Are entrepreneurs born or made?

  • Sme
  • Tuesday, 26 Aug 2014

Shared trait: People walking past a promotional cut-out of the James Bond movie 'Skyfall'. Entrepreneurs can be like spies in that they are both driven to find the answer to questions.


The answer isn’t always immediately obvious.

I was asthmatic when I was a child. My asthma attacks were so bad that one moment I would be in school and the next, I would wake up in the hospital because I had passed out during an asthma attacks.

I think I was about six or seven years old then and I have no recollection of passing out. But I do remember this — running around the hospital as though it was a huge playground, not even knowing why I was there. Ah, the innocence of childhood.

Years later, my mother would tell me that despite my asthmatic condition, I would be running from bed to bed of the patients next to me, looking at their medical charts, staring at them and observing the doctors.

Such was the courage and curious mind of a child. There was no fear, only an inquisitive mind wanting to know how things worked and why things were the way they were.

Then, I grew up and I became complicated. Reason took over, and with it came fear — fear of failure, of venturing into the unknown and trying to do things I was not familiar with. And it was because of that fear, and in spite of my love for storytelling and writing, that I took up a degree in economics and finance.

My parents had been in the accounting line and logic told me that staring at numbers would be my career. I became a banker and worked with two big banks for five years. And I thought that was what I was born to do. There was never a hint, a sign, that perhaps I was born to do something else — like being an entrepreneur.

So how do we know if someone has what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Are entrepreneurs what they are because of nature or nurture? Are they conditioned by upbringing and environment or are they so because they are innately enterprising?

Perhaps those that take up the family business are mostly nurtured to be entrepreneurs. Some may have inborn traits of entrepreneurship that made them even more spectacular, like the very successful Robert Kuok.

I am no veteran nor expert in entrepreneurship but I observed a few traits that many successful entrepreneurs have. These traits are not unlike what we had when we were children. One, it is having the childlike wonder and curiosity that makes an entrepreneur hungry to learn and find out how things work or how to make it better.

Second, it is having the courage that the late Nelson Mandela described as “not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”. It is about “reasoning with that fear”, so much so it is no longer something to be feared, but to be confronted and overcome. Are you still with me?

Several weeks ago, I was being interviewed by two ladies for an award I had applied for. They had sent me the list of interview questions in advance and I had my answers all typed and printed in front of me during the interview.

“If you had not become an entrepreneur, what would you be?” asked one of them.

Not following my prepared answer, I blurted, “A spy”.

Shocked and amused, the lady said, “I did not see that one coming”.

Well, neither did I. I explained that being a spy was something I had wanted to become when I was a child. Not so because I was influenced by James Bond movies but because I always have this curious mind to want to find answers and learn how things work. Even without realising it, I already knew what I was born to do then.

My point is, perhaps some people are born to be entrepreneurs. Just that they may not have realise it yet and circumstances have caused them to take a safer path. But you see the sparkle in their eyes when they question the why and how, the passion that fuels their tireless efforts when they work and that hint of courage that is waiting to be unleashed.

Maybe this is you. If yes, then you should ask yourself, are you doing what you are born to do?

Jeanisha is a dreamer but she believes dreams only come true when we DO something about it. So, dream, do and go forth. She can be reached at

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