Are entrepreneurs born or made?

aat comment

Many people wonder what makes a successful entrepreneur, and the answer is not always as straightforward as Dragons’ Den would suggest. For every natural business genius, there is someone whose entrepreneurial skills need nurturing. AAT member in practice, Dawn Clarkson, argues that whilst spotting the latter is harder, it often brings the biggest rewards

The adjectives ‘unusual’, ‘not typical’, ‘unusually good’ and ‘outstanding’ describe our most exceptional clients. Often these are people who have walked a traditional academic path and, in their formative years, were identified as having difficulties learning to read and write.

Noticeably, these people often become extraordinary entrepreneurs, able to think innovatively and prepared to challenge – and overcome – obstacles that may arrest others.

They have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and stay focused on their desired results. Admittedly, these individuals need a robust support system around them, particularly administrative support.

They may happily agree that their recordkeeping is willy nilly at best, but with a good support system they are unstoppable. As many are almost fearless, they have a natural talent as salespeople. Their innovative approach to business is constantly evolving, and they have an ability to spot opportunities and engage well with others.

I recall one such client who, in his first trading year, achieved a profit before tax of £200,000. His company had no employees – all the sales were generated by the client himself.

Despite a dislike of paperwork and bureaucracy, he almost disproved the conventional wisdom that all businesses should have lengthy and detailed business plans. He had no such plans. What he did have was a rare gift for selling.

Being an entrepreneur doesn’t always mean writing a business plan

We often encourage clients to work through business plans when setting up and running operations, as the process of forming a plan often helps to clarify how the business will operate.

Yet some people, as we saw on this year’s series of The Apprentice, seem to have an unconventional intelligence that allows them to compose business plans in their mind, without the need for the details to be documented on paper.

Too few businesspeople recognise that there is often a trade-off. I have met many eminent members of the business community who frown upon what they see as the cavalier attitudes of these extraordinary people. That is one reason why some people can find employment restrictive.

Employing an unusual character can be a challenge to many business owners if the individual’s potential is not recognised and the individual is coerced into acting in a certain way, to comply with cultural norms.

Entrepreneurs are not always disruptive troublemakers

Exceptional people may be labelled as disruptive troublemakers; their natural innovative personalities may become easily bored while conforming to established practices and – if their natural abilities are constrained – there is a tendency for these employees or clients to leave.

When employers take the time to openly listen to their employees or clients, and give individuals the space to demonstrate their natural abilities, new ideas may emerge that help the business innovate and lead the field.

Everyone working in a business has strengths and weaknesses. When employees are engaged in work that matches their strengths, a win-win situation arises. The employee is more fulfilled in their work, and the business benefits from good morale in the workforce.

Are entrepreneurs born or made?

I sometimes wonder whether extraordinary people are born that way. Noticeably, overcoming adversity helps to build character, and often this develops into unwavering self-belief that paves the way for success in business.

For some, the progression from exceptional child to entrepreneur or pioneer is inevitable. Mother Teresa’s father was an entrepreneur who worked as a construction contractor and a trader of medicines and other goods.

When Teresa was only eight years old, her father suddenly fell ill and died. Overcoming this, combined with her mother’s compassion and deep commitment to charity, Teresa used her exceptional qualities in a lifetime of compassionate teaching.

Mahatma Gandhi’s father died when he was 15. Educational reports demonstrate that Gandhi was a mediocre student. One of his school reports described him as ‘Good at English, fair in arithmetic and weak in geography; conduct very good, bad handwriting.’

Despite his underwhelming academic performance, Ghandi was truly exceptional – shaking off the shackles of his school years to leave an enduring legacy of non-violence, civil rights and freedom.

Dawn is an AAT member in practice and runs her own accountancy business, Dawn Clarkson Associates, in North Yorkshire. Her other AAT Comment posts can be viewed online.

Dawn Clarkson is a licensed accountant and MAAT.

Related articles