimenting the first combinations between the frames of their bicycles coupled to an engine: the famous “Mosquito”.

Yet, not even the habitat is sufficient on its own.  According to Bruno Lafelice, CEO of the TVLP Institute, a Silicon Valley Institute of Technology Entrepreneurship, out of a hundred start-ups only two succeed in surviving. What is the reason? From the interviews gathered in the book I-Factor, which is inspiring this series of articles, another vital factor stands out: The “Luck Factor”, as stated also by the entrepreneurs we interviewed. So, does that mean that entrepreneurship depends on destiny? No, never. As my grandmother often told me, “fortune favors the brave”, that is, those who try hard and never give up, those who “load, shoot and aim”.      

 

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