In today’s fluctuating economy, the notions of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial leadership and entrepreneurial decision-making are receiving increased attention by citizens, academics, managers and politicians on a global basis. The current global financial crisis has put added pressure on creating new ideas and bringing these to the market, resulting in financial fruition, economic development and employment.
Being an entrepreneur and creating value by establishing a new organization in both the profit and nonprofit sectors in business, as well as the arts, impacts economic and social conditions. This creation process takes more time and effort than one can imagine and is by no means easy, with a high failure rate reaching more than 70 percent in certain countries.
Since entrepreneurs are found in all professions — education, medicine, research, law, architecture, arts, engineering, social work and distribution — the definition of entrepreneurship in my book, “Entrepreneurship,” is relevant: “Entrepreneurship is the process of creating something new with value by devoting the necessary time and effort, assuming the accompanying financial, psychic, and social risks, and receiving the resulting rewards of monetary and personal satisfaction and independence.”
Global entrepreneurial leaders create visionary scenarios that assemble and mobilize participants, who become committed by the vision to discovery and creation of sustainable value. They have a wide variety of attributes, including being a visionary, having a passion for their idea, being a risk-taker, having perseverance, building a team, recognizing opportunities and needs, solving problems, and giving back. Let us look at a few examples:
Leonardo Da Vinci — In addition to his many other titles, Leonardo Da Vinci should be labeled as one of the great global entrepreneurial leaders of all time. It is, in fact, the breadth and depth of his work, his wide-ranging skills and his lasting impact on both the arts and society that reflect the strength of his entrepreneurial vision. He created many new and different pieces of art, devices and ways of thinking that were ahead of their time.
Edward Teach (Blackbeard the Pirate) — From 1716-1718, Blackbeard the Pirate ruled the seas and also was an entrepreneurial leader who flourished in his trade. The pirates who joined Blackbeard’s command often came from the lowest classes of society, or were former members of the British Navy, who found the conditions and treatment they received better than life on farms or plantations. All booty taken by the pirates would be divided evenly among the crew, one part each, save the captain’s two.
Peter the Great — Peter I ruled Russia from 1682 until his death in 1725, bringing about major modernization to his country. His global entrepreneurial vision and leadership gave Russia a new position of power as the country was transformed into a Western empire. Educators, military personnel and businessmen were invited to Russia; the army was modernized; a strong navy was developed; and arts and education flourished.
John D. Rockefeller — John D. Rockefeller was an extraordinary American entrepreneur and philanthropist. Through hard work, determination and a strong competitive nature, he became the world’s first billionaire. Rockefeller chose to change his entrepreneurial pursuits away from making money toward giving it away. From his equity position in Standard Oil, a company he co-founded, he felt the need to disperse his wealth to those less fortunate and formed the Rockefeller Foundation; this started the rise of American social philanthropy.
Madam C.J. Walker — Entrepreneurs often find opportunities and success in spite of great odds and obstacles. Madam C.J. Walker was one such person who identified a gap in the market — hair care products for black women. Walker became the first self-made, female black millionaire in the United States. At one point, she employed more than 3,000 women, and had a wide range of hair and skin care products.
Muhammad Yunus — Muhammad Yunus is an example of a selfless global entrepreneurial leader. After seeing the impact of his first micro-loan and the way in which he was repaid, Yunus began to envision a model that could work anywhere. He found that the poor would often quickly repay their loans with few problems. By the early 1980s, Yunus had expanded to other developing countries, and in 1983 formed the Grameen Bank, the institutional home of his micro-lending practices, both of which were honored with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Bill Gates — Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ entrepreneurial skills are varied. His company revolutionized the computer industry, helped to usher in the Internet age, and had a deep and profound impact on the daily lives of people around the world. Because of this persistence and risk taking, he shaped the evolution of the information age, making him the world’s richest man in 1995. In 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded with the goal of alleviating many of the problems that are afflicting the world’s poorest people. It has grown into one of the premier philanthropic organizations in the world.
The role of global entrepreneurial leaders throughout history indicates the diversity in backgrounds, mindsets and goals that spawn entrepreneurial actions, decisions and leadership. From public sector to private, for-profit to nonprofit, in science, arts, religion, medicine, politics and business, and across industries, the variety of forms that entrepreneurial leadership takes is clear.
For the contemporary entrepreneur who actually starts his or her own business, the experience is filled with enthusiasm, frustration, anxiety and hard work. There is a high failure rate due to poor sales, intense competition, lack of capital, or lack of managerial ability. The financial, social and emotional risks are high, as are the rewards. As history has shown, the individual’s reward can easily set the stage for an accelerated impact on the larger community, region, country or even the world.