What does it take to be a leading player in business today? As a rule, the most successful entrepreneurs have no rules – they don’t follow conventional pathways but find shortcuts to the top, focusing on their talents rather than adapting to fit other people’s expectations. They do, however, have traits in common and those are things anyone can aim to acquire. Understanding what makes tech leaders tick makes it easier to identify upcoming talent and enables everyone in business to consider how they can work more effectively.
Many business owners fail to distinguish between management and leadership. This isn’t a mistake made by those at the top. Good management – keeping track of the structure and detail of what’s happening in an organization and making adjustments as necessary – is obviously important, but leadership is something rarer and is what can really give companies the edge – it requires a personal connection and a vision that inspires people, that makes them work hard not because they have to but because they want to.
One man who stands out in this area is Eugene Chrinian, who developed his skills through playing basketball in his youth, learning how to get a team through the frustration of defeats and give them the confidence to become victorious. He’s now the owner of the Ashley Furniture HomeStores chain, where he still takes a very hands-on approach to making things happen. Like many entrepreneurs, he’s a glutton for hard work, so he dedicates much of his spare time to philanthropic endeavor.
Business is often seen as something rather cold and hard headed but at base it all depends on the market, and what the market wants depends on what individual people feel is missing from their lives. Top entrepreneurs are people people – they pay attention to others all the time, whether they’re out at networking sessions, engaging with customers over the Internet or simply walking down the street. This makes them better at predicting trends, and they’re better at developing cohesive business cultures that encourage loyalty and make employees feel part of something that matters.
One woman who has carved out success in this way is Ruzwana Bashir, who founded Peek.com after she realized that travellers were finding it difficult to identify vacation activities by location without having to dig through multiple websites. Solving this problem has seen her business boom and has made her customers’ lives easier; and she’s also put her people skills to use, attracting big name investors like Eric Schmidt.
There’s no easy route to the top so entrepreneurs have to be willing to work hard and to stick at it no matter what. What’s more they have to have the passion and energy to enjoy this. If employees see the boss looking miserable then their own motivation will suffer; if potential funders see it, they won’t be willing to invest. This means that entrepreneurship only works when there’s a real love of the chosen area of business behind it, and when the entrepreneur is prepared for the level of effort that will be involved.
One entrepreneur who has overcome more hurdles than most is Christopher Ategeka, who lost both his parents to AIDS when he was still a child and responded by setting up a business as a waste collector, supporting his siblings when he was just seven. Now he runs Rides of Lives, setting up mobile health units that can take doctors and pharmaceuticals to remote parts of Uganda.
It might surprise you to hear that people set up in business without understanding finance, but it’s actually quite common. Yes, it’s possible to outsource or to employ a dedicated finance manager, even early on, but only those entrepreneurs who have a strong personal understanding of how money works ever get to the top. This is because finance isn’t just about the numbers, it’s about being able to relate to shifts in the market and understand the patterns at play. It provides the edge needed to interpret what’s happening both nationally and internationally, and to identity opportunities.
Juliana Rotich is an entrepreneur whose financial savvy has empowered not just her own organization but countless others. Achieving success through African Technology Ventures, she went on to found Ushahidi, which helps to provide seed capital for technology start-ups in East Africa and also manages crowdfunding platforms that help communities bounce back from major events like natural disasters.
Combining skills like these, these entrepreneurs have managed to beat the odds and achieve their dreams. If they have one more thing in common, it’s that none of them intend to stop there. They’re constantly reaching higher just as they’re constantly seeking to improve their own skills – and that, ultimately, is the key to success.