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Talent, the engine of entrepreneurship

Starting out as an entrepreneur takes guts, instinct, stubbornness, good social skills, a certain madness, intelligence and, not least, talent, say those who have been there

By Magda Purice - 2013-11-24 16:24:34 - From the Print Edition

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Next, specialization, a focus on the target, marketing, profit mathematics and much else take an entrepreneur and upgrade him or her to manager, then to leader. Entrepreneurs who have walked this road shared their views on what makes up the complicated DNA of the self made businessperson.

The sixth sense of doing business

Teodora Migdalovici has coordinated the Me.alchemy personal branding platform for over 10 years. In her business, Migdalovici works with company leaders, most of whom are entrepreneurs. "It is easy to explain. Entrepreneurs, more than managers, need a balanced public look, which should also be memorable and coherent." She says that an entrepreneur is characterized by a taste for liberty, experimentation, a willingness to mix and match, and courage to think differently and aim further than the others. Instinct is another of the main ingredients defining an authentic entrepreneur. "All that lies behind the mathematics of profit happens due to a certain instinct, savoir faire, vision and ability to get down to the basics when necessary. I would also add to the definition of entrepreneurship, the appetite for adventure, a diversity of options and an incredible joy in doing whatever suits you. As an entrepreneur, it is easier to change the world for the better," says Migdalovici. She believes in the unstoppable manager, focusing on the bright side, thinking big. "I believe in entrepreneurs doing incredible things at a global scale and relying on intelligence, creativity and innovation."

In fact, the slightly speculative kind of intelligence could be the competitive advantage Romanian entrepreneurs have over their counterparts in other countries. "The Romanian entrepreneur is like Hannibal, building roads where they do not yet exist. It is about stubbornness, a need and an ambition to succeed that makes the Romanian entrepreneur more ready to start from scratch each day," says Migdalovici. This stubbornness is more evident in Romania where the mentality of win-win is missing and the overall landscape, such as social, economic and political makes it a harder struggle for everyone. "The current status of survival in business does not help the long-term strategy," she argues.

The entrepreneurship brain put to work

The story of Madalina Vilau, managing director of events company Expo Media, started when she was working for Vodafone Romania. Friends say she has managed to build a strong business at Expo Media even in the last nine years of turmoil. For Vilau, entrepreneurship is, first of all, a quality, but one that includes a multiple of functions. "I do not believe there is a school to prepare someone for all the stages of a business under construction. Since she established the basis of Expo Media, each year has been different from the others. The implication is that, unfortunately, economic performance is hindered by political instability and the leaders lack of maturity and vision. Entrepreneurs, more than others, need stability and a safe context for running their business and the ever-changing fiscal framework and endless bureaucracy don't provide any of these conditions," she says.

The entrepreneur also cites building communities as a necessary factor for a mature business. "I believe in long-term construction and this approach has enabled us to consolidate our market and grow amid the economic turmoil. We have also addressed the leaders in each economic field for our conferences and found our niche. I don't believe in the so-called business gurus who are able to reveal, for instance, the secrets of marketing or customer experience. People with these qualities are just around the corner, closer to us, in each company struggling to succeed and to deliver concrete results in the Romanian business environment." Her background at multinational companies served her well as a business school. Telecom is an extremely dynamic industry and, as Vilau says, provided her with valuable access to know-how. "Not least, to experience, in the real environment, interactions with hundreds of people and address, through the managed operational activities, millions of customers," she adds. Taking responsibility for each business step is part of the schooling she gained in the corporate environment.

For Madalina Vilau, entrepreneurship in Romania is still looking for the right track and entrepreneurship individuality is still being formed. "They do not need to build empires in business; instead, they should focus on their business as a whole, creating their community and business environment. The idea of training the business-side of the brain should be implemented also at macro-economic level, she thinks. "This business called Romania lacks operational managers. We do not have concrete plans put in place, concrete objectives and accountable leaders. All these reflect directly on the entrepreneurial field," Vilau argues.

No repeating yourself in business

Bianca Grama, a young entrepreneur who set up a company in Avrig, western Romania, says that escaping stereotypes was the basis of her business endeavor. Anna Boutique sells jam and handmade fruit and vegetable preserves. The store, built and designed in the former family house, of Transylvanian Saxon origins, recalls the family businesses that make up a large part of the entrepreneurship in Western countries, and this is no surprise for people living in western Romania, which is much closer to this region and type of thinking. Regarding the competition, although in recent years many stores and such family businesses have popped up, Grama has no fear. "I do not worry about the competition, because I know I am delivering uniqueness through my products. My business objective as a slow food products retailer is not to copy what the competing neighbor is doing but to follow my own strategy and address my customers by being different."

