Article 33 – Gaining entrepreneurial wisdom

by Tan Thiam Hock

In the recent Chief Marketing Officer to Boardroom conference, I was asked whether marketing skills is a prerequisite for a successful entrepreneur.

Caught off guard, I mumbled some feeble answer, which did not seem to convince that smart alec. If only I had my wits with me that day, I would have asked him: “Do great marketeers make good entrepreneurs?”

I guess very highly successful entrepreneurs possess natural talents and all round skills. To me, talent is inborn and is reflected through each person’s personality.

Natural leadership, likable personality, humility and being quick with numbers are certainly qualities that are endearing and nice to have. But will these qualities ensure success? Do nice guys really finish last?

Secret weapon

Very successful high profile entrepreneurs tend to have a ruthless streak framed around a very confident personality and have the gift of the gab. Think Donald Trump straight talking, unforgiving and totally domineering. Oppose him and you are fired! Maybe there are Malaysian “Trumps” in our midst. Can you identify them?

There are also highly successful tough Malaysian entrepreneurs but in true Asian culture, they hire ruthless henchmen to run their organisation while they stay in the background strategising. Can you identify them? No names from me lest I am prepared to face a RM100mil defamation lawsuit!

Thinking out of the box, I would like you to believe that politicians do make good entrepreneurs. They have an inborn talent of being totally aware of their surroundings, instantly compartmentalising internal and external forces into a SWOT analysis. Acknowledging their own strengths and weaknesses, they are able to size up threats and look for instant opportunities. And they hire ruthless henchmen too, to help them run a tight ship. Can you identify them?

The cash theory

Successful politicians are great strategists, charismatic leaders and possess an even slicker gift of the gab. They are also a natural when it comes to understanding numbers.

Small time politicians, small brain, small numbers but for big time politicians, the world is their oyster.

If you look closely enough, the bulge in their pocket actually contains a 15-digit computer calculator. How else do you think they can manage RM3bil cash in multiple bank accounts? From memory? No, that has been conveniently erased.

In another lecture on entrepreneurial wisdom, the first slide by Prof William Salman from HBS that flashed on the screen was four sentences on finance and what he learned after more than 30 years of teaching entrepreneurial finance and being consultant to more than 100 companies:

  • More cash is preferred to less cash
  • Cash sooner is preferred to cash later
  • Less risky cash is preferred to more risky cash
  • Don’t run out of cash

In the current US presidential election campaign, President Barack Obama is raising concern that his opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, has raised substantially more election funds than his campaign has.

Obviously, in an intense campaign of this nature, more cash is preferred to less cash strategic advantage due to more firepower. Cash sooner is preferred to cash later demoralising the opposing team. Less risky cash is preferred to more risky cash Obama’s advantage as he has to give less trade offs to the contributors who are legally lobbying for favours. Don’t run out of cash advantage to Romney as

Obama will have to go into borrowings to match Romney’s firepower, just like Bill Clinton who on his retirement had to hit the lecture circuit and publish memoirs just to pay off his borrowings.

So are politicians good entrepreneurs? I rest my case.

Yearn to learn

Not all entrepreneurs are gifted with all-round inborn talents. But there are certain qualities which are prerequisites if you want to be successful. You must have a burning desire to achieve.

You must be pragmatic and realistic in your personal SWOT analysis. Hopefully, you are slightly cleverer than your competitors.

Advantage to you if you are naturally good with numbers and you are able to exude a confident personality and strong leadership.

Most important of all, you must be willing to learn.

Running a business is a life long education journey. You can acquire the necessary skills like finance, marketing, law etc in the course of your work or attend courses and seminars. If you have a keen eye, learning from other people’s mistakes will save you a lot of pain in your future endeavors.

Nowadays, you can hire a coach to guide you, image consultants to spruce you up and a psychiatrist to build your confidence. Add a good speech therapist and you now have the potential to become a successful businessman or a slick politician. The world is indeed your oyster.

It is encouraging to note that entrepreneurship as a subject is now part of tertiary education syllabus.

With the support of the enthusiastic Dr Vicki Little, the Entrepreneur Club in our local Monash University is buzzing and in high spirits.

35 years ago, we had careers clubs and interact clubs in our secondary schools because students then were clueless, naive and shy. Perhaps Dr Little can help set up a chain of entrepreneur clubs in our secondary schools across the nation. This could be the start of a sustainable ecosystem for entrepreneurship in Malaysia.

Lastly, to answer the smart alec, I do agree with him that it is definitely an advantage if the entrepreneur has good marketing skills. After all, the ultimate aim of any business is to sell products or services to customers.

Do spare a thought though for politicians, as they have the unenviable task of selling hope which requires a higher level of cash and imagination. Like entrepreneurs, they too invest for their future.

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