Last week, I attended the 20th Entrepreneur of the Year gala, organized by Ernst & Young to recognize successful Canadian entrepreneurs in the Prairies region. Thirty finalists in different categories were competing for the award which was won by Dale Wishewan, the founder of the smoothie and juice franchise Booster Juice (see the story here). Watching video clips of each finalist’s company and listening to the acceptance speeches of the category winners and Mr. Wishewan made me think what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. In particular, I was contemplating the virtues successful entrepreneurs need to practice and develop into a second nature. In my assessment, these four came at the top: rationality, independence, productiveness, and justice. (This is not to say that other virtues such as honesty and integrity do not matter, but I take them as givens for someone who has managed to start and grow a successful business.)
First and foremost, entrepreneurs need rationality. To come up with ideas for business and to identify opportunities, they must be focused on reality, alert and eyes wide open (as opposed to evading, pretending that facts are other than what they are, or day-dreaming). Entrepreneurs must be learning continually because the world doesn’t stand still: new technologies are invented, new competitors enter markets, new sources of financing become available, new problems appear—and new opportunities emerge. Entrepreneurs must also hold reason—identified by Ayn Rand as the only means of knowledge, the only guide to action, the only judge of values—as an absolute. There is no mystic insight, prayer, or wishful thinking that can make them succeed, only dependence on reason and adherence to facts can. Finally, rationality tells entrepreneurs not just to think rationally but to act on their rational conclusions to transform their plans into a thriving business. Rationality is the hallmark of successful entrepreneurs from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs and everyone in between.
Entrepreneurs also need independence. They must do their own thinking to come up with ideas and identify opportunities that others have not recognized. Entrepreneurs must be able to persevere to carry on their vision (when it is based on reality and first-handed thinking) in the face of doubt, skepticism, lack of support, or even ridicule. That takes independent thinking and confidence in one’s own judgment of facts. By definition, entrepreneurs cannot be followers and “yes men.” It is independent thinking that leads them to innovate and to create wealth, not only to support themselves but all those who do business with them.
Productiveness is at the core of entrepreneurship and all business. Entrepreneurs are producers of material values. They are heroes that improve production processes and bring new, better products and services to market that benefit us and make them wealthy, deservedly. As for few examples, among last week’s finalists besides Mr. Wishewan were entrepreneurs who had started the hemp seed (a new health food) industry in Canada, had brought to market a medical clamp to prevent blood loss (and death) in trauma situations, and had developed more efficient residential construction methods.
Finally, entrepreneurs also need justice. Although they must be independent thinkers to identify opportunities and to develop their own vision, they depend on other people for their success—as acknowledged by all the category winners and Mr. Wishewan in their acceptance speeches. It is crucially important who entrepreneurs select to work for them and to do business with—a wrong person can make a difference between success and failure. Pick a business partner who will not pull his weight, or worse, who will defraud you, and your business will fail. Likewise, other employees and suppliers can have a big impact on the fate of your business. Entrepreneurs to succeed must assess other people objectively, and judge them and act accordingly. It is important that they seek out and interact with only virtuous people: those who take initiative and are hard-working, honest, creative, courageous, and independent. Those who lack such virtuous qualities must be avoided and dismissed—if entrepreneurs want to succeed.
The entrepreneurs at the last week’s gala may not have articulated these four virtues explicitly as reasons for and requirements of their success, although many of them touched on at least some. However, the extent of their success depends on practicing these virtues consistently. The credit for identifying these and other virtues goes to Ayn Rand; you can learn more about applying them to business in my book, “How to be profitable and moral.”