At Anna Boutique, named after Grama's small daughter, everything put on the shelves must be sold immediately, as due to the handmade and unpreserved nature of the food production, storage is not an option. The customers come from cities and are generally different, bohemian, nostalgic, looking for fresh and interesting combinations of sweets, plugged into current healthy food trends and well educated. "We do not go looking for customers, they come to us. Word of mouth marketing serves us well," the store owner says. Grama adds that she doesn't believe in long-term strategies, due to the current economic turmoil and, especially in this kind of business, one should always be ready for change, as customers are always looking for different and authentic products. "I do not repeat in my work," she concludes. Her business principles include seriousness, and respecting deadlines, the delivery terms and the promise of entirely natural products.

Organic growth

Bucharest shelves lack healthy food, says Matei Dumitrescu, co-owner at Cosul de Legume, a Romanian manufacturer and seller of organic food products. "There are 50,000 people like us in Bucharest ready to pay double for healthy products if they could find them on the shelves," says Dumitrescu. Cosul de Legume (the Vegetable Basket) provides local suppliers with a common platform for distributing natural vegetables to as diverse customers as kindergartens, schools, companies, restaurants and processors. Dumitrescu says the business idea appeared four years ago when Andrei Barbu, an IT specialist by profession and the other partner in the business, formed the first vegetable culture right in the heart of the Baragan area, in Valea Macrisului, southern Bucharest. At that time, he started to deliver the products "from farm to work", meaning directly to the door of Bucharest customers. Barbu's specialization helped with the business logistics and operations, because his work with databases provides the owner with the exact details of their firm's production, transportation and delivery status.

Cosul de Legume is also run by Sabina Dumitrescu, who specializes in psychology, and architect Alexandra Barbu, the co-owners wives. "They represent the soul of this business," says Dumitrescu.

"Beyond organic", the motto of Cosul de Legume, means, according to Dumitrescu, that the seeds used for growing the vegetables are fully natural, free of any kind of fertilizers but water. Changeable weather means that this route involves some losses, high risks and low productivity. Still, their customers understand that a smaller organic tomato may have fifteen times greater nutritional content. The appearance of a larger and more colorful product, especially in the food industry does not guarantee, and may even preclude high nutritional standards. That is why Dumitrescu advises customers take a closer and more informed look at labels and advertising.

Regarding the entrepreneurship environment in Romania, Dumitrescu says that most entrepreneurs went into business with a good idea, an open market, an opportunity worth exploring, the availability of financing and a high appetite for risk. However, no matter how welcoming the context, it doesn't provide an entrepreneur with management or leadership skills. Business is a challenge in itself, says Dumitrescu. He advises anyone starting out in business to focus on sales and find what is lacking on the market. "It is not enough just to sell the product; you have to persuade the customers of the added value of a product or service. The customers teach us what to produce for them," concludes Dumitrescu. Create communities instead of just selling products, he urges.

Entrepreneurship starts with talent

Neli Pfeiffer started the cosmetic center Apiestetic Neli Pfeiffer 20 years ago, with a ROL 100,000 (old lei) investment in renting the space and purchasing the required cosmetic equipment. Apiestetic means apian therapy and apian cosmetics. Pfeiffer says, "Apiestetic is like my second born, which I have put a lot of effort and passion into, over the years. I am proud to say that our oldest client is 74, and our youngest is 16. Recently, my daughter Tamina has joined me in growing the business further. We plan to open two or three new boutique units in Bucharest, by 2015. Separately, I and two other colleagues will launch a cosmetology school at the beginning of next year, as we want to transfer our combined 100-year cosmetics experience to people interested in building a career in the beauty industry."

Asked about the qualities of an entrepreneur, Pfeiffer replies, "Definitely, talent. As an entrepreneur, you are your own business. And your business is as good as the job you are doing and the skills your clients recognize that you have. Looking back at my life, I realize that it wasn't me choosing my profession, but the other way around. And it wasn't just a profession, it was a calling. My name as a professional and, implicitly, my center's reputation were built on talent, dedication and results. Over the past 30 years as a cosmetician, I have treated hundreds of men and women, and let me tell you: there is no greater joy than a client bright smile when feeling beautiful and being treated as such."

The manager acknowledges the impact of the economic turmoil on the beauty industry, but, for Apiestetic, a traditional cosmetic center, the greatest challenge is time itself. As a business approach, Pfeiffer says she has always valued results over profit. "This might not have been the best entrepreneurial policy ever, as it made me lose money. But for me, my staff and Apiestetic's clients have never been about business. It has always been personal," she adds.

