International Business Review brings you the ‘Entrepreneurial Journey’ by University of Cyberjaya Pro-Chancellor and social entrepreneur, Tan Sri Dr. R. Palan who shares with us the meaning of being a successful entrepreneur in our next series of Captain Speaks.
An alumnus of the Harvard Business School, he is also the recipient of the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) award from the National Speakers Association of the United States of America. Not only is he an educationist, Tan Sri Dr. Palan is also a social-entrepreneur who has vested interest in political sciences and youth entrepreneurship.
The last few weeks were beginning to feel depressing because of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, the recurring lockdowns, and the political intrigues. So, I started writing to remain productive. I have written so far on Work, Education, Politics and Life Experiences, having left The Entrepreneurial Journey for now.
Many years ago, I came across the quote ‘Success is a journey, not a destination.’ Recently, I found an article where the word ‘success’ was replaced by another key word ‘entrepreneurship.’ The article described how entrepreneurship is not a destination, but a journey. In 2014, my 15th book, The Global Journey of an Asian discussed the entrepreneurial journey of several entrepreneurs, including mine. I could relate to these journeys.
Entrepreneurial journeys are fascinating. Entrepreneurs do not think of a finish line. They think they have all the time in the world. Their passion is to create value. They continue to push themselves. Growth is always on their agenda. They leave behind their comfort zones and explore new territories. Private equity investors and venture capitalists often talk about exits. But quitting never crosses the minds of entrepreneurs. This is why sometimes entrepreneurs get into trouble on their journey. They stretch themselves. And, when they are cruising on their entrepreneurial initiatives, nothing seems impossible. However, tough times could crop up and then you see worry, stress and anxiety. Even then, entrepreneurs persevere with determination.
Many years ago I wrote a book Creating Your Own Rainbow. In the book, I relate to the journey of Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which started when he was 67 years of age. In my case, I did not have to wait that long as the Nagarathars, our forefathers, believed in entrepreneurial journeys. I looked back on the journeys of both my maternal and paternal grandfathers. The patriarch of the family on the paternal side ventured from India into Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia.
On the other hand, my maternal grandfather ventured out to export leather globally from India. As a very young kid, I was able to observe entrepreneurial mindsets at work. The revenue and profit after tax results were exceptional. So was their commitment to philanthropy.
To my grandfathers, the thought of having arrived never existed; it was always about the journey. Their vision and focus supported by exceptional follow through were evident in the growth of the business.
Yet, their tremendous success did not last beyond their lifetimes. I am not sure if my grandparents knew about the consequences of not changing when the world was changing. A ship is safe when it is docked in the harbour, but that is not what it is built for. Similarly, entrepreneurial journeys are not about finding safe harbours to rest in, but about relentless venturing out and risk taking, while of course being aided by risk management and risk mitigation.
Keeping in mind the need to change with the times, John Davis from MIT Sloan School of Management developed the Family Enterprise framework to help families understand the purpose of their business and the impact of change. Professors Ken Moores and Mary Barret, in their study of the family business life cycle, showed that most family businesses do not make it past the third generation despite several competitive advantages. This happens when the vision of the founder entrepreneur and subsequent generations grow divergent. It is often the case that massive changes would have affected the founding business, requiring it to evolve, rather than stay the same and become irrelevant.
One key element that defined the entrepreneurial journey of the Nagarathars was their low propensity for unethical practices. Honesty defined the journey as it was deemed to be the best policy. There was zero tolerance for lies, cheating, deceit, and dishonesty.
In addition, my Nagarathar forefathers demonstrated discipline in thinking and action, which ensured focus and follow through. They acknowledged the obstacles before them and dealt with them through clear thinking and mutual support. Community support was equally important. The Nagarathar community, which had many entrepreneurs, provided a mutual support network that helped to tide through difficulties.
Although I wanted to retire three decades ago, I am still on my entrepreneurial journey. I do not see a finish line for me, as I keep learning and evolving with the changing times. We took our company public in March 2006.There was tremendous joy as it had rewarded our hard work thus far. Going ahead, there were several difficulties, and stress became part of our lives. We made mistakes; we hired people who did not fit their jobs, and as Jim Collins said, we had to ‘get them off the bus.’ We had to pay a price for our mistakes, and it was not without mental anguish. But the journey continues. Entrepreneurs do not regret failing, but the hope is to learn from mistakes and move on.
At all times, we made sure that we did not stray away from our vision. This required focus and discipline as there were numerous obstacles, both internal and external. Additionally, we had to look at the changing world and the risks impacting the world. Hundreds of things happen simultaneously for entrepreneurs. This is something no business school professor will be able to teach. Entrepreneurs at one point in their entrepreneurial journey know they need the right professional managers to help them stay on the journey. The need to remain committed to values remains paramount.
Many people told me on my entrepreneurial journey to work for someone else. They said my skill sets suited me better for employment. We discussed in the earlier article the work of Raj Chetty and Lost Einsteins. Proximity to innovators supports innovation. The deciding factor for me was my mind set, which had inherited some of the entrepreneurial aspirations of my ancestors. I worked hard to overcome the negative comments that had created self-doubt and dented my confidence. While I might not have got close to my grandparents’ or Steve Jobs’ value creation, I am still on my entrepreneurial journey, contributing in my own little way.
There is no finish line. This is a journey.