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11 ways to go from entrepreneur to titan — from the titans

William J. Ferguson

What’s the “secret sauce” to being a successful entrepreneur? Executive recruiter William J. Ferguson asked business leaders for his new book. Their answers can help make you a true upstart.

(Forwarded from Upstart Business Journal)

Entrepreneurship boils down to a few key ingredients: an idea, a plan, the ability to execute, and enough passion to turn a vision into a reality. Although this recipe may seem simple, it is deceptively so. Only about 20 percent of those who start the entrepreneurial journey reach their destination. Among those, only about 1 percent achieves the level of “titan,” as the head of a large and often global organization.

To find what it takes to reach the pinnacle—the “secret sauce,” if you will—I spoke with several notable leaders across industries from entertainment to engineering, hospitals to hospitality, for their insights on how current and would-be entrepreneurs can improve their chances of success. Here is what they had to say:

Find your passion. Successful entrepreneurs are driven by intrinsic rewards far more than extrinsic ones (the financial, no matter how lucrative, will never offset the investment in time, money, and effort). Therefore, the motivation must be within. As Bill Marriott, executive chairman of Marriott International (NYSE: MAR), puts it, “You’d better find something that you enjoy doing because you won’t be successful unless you do.”

Be curious. Entrepreneurs are always learning, within their industries and others as well. Bill Sanders, a pioneer in real estate management (he founded LaSalle Partners, which is now part of Jones Lang LaSalle (NYSE: JLL) and current chairman of Strategic Growth Bank, says intellectual curiosity helps entrepreneurs identify niches before they become obvious to others.

Innovate continuously. Innovation and invention enable entrepreneurs to stay a step (or two) ahead of the competition. As Stuart Miller, CEO of homebuilder Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN) observes, “Find things that need the most help…Find a way to fix that which is broken. Make a name for yourself with things that other people are ignoring.”

Focus on the bottom line. No matter how brilliant an idea seems to be, ultimately it’s the marketplace that will decide—the vote of confidence that translates into higher sales and bigger profits. As Noel Watson, chairman of Jacobs Engineering (NYSE: JEC) says, “Nothing counts in the end but the bottom line.”

Teach your team. Entrepreneurs can never lose sight of the very important fact that they execute their business plans through other people. For Julia Stewart, chairman and chief executive officer of DineEquity (NYSE: DIN), operator of the IHOP and Applebee’s chains, success as a business builder means being a teacher, coach, and mentor to ensure that others have the knowledge and expertise they need to be successful.

Do whatever it takes. For successful entrepreneurs, there are no half measures. The commitment to deliver value is all encompassing. Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), says, “Entrepreneurs are willing to do anything and everything.” Pride comes from satisfying customers and exceeding expectations.

Recognize the next opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for ways to expand the scope of their businesses. But where to find such opportunities? Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, says focus on the big picture to glean insight into trends in the economy or society to discover unfulfilled consumer needs.

Bring luck and learning together. Rick Federico pursued becoming the head of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (he is currently chairman and CEO) because he had serendipitously visited one of the restaurants a few days before being contacted by a recruiter. That coincidence, however, was preceded by years of career development that sharpened his discernment and elevated his leadership and reputation in the industry.

Measure progress. For entrepreneurs who focus on the “big picture,” using metrics and measures to gauge the progress toward strategic goals and milestones can be challenging. Nonetheless, Paul Diaz CEO of Kindred Healthcare (NYSE: KND), says continuously measuring results is crucial to any business to drive “organizational excellence.”

Uphold integrity. Times of crisis test and define one’s leadership. Ethics can never be compromised. “Integrity is like your shadow,” says John Robbins, founder of American Residential Mortgage Corp. and past president of the Mortgage Bankers Association. “When you walk out into the sunshine it is there for everyone to see.”

Go the extra mile. The difference between good and excellent is often measured in the small, but tangible things that enhance value, quality, and customer experience. Bill Jensen, CEO of Intrawest, which develops and manages ski resorts, calls this the “2 percent difference.” In every task or interaction, entrepreneurs should ask themselves: What would make this even better?

Becoming an entrepreneur is not easy, and only a very few become titans. The success secrets of those who have made it to the top are the differentiators. Anyone who possesses or is willing to develop these qualities has a head start on the road to success.

Ph.D. in Economics with interests in Life Science, Behavioral Science, Health Economics Evaluation and Health Technology Assessment. Executive MBA student at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business in Hong Kong, graduating in 2020.

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