Entrepreneurs of a new order

BY S Thompson

Tuesday, April 25, 2017    

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It was encouraging to read the journey of Yoni Epstein in the Sunday Finance magazine of the Sunday Observer, April 16, 2017. His story is one of inspiration to Jamaican entrepreneurs.

What captivated my interest was his “…non-traditional academic journey…” and the fact that he “…didn’t finish anything and [had] no degree…” Though Epstein did not complete his degree programme, he would have acquired foundational knowledge both at a secondary level and in the fields of hospitality and culinary arts. He used to his advantage the constant exposure received from the age of eight or nine years old to a business environment. Whether by packing brochures or doing stocktaking, these disciplines laid the underpinning for future ventures in businesses. So, from an early stage, his mental aptitude was geared towards having an eye for business opportunities in the most unlikely of situations, including the cleaning and reselling of lost golf balls.

To become adept in any discipline or pastime one needs constant exposure and practice. This holds true in the business sphere as people who are repeatedly provided with the opportunity to develop negotiating, organisational and marketing skills will be more proficient than their peers who would have started at a later stage. From Epstein’s account, it is demonstrated that children can learn from an early age many life lessons critical to high performance entrepreneurial activity. These include the importance of a good work ethic, balancing the responsibilities of life, managing debt, and utilising opportunities to maximise learning.

The self-confidence gained from mastering these lessons over time will empower one to take calculated risks to fulfil a purpose and dream. Despite the odds that may become apparent, strategic relationships and the will to succeed in the face of failure will lead to a solid business foundation that will bear fruit over time. Epstein’s account of the early days of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica reveals that he was very familiar with the concept of taking calculated risks. As an entrepreneur being a risk-taker does not always lead to the peak of success. However, taking calculated risks and managing and reducing one’s risk will ensure that even if a venture fails, the individual lives to fight another day.

Epstein, in his account, synchronised various elements to reduce his risk – correct timing, managing expectations and building relationships through trust. Is it important to have a university degree? If one follows Yoni Epstein’s story and that of countless entrepreneurs who did not sit on the laurels of a university education, the question that would arise is how important is it to have a university degree at the end of the day? In Jamaica, the chosen path to one’s career goals is usually grounded with a university degree which is attained after years of arduous work and financial sacrifice. The price tag that is placed on a three- or four-year bachelor’s degree is daunting and even with student loans and multiple financing options, lack of funding can prove to be a deterrent. So, a realistic stance should be adopted to determine the returns on investing in higher education.

The importance of a good education can never be over-emphasised or discounted, but what are the tangible benefits realised after graduation. More and more the cry is that university graduates are unable to secure gainful employment in their chosen fields. Although students are encouraged to study within their strengths and focus on areas that they are passionate about, attention must be paid to the economic realities of life. In a struggling economy, a university graduate who emerges with a ticking time bomb of student loan debt is pressured when countless job applications are declined. He/she is forced to contend with the request for job experience which cannot be acquired unless one first obtains a job.

Employers also raise concerns that there is a disconnect between the skills emanating from graduates and what the current job market demands. Dependent on the country in which one resides and the needs of employers, some degrees will pay for themselves, while other degrees will not. So, a fundamental question arises, how well does the education system prepare students when selecting a career? Certification helps, but it is not a ticket to guaranteed success. Knowledge must be accompanied by other virtues to activate a success formula.

Can career management solve the issues? Introducing the concept of career management in secondary schools prior to third form, when core subjects are chosen, is very important. Parents, teachers, guidance counsellors and students should collaborate collectively and consciously plan the student’s activities and subject choices to ensure that the career path that is chosen is one that will provide fulfilment, growth and ultimately financial stability to the student. The chosen path should also fill the needs in the evolving employment market as opposed to becoming another statistic in an over-saturated field.

Humans will always seek answers to the questions: What is my passion? What motivates and drives me? An insightful individual will take that line of thought one step further and seek to determine how their passions can be of value and provide personal and financial fulfilment. This is what faces every graduating class coming out of high school.

How do their passions line up with the reality of surviving and becoming a responsible citizen in society? How do they ensure their comfort whilst doing something that they love which benefits others? There is no easy solution. Some people find their niche in the job market quickly, whilst others will meander through life searching for that dream job. However, the important reminders are that having a good work ethic and being willing to work hard are attributes which should not be taken lightly.

By following Yoni Epstein’s script, some may take the road less travelled of an entrepreneur and find either failure or opportunities. Whether one uses their talents and guts to achieve their purpose and dreams as opposed to following the university script, some things remain true. We must be committed and disciplined in preparing for a career. Added to these virtues should be the importance of building relationships. Assembling a panel of mentors, coaches and close advisors who will guide and provide direction is a key element for success. A university degree will assist, but will not determine one’s success in the job market. Professionalism, integrity, discipline, a strong work ethic and staying focused and true to one’s purpose are the core elements to any success story – no matter which road is travelled.





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