In the US of A, they salute their entrepreneurs Hollywood style
LAST week I was in the United States - and yes, it's true to say that everything is indeed bigger, if not always better, in America.
Among the many attractions of Palm Springs, an oasis where the San Andreas fault competes with 60-odd golf courses for the attention of tourists, are hot dogs with double-size sausages, ham sandwiches made up of one third bread and two thirds meat, and a country store that sells only garlic products (ranging from from garlic wine to garlic chips).
The occasion for my trek to the area was to attend the International Entrepreneur of the Year Award, hosted by accounting firm Ernst & Young. Locals liken the ceremony to the Academy Awards - and it's almost as big as the Oscars.
The awards celebrate an entrepreneur's achievement in growing a small business into a big company. The average size company in the national awards race has an annual sales figure of $360-million and provides jobs for about 2 000 people.
Each of the winning entrepreneurs had an amazing story to tell. Take the scented candle-making business which started in a garage and is now so big that the main factory attracts two million visitors each year, or the story of the technician who lost his job only to become the biggest supplier of dental equipment in the country. And then there's the couple who invented the mechanism that activates car airbags in a crash: they now produce more steering wheels than anyone else in the world.
These winning entrepreneurs are being hailed as America's heroes in the new age where owning one's own business is the aspiration of the majority of high school kids.
But rather surprisingly, a point which hit home was just how few women there were on the list of winners (a mere 9%). Surprising because women own 36% of US firms and women-owned businesses (WOBs) is the fastest growing sector of the economy.
The reason for this poor showing in the awards, as put forward by the experts, is that women view success differently to men. Interestingly, a similar explanation is offered by local experts for gender-specific differences in appproach to entrepreneurship.
Women are inclined away from the go-for-growth-at-all-costs mentality generally followed by men. It's important to women that they are recognised for other things, like the way they treat employees, their more caring management style and their social responsibility. In a nutshell, research shows that women want to make a difference to their communities - and this is what drives them to success.
American studies prove that women tend to use more right-brained, creative and intuitive types of thinking in business. This steers them towards relationship-building, both with employees and customers. It also helps them forge strong networking ties with other women business owners.
And adopting a more nurturing attitude does not detract from the women business owner's success, in fact, quite the opposite - it seems to enhance performance. In the US, large WOBs (defined as having more than 100 employees) grow six times faster than the national average.
In South Africa, women-owned businesses also grow faster - and history has shown that they are less likely to go into liquidation than businesses owned by men.
The National Association of Women Business Owners is a local body which offers support and networking opportunities. Its contact numbers are (011) 781-1356, (031) 305-7950 or (021) 788-4815.
The Executive Business Women's Club is another support body.
Membership is by invitation and is limited to women recognised as leaders in their fields. Contact the club's co-ordinator on (011) 887-0809 or fax (011) 786-6765. Top of page