Want to be an entrepreneur? Leave politeness at the door

NEW YORK • Maybe Mr Travis Kalanick and Mr Steve Jobs were onto something.

There are more entrepreneurs in countries where ruthless business traits are held in higher esteem - even after controlling for gender, education level and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, according to a review by researchers at Aston Business School in Britain and Kansas State University in the United States.

About one in eight people in the US has set up his own business. In places like Belize, Burkina Faso and Peru, that figure is closer to one in four, according to data by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor consortium, a study group based out of the London Business School.

In most areas of the world, charisma is seen as a desirable trait. Think of bosses like Mr Richard Branson, who has brokered audacious deals for his Virgin group of companies by dint of his personality. But characteristics vital to self-preservation are more highly valued in countries with more entrepreneurs, surveys showed.

"You need to be able to elicit cooperation from others but, at the same time, you can't give too much away, so you need to be a bit guarded, competitive and hard-nosed," said Professor Ute Stephan from Aston Business School. "When these two things come together in a culture, that's when you have the highest entrepreneurship rates."

People in Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries were likely to say they valued self-protectiveness in leaders - characterised by face-saving behaviour that could spark conflict - as well as charisma, defined as demonstrating integrity and inspiration to employees, highly valued in places such as Denmark, Finland and South Korea.

Consider Chile, where around a third of adults in the country are entrepreneurs. At US$24,000 (S$33,000), it has a similar GDP per capita as Croatia (US$22,400), but double the proportion of entrepreneurs. Its people prefer strong-willed leaders, while Croatians tend more towards "nice" bosses, according to the review.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'Want to be an entrepreneur? Leave politeness at the door'. Print Edition | Subscribe