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Butterfly picture Entrepreneurs in Waiting

It could be you !!

Entrepreneurs are everywhere, in every walk of life. Some start when they are young; others only become entrepreneurs later in life. Some never intend to be anything else; others find their trigger quite unexpectedly.

Here are ten profiles of potential or would-be entrepreneurs. Many of them are truly entrepreneurs in waiting. The people profiled all exist, but their names have been changed and some of the detail embellished to complete the story. We hope that you will relate to some of these stories – you may have felt the same yourself.

If so then there could be an entrepreneur within trying to get out.

JOHN

John was in the private sector. He was the managing director of a major distributor of electronic and electrical components covering the east of England. He had a good reputation in the industry and had been head-hunted to his present position. John’s results had been impressive. He had doubled turnover and profit in two years. Things were going well and several of his innovative ideas had been copied by his colleagues in the other regions. There was talk that he was next in line for promotion to a national job.

Overnight his fortunes changed. His company was bought out by a competitor and John was out of a job. It was a real shock to his system and John sat around at home for the first week unable to concentrate on anything. He decided he needed a holiday and so took his family off to the West Coast of the USA for a couple of weeks. As he relaxed John began to see his predicament in a different light. He sensed the opportunity around him. The childish wonder of Disney Land, the sheer luck of Las Vegas, the skill of those who had built the Hoover Dam and the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon.

There was more to life than working for somebody else. ‘Why don’t I take my destiny into my own hands’ he thought ‘I’m always full of ideas and I do know how to run a business.’ He shared his thoughts with his wife. ‘You sound like an entrepreneur, John’ she said.

John wasn’t sure he knew what an entrepreneur was but it would be fun finding out he thought.


CHARLES

Charles was the technical director of a large multinational responsible for new products. He knew that time was running out on their existing product range but wasn’t sure what to do about it. He had tried brain-storming techniques and encouraged his people to think differently but after the initial enthusiasm life had settled back to normal.

Charles’ managing director called an unexpected board meeting one day and tabled an article he had just read. ‘In the 1960s it took 20 years to displace the top 35% of the top American companies – now it takes 4 or 5 years’ The MD wanted a response before the end of the day and he meant it. ‘If we sit here and do nothing we’ll join them’ he said. ‘Can I ask who wrote the article’ ventured Charles. ‘Some American professor of entrepreneurship’ the MD snapped, but that was the clue Charles needed.

‘I’m not sure what an entrepreneur is’ Charles told his fellow directors, when the MD had left the room, but let’s put the most enterprising innovative and driven person in each department together and see what happens. They worked on the idea and put a proposal to the MD. To their surprise he jumped at it and gave the team three months to come up with something.

The strategy worked and over the years a new dynamic entered the company. Charles had discovered the role that entrepreneurs can play in the big company – the secret was to release their potential. Create the right conditions and give them their head, that was the trick.

Charles learnt that others had made the same discovery and had invented the term intrapreneur to describe entrepreneurs within the large organisation.

JIM

Jim was upwardly mobile, jetting all over the world with an international consultancy company. He was their expert in digital systems and knew he could jump into any job he wanted. He had already been approached by IBM and had turned them down. Two things bugged him about the job. He knew it was a young man’s profession with a high burn out rate and he knew that not many people made it to partner – when the time came he would be dispensable.

Jim liked to read management books as he flew around the world. He particularly liked stories of people who had started from scratch and built an empire. Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Jim Clark, Steve Jobs (Jim was an Apple enthusiast), Richard Branson – he’d read them all.

As he sat in the first class lounge at Singapore Airport sipping champagne his eyes caught a headline in a newspaper on the coffee table ‘Singapore entrepreneurs do it again’. He picked up the paper and read the article – it claimed that there were more high tech entrepreneurs per head of population in Singapore than in Silicon Valley. Some claim, Jim thought but as he read on he began to realise that Michael Dell et al were the visible entrepreneurs and that there were many more out there. Singapore like Silicon Valley was an environment where entrepreneurs seemed to be everywhere.

On his flight back to the UK Jim decided to leave his burn-out job as a 24 hour consultant and try his hand at being an entrepreneur. He would read those books again and see what he could learn from them.


LIZ

Liz was on the final leg of her MBA. She had a first degree in engineering and had worked for a large company in their marketing department. She thought the MBA would equip her for a senior post in another large company. ‘Your stepping stone to the future’ as her father had put it.

