The word ‘entrepreneur’ has been around since 1723. The primary qualities associated with entrepreneurship are leadership, risk-taking, team-building and ability to focus the team on working towards the leader’s vision. But people have had these qualities way before 1723, since prehistoric times. People who weren’t essentially businessmen, when kings and military generals led armies on campaigns. Like modern-day CEO’s and Chairmen lead their teams to start and run new ventures.
Their campaigns depended on spoils of war as profit, and the armies required sophisticated logistics to run smoothly, just like today’s companies. Alexander of Macedon, when he started his conquest of Asia, barely had enough funds to pay his army for more than a fortnight but in five years he owned all the treasure of the great Persian Empire – worth hundreds of billions of dollars today. Julius Caesar fought many campaigns. One single conquest of Caesar brought in spoils estimated at 1,750 million sesterces or about $38.5 billion today.
While these leaders specialized in war, they had all the qualities of a successful entrepreneur. The same qualities as the great modern-day CEOs like Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson, Steve Jobs. I will discuss some aspects of their personalities individually, and we will see what made them so successful. And how we can emulate their qualities in leadership and business and be successful in our own lives.
I’ll start off with one of the greatest military leaders in history- Alexander the Great. The most defining part of his life was his ambition. He is described as “having unwavering ambition, backed by restless enthusiasm. Loving the most challenging way of doing things, then persistently doing them”. He chose only the most difficult tasks not just for military glory, but also because taking the most difficult path was what his enemies would least expect. He had a definite purpose in his life – to conquer the greatest empire on earth. And he went after it without fear of failure.
Alexander would calmly pursue his goals, confident in the outcome and was disregardful of what others said. While fighting in Punjab, in modern day Multan, he climbed and jumped into the enemy fortress alone and gave them a fight single-handedly. Although this act of bravery almost killed him, however, we should admire that even as a king with an army, he did what no other soldier in his army could. The mark of a great leader.
Fast forward to the 20th century, another ambitious leader by the name of Steve Jobs. We all know the company he started but what was Jobs like as a person? Those who knew him will tell you he was a perfectionist. He had absolutely zero tolerance for people with bad ideas and who were not passionate about their work – he called them “bozos.” Jobs was very driven and impatient, he had a sense of urgency about what he wanted to get done.
One of his most extraordinary qualities is that he was confrontational. Never afraid to say what he wanted to say. He believed that confrontation and speaking your mind is how you get things done, and that’s how great ideas break through. A co-worker remembers “he was so persistent in getting his way, it baffled people.” He didn’t believe in market research. Also well known for his meticulous sense of design, Jobs had this to say about design trends, “Great art stretches the taste; it doesn’t follow tastes.”
Our next entrepreneur is literally shooting for the stars. Elon Musk, after founding Paypal with investor Peter Thiel he chose his next venture out of passion. He wanted to take humans to Mars. So after the sale of Paypal to eBay from which he made $165 million, he started a space company, SpaceX. It is now valued at $12 billion. He also helped found Tesla Motors which is now worth $30 billion. His salary is one dollar. His money comes from his stock and performance-based bonuses. Musk has always had a willingness to tackle impossible problems. His space company failed three times in their rocket engine tests.
When asked by a journalist why he didn’t give up, he said “I don’t ever give up. I’d have to be dead or completely incapacitated”. He hates the standard way of doing things. If he knows very little about an industry, it doesn’t bother him; he still participates in it passionately. He is known to fire people who make stupid mistakes or who don’t show enthusiasm for their work. Recently he admitted that when he helped found Tesla Motors, he did not think it would succeed. When asked why did he start a company he thought would fail, Musk replied, “If something is important enough you should try it even if the probable outcome is a failure.”
And last but definitely not the least in my list of top business leaders is Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group of Companies. He is not just an amazing entrepreneur, but also a fun-loving adventurer. He says that risk-taking and being bold is the key to succeeding. However, it is important to control the downside when you take a risk. He keeps telling entrepreneurs to “have fun” while chasing goals. Mr. Branson also thinks that when your business is in a crisis, you shouldn’t play it safe and contract. You should always expand the company in times of crisis. He never says no to a new venture, the more you tell him not to do the more he wants to do it. Also, he is an advocate of delegating tasks to employees and helping them grow.
Brand reputation is more important than getting the product to market. He is always curious and filled with a sense of wonder. He started the space tourism industry by launching a company that would take civilians into orbit, called Virgin Galactic. His advice to passionate individuals is “don’t think of the cheapest or the fastest way of doing things. Think of the most amazing way”.
After taking a brief glimpse into their personalities, we find what makes them unique. These are the leaders who have been bold enough to change their lives and through that, they have changed the world. If you can learn and absorb the qualities of these men, you can be the entrepreneur this country really needs. An unbeatable individual is only someone who will rise one more time after he/she gets knocked down. How can you defeat someone like that? You can’t. That’s what these amazing leaders do best. They persevere. They fall seven. Rise eight.