3 Traits of Entrepreneurial Family Business Leaders

3 Traits of Entrepreneurial Family Business Leaders
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Image source: Ruslan Burlaka

Malcolm Gladwell, the renowned author who has sold over 4 million books and achieved worldwide fame with “The Tipping Point”, always has something new to say. In his 2013 book, “David and Goliath”, Gladwell presented a thought-provoking theory that explained how innovators need to be disagreeable people. Building on this theory, he gave an equally provocative speech at the World Business Forum, where he claimed that successful entrepreneurs possess 3 traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, and Disagreeability. According to Gladwell, the combination of these three traits are a rarity in any one individual, but when it does occur, it produces people such as IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad or Steve Jobs of Apple.

The three traits

Gladwell went on to explain that the combination of Openness and Conscientiousness is as scarce as it is powerful. For instance, there is a plethora of open and creative people who are far from conscientious. Likewise, there are many who are conscientious who lack the creative flair. It is rare to possess both of these qualities – to be someone imaginative enough to draw up radical ways of doing things and being relentlessly focus on making them happen.

Then there is the third factor – being a disagreeable person. While the word ‘disagreeable’ conjures up images of stubborn and unpleasant people, Gladwell means this to portray those that are willing to go against the standard convention. They are few people willing to take the social risks and do things that others may disapprove of. This is not an easy task, for society frowns on disagreeableness. All of us are conditioned to seek the approval of those around us. However, radical thought comes about through the need to challenge social norms, compelling one to make decisions and pursue goals that make a difference to the community, to the nation, and to the world.

The case of IKEA

Let’s examine the example of IKEA’s Ivan Kamprad. Kamprad displayed his creativity and openness through his revolutionary method of furniture sales, but at the same time was conscientious enough to relentlessly expand his business through his focus work ethic. However, Kamprad was perceived as disagreeable to his fellow Swedes when he decided to outsource Ikea’s manufacturing operations to Poland at the height of the Cold War. His compatriots branded him a traitor, but he kept his head down and plowed forward with his vision.

In India, an engineer by the name of Bindeshwar Pathak developed a new sanitation system for the Bihar State Government that would be cheap to construct and maintain, while generating biogas to provide energy. This was a landmark development in a country where over 50% of the population did not have access to sanitation facilities. Pathak clearly possessed the qualities of openness and conscientiousness. Shockingly, the government authorities were not impressed. They refused to fund Pathak’s invention when they found out that he planned to install his system throughout all of India. In a fit of disagreeable determination, he quit his job at the Bihar State Government and at great risk started an NGO called Sulabh International, which grew become the largest NGO in India. Now, nearly thirty years later, you find Pathak’s toilets all across India and his name is well renowned. He now works as a UN Consultant on sanitation for developing countries in Africa, South America, and Asia!

Pathack and Kampard both combined the 3 traits of successful entrepreneurs. As we know in the case of Kampard, many of these greats go on to found multi-generational family businesses. Ultimately, the successful transmission of these 3 traits to the next generation of entrepreneurs and family members will ensure the continued tradition of success!