A different kind of courage

Tcourageo paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, entrepreneurs aren’t like you and me. Well, actually, they are like me since I happen to be an entrepreneur.

But, the statement holds true regardless. I identify myself as an entrepreneur who also happens to ply his trade in the marketing communications field.

I do so because, in my mind, there are two types of successful marketing communications executives:

1.) The company woman who slowly, but surely, does everything right to consolidate her power base and plays her cards just right to end up as either the CEO of a global agency or CCO at a major organization.

2.) The entrepreneur who started with nothing, chased his dream, endured countless hardships along the way and eventually established a thriving business.

Each group demonstrated enormous courage as they rose to the apex of the industry. But, make no mistake: there are two very different definitions of courage when it comes to the successful global executive and the entrepreneur.

Having toiled at both Hill & Knowlton and J. Walter Thompson, I understand the zeitgeist of the global workplace culture.

Success requires a unique skill set that includes superb counseling, business development abilities, a solid ethical and moral compass, the guts needed to make tough, and sometimes, unpopular decisions AND, critically, the singular ability to navigate shark-infested waters.

While I admire those individuals, they possess no real understanding of the word courage.

Courage means walking away from the corporate world and setting up your own shop. It means lying awake nights knowing you, and you alone, are responsible for feeding a wife and two small children, paying the mortgages on two houses, the leases on two cars and the future college costs of said kids. It also means going hat in hand to friends and family to ask for start-up seed money (we kick started Peppercomm with a $12,500 loan from my older brother and mother-in-law).

Entrepreneurial courage also means occasionally digging into your own wallet to meet payroll (thanks to clients who express no remorse at stringing out their payments to 230 days or more).

Last, but not least, entrepreneurs must ride the roller coaster highs and lows that go along with being master of your own fate (and maintaining the same even keel whether you’ve just won or lost a $2mm account).

That’s why I chuckle whenever I see PR Week publish yet another one of their “Power Brokers” issues. Make no mistake these lists do indeed include the most powerful people in our business. But that power broker moniker is bestowed upon these individuals because they control massive budgets and/or run gargantuan organizations. Money = Power.

We do have a few powerful entrepreneurs who would qualify as power brokers in my mind (if not Steve Barrett’s). I’d include Jen Prosek, Tom Coyne and Lynn Casey on that list.

But, here’s the rub. You do NOT have to play the global power broker game if, like me, you despise the red tape, back-stabbing and arbitrary decision-making that goes along with it.

I’ve just finished reading Unemployable! by David Thomas Roberts. The book is specifically aimed at every single American worker who has had it up to here with playing all the games necessary to make PR Week’s Power Broker list.

It’s chock full of tips for everyone from eight to 81 who has ever aspired to be their own boss. I cannot recommend it more highly (except to Peppercomm employees who will be fired without cause if I catch them reading it).

Having the chutzpah to start ones own business isn’t for the faint of heart. As we know, 44 percent of all new businesses fail within three years.

But, if like 70 percent of your fellow Americans, you don’t like your job this book is your ticket to the promised land.

But, keep in mind the promised land could turn out to be colder than the dark side of the moon. There’s no guarantee of success but, as The Donald said when attempting to woo black audiences, “Hey, what have you got to lose?”



4 thoughts on “A different kind of courage

  1. Thank you, Jenn and Michael. Michael: Your points are spot on, and most definitely apply to my journey through business. I was in no way, shape or form ready to succeed as an entrepreneur until I’d fully experienced the big company life. I saw, and learned the value, of the multiple functions that had to work seamlessly in order for a company to prosper. I also witnessed the detrimental effects of an executive team that delegated anything and everything to their lieutenants (and, literally allowed the inmates to run the asylum). Conversely, I experienced a Politburo-type management team that remained set in stone and refused to acknowledge, much less, accept change. Each organization, which was sizable in its heyday, failed. But, I took away so many lessons, good and bad that, when I was ready to start my own business, I felt like a seasoned veteran who knew in advance which strategies had the greatest chance of success and which were likely to to cause an early demise. That was 21 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Nor have I ever entertained second thoughts such as, “What if I’d tried a different type of large company?”

    • Trying another large company would have likely given you a variation of those same positive and negative experiences – the takeaway here as in the book Unemployable is – do you leverage that experience for your next position in your next large employer or do you take the upside opportunity and downside risk that the Repman blog associated with bona fide entrepreneurial courage? The answer is different for different people. But, the antithesis of courage in this context (just my opinion) is, perhaps, wondering 20 years hence why one didn’t take a leap into the unknown (whatever that unknown might be).

  2. Hello Steve! Thank you for your kind review in your blog post on Unemployable! by David Thomas Roberts. We have promoted the post on all of our social media channels and the review on our website.

    I liked your blog so much I am subscribing. You have a lot of great content out here.

    Thank you again!
    Jean Mann
    General Manager
    Defiance Press and Publishing

  3. I am a huge fan of the book Unemployable. But – there may be an understated message in that book, and in your blog. You beautifully articulated everything an entrepreneur needs to go through. But, I don’t know if entrepreneurship is for people who have had it with playing the games to be a power broker. To be unemployable, one has to first be, well, employable. There is a need to learn self-discipline, time management, initiative and proactivity, and most of all, how to be accountable to different stakeholders – clients, superiors, direct reports, suppliers, and large complex organizations that could make or break you. One should to know how to climb a ladder before creating their own. And one needs to be patient with, and be a champion of, those large companies that could benefit a start up while operating to the beat of a larger drum. I think. My guess is much of the 44% of failures is not (just) because their ideas are bad, but they haven’t excelled at the skills that could have been acquired while being employable. I know the outliers here – Jobs, Zuckerman, Gates – but those are rare and highly publicized exceptions to the rule. And even those people had to cater to corporate bureaucracies and power brokers to get things done at an early stage. All of that said, publications that celebrate the largest because they are large sadly ignore the truism that entrepreneurship drives new jobs, new industry excitement, new innovation, new case studies, and yes, new employment opportunities. That’s what makes trade journalism exciting on a rare day.