We should encourage a culture of risk-taking

Entrepreneurship is an awful word.

It smacks of elitism and privilege while sounding like something beyond the bounds of ordinary people. So-called business schools internationally have hijacked it as a product only they can deliver to students at exorbitant costs. It needs to be overhauled and made accessible in a different way.

This is important because in a free democracy the creation, management and growth of private businesses is core to employment and economic wellbeing. Having individuals who have the guile, bravery and ability to establish and develop private companies is essential if an economy is to provide sufficient financial resources for its people. Yet, in Ireland we struggle to truly cherish, nurture and encourage a culture of risk-taking.

If you study Irish media it seems transfixed by the ebb and flow of organised labour. Business, per se, gets a bad rap when it comes to constructive coverage. Too often, it seems like the remuneration page of a company’s annual report is the main subject for news reporting. The actual business regularly gets short shrift.

Surely we ought to be finding ways to encourage new generations of businessmen and women to develop their careers by setting up and growing companies? Asking them to go to college to study entrepreneurship is not the answer.

Firstly, how many academics do you know who have started and succeeded in running companies? Secondly, the skills needed to be an entrepreneur rarely lie in study courses.

Many of the best business people either avoided or were underwhelmed by third-level education. That’s because the attributes required to succeed in private enterprise are not easily taught. They include:

*An ability to accept business risk as part of daily life;

*Having the ambition to invest and expand to grow a company;

*Having the energy and drive to work long hours in pursuit of a business plan;

*Having the mental strength to absorb and manage the setbacks that define private enterprise.

These skills are not the property of the silver spoon classes. If you take a random walk among the most successful companies in corporate Ireland you will find many CEOs who turn pale when categorised as “entrepreneurs”. A lot of these business leaders forged their success in the trenches of the actual rather than the academic world. Small business owners often choose to eschew third-level education to allow space for their companies. Every farmer is an “entrepreneur” because he/she has to manage wild variations in output prices and uncertain production volumes while managing suppliers and bankers. This group of business people is where the secrets of success and failure lie.

Of course any business person worth his or her salt is normally ultra busy. So trying to find time to mentor or allocate energy to advising individuals who want a life in business is a tricky request. We need to find ways in which business is made a lively, engaging and positive force. This is where media plays a role.

The challenge is to shape business coverage in print, on the web, radio and television in a way that exposes anyone interested in private enterprise to the leaders of companies that have both succeeded and failed. Profiles, Twitter interviews, podcasts, news stories and analysis of how companies have succeeded from a standing start should be part of the menu.

Structuring this coverage in a way that makes it accessible is an even greater challenge. If we are to replicate the phenomenal achievements of indigenous Irish companies, many of whom started with nothing, we need a system that provides a constructive insight to how all this happened. Entrepreneurship classes are not the answer.

* Joe Gill is a director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers


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