Ode To the Entrepreneur

By: R. Miller Hicks

To get the introductory information behind us – where it should be: After three universities – tours as a U.S. Navy officer – stints with both a large corporation and a small one – I entered business for myself and incorporated R. Miller Hicks & Company in 1957.

The firm has been involved in many heterogeneous business ventures: owning radio stations – starting commuter airlines – forming specialized start-up companies – developing commercial real estate – working overseas projects – consulting for big and little corporations – and over the last four years involvement in the high tech field. (I’ve been in bed with so many different commercial deals, I’ve been called a "loose businessman").

Along the way, I became a "para-politico": President Reagan appointed me Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Small Business – elected Chairman, Small Business United of Texas – served on the National Advisory Council of the Small Business Administration – in 1992, President Bush named me National Chairman of his Independent Business Coalition. (The lazy days of laissez faire are over – government is now a demanding mistress in commercial affairs).

By one means or another, came public recognition as an entrepreneur. (I was one back when we were just simply called "sole proprietors"). American Express published an article on me in their international magazine. (I even got calls from outside the U.S.). The University of Illinois MBA had me come up and be their Orientation Week Speaker. I’m a regular guest lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin MBA. Speeches and panel-participation have become part of my modus operandi. (I’ve received more press coverage than deserved).

Maybe, this history justifies my commenting on the subject of Entrepreneurship. (You obviously are interested in the subject, not in me, or you would not have come this far). Here are some bullets for you to dodge:

What’s an entrepreneur? "My son is now an ‘entrepreneur", said Ted Turner after laying him off from Turner Broadcasting Corporation, "That’s what you’re called when you don’t have a job". (I would say an entrepreneur is one who believes in himself, or herself, and has the unconventional wisdom to think it is possible to succeed on their own).

What does it take to be successful? A Purdue University study finds that a small business is more likely to succeed if started by entrepreneurs with "higher education, greater capital, industry know-how and partners." (Surprised?)

What’s it like to be an entrepreneur? (A question I get tossed a lot). Well, it’s sorta like piloting an airplane: days and days of pleasure – hours and hours of feeling of accomplishment – punctuated by moments of sheer terror!

What is the motivation? My mythological answer is that many of us elect to pursue the Quest for the Golden Fleece, not in the Labyrinth of a big and mighty corporate Minotaur, but rather astride the soaring Pegasus – the exciting symbol of individuality, freedom, and challenge.

What’s the future? I use to worry that the breed is vanishing, and will become an "entrepreneurosaurus". However, the number of small businesses in the U.S. has increased 49% since 1982. As of 1994, there were over 22 million non-farm small businesses in this country – employing 53% of the private workforce – and in 1995, produced 75% of the 2.5 million new jobs. A record number (817,477) new employer firms were created in 1995. (SBA). With corporate out-sourcing, home-officing, independent contracting, etc. rapidly increasing – as more seek to become independent – I believe it to be a heavy growth industry.

Can I compete with the big players? Sure. A destroyer can turn faster that an aircraft-carrier. Studies show that small firms produce twice as many innovations as large firms relative to the number of persons employed.

How can I learn? Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter advises from his research, "Look for dynamic environments where you can learn – instead of focusing on job title, on job level, on money; focus more on your own capabilities". I would add: develop redundancy – learn a back-up vocation. (Modern technology offers great opportunities).

Is there a formula for success? Many. Here’s one I coined, "PTM" (Path to Money). In your formulation insert a PTM – how, when, and where do you intend to hit pay-dirt.

What if I fail? In my view, enterprise failure is not a mark on your escutcheon. Failure to capitalize on your own potential is.

Should I partner-up? Depends. (A caveat from John D. Rockefeller, "A friendship based on business is better than a business founded on a friendship"). I like to be associated with people who are smarter than I am. (And that includes most folks).

Are morals and ethics important? Yep! High ones are good for the soul and the sole proprietor. (Carefully remembering that Hermes, the patron Greek god of commerce, is also the conductor of souls to Hades).

Where can I get help? Contacts. Today’s computerized world is still made up of Homo sapiens. Cultivate you a field of networking – and you’ll reap benefits, just for the asking. (Gall and audacity are not necessarily bad traits).

An old friend of mine, years ago, gave me this advice, "The things you regret most in life are not what you did, but what you didn’t did" – or, a popular quote, "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest of these are ‘it might have been."