"Conviction is a belief you hold... and it holds you."
Entrepreneurial titans envision dominating an industry. Walt Disney, Howard Schultz, Bill Gates, both Watsons, Coco Channel, Bill France, Sam Walton, and Henry Ford didn't just rise to dominate their industry - they created or unalterably changed their industries. Each suffered disappointment as fellow pioneers couldn't or wouldn't share their vision. Each struggled for years against enormous financial odds. Each remained steadfast, carefully putting in place one block after another until everyone could finally see their castle in the sky. Each endeavor eventually reached critical mass, exploding onto the world scene with all the appearance of an overnight success christened by luck. Each industrialist achieved their vision through audacity, perseverance, and uncommon skill. None understood the enmity or envy of those who declined to take the trip with them.
What each of these entrepreneurs had in mind was something larger and grander than anyone had previously imagined. They didn't want to merely win; they wanted to elevate the game to a whole new level. The world is filled with dreamers, but these people had a quality that went beyond dreaming: They had the ego, skill, and determination to make their dreams a reality for the rest of us.
Entrepreneurial Titans, independent of their business, display a surprising consistency in character. We call these characteristics the Ten Traits of Entrepreneurial Titans. As you examine these extraordinary people, the similarities become striking. The titans love what they do, constantly imagine taking their empires to a higher elevation, communicate clearly, approach their business with a marketing perspective, continuously improve their products and services, stay in constant contact with every aspect of their business, think strategically and act opportunistically, relentlessly pursue their goals, take whatever risks are necessary, and surround themselves with exceptionally talented people.
Since few of us will ever try to reach their level of accomplishment, how valuable is it to study these traits? Success in any endeavor requires the same attributes. It is not a difference in kind, only in hue. The titans single-handedly change our lives, but our economy is moved along more by the cumulative effect of thousands of smaller successes. Understanding-and emulating-the traits of the titans will help you dominate your small corner of the world.
The Ten Traits of Entrepreneurial Titans
1. Love of Aspiration
2. Uncommon and Unwavering Vision
3. Skilled Communicators
4. Market Focused
5. Product Obsessed
6. Always Engaged
7. Strategic, Tactical, Opportunistic
8. Driven and Tenacious
9. Risks Takers
10. Collectors of Bright and Talented People
1. LOVE OF ASPIRATION
Bill France Sr. (NASCAR) started racing in high school, Steven Spielberg operated a film camera for years before he was eligible to apply for a drivers license, Bill Gates wrote his first program prior to the invention of personal computers, Charles Barkley practiced jumping over a backyard fence in junior high school, Walt Disney doodled as a doughboy in World War I, and Warren Buffet bought his first stock at age eleven. These examples became icons in stock car racing, film, computers, basketball, family entertainment, and investing.
We could list many more examples of people who started honing their skills extremely young. An early start, however, has less to do with their success than you might expect. The real secret is that they stayed with a profession that claimed their heart, mind, and spirit. Entrepreneurial titans get people excited about their vision. This is hard to accomplish if you're not excited yourself. Think about it-all these people got rich doing what they liked best in the world. They didn't go to work in the morning; they went to play at their favorite pastime.
Jealous people like to portray entrepreneurial titans as unhappy and obsessed. This may be only half true. Obsessed people are happy only when they're engaged in their obsession. By this measure, entrepreneurial titans are a happy lot. The breed may be happy, but they are never satisfied despite their accumulated accomplishments. Titans always feel compelled to climb the next peak-one shrouded to everyone else by a misty haze.
Now look at your own professional life. Are you excited when you wake and disappointed when the day is done. If not, then ask yourself why you originally chose your profession. Most of us found our jobs exciting when everything was fresh. If you've gone stale, you need to find a way to rekindle your enthusiasm. On the other hand, if you became trapped by expediency, you may need to consider starting over. If you want to emulate the titans, you must enjoy your work. We all have a secret aspiration. If you have to drag yourself into work, then take your secret aspiration out of the recesses of your mind and find a way to make money doing what you love. No matter what it is-if you get creative-you can have more fun and make more money.
2. UNCOMMON AND UNWAVERING VISION
Entrepreneurial titans see things differently than the rest of us. Bill France and Walt Disney believed that if they respectively built Daytona Speedway and Disneyland, people would storm into their parks. Henry Ford saw the automobile as a ordinary family appliance, not as a toy for the well-to-do. When computers were the size of a small house, Bill Gates foresaw a computer on every desktop. Coco Channel visualized simplicity as elegance and style. Ted Turner perceived a ready audience for 24 hour a day news. Entrepreneurial titans possess vision beyond the commonplace and never waver from their view of the possible.
