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Successful Entrepreneurs - Born, Bred, or Both?

Updated on September 25, 2012

by Kathy Batesel

Bill Gates is someone that seems to have been born with entrepreneurial traits, but was he?
Bill Gates is someone that seems to have been born with entrepreneurial traits, but was he? | Source

Entrepreneur and Manager Traits - Big Difference

Are entrepreneurs genetically predisposed to run businesses, or are they the result of their upbringing? Numerous studies have identified entrepreneurial traits, but relatively little has addressed this fundamental question.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology evaluated whether managers and entrepreneurs differed in certain characteristics. The authors’ meta-analysis examined 23 existing studies to investigate five character traits in both managers and entrepreneurs:

  • Open to new experiences
  • Conscientiousness
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism
  • Extraversion

Researchers discovered notable results. Entrepreneurs scored higher on openness to new experiences and conscientiousness than managers did, and lower on agreeableness and neuroticism scales. (The fifth trait, extraversion, revealed no significant difference.)

This appears to make sense. Those who remain in management positions rather than striking out on their own are likelier to fear failure and be cooperative within their companies. Those who establish their own businesses must have confidence and endure challenging trials.

But are these traits the result of innate nature, or are they learned?

What do you think?

Are entrepreneurs born or made?

See results

Was Oprah Born with Entrepreneurial Instincts?

Oprah Winfrey may be the quintessential entrepreneur. As a child, she demonstrated remarkable aptitude, moving ahead two grade levels. Despite impoverished and occasionally abusive environments, by her teen years she’d become familiar with speaking to crowds. Her meteoric rise to fame has been attributed to what many have called her “natural” style. She turned down two job opportunities from the CBS network, until a mentor reminded her that such offers were the very reason people attended college. She formed her own production company when she was 32 and is now one of the wealthiest women in America.

Her confidence, willingness to take on new experiences, and raise controversial topics are clearly evident in her history. Her success speaks to her conscientiousness at managing the tasks required of her career.

Was she born with these traits? She has three siblings. Two of them died at young ages; one from AIDS and one from drug addiction. (The third sibling, her recently discovered half-sister, was raised in foster homes and by adoptive parents. Very little information has been made public about Patricia, whose last name hasn’t been released.)

Her mentor’s sage advice to stop turning down promising positions proved worthy. Oprah herself attributes her grandmother’s influence (teaching Oprah to read at age three) and her father’s stern emphasis on education as important factors in her success. Since many highly educated people never reach billionaire status, it’s logical to assume that her personality, not her education, separate her from the pack.

In your opinion...

Will children be more successful if they are required to stay in their extracurricular activities, like band or sports?

See results

Outliers and Concerted Cultivation

Malcom Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, might disagree. He describes social conditions and parents who emphasize “concerted cultivation” as critical factors. Using Bill Gates as an example, Gladwell promotes the idea that 10,000 hours of participation in an endeavor is required to be exceptional, and so are a receptive social climate and assistance from others.

Gates, he says, was introduced to computers at an early age. His parents provided the means for him to obtain nearly unlimited access to computers before universities has access to them. When American businesses and individuals recognized that binary technologies could open vast opportunities, Gates had already spent well over 10,000 hours learning and developing computer applications in a field primed for growth.

Parents who force their children to stick with activities even when the child is tempted to quit believe they are teaching their kids self-discipline, determination, and helping their children learn to succeed against obstacles. If Gladwell's theory is correct, these parents may be fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in their offspring and helping them to become experts at what they do.

Compare Other Successful Entrepreneurs

Walt Disney’s started drawing at age seven. His neighbor paid young Walt to draw pictures. While living in Kansas City at ages 10-16, he was extensively exposed to vaudeville, art classes, and amusement parks. He attended the Chicago Art Institute and drew cartoons for its newspaper. He continued to illustrate while volunteering for the Red Cross and in later employment before he and his brother co-founded a cartoon studio in California just as the motion picture industry experienced explosive growth.

