By Murad Al-Katib
Everyone loves a good story. Stories contain perseverance, hardship and sometimes tragedy, but the best stories are those in which the hero triumphs.
Entrepreneurs have some of the best stories. Many of them read like a Hollywood script, but they are real, and they impact society by creating jobs, wealth, opportunity and change. This change can come through a new product, a new way of doing things or a shift in how society approaches a problem.
Entrepreneurs are born, but their skills are honed over years of effort, rejection and success.
Having just returned from being named EY‚Äôs 2017 World Entrepreneur of the Year earlier this summer in Monaco and hearing so many inspiring entrepreneurial stories, I have been reflecting on something I‚Äôm often asked: what advice do I have for entrepreneurs?
My entrepreneurial journey started when I was five, importing bubblegum bought on family vacations to Turkey and selling it at the playground. It continues with my goal to feed the world, making quality vegetable protein and staple foods available to markets around the globe and helping to drive change in agri-business in Canada.
Rural Saskatchewan, where I was born, raised and continue to live and work, is blessed with the most vast and productive agricultural land in the world. Saskatchewan, the ‚Äúbreadbasket of the world,‚ÄĚ produces wheat and cereal crops. Today, an emerging crop of pulses ‚ÄĒ lentils, peas, chickpeas and beans ‚ÄĒ has brought sustainable agriculture to the forefront, with farmers increasingly diversifying the crops they grow.
Over the past 15 years, production of pulses in Canada has more than doubled, reaching more than eight million tonnes in 2016. Canada is the world‚Äôs largest exporter of pulses, with virtually all these products destined for India, China, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa.
My grown-up entrepreneurial journey began by recognizing an opportunity that existed for a new sector in agri-business for Canada, purchasing the products of farmers, capturing their value by processing locally and shipping them as finished goods to markets overseas. It was a calculated risk, but I was young, educated and driven. At worst, it would be a great experience.
The goal was to create the ‚Äúfirst stop on the protein highway,‚ÄĚ benefiting participants in the value chain. Farmers benefit from ready markets for their outputs, our staff and the communities they live and work in benefit from economic development and job creation, and our customers are able to purchase quality food products needed in their markets.
This has aided in taking my company, AGT Food and Ingredients, from a startup in 2001 to a global company with 2,000 employees, 47 processing facilities on five continents, customers in 120 countries and almost $2 billion in revenue, all in a decade and a half.
The skills I‚Äôve needed to realize my vision have been no different from those that, I believe, make entrepreneurs successful. So I have this advice:
‚ÄĒ Be prepared, know the outcomes and advance without fear. Believe in yourself and your idea. Evaluate all possible variables and understand potential results. You may not know what will happen, but you can proceed without fear because nothing will be unexpected.
‚ÄĒ Surround yourself with the best people and make sure they are different from you. As an entrepreneur, the vision is yours, but to communicate and execute your vision successfully you need dissenting voices; they will challenge you to be your best. Recognize diversity ‚Äď not only in gender, race and ethnicity, but also in ideas.
‚ÄĒ Fundamentally look at your business plan and know every detail. You represent your idea and your business. If you don‚Äôt know, then you can‚Äôt expect others to know.
‚ÄĒ Be financially literate and know where every penny is earned and lost. Too many entrepreneurs are focused only on the idea and not the numbers.
‚ÄĒ Always remember your customer. If you can‚Äôt sell it, it might be a hobby, not a business. This doesn‚Äôt diminish your idea or the fierceness of your entrepreneurial spirit; this idea might not become a business, but the next one might.
As a final note: social purpose is an essential element of business success. Consumers, stakeholders and employees demand it. ¬†There is no such thing as a social entrepreneur; only entrepreneurs that recognize that social cause should be central to corporate culture and strategy. Build a business for the benefit of everyone.
Reposted from Financial Post¬†http://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/small-business/0808-biz-mak-murad
Murad al-Katib was named EY‚Äôs 2017 World Entrepreneur of the Year at the global entrepreneur summit in Monaco earlier this year.