Monday, September 17, 2007

Lesson # 1: Entrepreneurship Cannot Be Taught (Anita Roddick)

“I often get asked to talk about entrepreneurship – even by hallowed institutions like Harvard and Stanford – but I’m not all convinced it is a subject you can teach,” says Roddick. “How do you teach obsession, because more often than not it’s obsessions that drives an entrepreneur’s vision? Why would you march to a different drumbeat if you are instinctively part of the crowd?”

Before Roddick began to put in place her vision for The Body Shop, she admittedly knew little about business and had never read a book on economic theory in her life. While many saw this as the key factor that would lead to her downfall, Roddick saw this as her greatest advantage.

“If I had learned more about business ahead of time, I would have been shaped into believing that it was only about finances and quality management,” says Roddick. “There is a sort of terrorism that comes with the operations and the science of making money, but by not knowing any of that, I had an amazing freedom.”

Roddick claims that she went to the business school of life. Indeed, watching her mother work tirelessly to maintain her café, Roddick was given insight into what it takes to become a business success. When other cafes were open at 9am and closed at 5pm, Roddick’s mother opened her café for the local fisherman at dawn and didn’t close it until the last customer had wandered away. It is this passion and determination that Roddick believes cannot be taught within the walls of business schools.

“In the business school model, entrepreneurs are most at home with a balance sheet, a cashflow forecast and a business plan,” says Roddick. “They dream of profit forecasts and the day they can take the company public. You certainly must be able to wield these weapons. But these are just part of the toolbox of re-imagining the world. They are not the basic defining characteristic of entrepreneurship.”

Rather, Roddick suggests that entrepreneurs are fearless leaders who cling to their own vision of the world with a passion most others do not understand. “Potential entrepreneurs are outsiders,” she says. “They are people who imagine things as they might be, not as they are, and have the drive to change the world around them. Those are skills that business schools do not teach.”

While Roddick acknowledges that the likes of Harvard are sure to teach applicable business skills, she believes that they “will not teach you the most crucial thing of all: how to be an entrepreneur. They might also sap what entrepreneurial flair you have as they force you into the template called an MBA pass.”

Spreadsheets and financial flair are important, but the key ingredients according to Roddick – passion and imagination – are things that can never be taught. Indeed, they were the very factors behind Roddick’s success. She reached the top of the business world not in spite of her lack of business education, but because of it.(Evan Carmichael)