Are you a rainmaker?

By Amy C. Cosper

Entrepreneurship in family business is a thing.

Can we all agree the idea of entrepreneurship is an extraordinarily inspired concept? It conjures emotions of freedom and self-sufficiency, risk taking and the possibility of failure. To some, it’s a self-directed solo adventure that beckons with images of Richard Branson circling the globe in a balloon or Elon Musk blasting humans into space for 15 seconds of weightlessness. Just shoot that adrenaline straight into my veins.

Thirty years ago, entrepreneurship was something entirely different than it is today. Self-anointed entrepreneurs were often viewed as ne’er-do-wells or snake oil salesmen looking to turn a quick buck. But, generally, an entrepreneur was someone without a job. It was not a glamorous aspiration. And often it was a calling born of economic necessity, not glamour. Eventually, the idea of entrepreneurship became a hodgepodge of get-rich-quick schemes and franchises — all promising great riches in 10 easy steps for a small investment of $10,000. Again, not exactly enticing and in some instances financially catastrophic.

Over the last couple decades or so, entrepreneurship has become aspirational. It’s sort of sexy to be an entrepreneur now. Kind of shiny. Everyone seems to be chasing that dream of starting something meaningful (or, if not meaningful, at least an exit with a pocketful of cash money). There’s something magical about the idea of forging your own way in the world, leaving a legacy of creativity and innovation. In fact, many university programs now require liberal arts, sciences and humanities students to take courses in entrepreneurship.

The searing truth is that entrepreneurship is hard, the failure rate is high and the access to capital is low. Very few startups make it past the two-year mark, and fewer still make it past the idea stage. Yet humans are natural-born dream chasers — and that’s a good thing for family businesses because somewhere in your past, there is an origin story of an entrepreneur who was a dream chaser. And that dream chaser was the founder of your multigenerational business.

And the amazing, oft-overlooked thing about family business is that you are the success stories of entrepreneurship. You are the stewards of that dream-chasing founder. The challenge, of course, is how to remain entrepreneurial over generations when the family tree sprawls, disagreements erupt and the focus is less on opportunity and more on governance. But there are questions: How is entrepreneurship a part of your culture? How do you define it and encourage it in your family business? And, really, should you?

Entrepreneurship should be a part of all family business strategy and all business culture — from the board level to the CEO to the shareholders. It encourages new thinking. Without it, you risk irrelevance. And believe me, you do not have to float around the globe in a balloon to be entrepreneurial. You just have to be open to new opportunities.







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