To her surprise the MBA had turned her off big business. Multinationals were dull and boring and had none of the excitement of the entrepreneurs she had heard speak on her course. She’d also realised that even the best of jobs could disappear at a moment’s notice. Big business was one takeover after another.

It was the monthly ‘Entrepreneur Evenings’ that had got her thinking this way. These people had really made it happen she thought. I wonder if I could do it? Liz took all the entrepreneur options that were on offer. She found that she responded to entrepreneur case studies and got excited about them but the stuff on entrepreneurship and the theory of it all sent her to sleep.

Concerned about how this might affect her final marks – she always strove for excellence – she spoke to her tutor. ‘Maybe it’s because you have an entrepreneur inside you trying to get out. True entrepreneurs just get on with it and leave the theory to others’ she told her.

‘Why don’t you just go for it, when you finish here?’ she suggested. ‘I think I will’ she replied, thrilled at the idea.


HELEN

Helen had had a bad morning in her NHS job. Yet another organisational change had been decreed by the management. She was a professional occupational therapist and had seen managers come and go. It wasn’t that she didn’t like change – in fact she felt very much at home with it – but not this kind of change for change’s sake.

She had had to tell her team about the changes and had found it hard to put over something she didn’t believe in or think was necessary. Helen always had plenty of ideas on how to improve things. She had introduced the integrated service that her team now delivered. Care in the hospital and afterwards in the patient’s home had been made a seamless procedure. These new arrangements worked well. Everybody was pleased with the result except of course the management who measured success by the number of discharges from the hospital and not their quality.

It was a throwaway remark by one of her team that got her thinking. The idea of spinning-off their occupational therapy service and operating it as a separate business was not new and it had come up again in the discussion. ‘What we need is an entrepreneur who can make it happen’ Sarah had said as she left the room and the meeting broke up.

‘I wonder if that could be me?’ thought Helen.


DAVID

David rode his bike in to the university’s Engineering Department. He had done this every day for some years but he had never seen a brand new red Porche in one of the staff parking slots before. Whose was it he wondered? Academics didn’t earn that sort of money.

The answer came during the mid-morning break. The red Porsche was the only topic of conversation in the Common Room. It belonged to Professor Digby-Smith. David knew that he ran a small company in his spare time and it turned out that this was why the red car had appeared. Digby-Smith’s accountants had apparently told him that he had had a very good year and that if he didn’t spend some of the profits the taxman would have them. So out he had gone and bought the car of his dreams.

Most of the academics argued that the whole thing was immoral. ‘This university is about research excellence not about spending your time running businesses and making money for yourself’. ‘He uses his research students to do all the work’. ‘He’s never around because he spends all his time on his business. It was a real problem getting his exam questions off him last year’. Things were not going well for Digby-Smith until a new staff member who had recently come from the business world asked what all the fuss was about. ‘This place is full of ideas going nowhere. We should be pleased that we have an entrepreneur in our midst’.

That was when Digby-Smith entered the room and the conversation stopped.

As David pedalled his way home that day he wondered if he might be an entrepreneur. ‘Surely if Digby-Smith can do it so can I’.


BOB

Bob was out of control. At least that’s what his parents thought and so did the police. The Young Offenders place hadn’t done much for him. He was on his way along a too familiar path when he was given a new probation officer. This man was different from anybody he had ever met. He was always talking about bettering yourself like they all did but he kept on about undiscovered talent. His pet phrase was ‘There’s something you can do better than 10,000 other people’ – yes breaking into cars Bob thought but then it dawned that he was talking about talent and not skills. Something you were born with.

‘I think you’d make a good salesman’ his probation officer told Bob and introduced him to a business friend, Joe. They talked things over together and Joe suggested they go to a toy warehouse and buy some small talking-robot toys and sell them in the local market. Bob was not sure but off they went. The warehouse manager encouraged Bob and offered the goods on sale or return. Bob thought the man obviously didn’t know his background. No one had ever trusted him like that before.

Bob set his wares out on the market stall and he soon had a crowd around him. He was loving it and within two hours had sold everything. ‘You’re a natural Bob’ Joe told him ‘I think you could find that you are an entrepreneur.’

‘What’s an entrepreneur?’ asked Bob.


SUZIE

Suzie had left school at 16 and started working with horses at a stable near her father’s farm in North Yorkshire. Naturally talented, she worked hard to improve her skills. She became a local show jumping champion and soon thought life was wonderful. She married young, become a farmer’s wife herself and had four children before she was thirty. When she was twenty seven she broke her ankle very badly in a fall and was advised not to ride competitively again.

