As leader of the Americas Strategic Growth Markets for Ernst & Young LLP, Herb Engert works with entrepreneurs on a daily basis.
His practice guides leading high-growth companies, and takes a leading role in putting on the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum.
Smart Business sat down with Engert at the 2011 SGF — which brought together more than 2,300 of the world’s top CEOs and business leaders in Palm Springs, Calif. — to discuss his firsthand insight into what makes a successful entrepreneur.
Q: What traits define the successful entrepreneurs you see at the SGF?
The No. 1 characteristic of a leader is actually having vision. … They do see things that perhaps we don't see. But they actually look for opportunities — unmet opportunities.
They are bold; they are not afraid to take risks. They actually really are just unafraid. They’re out there, they're on a mission, they’re growing their businesses, and they’re not worrying.
Q: How can successful entrepreneurs retain that vision?
You’ve got to work on the business, not in the business. I think great CEOs can actually see the fact that they need to bring in and surround themselves with great talent, because they need to take that step back. They need to continue to let the creative juices flow and to not get so in the business that they don't see some of the things that maybe they saw when they first started the business.
Being able to admit that you don't know something and either go find somebody that does or get somebody to help you, it's key. Most of the great leaders, most of the great CEOs out there, clearly are humble enough to basically know that they don't know something, and actually will go seek help, bring in a great team.
Q: How are these entrepreneurs groomed for success?
There are a lot of CEOs that actually do come out of corporate America, so there are a lot of seasoned entrepreneurs that actually are very successful and they actually have grown up in large organizations. They come to their entrepreneurial roots, ultimately, coming out of larger organizations where maybe they were in an ‘intrapreneurial’ role. … That training ground, that proving ground, has actually been most helpful to them.
Q: Why is intrapreneurship important for large companies to foster?
What I really think is the missing opportunity is that concept of ‘intrapreneurship,’ because if most organizations were smart, they wouldn't let some of those people leave. They really would foster that spirit of entrepreneurship and promote those ideas and incubate them inside their organizations.
As much as corporate America is incubating those ideas, I think we have to do more of that because there are some large organizations that really do make a world of difference. They've got the resources and they can really commit. And if they really empowered the spirit of ‘intrapreneurship’ and empowered entrepreneurs within an organization, just think of what they could create and what they could develop and where they could take themselves.
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