Their vision tends to remain constant, but they continually elevate their sights to a higher plane. Despite all his accomplishments, Walt Disney never finished making his dreams come true. He pushed sound into cartoons, made the first full-length animated movie against everyone's advice, and built an amusement park that defied every convention of the entertainment industry. Toward the end of his life, he left the confines of fantasy with Epcot Center, intent on showing people how to build an entire city. If Disney had lived long enough, perhaps he would have reengineered the world.
Everyone has a passion. The trick is to visualize how to take your passion to a new or enlarged market. Despite the internet being around for decades, it took web browsers to make it easy for everyone to traverse the information superhighway. The human body always needed fuel, but Ray Kroc made fast food part of our culture. Automotive tires remained static for years until the radial came along to reenergize the industry. Thomas Jefferson, and the other founding fathers, even visualized redesigning government for the new world.
Entrepreneurial titans are not smarter than other people; they merely spend more time thinking about how to change the dynamics of their passion. They're individuals who consciously look at things from different angles until they get a unique perspective. Although some people seem to have a natural knack for visualization, this skill can be further developed in anyone. It just takes practice. Take your passion and question everything about it. Sooner-but probably later-you'll come up with a twist or completely new concept that can propel your passion into a livelihood.
3. SKILLED COMMUNICATORS
Unless you're an artist or writer, it's unlikely you can single-handedly make your vision come to life. When you need resources or skills beyond your personal capability, you must convincingly communicate your vision to others. People can't follow you unless they know where you're going. Entrepreneurs communicate their vision and sell all the time. They sell their vision, their ideas, their organizations, their products, and themselves.
Characteristics of Good Communication
1) Clear and simple,
Entrepreneurial titans explain their ideas and concepts until the uninitiated understand, they repeat their message at every opportunity, and they use illustrative examples. Their intent is to paint a picture in people's minds-a picture that people can see and strive toward. The description is generally short, always clear, and frequently presented as an allegory or metaphor. When Bill Gates first started running around talking to everyone about a computer on every desktop, computers for individuals were the province of introverted hobbyists. Entrepreneurial titans may not hit on the best description immediately, but they keep experimenting until they find the right words and expressions to get the world to endorse their ideas-or at least enough of the world to build their dream.
4. MARKET FOCUSED
Entrepreneurial titans don't build edifices merely to massage their egos- they also want the public to come in droves. These are not private dreams. To attract customers, they think about their business from a marketing perspective. They target a specific market segment, brand their product, ceaselessly promote their wares, and use value pricing that baffles their competitors.
Market Focused Titans
1. Target a Specific Market Segment
2. Brand Products
3. Promote Relentlessly
4. Price for Value
2. Brand Products
3. Promote Relentlessly
4. Price for Value
Entrepreneurial titans study the marketplace until they find a segment they can dominate-then they focus on this segment until they own it. Walt Disney stridently kept his enterprise focused on family entertainment. Howard Schultz restricted the amount of food sold in Starbucks. Bill France never ventured away from racing stockcars. McDonalds never branched into fine dining. Coco Channel never endorsed a Sears line of clothing. Penske stayed focused on transportation.
You seldom see a scatter-gun approach from one of the entrepreneurial titans. They constantly enlarge their customer base, but generally they accomplish this objective by extending the boundaries of their existing market.
Penske does not own race teams and blaze his name all over his products just because he wants people to see his name. He understands the value of branding a product. IBM, in its heyday, became so closely associated with computers that the computer in the movie 2001 was named HAL, which is IBM lowered by one letter in the alphabet. The Golden Arches are synonymous with McDonalds. Ted Turner made CNN into a worldwide recognized brand. Despite lots of other entries, Steve Jobs got the world to view IPod as the only branded entry in the personal music market.
Branding requires more than advertising and promotion. An irrevocable law of the marketplace is that products must always be consistent with the branded image. Imagine if Apple introduced a new product with a clunky design. The product would not only flop, it would shock and disappoint Apple enthusiasts-so much that it would probably erode the market share of other Apple products. Imagine if Gucci came out with products priced for the middle class. Oh wait, they did, and Gucci is still struggling to regain the brand cachet.
Coco Channel insisted that her designs could be identified on sight. When you went to a Disney movie-at least when Walt was alive-you knew exactly what to expect. Ray Kroc dictated that every McDonalds restaurant anywhere in the world serve food to the exact same specifications. Auto Zone operates over 1500 stores that look identical. Entrepreneurial titans find a formula, brand it into the consciousness of the world, and then strive to never harm their brand by misusing it.
Promote Products and Organization
Walt Disney insisted that every part of his entertainment enterprise promote every other part. The park promoted the movies, the films were used to leverage the television program, and television promoted everything in Walt's kingdom. You can see the same philosophy demonstrated in Penske Enterprises, France's multiple endeavors, and Bill Gates software strategy. Once momentum is established in one area, it is used to launch product extensions or to support weaker areas. Entrepreneurial titans sell and promote relentlessly.
