new worker's revolution
Lloyd Shefsky's Asian book tour reveals that entrepreneurship
is thriving in China
United States, entrepreneurs may earn some respect for being
the economy's real engine, but in China they are hailed as
fact is perhaps not altogether surprising.
is a culture that has embraced entrepreneurship throughout
its history, despite the 20th century Communist "interruption"
that radically altered its political landscape, says Lloyd
Shefsky. The Kellogg School clinical professor of managerial
economics can attest that entrepreneurship is once more ascendant
inside the Asian powerhouse.
recent visits to China to promote a new translation of his
1996 book, Entrepreneurs are Made, Not Born, Shefsky
was regaled as a conquering hero. A lecture last September
at Beijing's Tsinghua University, which published the updated
text, resulted in 3,000 people clamoring to see the Kellogg
entrepreneurship and family business expert. Unfortunately
only 1,000 seats were available, so the school beamed the
broadcast to remote campus locations to accommodate demand.
Shefsky says an estimated 30,000 people ended up seeing the
that number pales with the millions of Chinese viewers who
watched the Kellogg professor join budding Sino capitalists
on television during a subsequent appearance as part of a
show whose popularity Shefsky compares to such U.S. fare as
"The Apprentice" and "American Idol" —
if they were rolled into one package.
were 6,000 people at the rehearsal taping," he says of
the event held outdoors and lasting well past midnight. "The
numbers just get bizarre."
was among the V.I.P. entrepreneurs overseeing the proceedings
as contestants pitched their business ventures and (incongruously)
performed a song or dance. From an initial 120,000 contestants,
the field had narrowed to 20 finalists.
I can't speak Chinese, they had me do a long interview beforehand
and dubbed it," Shefsky says. His recorded video appears
several times during the show.
all the acclaim entrepreneurs garner in China today, the country's
political and economic situation still seems muddled. A new
government-sanctioned textbook only mentions Mao once but
Microsoft Founder Bill Gates three times, yet Shefsky's passing
reference to "God" during an interview still provoked
somebody told me I was going to be bleeped in my life, that
wouldn't have been the word I imagined would do it,"
says Shefsky, who conducted numerous high-profile interviews
for print, radio and television during the September visit
and an encore in January.
says China is a fascinating study in entrepreneurship, in
part because of the sheer number of enterprises, most of which
he describes as mom-and-pop shops. "When you see a new
KFC or McDonald's, they are huge," Shefsky says. "But
for every one of those, there are a thousand tiny kiosks that
somebody starts. It's interesting to watch because it has
an influence on the next generation."
fact, entrepreneurship and family business are closely linked
there, says Shefsky, because many of these small ventures
were launched about 15 years ago, as the government relaxed
certain restrictions (initial beneficiaries often were government
bureaucrats). Now those aging founders need successors and
are turning to their children, since Communist rule discouraged
trust of anyone outside the family. Often, there's only a
single potential heir, increasing the need for the hand-off
to go smoothly. Such pressure makes for a rapt audience.
core message? Entrepreneurship is not merely an "American"
trait; it's largely universal, despite cultural variants.
In fact, everyone is born with what it takes to become an
entrepreneur, he says. The problem is children soon lose this
perhaps good reasons we drive it out of them," says Shefsky.
"We teach kids to fear failure. We teach kids to not
take risks. We teach them to be wary of the unknown. If you
don't have a lack of fear, if you don't have tolerance for
ambiguity, you can't become an entrepreneur. We're born with
the quality, but it's driven out and you have to get it back."
a tough job, he says, especially in business schools where
students typically are mastering the tools to help them avoid
risk. Shefsky isn't about to upset that apple cart. Instead,
he tries to adapt the MBA toolkit for use in entrepreneurship.
I ask questions like, 'How would you create a marketing plan
for the following product?' usually I get an answer that would
cost $10 million and take a year and a half," he says.
"Then I explain how an entrepreneur starting a business
without those resources might have done it differently."