Is Entrepreneurship Genetic?

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I just finished attending the last session in a great series about entrepreneurship that was offered by Indiana University South Bend. While I was filling out an evaluation form for the series, a student happened to sit down next to me to fill out his survey. I was surprised when the young man offered his feelings, those of disappointment, that the series was filled with people whose families had owned businesses. In addition to that, he continued, Michael Kubacki,  President and CEO of Lake City Bank and former member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago,  upset this person so much that he had to leave the room. To say I was dumbfounded is an understatement. I was so impressed with the speakers and their accomplishments that it was beyond comprehension that somebody would have such a diametrically opposed view. I responded with mere grunts. It was one of those moments that I wish I could back. It seems like a missed opportunity to perhaps share a different perspective.

Indeed, the Entrepreneur Lecture Series 2010 did contain a number of speakers that had family businesses or were children of business owners:

  • Mark Tarner, President of the South Bend Chocolate Company – his father was a chocolate maker
  • Amish Shah, President of Kem Krest – his father owns a successful business
  • Rob Bartels, Jr., President & CEO of Martin’s Super Markets, Inc – Martin’s was founded by a family member
  • Larry Davis , President of Daman Products – Daman Products was started by his father and he

I believe that there is most likely an advantage to being in a family that owns a business. As the son of a minister and a secretary, I can only imagine that being around people who own businesses exposes you to an abundance of knowledge about how businesses actually work (marketing, planning, product management, finance, etc..) that are not quite as accessible to other people. It is important to remember that just because some people may have an apparent advantage does not mean that the goal is out of reach for you.

This year’s lecture series kicked off with an inspirational lecture titled “Seize the Opportunity” from the South Bend Chocolate Company’s President Mark Tarner. Mark reminded the attendees that the United States is still “the land of opportunity.” Mark is an extremely hard worker, constantly investing time in the company. Mark emphasized planning as one aspect of seizing the opportunity, but ultimately you need to take action on your plan. Apparently, the gentleman next to me this evening missed that part.

Amish shared the impact of the economic downturn on his company and how Kem Krest has had to adjust.

Rob shared that Martin and his wife, the supermarket’s founders, subsisted on the ‘shrink’ of the store. The ‘shrink’ is the food that is not good enough to sell any more, but is still good. Think brown banana…

Larry Davis shared his experience about the hard times starting his business. It was about a decade before their business was really thriving.

Each of these people, and most of the other presenters, had to overcome adversity before they became successful. There was a common theme, as well, that just because you were once successful does not mean that you now sit back and rest.

In 2009, I went to Chicago to hear Molly Fletcher, agent to Tom Izzo, top female sports agent, and author of the book “Your Dream Job Game Plan, 5 tools for becoming your own career agent”, speak to a group of Michigan State University, Northwestern University, and Ohio State University alumni. Molly shared some keys to what she called “your dream job game plan.” I believe the advise is equally applicable to entrepreneurs:

Have passion and style
Be fearless
Have a game plan
Execute flawlessly
Manage your choices

Lastly, and probably most importantly, Molly suggests surrounding yourself with other “five tool players”, those who are going to help you become better. I believe that this  last point would be particularly valuable for this man that spoke to me this evening. Being  jealous of the presenters is not going to move you forward. If you want to be like those people, reach out to them. Build a relationship, and try to learn from them. The speakers are entrepreneurial, and not only have been successful in business themselves, but are excited by the prospect of others pursuing their business dreams as well.

Would I have changed this man’s mind? I don’t know. I do hope that he realizes that what the future holds for him is largely within his control. Jealousy or disappointment over another person’s perceived advantage will only distract him from doing great things himself, as it will with any of us.

Entrepreneurism isn’t a matter of genetics, it’s about being fearless, having a plan, and executing.

Lastly, thank you IUSB for hosting the series and opening it up to the public free of charge. I look forward to next year’s series.

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