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Saturday August 25, 2012

World’s best gather at Monte Carlo for Ernst & Young award

DESPITE its reputation as a playground of the rich and famous or maybe because of exactly that Monte Carlo is not the first name that springs to mind when we think of places that provide some great insight into entrepreneurship. But once a year, it indeed becomes such a place.

For the past 12 years, Monte Carlo has been the venue for Ernst & Young's World Entrepreneur of the Year Award (WEOY), a programme created by the Big Four accounting firm to celebrate the contribution of entrepreneurs.

Says Ernst & Young (EY): “Entrepreneurs create jobs and their innovations enrich people's lives. Their forward-thinking and creativity makes a difference to their communities and to society as a whole.”

This year's instalment of the award in June bought together 59 finalists from 51 countries, who had each been named Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) in their home country. Malaysia's flag-bearer was SP Setia Bhd president and CEO Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin.

Liew (right) receiving
the Malaysian Ernst &
Young Entrepreneur
of the Year Award 2011
at the WEOY
in Monte Carlo. With
him is Jim Turley. Liew (right) receiving the Malaysian Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2011 at the WEOY in Monte Carlo. With him is Jim Turley.

He did not get the big prize, which went to Kenyan banker Dr James Mwangi, but cliched as it may sound, just being part of the WEOY event is already a valuable experience.

After all, how often do businessmen from around the world get to vie for a title that designates the recipient as the best of the best? As relaxed and convivial as the WEOY atmosphere is, it is hard to miss the undercurrent of intense competition. There is lobbying, speculation, anxiety, desire and yes, hope.

That is only natural. Entrepreneurs care deeply about standing out in a crowd and getting ahead of the rest. However, that is just one facet of entrepreneurship. At the WEOY, there is a lot to learn about the nature and role of entrepreneurs. From StarBizWeek's interviews with several of the finalists and EY global chairman and CEO Jim Turley, here are some things to note about entrepreneurs:

Why entrepreneurs matter

Turley points out that entrepreneurs create over 100% of the new net jobs every year. “When you look at the growth in employment (which directly relates to increasing the standard of living, improving communities and the ability to move forward), it's almost all coming from these men and women who are entrepreneurs,” he says.

“We realised 26 years ago (when EY first organised a national EOY Award for the United States) that they weren't getting the attention they deserved. It was the big public companies that were getting all the press.”

Sypros Theodoropoulos, who won the EOY award for Greece, describes Greek entrepreneurship as “a source of hope for our country”.

Says the CEO of Chipita SA, a croissants and snacks producer: “We know that entrepreneurs are very important for every country, every economy and every society. I cannot say that in Greece, there was no recognition at all for entrepreneurship, but for many years, not to the extent that it deserves. Now people are beginning to rediscover that entrepreneurship is our country's biggest asset. It creates jobs. It pays taxes. It stimulates GDP growth. It rejuvenates.”

The DNA of an entrepreneur

The WEOY finalists form a diverse group except in gender; there is only one woman among them but they have a lot in common.

For the grand award, they are evaluated according to entrepreneurial spirit, financial performance, strategic direction, global (or community) impact, innovation and personal integrity/influence. Yet, choosing one out the many is not an easy task because most, if not all of them, probably score well in these areas.

“I'm glad I'm not a judge,” quips Turley.

Liew of SP Setia believes that everybody who is competing in the WEOY programme ought to be a winner. “Everyone has done something great and different, and everyone is a true entrepreneur,” he adds.

“We come from different countries, cultures and businesses, but our DNA is basically the same. All of us are driven, hard-working and brave people. And we're very focused on what we want to achieve. And we all don't let go.

“At the end of the day, it's still hard work. It's still about being brave in seeking what you want to do, and about the strength of your character in persevering against the odds. Some people think creativity and grey matter are key, but I don't feel so. It's how you overcome obstacles. There are always people who doubt you abilities, sincerity and resources.”

Turley says entrepreneurs are those who can spot the needs of others, and have the vision to create products and services to meet these needs.

In addition, unlike the rest of the world, entrepreneurs have the courage to take huge risks. Liew's approach to business exemplifies this. “My basic character is I'm not afraid of anything,” he declares. He adds: “When I take a loan, I don't worry about it; I just do my job.”

Turley agrees that persistence is another common characteristic among entrepreneurs.

