Real entrepreneurs don’t do MBAs
Body Shop founder shares 10 lessons she says schools don’t teach aspiring business owners
By Anita Roddick
ANOTHER SCHOOL OF THOUGHT: Ms Anita Roddick argues that the rigid business school model, which is obsessed with the status quo, actually inhibits entrepreneurial flair.
I NEVER went to business school. I went to the business school of life. And I did so from an early age. I was brought up in an Italian immigrant family with a work ethic that teetered on the verge of slave labour.
We got up each morning at five to make breakfast for the local fishermen in our cafe in Littlehampton and did not close until the last customer wandered home. The other cafes opened at nine and shut at five. This was a clue to me about what makes some people entrepreneurs and not others. Our cafe was owned by ferociously determined immigrants; the others were not.
This is an important difference, and the reason that I do not advise new entrepreneurs to submit themselves first to the rigours of an MBA is that business schools do not understand it. The conventional advice to budding entrepreneurs is that they should groom themselves to be the whizz-kid with a suit and a fascination for spreadsheets that bank managers like.
Actually, potential entrepreneurs are outsiders. They are people who imagine things as they might be, not as they are, and have the drive to change the world. Those are qualities that business schools do not teach. An MBA can give you useful skills that can be applied to a life in business. But they will not teach you the most crucial thing: 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.
I often get asked to talk about entrepreneurship – even by hallowed institutions such as Harvard and Stanford – but I am not at all convinced it is a subject you can teach. How do you teach obsession – because often it is obsession that drives an entrepreneur’s vision? How do you learn to be an outsider if you are not one already?
In the business school model, entrepreneurs are most at home with a balance sheet, a cash-flow forecast and a business plan. They dream of profit forecasts and the day they can take the company public. These are just part of the toolbox of re-imagining the world: They are not the defining characteristics of entrepreneurship.
The problem with business schools is that they are controlled by, and obsessed with, the status quo. They encourage you deeper into the world as it is. They transform you into a better example of corporate man. We need good administration and financial flair, after all, but we need people of imagination too.
So here are 10 lessons that entrepreneurs need more than what they teach in business school.
Tell stories. The central tool for imagining the world differently and sharing that vision is not accountancy. It has more to do with the ability to tell a story. Telling stories emphasises what makes you and your company different. Business schools emphasise how to make you toe the line.
Concentrate on creativity. It is critical for any entrepreneur to maximise creativity and to build an atmosphere that encourages people to have ideas. That means open structures, so that accepted thinking can be challenged.
Be an opportunistic collector. When entrepreneurs walk down the street they have their antennae out, evaluating how what they see can relate back to what they are doing. It might be packaging, a word, a poem or something in a different business.
Measure the company according to fun and creativity. Business schools are obsessive about measurement. The result is vast departments of number-crunchers, but often little progress. What is most important in a company – or anything else – is unquantifiable.
Be different, but look safe. If you are different, you will stand out. But do not take risks with people who can make the difference between success and failure, especially if you are a woman trying to borrow money from the bank – which is how I came to be turned down for my original loan.
Be passionate about ideas. Entrepreneurs want to create a livelihood from an idea that has obsessed them; not necessarily a business, but a livelihood. When accumulating money drives out the ideas and the anger behind them, you are no longer an entrepreneur.
Feed your sense of outrage. Discontentment drives you to want to do something about it. There is no point in finding a new vision if you are not angry enough to want it to happen.
Make the most of the female element. Companies as we know them were created by men for men, often influenced by the military model, on complicated and hierarchical lines and are both dominated by authoritarian principles and resistant to change. By setting up their own businesses, women can challenge these models and will be welcomed by customers for doing so.
Believe in yourself and your intuition. There is a fine line between entrepreneurship and insanity. Crazy people see and feel things that others do not. But you have to believe that everything is possible. If you believe it, those around you will believe it too.
Have self-knowledge. You do not need to know how to do everything, but you must be honest enough with yourself to know what you cannot provide yourself.
Until they can teach these lessons, business schools will remain the whited sepulchres of the status quo.
The Financial Times