The Entrepreneur – Bill Heinecke’s Rules for Success
As part of celebrating AMCHAM Thailand’s 60th anniversary we have been reprinting relevant articles from old T- AB Magazine issues. In this issue we present an article from T- AB Volume 1 published in 1985, where Bill Heinecke reveals his rules on how to
Iwould like to give you my 18 rules to becoming a successful entrepreneur and hopefully a profitable one here in Thailand. Let me first define the word “entrepreneur.” Webster’s dictionary says that “an Entrepreneur is one who organizes, manages and assumes the risk of a business or enterprise.”
The key words here are “RISK” and “BUSINESS”. The entrepreneur is a person who gauges the risk and reward of a business and works quickly to initiate, organize, and manage a particular opportunity, idea or concept. He will often risk more, work harder, and demand more for his efforts than any ordinary businessman.
Clearly entrepreneurship is not an exact science and while many of you may think you can’t learn it at university you will be surprised to note that over 200 universities in the United State do offer courses in entrepreneurship.
Do something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy your work you won’t invest the time and energy to make it a success. I know of no successful entrepreneurs who consider their work boring. For most it is a stimulating, challenging game. It has to be because most entrepreneurs’ principal night- time and weekend hobby is catching up on work they did not complete during the week. They often engage in other activities, like sports, but they are most likely to be combining it with business.
If you have a specialized education, use it. Until recently many self- made entrepreneurs took pride in their abbreviated education and what they accomplished through experience. But the modern money- maker faces a more complex world and needs a solid education.
Don’t let anyone tell you a good entrepreneur doesn’t also recognize the importance of technical know- how. In my case, I realized I needed qualified, experienced people, so I hired them. But a word of caution – superb academic performance, even at the most prestigious institutions, is no guarantee of success at the highest levels of the corporate world. Whatever the enterprise, you must either have the technical know- how or be able to hire it.
Find a vacuum and fill it. If you are the first to offer the public something it wants and can’t get anywhere else, you stand a good chance of striking it rich, especially if you’ve got the field to yourself for a while before the competition jumps in and steals some of your market share. The person who improves on goods or services already available, or has a “gimmick,” can also strike it rich.
Where do these ideas come from? Basically from three places. One is your job. Probably most of the ideas come from your work since this is something that you know well and you understand the market. The second area is your hobbies, something else you know a lot about. The third source is what I call pedestrian observation, which is a direct observation of a need in daily living. Let me give you a few examples: the idea to form Diners Club hit Ralph Schneider when he went out to dinner and found he had lost his wallet; Leo Gerstenzang invented Q- tips when he saw his wife trying to wrap cotton wool on a toothpick to clean their baby daughter’s ears; King C. Gillette got the idea for the safety razor when he became annoyed that his razor was dull one morning and thought of a product that people would use and throw away.
Research your idea carefully. Before you can get that great idea that will make you a million you must first stuff you brain, which is your own personal computer, with all there is to know about a subject. Preparation and the ability to make connections between diverse factors are essential to the development of a winning idea.
Experiment with new approaches. Most entrepreneurs are generally fairly flexible people. They aren’t rigid in the way they look at things. They are always open to new ideas. They anticipate incessant change. The past will not come again. Neither isolation nor insulation from tomorrow is possible. The problems of the times are the opportunities of the times, as the strings attached are always multiplying. Governments and new competitors, domestic and foreign, will increasingly affect the conduct of a given business. So will social evolution. Despair is of little value. Vigilance is. The good entrepreneur always looks for new ways to do things and believes if it works, it’s obsolete. He is quick to admit mistakes.
Recognize the ‘ lucky break’ and use it to your advantage. Luck is being at the right place at the right time. Perhaps the most common trait among lucky people is that they make the most of all opportunities as they present themselves, for good fortune is not something you should wait for but something you must seize. As Napoleon once said, “Don’t send me brilliant generals, send me lucky ones.”
Trust your intuition. In business, decisions based on shrewd intuition are often superior to those based on careful analytical reasoning. Defining intuition isn’t so easy. Entrepreneurs call it a feeling in the bones or a gut feeling, guestimate, speculation, imagination or even creativity. The ultimate safeguard is to avoid stubbornness and listen with an open mind to what others say and to subject all decisions, whether they are fruits of reason or intuition, to searching examination.
Recognize a failure early and go onto the next idea. I believe it is characteristic of successful entrepreneurs that they can spot a disaster early. Don’t let pride or sentiment affect your decisions. When your idea fails, take it as a learning experience and quickly move on to the next project. One of my earliest failures in Thailand was vending machines. Another was trying to duplicate the success of Mister Donut in Thailand in Malaysia. In both case decisions to write off thousands of dollars were made in a matter of minutes based on results of activities that were less than a year old. I have always reassured myself by the fact that R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York caught on. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 home runs. Don’t worry about failure. Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.
Publicize your successes. The successful entrepreneur knows how to attract favourable attention, both in his field and the media. One well publicesed success will cover up a multitude of blunders.
Learn how to sell. An entrepreneur must know how to sell. It starts with selling an idea, be it to associates, partners or financiers. I know of no successful entrepreneurs who can’t sell themselves or their ideas.
Become a leader ( easier said than done). General Eisenhower used to demonstrate the art of leadership with a simple piece of string. He’d put it on the table and say pull – and the string would follow. Then he’d say push and the string would go nowhere at all. It’s the same way when it comes to leading people. Effective leaders know that they get the best efforts out of people by working with them, by helping them do their best and by showing them how to be more productive.
Expect to work long hours and make personal sacrifices. Those self- made men and women who can be classified as workaholics are invariably happy workaholics. But when you play, play hard. Find time to relax.
Develop your contacts. The successful entrepreneur will cultivate his business and social contacts. No one can be successful in a vacuum or alone. He needs bankers, lawyers, advisors, accountants and especially customers. Goodwill is always essential and can’t be bought, only earned.
Maintain a detached point of view and have faith. Managing a growing business requires unyielding dedication that can consume the body, impair the senses and warp the mind. Such effects are harmful to the individual, his family, and the enterprise. Clinical objectivity is the only preventive medicine. Growth implies and entails risk. Risk begets failure as well as successes. Wide perspective gained through non- business experience or study helps one endure the pressures and accept with equanimity the results, good and bad, of business decisions.
Make a contribution to society. A successful entrepreneur realizes society is like a rich forest. For everything we take out we should be prepared to put something back. Too many people treat society like a slot machine trying to put in as little as possible and hoping to hit a jackpot.
Work for yourself. This is probably the most important rule of all. From all the truly wealthy entrepreneurs I know, not one of them got that way by being on someone else’s company payroll. If Benjamin Franklin’s rule “A penny saved is a penny earned” was ever true, it is certainly not true today. Modern entrepreneurs are building fortunes on borrowed money.
Don’t think about making money. Contradictory advice? No, because if you’re busy planning to make big money, you won’t be doing what you should to make it. No successful self- made entrepreneur is looking to make a million dollars. It’s the process of making the money, the challenge of winning at the game of business that intrigues him.
FINALLY, RULE 18
Remember, rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.
These are my 18 rules – really much of it is common sense.
William E. Heinecke is Chairman and CEO of Minor International and served as AMCHAM President in 1978 and 1981.