For career growth unleash your inner entrepreneur

OCTOBER 4, 2016

In business there are two obvious routes to the top: the corporate ladder to the C-suite and the entrepreneurial path to IPO celebrity. So, what’s it going to be? Do you want to be next Mark Zuckerberg or a big business titan like Alan Mulally?

In practice, the choice needn’t be this stark. Mixing the inner entrepreneur with the corporate go-getter is also possible.

This sounds like old news. It’s not.

For many years, companies paid lip service to the entrepreneurial manager – the intrapreneur. More recently, the difficulty of mixing the two has provoked business press scepticism around the ‘myth’ of the entrepreneurial employee while the president of Babson College (a US incubator of MBAs and entrepreneurs) admits intrapreneurship is tough to pull off.

This is confirmed by research quoted by Gallup indicating that entrepreneurship is between 37% and 48% genetic.

Gallup followed up by studying more than 1000 successful entrepreneurs. Their conclusions suggest there’s still hope for intrapreneurs. Opportunity-spotting may be inborn, but corporates can use coaching and technical assistance to play catch-up, says Gallup.

What’s more, research into innovation (frequently linked with entrepreneurship) suggests innovation training can reduce the bureaucratic bent and foster future focus.

Here in South Africa, companies seeking corporate talent increasingly put a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurial flair on their wish-list of executive qualities.

This is understandable.

As long ago as 2008 the South African Innovation Survey noted the need for corporate ‘innovation activities’ as a spur to job creation. The National Development Plan said the same. Its Vision 2030 said South Africa had to “sharpen its innovative edge” as innovation drove a middle-income country’s growth. The NDP then noted the role of entrepreneurs as innovation enablers.

The Innovation Hub echoed this theme, predicting that South Africa will become “Africa’s nucleus of entrepreneurial activity and innovation”.

It seems everyone is on the same page. We need innovators and entrepreneurs.

But wishing won’t make it so.

Feedback from those looking for company movers and shakers suggests there are at least two inhibitors – entrepreneurs who might take a career detour into corporate positions don’t realise their value while fear of failure acts as a further constraint.

Companies are not only aware of the innovative qualities of entrepreneurs and their gift for spotting opportunities. They also value their drive and ability to build close-knit, results-focused teams. The entrepreneur’s willingness to lead by example is also prized.

This suggests the entrepreneur who decides on a career change has good prospects of successful entry into the corporate environment, which brings us to the fear of failure.

This is not only a big issue for individuals. Big businesses have to report to shareholders and reporting a loss or a flop is not easy.

However, attitudes are changing. It is now recognised that failure is inevitable if you wish to innovate.

Even some of today’s greatest entrepreneurs have had to develop a philosophical attitude to setbacks. Remember the Richard Branson quote: “To become a millionaire, what you have to do is begin as a billionaire. Then go into the airline business.”

Our entrepreneurs can take heart from this. They risk a hard landing, but they rise up in the end.