What is the one business secret that can take your business from good to great, from small to big, or from big to huge? I’ll tell you what the man just named the greatest entrepreneur on the planet considers it to be in a moment, but first some background.
This is my second time coming to, and participating in, the World-Entrepreneurship Forum and by now I know what to expect . . . almost. This amazing event brings together entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, academics and experts from all parts of the globe for a three day think-tank where ideas and business cards are exchanged in equal measure.
The purpose is to share ideas, meet new colleagues, learn, make recommendations, and hopefully reach consensus on various topics discussed. But if you think that getting 100 creative, successful, powerful entrepreneurs, people with strong ideas and stronger egos, to agree on anything is akin to herding cats, you would be correct sir.
And that is the fun of it. No shrinking violets here.
So what I have come to expect is that I will always meet someone amazing, someone doing something fascinating or someone who has an unusual insight that I (and hopefully my readers) can use in their business.
There was Marcela Benitez who is saving rural villages in her native Argentina – using entrepreneurship. As in many places around the world, rural-to-urban migration is a major problem, with deforestation and urbanization putting the remote villages at risk of disappearing. Marcela’s group, Responde, teaches entrepreneurship to rural villagers so they can become economically self-sustaining. It has now saved hundreds of villages.
It turns out that this idea of “social entrepreneurship” – using entrepreneurial ideas and strategies to advance social causes like poverty alleviation and women’s rights – is on the march across the globe.
Unexpected this year is what I would learn from the man named “Entrepreneur for the World’ – the top entrepreneur on the planet. The winner this year was Kazuo Inamori from Japan, a serial entrepreneur who has created several huge enterprises that few of us in the west have heard of (e.g., Kyocera Corporation and KDDI Corporation.)
This gentile, aging Japanese business mogul had some interesting business advice.
“While personal desires for success are good,” he told a packed house of 1,500, “social desires – to help society, make the world better, and create jobs – are equally, if not better.”
“Business desires are best that come from a pure heart, from the bottom of your heart actually” he said. So maybe it was not surprising that he said the main purpose of his various businesses was . . . to make a profit? No. To grow? No. It was, he said, “to make our staff happy.”
Knock me over with a feather. Clearly a very non-American idea (“American capitalism is “much harsher” he noted), who woulda thunk that the real secret to business success was being a good, nay, great, person and boss?
But please note it is not just idealistic do-gooderism that motivated Mr. Inamori, although doing good clearly is important to him, it is in equal parts sound business. His point was that if you take care of your people, they will take care of you. By creating not just a good workplace but an exceptional one – one full of joy, loyalty, and mutual respect – you empower your employees to be their best selves, and they in turn will create for you the best company possible.
Bonus: “And when times get tough, like they are now, that happy staff will pull together to help you,” The Entrepreneur for the World Noted.
Many small business people give false homage to the creed that “our employees are our greatest asset.” But so often it is so much hot air, about as important as that mission statement hanging cockeyed on the wall somewhere in the back room.
But it shouldn’t be. If the one lesson the world’s best entrepreneur learned is that his success is due to a happy staff, isn’t that a pretty darn valuable insight?
I think it’s time I give Vivian a raise.