C Suite and Market Stalls

Following on from the previous post around Management Dashboards and Leading Indicators where I stated that I’d like to see a self-made multi billionaire that isn’t entrepreneurial, and that was a missing element of most C Suite/Board level post holders.

In this post I’ll put forward the contentious argument that if a person cannot successfully run a market stall (Like in a Farmers Market) and turn a profit then they likely depriving the entity of a necessary and requisite skill at Director/Chief (C level) level. I would even take this further and question whether leading Business Schools are too focused on an intake that consists of technically proficient but laterally insufficient.

I’m sure most people have seen at least one episode of ‘The Apprentice’ whether the actual named show or a variation. From witnessing the programme, you can rapidly ascertain that a large number of people lack the ‘Street Wise’ skill set to actually turn a profit. Some people will call it ‘Common Sense’ if they are innately attuned.

Entrepreneurial abilities / Skill set

So, what inherent characteristics does a successful entrepreneur possess that are an asset to decision making in a large corporate?

To be successful you need to have succeeded in a competitive marketplace. Further succeeding in a marketplace that isn’t aligned with any natural strengths shows adaptability, insight and rapid assimilation to achieve the desired outcome, namely that customers willingly hand over their hard-earned money for something that was provided that met their needs in excess of competitors… and turn a profit.

To elaborate the skill set let’s work through the descriptive elements stated.

Adaptability - effectively have the ability to think and act in the context of the situation. Which in turn is one of many situations. Effectively rather than being linear/blinkered, having a divergent mindset and capabilities. Plasticity.

Insight – Rather than adapting to the situation being externally focused enough to assess the potential situation and scenarios… and to gravitate towards the best outcome in that environmental context (Cost / Benefit trade off assessments). Short and Long run. Risk / Benefit. Contingency.

Rapid Assimilation – the ability to quickly pivot and react under pressure, speed to assess and interpret information however it is presented. Quickly connect the dots. High and useful intuition.

Even with all of the above, a one-off performance resulting in a satisfactory outcome isn’t necessarily representative of an ability that can be achieved on a consistent basis. Achievement on multiple occasions shows an inherent ability.


Natural/Innate entrepreneurs with high intellect will evolve to become more competent in multiple skill sets over time. The real issue is with the development and promotion of that skill set through Tertiary education and into large organizations.

As mentioned in a prior article that I saw Technical and interpersonal skills as actually being more of operationally useful skills and selecting people with these skills to even more senior positions leads to what I’d consider tunnel vision. As mentioned, an Entrepreneurial ability along with either Technical (Systems & Capital) or Interpersonal (People) would make better teams.

Hence in consideration of the above at an undergraduate level the emphasis would still be on technical skills acquisition, but either supplementary and/or at graduate level I would be focused on a volume of bite sized case studies showing all sorts of business scenarios (problems / Solutions / Insights). As an example, I could likely point to around 20 observations and interactions in business that were almost epiphanies. A couple of hundred taught would transfer a few working lifetimes of knowledge to students.

Within organisations there should be active measures to detect and engage / promote entrepreneurial staff. Things like worker suggestion boxes and so forth are insufficient. Undercover consultants that go around asking staff for their views on improvements can detect the most entrepreneurial workers. I’ve learned far more about various businesses by talking with workers at the coal face than by any other method.

An alternative for large organizations is usually the default method of external consultants, but unless they are imbedded within the organization for a sufficient period, they only glance the surface of what can be improved within an organization. Workers don’t like to tell external consultants on how to improve an organization as the consultants take the credit and don’t acknowledge from who/where it came.

So, yes, I cannot suggest that all applicants for Harvard MBA’s are required to run a Market Stall, but we should try to replicate the mindset and thought processes, unless we really just want basic administrators in positions of decision making.

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