Walmart and Nordstrom use different pricing models which correspond with their chosen market. They both leverage their size, local market conditions, and customer preferences to stock merchandise that represent a value to their customers. Each department store appeals to a different economic segment, but both chains have established pricing policies to insure that customers feel like they got more for their money than if they drove down the street to another store. Rendering value in exchange for the customer's hard earned cash generates ever-increasing sales.
Entrepreneurial titans exhibit an ever-present concern over pricing and value. Despite the expense of Coco Channel's fashions, she made sure her customers felt like they received a timeless design for their patronage. Henry Ford's entire business was predicated on a new pricing model. Microsoft consistently uses pricing as a competitive weapon. NASCAR allows each track to independently negotiate their own television contract so pricing stays consistent with the market appeal of a specific race. If you aspire to emulate the entrepreneurial titans, you need to personally involve yourself in pricing decisions so you can insure that you maintain your customer base and they are so pleased with your value equation that they help you lure new customers into the fold.
5. PRODUCT OBSESSED
Entrepreneurial titans are distinguished by an obsession with their products or services. Beyond enthusiastically extolling their products to everyone within earshot, they involve themselves in every aspect of the product life cycle. They love what they do and they love the products that come from their passion. Entrepreneurial titans crave growth, and growth requires producing something people want to buy. People who build empires shun cost cutting, cash cow strategies because they find running in place boring-and unacceptable. They don't chase after money, they chase after empire, and money just follows.
Entrepreneurial titans are characteristically innovators, not inventors. Inventors tend to be inwardly focused with analytical minds, while the titans' vision comes from being hyper-alert to the peopled world around them. Although titans may not be inventive, they see markets for new technology that the inventor never anticipated. They view products from the consumer's perspective, constantly thinking up new ways to increase buyer appeal. They change the scale of their products, innovate around the edges, force new market segmentation, discover new applications for existing technology, and rejuvenate mature products with new designs and packaging.
Entrepreneurial titans constantly search for ever-improving products. Disney's clean and tidy park, McDonalds' exacting specifications for fries, Microsoft's relentless product improvement, Walmart's use of computers, CNN's compulsion to be first in news worldwide, and NASCAR's fan-friendly image all represent examples of the titan's pursuit of exemplary products and services. The customer is never to be disappointed.
6. ALWAYS ENGAGED
Entrepreneurial titans stay engaged in every aspect of their business. Genuine titans never put their companies on cruise control. In return, the titans receive unflagging loyalty from their customer. From product development, pricing, packaging, staffing, brick and mortar, strategy, publicity, financing, and myriad other details, the titans tend to hold tight reins. This doesn't mean they don't delegate, but they tend to restrict subordinates' freedom until they demonstrate a consistent application of the titan's vision.
Today, most people speak reverently of Walt Disney, but a few ol' timers criticize his omnipresent enforcement of his personal vision. Bill Gates is notorious for digging into the intricate details of Microsoft's products. Henry Ford intimately involved himself in both product design and production processes. Bill France Sr. shared a fetish with Walt Disney for a neat and tidy park.
Many titans invent shortcuts to keep a watchful eye on everything. Disney required his animators to post their work outside their offices. Then in the evening, after they went home, he would wander around sticking colored-coded pins in work he either liked or felt needed further development.
Entrepreneurial titans possess a vision that is larger than they can deliver on their own. They must employ people, so the titans spend the majority of their time tuning other people's work so it stays consistent with their vision. Walt Disney described his management style as being like a bee, flitting from point to point pollinating ideas. People with a vision of their own tend to learn the ropes from the titans, then move on to a venue where they have more personal freedom of expression. Entrepreneurial titans run entrepreneurial schools, where graduates frequently build related businesses in close proximity to their mentors. In the long run, however, entrepreneurs do not work for entrepreneurs.
7. STRATEGIC, TACTICAL, AND OPPORTUNISTIC
Entrepreneurial titans think strategically. Their strategy tends to remain consistent over a long period-frequently for their entire life. They know exactly where they want to go and chart a course to get there. Because their vision doesn't waver, their strategy can remain relatively constant. No annual strategic planning exercises for them, the vision and strategy are so imbued within their entire organization that they concentrate on tactical plans.
The titans adjust their tactics depending on competition, finances, the economy, and industry trends. Bill Gates originally underestimated the importance of Internet technology, but quickly redirected resources when his mistake became obvious. Despite the reallocation of resources, his strategy of desktop dominance never wavered. In fact, his strategic imperative of controlling the desktop accelerated his awareness that a threat existed from another technology. Once refocused, Microsoft used the same business strategy to vanquish competitors in the browser wars. That is the advantage of a consistent, well-thought-out strategy, the whole organization can change directions in lock-step without detailed instructions.