Searching for a functional model

For Adrian Muntean, CEO of Grup Polisano, a company established in Sibiu more than 20 years ago, entrepreneurship is, first of all, a quality. An entrepreneur is open to opportunities even when the resources are lacking and undertakes leadership naturally, along with the associated risks. He or she becomes a manager as well after acquiring certain abilities. From the helm of his private medical services company, Muntean says that the main enemies of local entrepreneurs come from the economic environment: the lack of stable financing structures, the instability of the fiscal and legal framework and the brain drain of qualified staff. "Romanians are highly creative and intuitive in developing partnerships and holding negotiations. They are also willing to invest time, effort and passion. However, the mentality is a limiting factor as is the lack of an advanced educational system, compared with countries where entrepreneurship developed a long time ago," Muntean says. The good news is that, according to the manager, the market is still young and the need for innovation is currently sustained by over the adoption of functional models from outside.

Examples can also be found in the history of Polisano when, back in the 1990s, Doctor Ilie Vonica and some friends formed a private clinic as an alternative to the medical system controlled by the state. "The right initial evaluation of the identified opportunities, securing the appropriate team for a certain project, and, not least, risk management, are just some of the business principles to follow in entrepreneurship," Muntean advises.

Stay focused and specialize

As country manager of ManpowerGroup Romania, Valentin Petrof believes that entrepreneurship is not about talent, but practice. "The impulse for business creation and ownership is quite separate from the set of skills required to design and run a successful business, and it can derive as much from choice and personal preference as from necessity," the manager says.

In recent years especially, the manager adds, "the traditional separation between corporate employees, small business owners and freelancers is breaking down. In the contemporary world of work there is considerable fluidity: entrepreneurial failure can lead someone back to corporate employment, a successful manager can become a career renegade and start a completely different business, a skilled tradesperson can decide to go freelance with his or her services and so on." In his opinion, what is truly part of talent is a set of abilities: creativity, the ability to identify business potential, and the innovation, pragmatism and drive required to found and develop a business.

However, these abilities (often referred to as entrepreneurial spirit) can be, and actually are, applied across the business world, in small or large organizations, not only in self-owned enterprises, enabling people to more effectively launch and sustain careers regardless of circumstance," Petrof says.

Talent and its business synonyms of innovation, creativity and courage are much bandied around words nowadays, and their absence explains the condition of the current business environment. Petrof states that the global economy is driven by talent: talent, and the attitude towards talent, can build success or lead to failure. Successful Romanian entrepreneurs are self-aware: capable of assessing their own talent, and committed in improving their own skills and abilities. They are also respectful and nurturing of other people's talents and see the good people in their business as their main asset.

However, entrepreneurs can and do lose sight of the importance of talent. Often, the increasing demands on entrepreneurs' time reduce or eliminate feedback, recognition or the celebration of success. Entrepreneurs can be downright naïve. The saying, iff you do not like it, there are 100 people at the door waiting for your job, is still frequently used, but this naive approach or such a cavalier attitude towards people is risky in general, and becomes even more so when there's a shortage of talent," Petrof says.

Building a company can be exhausting in Romania. The ManpowerGroup manager says, "The business environment in Romania is somewhat too constrained by this regulatory framework. There are many checks and barriers to a firms's flexibility, and many solutions to new business problems come in spite of the system, rather than because of or within it. Financially, the environment is fluctuating, but reasonable. However, procedurally, dealing with the legal and fiscal framework is highly intensive in terms of time and workforce. This can be a burden to entrepreneurial organizations (small or large) which need to focus their limited resources on growth and innovation rather than administrative procedures. The first necessary action would therefore be to increase the local business environment's stability and predictability," Petrof advises.

Entrepreneurship is a full time attitude

This is the belief shared by Andrei Dragan Radulet, a young businessman in Western Romania, at Sibiu, running an event organizing business in Sibiu. . "There are no business hours but a state of mind offering the clear image of opportunities, issues and solutions," Andrei says.

Planning is mandatory in order to achieve the goal and the 24 hours thinking of development completes each business day. It may require talent, but most of all, it really demands for discipline. As stated by most entrepreneurs and managers in Romania, the greatest spoilers of a serene business state of mind is the bureaucracy. Besides, the unstable fiscal, legal and politic backgrounds cannot help. "You may sometimes feel fooled from playing right the wrong game," Andrei adds. Besides, he current challenges of a business today in Romania stands for the lack of financing, several regulations needed in many business fields, indulging wrong practices.

Despite the challenging and not so welcoming business background, the chance for a start up may be a valuable one, Andrei adds. " It's a certain pressure in this interval that could lead to new learning, businesses and turns of chances in favor of start-ups. The pressure makes people do more things in shorter time. Still, it is more difficult to sell so the market and customers benefit from a large competition that translates into better products and services."

One of the most important lessons to be learned in business, Andrei says are: take the accountancy in serious, set your standards and stick with them, be disciplined.

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