Estée Lauder learned sales in her family’s hardware store as a child. At sixteen, she sold her uncle’s beauty creams. Her husband co-founded the company that bears her name in 1947. Cosmetics, used since ancient times, first became fashionable in America during the 1920s. The industry grew massively when Hollywood starlets catapulted the allure of beauty following World War II’s deprivations.

Donald Trump’s father was a real estate developer who turned the family business over to his son, who capitalized on New York City’s generous abatements to promote re-development of challenged areas.

Conclusion about Entrepreneurial Traits

These world-famous entrepreneurs had siblings whose fates never reached such lofty pinnacles. Oprah Winfrey’s grandmother and father fostered opportunities for her to speak publicly, and the pending civil rights movement opened doors that would have remained close just a few years earlier.

Are entrepreneurs born, or are they bred for success? The answer is clear: Entrepreneurs are born. Then they’re shaped. Finally, they succeed.


Submit a Comment

  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 5 years ago from USA

    True... it's the eternal question of nature vs. nurture! Even if it hasn't been proven, I'm pretty convinced that it requires a dash of both. What do you think?

  • Nyamache profile image

    Joshua Nyamache 5 years ago from Kenya

    There has been no clear answer whether entrepreneurs are born or made. But what we can agree on is that successful entrepreneurs have common traits.

  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 5 years ago from USA

    I'd love to hear more about your experiences with your business, Teaches. I've seen a few of your articles on job stuff (my favorite being your hub on professional image), but I bet you could put some great info out there about things you learned in the process, too.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

    Your conclusion is what pulls it all together -- Entrepreneurs are born. Then they’re shaped. Finally, they succeed. You have mentioned some very successful entrepreneurs who have proven your statements. I was an entrepreneur years ago, the business is still running today so I guess I did something right. Voted way up!

  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 5 years ago from USA

    I like that, Buya. I think there is a difference.

  • BizVT34 profile image

    BizVT34 5 years ago from USA

    Good Hub, voted up. What I have learned in dealing with thousands of biz owners is this...All entrepreneurs are biz owners but very few biz owners are entrepreneurs.

  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 5 years ago from USA

    I wish I had thought about it a lot sooner. I could've been retired at 30!

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Natashlh!

  • Natashalh profile image

    Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

    Really intersting stuff. I'd never reall thought about what qualities make up an entrepreneur and how one might differ from a manager before, but the things you pointed out make a lot of sense!

  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 5 years ago from USA

    Thanks, GL! I love hearing examples like yours - a fresh perspective from someone who has been alongside the entrepreneur all along.

  • GoodLady profile image

    Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

    It's fascinating! Entrepreneurs are fascinating. I think they are born and then developed, but they are born that way. I have an entrepreneur son who showed signs of this when he was a few months old. I lost my milk, so he went onto a bottle at 3 months. By 4 months he wanted to drink the milk from the bottle, on his own, on the sofa. So we propped cushions up so that he wouldn't fall. He had a ball. He lay there like King Tut, then he'd get off and move around. He'd organized us to do what he wanted. He made himself free of all constraint and family expectations. He's producing a movie now at 33 and on his way. He does it his way and he gets everyone involved. Entrepreneurs have a vision that's bigger than everyone else's and to them their vision is absolutely possible to realize (because they know that they can make it possible).

    Voting. Pinning. (oops can't pin it...pity) Nice one!

  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 5 years ago from USA

    Thank you, Laura!

    That was the same conclusion I drew. Even though she had a lot of adversity, she did have support for performing from a couple of significant people. I can't help but wonder if she'd have had the fight in her without that.

  • LauraGSpeaks profile image

    LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

    Interesting and well researched hub. Oprah's upbringing was vital to her success. As a child, she fought through adversity to survive. She used that experience with her born talents to succeed.

  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 5 years ago from USA

    Thank you, DM. I was a bit surprised by what I discovered!

  • dmhenderson profile image

    Dave Henderson 5 years ago from Missouri, USA

    Very interesting hub. Explores a variety of interesting angles on entrepreneurs and how they get that way.