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Cross Cultural Anthropology -- Part II
The Entrepreneur and the Businessperson

by Aaron Kleiner

The very qualities that are essential for success as an entrepreneur are far different from, and may in fact, conflict with the qualities necessary to be an effective businessperson. What is even more troubling is that both entrepreneurial and business forces must pull together for the company to succeed. Certainly, there are rare exceptions where the entrepreneur and the businessperson are one in the same -- Ken Olsen, Amar Bose, Bob Swanson to name a few, but it takes a mighty big person to have his or her head soaring in the stars and feet planted on the ground at the same time.

The entrepreneur must be optimistic, decisive, creative and intuitive, a go-from-the-gut, sometimes shoot-from-the hip person possessing enormous tolerance for ambiguity, risk and failure. The businessperson, on the other hand, must be a planner, organizer, not reliant on instinct but on data, capable of making difficult tradeoffs and clearly more realistic and risk averse.

Recently, I heard a story from a "businessperson" illustrating how the entrepreneur's and the businessperson's risk comfort level can differ. This person's entrepreneur associate times his trips to the airport so that he arrives just as the plane is scheduled to leave. The entrepreneur knows that planes usually are late so that even if he is delayed getting there he can make the plane. The underlying assumption is that the "world is going my way" and if not I can handle it.

I asked the businessperson how he, with his need to plan and manage risk, dealt with this situation when they traveled together. He replied that it was easy, "I don't go to the airport with him anymore. I get on the plane whether or not he's there."

Another area of divergence is in their attitudes toward decisions. The entrepreneur inevitably focuses on the content, concerned with the quality of the decision whereas the businessperson focuses on the process, concerned with the quality of the decisionmaking system. The entrepreneur, sensing the threat of a "bad" decision, will be all over it like "white on rice." The businessperson understands that to get consistently high quality decisions, people must be given responsibility and learn from mistakes.

Again, as was discussed last month regarding R&D and marketing, the businessperson and the entrepreneur must be effectively integrated for the company to succeed. While the entrepreneurial qualities of creativity and enthusiasm must be tempered by realism and control, the spirit that gave birth to the company must be treasured and nurtured by it for if this spirit is lost the company may be doomed to mediocrity. The entrepreneur as the champion of this spirit serves to insure the continuing renewal and revitalization of the company. For his or her part, the businessperson must repeatedly differentiate the possible from the impossible and deliver the often times unpleasant message to the company.

Considering how different their two sets of motivation are, it is a small wonder that so often the relationship so crucial to the company's success breaks down. When conflict develops, just as with R&D and marketing, the entrepreneur and the businessperson need to get down to the basic issues.

How important is each to the company? How and for what do they depend on each other? What are their different needs and how can they best accommodate them?

The process of building the relationship may require outside assistance to accomplish but the time and energy getting it right can be the most valuable expenditures the company can make. The strength that can be derived from the integration of their seemingly contradictory qualities is the essential element for building successful companies.

Reprinted with permission from The MIT Enterprise Forum, Inc. of Cambridge. The article first appeared in the "Forum Reporter," Volume 7, No. 5, January 1989.

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