I have a friend in Europe who is a recently semi-retired entrepreneur in France. At the time he sold his company it had 4,000 employees in a half dozen countries in a manufacturing business. He started the business from scratch 25 years ago with a partner.I asked him to read my recent series of blog posts on what it takes to be successful in business and this is his response:
“In fact being an entrepreneur is universal, and whether you’re from Zimbabwe, the U.S. or France it comes down to the same things: vision, risks, hard work, and willingness to leave a living heritage for the generations to come.”
There is a logic proposition stating that truth, if it is really true, is universal in time and place. I take my friend’s statement as affirmation that what I have written is correct. But I want to explore the last part of his statement, which I think is very interesting: “and willingness to leave a living heritage for the generations to come.”
My friend and I have discussed in the past the difficulty we Americans have in relating to people who have occupied the same place for hundreds and hundreds of years. As a people we often cannot remember our ancestors, or their history, beyond three or four generations. So, as a consequence it is not a familiar idea, for me at least, to think about leaving anything for “generations to come”.
However, I think this is an important idea. Why are you building a business as an entrepreneur? Is it just a job or is it a dream? If it is a job then the next generation, beyond a successful launch, is of no concern. But if you are building a dream perhaps it is.
What can your business mean to future generations? There are many independent agencies that are now three and four generations old. Can yours be one of those? What would it mean to the family members yet to be born?
“Generational wealth” is a term that we hear frequently, and most of us just shrug it off - we weren’t born rich, so this clearly does not apply to us. What if it did, though? And what if WE were the ones to start it? If you fancy yourself as the builder of a great dynasty, you will be even more driven to succeed. However, keep an eye on the future: stay on top of your succession and estate planning, identify potential successors and start training them early on. Surveys have shown that almost 70% of family businesses would like the next generation to continue running the business, yet only about 30% succeed. How can you build an empire that will stand the test of time, and be successful after 4, 5, 6 generations?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I do know that the idea of involvement in something that transcends our present, that goes beyond our own needs and that has potential beyond ourselves is very powerful! As the entrepreneur dreams their dream, how much more powerful, vivid and potentially life changing can it be when it extends beyond their own lifetime and limitations?
This is not just philosophy! There is a practical aspect to this as well, because how we build our businesses from the beginning will drive the results we see. As I said in an earlier post “begin with the end in mind”. Perhaps the end should be farther in the future and the vision expanded. I cannot help but think that this has anything but positive implications for the entrepreneur.