1. Listen to your inner voice!
How do you figure out what you really want? Especially in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the inner voice often remains unheard – sometimes with fatal consequences. Many entrepreneurs realise that at one stage they became unfaithful to their own values. For instance, the co-founder of the DIY chain OBI regrets that at the opening of a superstore in an emerging market he allowed bribe money to flow. Manfred Maus says: “Especially when you are under pressure, it is important to stick to your own values.” If you cease to be a role model, “the employees do not respect you anymore.”
2. Stay independent!
Whenever entrepreneurs lose their independence, for example due to liquidity shortages or dispute among the owners, it is a turning point. In retrospect, those entrepreneurs regret having fallen into a minority position or having been driven into an undesired dependency on financial institutions. It is tempting to take short- and medium-term loans from banks instead of gradually increasing equity. Entrepreneurs recommend financing projects with personal money if possible. “Always secure a good cash flow, and try to work independently,” advises the Hamburg-based Edel-Music founder Michael Haentjes.
3. Grow organically!
Part of the DNA of most entrepreneurs is to develop and grow the company. This may take years, decades or even generations. However, many entrepreneurs want to accelerate this process and forge alliances with corporations to achieve much higher growth. After initial euphoria most of them were disillusioned. In retrospect, they would rather prefer to have grown slowly. Their advice: Do not become megalomaniac or the plaything of others! Mustard manufacturer Theo Hartl says: “Apply all your strength to your own company and brand.”
4. Be aware of different cultures and mentalities!
Facts and figures shape the image of economy. Many entrepreneurs focus on hard facts, for instance on synergies, market shares and prices, neglecting important cultural and mental differences. Experienced entrepreneurs warn against narrowing the view on numbers. Instead, focus on soft factors as well! Dowel producer Klaus Fischer for instance warns that a merger always brings a difficult integration phase. There will always be “winners and losers”.
5. Do not conclude premature deals!
Many entrepreneurs are very self-confident, they impatiently long for new deals, making premature decisions instead of judging the situation soberly. This has led to fatal decisions. Experienced entrepreneurs recommend entering deeply into the matter and not to conclude from the past to the future. Transmission manufacturer Manfred Wittenstein urges others to be aware of this “path dependency in thinking”. Moreover, those entrepreneurs warn to trust people too quickly. Many of them made decisions on the basis of allegedly good relations with business partners until they realised that they had deceived themselves.
6. Choose a partner carefully!
Successful entrepreneurs depend on outstanding and trustworthy employees and partners. But very often long-term companions – even family members – alienate themselves, friendships are broken, trust is abused. Many entrepreneurs have been disappointed. They quote Lenin: “Trust is good, but control is better.” However, knife manufacturer Karl-Peter Born who was deceived by a close operations manager for years warns that such an incident must not lead to “the loss of trust in sincere, committed employees.” Instead it is important to pay more attention to details and not to lose control of one‘s own company, for example by fast growth. As soon as you entrust people with responsible positions, you should ask what interests they really pursue.
7. Promote an entrepreneurial corporate culture!
Many entrepreneurs have underestimated how important it is to create a good corporate culture in which all employees have a common goal and act independently. They recommend retaining the best, if necessary giving notice to some staff and investing in good team work. It is crucial to take the team into co-responsibility. Frank Breckwoldt, the founder of the Ryf Coiffeur Group, treated the heads of his hairdressing salons too long as “recipients of orders” and not as executives. It would have been much better to give them right away a high degree of autonomy. His advice: promote self-initiatives rather than centralising everything. This creates “responsibility and trust, inspires and commits all involved.”
8. Focus on your strengths!
Entrepreneurs are people of action and not administrators. They like to build something new with great passion, but after a while they embark on new projects. It can become precarious if over-optimistic entrepreneurs enter new areas. Some of them put their core business at risk. In retrospect, they quote the old German saying “Cobbler, stick to your trade!” That is not a call to stick to the status quo, but the recommendation not to neglect high quality and one‘s own strengths. The German Drugstore CEO Dirk Roßmann says: “It is better to focus on your core business than to force the impossible.”
9. Believe in yourself!
In order to survive in competitive markets you need a high degree of resilience and the ability to assert yourself. People are not born with these characteristics. Some people start very cautiously. Many entrepreneurs regret that they came late to believing in themselves and to fighting for their ideas. In retrospect, they encourage others to trust their gut feeling and act quickly in crises.
10. Leave the stage to others!
Whoever runs a company knows how difficult it is to separate business matters and private life, in particular when faced with a generation change. Most entrepreneurs recommend transferring responsibility to employees step by step, reducing the dangerous dependence on one‘s own person. They recommend developing a succession plan at an early stage, deciding on the best person available – no matter where they come from. Leaving your own company too late makes it difficult for the next generation to find their role. In the worst case, the future of the company is at stake. A timely withdrawal also offers you the opportunity to start new projects or to have more time for your private life. “Work does not run away from you when you show your child the rainbow,” Rosely Schweizer from the German Oetker family quotes a Chinese proverb, “but the rainbow does not wait for you to finish the work.”
The 10 lessons are taken from the book “My Biggest Mistake”, by NIKOLAUS FÖRSTER which is (unfortunately only) available in German via: www.impulse.de/fehlerbuch