Entrepreneurial success: What it takes

Tom Lewis (MBA '73) speaking to an entrepreneurship class at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Tom Lewis (MBA ’73) speaking to an entrepreneurship class at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Entrepreneurship is getting a lot of love these days, and for good reason. The speed of change is occurring at such a pace that old ways are quickly becoming obsolete, creating new opportunities in every sector for those with the ambition, skills and personal characteristics suited for entrepreneurial success.

Do you have what it takes?

We all know that an entrepreneur needs to understand their customer, possess basic business skills and be able to communicate their vision. But little is spoken about basic personality and value characteristics that highly correlate with successful entrepreneurs. Much of the popular literature on the subject focuses on teamwork, passion, creativity and other soft skills – but there’s also a lot of evidence suggesting that successful entrepreneurs actually have a predictable pattern of behavior and values.

There are many behavioral models for successful entrepreneurs. Based on my experience – 18 years as a corporate employee and another 25 years as a successful entrepreneur – I have come to believe that the most important traits of a successful entrepreneur are three specific behavioral traits and three basic values.

Behavioral traits:

Assertiveness. You can be both dominate and persuasive and are driven to solve problems and overcome obstacles.

Fast-paced. You like a lot of action and change.

PersistentYou are resilient and won’t quit.



Basic values:

Utilitarian. You value efficiency and return on investment, don’t like to waste anything and are motivated by economics.

Individualistic. You see yourself as a person that makes things happen. You are constantly improving, like to compete – and win – and are motivated by recognition.

Theoretical. You are motivated by knowledge and love to learn new things.


Although these traits can correlate to entrepreneurial success, there are still many intangible qualities of the human spirit that are not measurable and can make a huge difference. Ultimately, all entrepreneurs have to work hard, initiate, take risks and be very good at what they do, and will be rewarded in direct relationship to the value they bring to their customers – just ask Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg!

If entrepreneurship sounds appealing to you, my advice is to jump in and get to work. History has shown that great companies are created by hard work and constant improvement, rather than by one great new idea. The worst thing that can happen is that you will fail – and then you will really be on the road to entrepreneurial success!

By Tom Lewis (MBA ’73)