“Famous Entrepreneurs” Assignment Leads to Meaningful Insights

I just finished grading the second class writing assignment—the Famous Entrepreneur paper—and am highly pleased with the outcome. In fact, I am pleased to the point of writing about it.

Three main reasons exist for my pleasure. First, the students scored high—an average of 91%–and, thus, exhibited significant learning. Second, as I read through the papers, it was obvious to me that the vast majority of students had really “gotten into” the assignment. Third, some extraordinary insights were gained looking at the papers collectively. In the latter regard, conducting what we scholars refer to as a meta-analysis—in small-scale form—led me to compile a list of “common themes” explanatory of the famous entrepreneurs’ successes. The top five emergent themes are listed below.

1.         Good work ethic learned at an early age

2.         Creation of a significant innovation 

3.         Working a variety of usually trivial jobs prior to entrepreneurial success

4. (tie) A focus on quality goods or services offered

4. (tie)  Perseverance/patience

I wish to further comment on the top two “themes of entrepreneurial success” as featured in the papers (on entrepreneurs including Ray Kroc [McDonald’s], Mark Cuban, Howard Shultz [Starbucks], Phil Knight [Nike], Jeff Bezos [Amazon.com], William Wang [Vizio], John Deere, Coco Chanel, Herb Kelleher [Southwest Airlines], Rick Hendrick [Hendrick Motorsports], and others).

Well over half of the class papers discussed strong work ethic learned at an early age as being a key factor in the success of the focal entrepreneur. While the presence of this category may not be that much of a surprise, at least one of the two subcategories that emerged within it may well be. First, and most commonly, the entrepreneur was discussed as having been born into at best modest means and then working extraordinarily hard to both, in a sense, overcome their situation of birth and, eventually, experience extraordinary success as an entrepreneur. In the second, less common subcategory, the entrepreneur was born into at least relative wealth but worked in similarly extraordinarily hard fashion to succeed on their own. My point in bringing this up is that the “relatively wealthy” persons here, while no doubt having some initial advantages over their lesser-privileged counterparts in this category, worked just as hard and developed a similar work ethic (which similarly led to their phenomenal entrepreneurial success).

Bottom line: A strong work ethic and extraordinarily hard work is necessary for entrepreneurial success (no matter the circumstances of one’s birth or background).

Over half of the class papers also discussed creation of a significant innovation as being a key factor in the success of the focal entrepreneur. As with the discussion of work ethic above, it is not all that surprising to see this category emerge from the papers. However, the insight to be gained, again, is found in the emergent subcategories within. Here, while several of the innovations were the more recent high-technology innovations one would expect, several others were (1) older technological innovations that hardly seem high-tech anymore (but were cutting–edge at the time), and (2) innovations that have very little to do with mechanical or computer technology. Exemplary of the latter non-tech innovation was, for instance, Ray Kroc’s success with McDonald’s being founded significantly by pioneering the concept of franchising as a means of growing and managing a retail chain. As one of the two students studying Kroc astutely pointed out, his success was just as much a result of being in the real estate business—via selecting and owning the land on which McDonald’s stores were built—than it was selling hamburgers and other food items. Other non-tech innovations written up in the papers dealt with how the entrepreneur was able to effectively transform the consumption experience in the focal industry. Examples include (1) turning previously mundane coffee consumption into an upscale experience for millions of people (Howard Shultz at Starbucks), and (2) creating the convenience-based fast-food sector of the restaurant industry (Ray Kroc at McDonald’s).

Bottom line: Not all innovation driving entrepreneurial success is high-tech (or even based in technology at all). 

So… Congratulations students on doing a good job on the papers.

And thanks for making the grading experience pleasurable with your many meaningful insights into the success of some of the most successful and famous of all entrepreneurs.

See you Tuesday.


Prof. Gabel

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About Terrance Gabel

Terrance G. Gabel is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Economy and Commerce at Monmouth College. Originally from Keokuk, Iowa, Dr. Gabel earned his BBA (Marketing) from the University of Iowa, his Master of Science degree (Marketing) from Texas A&M University, and his Ph.D. (Marketing) from the University of Memphis. He possesses three years of business-to-business sales experience, one year of executive-level marketing management experience for a heavy industrial international trade services firm, and one year of product management experience for a large banking organization. He was also a freelance business writer and consultant for approximately three years.

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