The titans are uniformly strategic and tactical, but their real secret is an ingrained ability to seize opportunity. A strategic consistency educates everyone in the organization so that when an unexpected opportunity arises, people recognize and leverage it immediately. Entrepreneurial titans understand that a clear vision and consistent strategy enable opportunism.
8. DRIVEN AND TENACIOUS
Titans approach life with a single-mindedness that scares mere mortals. These highly goal-oriented people feel compelled to take their dream to the next level and make it a reality. To accomplish any huge undertaking requires endurance, tenacity and a strong force of will and will to achieve far outweighs any other talent or asset. These are driven people.
We may not share the strength of their compulsion, but we all understand that our smaller dreams also require a concerted and sustained effort. The lesson here is that if you don't really want it bad enough, luck will seldom present it as a gift. You need to get out there and earn it the ol' fashioned way. Henry Ford once said, "Nobody is proud of what they intend to do."
9. RISK TAKERS
What separates dreamers from doers is a willingness to take enormous risks. The titans always retain supreme confidence in their vision, so even when they're unsure about their abilities, this faith gives them the confidence to repeatedly risk their accomplishments-to-date to reach for the next plateau. Once you become content to ride your previous accomplishments, growth stops, and entrepreneurial titans never stop. Nothing comes free, and continued success requires assuming ever-increasing risk.
In 1988, General Motors wanted to rid itself of moribund Detroit Diesel. Solomon Brothers couldn't find a buyer for an engine supplier that could claim only a 3% market share. Desperate, GM finally cut a deal with Roger Penske for $35 million. Penske quickly reversed the downward spiral, cut costs, introduced new products, and established strategic relationships with his other operations. By 1991, market share had increased to 26%, sales doubled, and the number of hours-per-engine dropped from 72 to 13. Penske sold 25% of Detroit Diesel to the public in 1993 for $95 million, $60 million more than he paid for the entire company. How did he do it? Penske says, "We took more risks."
An ability to realistically appraise the potential reward against the required risk separates the foolish from the astute businessperson. Bill Gates worked in partnership with IBM until he calculated that the potential rewards of going on alone compensated for the risk. Disney felt comfortable with his repeated bet-your-company ventures because he had a longer time horizon than his bankers. The titans take risks-but their multi-dimensional thinking finds an edge that the more conventional overlook.
10. COLLECT BRIGHT AND TALENTED PEOPLE
Talent does not intimidate true leaders. They know they need highly capable people with many different skills to build their dream. The entrepreneurial titans recognize talent in an eye blink and immediately pull these people into their organization. Smarter, more capable, and experienced people give the titans a distinct advantage over their average competitors.
NASCAR racing is a pure meritocracy. Competition weeds out mediocre drivers, crew chiefs, pit and garage mechanics, spotters, and general managers. People in racing carry this competitive, merit philosophy into their business ventures-it's the biggest single reason why so many racers succeed in business. Talk to a racer about business and you'll soon discover that they employ the best talent they can find, whether it's their own staff or professional services. Racing has conditioned them to search for the best in any field and pay commensurate with ability and dedication.
Microsoft has been criticized for its policy of annually dismissing people whose performance puts them in the bottom ten percent. Since Microsoft's average skill level exceeds the industry, a low performing Microsoftie probably would be a high performer in another company. Gates objective is not to punish the bottom ten percent, but to make sure that Microsoft doesn't get complacent and allow performance to drop closer to their competition.
As you examine your staff, continuously work to raise the average performance level. You can do this by making sure every new hire exceeds the capability of your average performer. If you want to build something great, you need a continuous upward spiral in organizational performance.
PRACTICE THE TRAITS
Detractors of the enormously successful often portray these same ten traits as obsessive, dogmatic, glib, monopolistic, hypercritical, tyrannical, lucky, stubborn, foolish, and as weak players who exploit the skills of others. Taken to an extreme, this characterization might hold some validity. But we are not talking about Al Capone or Adolf Hitler. Entrepreneurial titans play by the rules. True, they continuously test the perimeter, and may even venture a little over the line to probe the limits, but the people we discussed in this chapter are competitive creatures who want to win accolades as victors in a hard fought, honest game. If you want to do something monumental, you cannot go about it the same way as everyone else.
Review these ten traits and ask yourself which ones you need to practice to hone your own skills. To emulate the giants of industry, you need to break from the herd, commit yourself to bringing your best to work every morning, and think creatively. Dream big, challenge existing norms, investigate new methods, leverage technology, and use existing channels to deliver something fresh and useful. But stay in bounds.