He explains: “Many, many successful entrepreneurs today have failed in the first attempts. A great entrepreneur once told me, What I do better than most is I fail fast.' You see, if you fail slowly, it takes a lot of capital and you lose a lot. He said, When I try something and it doesn't work, I realise that quickly and move on to find something else that will work.'”

It is tempting to believe that the success of the Angry Birds games and related merchandise is more a cultural phenomenon than a triumph of entrepreneurship.

Mikael Hed, CEO of Finland's Rovio Entertainment Ltd, the company behind the Angry Birds franchise, disputes that notion, pointing out that the company consciously set out to be better than the other mobile gaming businesses and to create an entertainment brand instead of just a game.

“The entrepreneurial part is identifying the opportunities out there, breaking the mould, trying to find a new way of doing what everybody else is doing, and thus gaining a competitive advantage,” he says.

“Another aspect of entrepreneurship is the ambition. How do you create a global company out of a company that had 12 people back in 2009? Building an enterprise is what entrepreneurship is all about.”

It is not all about the money

People go into business to make big bucks, right? Turley of EY disagrees. He contends that it is a misconception among people who do not really know what entrepreneurship is about.

He says: “To them, it's about the entrepreneurs thinking of how to make a lot of money. That's not what drives these men and women. What drives them is an understanding of the needs that exist outside this window, that exist in this world.”

When asked about what drives him in growing S P Setia, Liew says: “I enjoy doing it. It makes me feel alive. It's better than staying at home being bored to death. Also, making a difference is important to me. The S P Setia Foundation (the property developer's charity arm) today has 2,400 students whose education we support every year. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

“More importantly, it's about how I've enriched people around me my staff, my family, the people in my village (Liew grew up in a new village in Plentong, Johor), my customers. You give people a sense of ownership and belonging. There's a sense of pride to live in one of our projects and to own an S P Setia product,” he adds.

Entrepreneurs like connecting with each other

The WEOY doubles up as an elite networking event. No savvy CEO will ignore the fact that he is surrounded by dozens of successful counterparts from all over the world. Many of the finalists meet up to talk shop, pick brains or simply shoot the breeze.

For Hed the best part about winning his country's Entrepreneur of the Year Award is to be able to participate in the WEOY.

“More than the award, I'm just enjoying this opportunity to meet all these great entrepreneurs. It's fantastic what they have achieved and they run such interesting companies. The biggest thing that will come out of this (winning the country award) is the contacts that I will make here,” he adds.

Referring to the other finalists, Liew says: “They're all passionate about what they do. Even though I didn't win (the WEOY Award), I'm quite happy just to be here to be able to go up to these people and talk to them.”

Is it hard work to grow the business?

Yangzijiang Shipbuilding Group Ltd chairman Ren Yuanlin knows about putting in your heart and soul in a business. Once an apprentice in a shipyard, he now runs one of China's leading shipbuilders. He says: “When you're chasing the leader, you have no fear. But once you're in the lead, you have to work hard to keep the No. 1 spot. Staying modern, fast-growing and profitable are the major challenges.”

But experience counts. Theodoropoulos of Chipita reckons that it will now take less time and commitment to penetrate new markets because the company has learnt so much about production and other operational matters in its early years. “But most important, we can show potential associates and customers that we have proven products that have done well in many other markets. In the beginning, we had to convince people about the quality and marketability of our products,” he adds.

Entrepreneurs cannot do it all

Any entrepreneur will tell you that accolades for businessmen such as the WEOY Award have to be seen in the proper context. Entrepreneurs succeed partly because they have the right people to help manage their businesses.

Says Hed: “As the company grows and diversifies, it gets easier to run the business because I don't have to do everything myself. Previously, I have to come up with the vision, figure out how to execute, and then execute it myself. Now I can identify them and delegate a lot of the stuff.”

Theodoropoulos of Chipita views the development of managers in his company as his chief role.

“I enjoy managing the company, but it is now so big that I can't do it by myself. What's important is to create a new generation of managers. I don't believe that a manager can be successful if he is not also an entrepreneur. Every manager has to be an entrepreneur,” he adds.

Says Liew: “A key element of our success so far is my team. I've got a dedicated team who are always with me. If I have a strong team, I don't mind conquering the world.”

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