Now she was in her mid-thirties and all her children were at school. She began to wonder how she might make some money – she was partly concerned about what was happening with the family farm. For a whole variety of reasons it was no longer as successful as it had been. In an ideal world she and her husband would spend a small fortune improving everything. She was also aware she had put on weight since her fourth child – by this time she had stopped riding altogether.

A possible answer came from her cousin, Jane, who was always bubbling with ideas – for herself and for other people. The problem was they weren’t always good ideas! Sometimes they even turned out to be disasters. It was fortunate for Jane that she rarely followed any of them up. In any case, they weren’t normally business ideas.

Both Suzie and Jane struggled to buy lingerie that fitted them in styles they thought comfortable and fashionable and often complained to each other about their problems. Jane suggested that Suzie should set up a small office and warehouse in a barn they were no longer using for farm work – and which they could not afford to convert into a new house – and sell bras by direct mail. Jane was convinced they would be able to buy unusual sizes for ‘the fuller figure’ from the leading manufacturers and sell by catalogue.

Suzie was sceptical. She knew Jane was a good organiser and she would make sure the paperwork and deliveries were done properly – whilst ever her interest was maintained. But was there really a market and could they make money out of it? And would Jane stick with the new venture or might she, Suzie, be left high and dry – in which case, could she cope on her own? Was she really an entrepreneur in waiting or just being tempted by Jane’s contagious enthusiasm?


ADAM

Adam had an administrative job at the University where he had studied and where he had been President of the Student Union. He enjoyed the fact that it brought him extensive contact with students, but he didn’t feel he was being stretched.

In his spare time Adam was a passionate gardener. With his allotments he was almost self sufficient in vegetables for his family. He also exhibited some of his flowers occasionally. He believed in organic methods and would talk passionately about this with anyone.

After a lengthy discussion with a wealthy businessman and local landowner about an idea he had, Adam found himself being offered the land to develop his project.

His idea was to use students who were keen to do voluntary work to help him establish an organic garden - with polytunnels - to grow flowers and vegetables. Student projects - linked to their degrees - could then support a range of possible activities and developments.

With appropriate supervision, young people who are too disruptive for mainstream schooling might find it an attractive experience. Disabled youngsters could also be brought in to smell and touch the flowers and learn about the project.

The produce would be sold, but any surpluses reinvested in the activity.

During one of their discussions the businessman told Adam that he was an entrepreneur in waiting.

Adam had heard the term ‘social entrepreneur’ and wondered if he might be one of those.

JUSTIN

Justin was a design student. He had only ever tolerated subjects like English and Maths but thrived when it was time for Art. As a toddler he always seemed to have had a crayon in his hand. He was naturally gifted; drawing came easy to him. But he also enjoyed being taught new techniques and spent hours experimenting. At both school and university he was always top of his class when it came to grades. He won all sorts of competitions.

But Justin was also a bit of a loner. He didn’t believe his fellow students were as good as he was and he was reluctant to share his creative ideas with them. He was not a good team worker. But for all that he was not unpopular and friendless because he was socially gregarious and happy to buy his round.

He had other problems as well. He was terrible when it came to deadlines. He always strived for perfection and never believed something was good enough or finished. Unless he was threatened with sanctions he never handed his work in on time. He was nicknamed ‘Justin Time’ by his course tutor. He also wanted to change every brief he was given. His father had called him Michelangelo when he was younger – reminding him that Michelangelo had painted the Sistene chapel as he wanted to do it, not as the Pope (who was paying for it) wanted it.

In his final year his tutor started encouraging him to think what he might do once he was no longer a student. He didn’t have a clue. He knew that a lot of design students end up working for themselves, accepting contracts and commissions. His friends told him about a series of ‘Entrepreneur Awareness’ classes that were being run by the Business School and he went along. He began to think he rather fancied being self-employed. He could choose what commissions he would accept and when he would work. He could also build his own studio. Life would be good as his own boss.

He told this to his course tutor who seemed less enthusiastic. ‘You are an incredibly talented designer’ he told Justin. ‘Your technique is superior to any of your fellow students, but temperamentally you are simply not an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are focused on customers and don’t just follow their own creative whims. They are also disciplined and make sure they meet their deadlines’. Justin was disappointed and wondered whether this was good or bad advice. Was he an entrepreneur or not?

Copyright © WKBolton and JLThompson
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