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Dr John Teeling holds degrees in economics and business from UCD and is known as a ‘serial entrepreneur’, having established several companies in the oil, gas and resource sectors. He is best known as the founder of Cooley Distillery which he started in the late 80’s, and subsequently sold to Jim Beam for over £70 million in 2011.
He is the founder and chairman of several listed companies including Connemara Mining, Petrel Resources, Minco, African Gold, Persian Gold, West African Diamonds and Botswana. He has the set up more listed companies than any other Irishman, he prefers London listings over Dublin, because it is cheaper to list there.
He has had more than one career over his lifetime: an academic, an explorer and whiskey distiller.
He spoke at length about what it takes to run your own business. His theory is that it takes vision, resources (human, financial and technical), the ability to handle uncertainty (sleepless nights too) and the energy, determination and persistence to keep going.
His view is that there is no shortage of skilled people and in his experience, he has never struggled to find the right person to fulfil a role, you have to look for them. Financial resources predominantly come four sources: friends, family, fools and free money from the state. Technological resources can be bought, leased or developed in house by employing people with the required skills.
He prefers the term uncertainty to risk – risk can be measured. In dealing with uncertainty you will have a lot of sleepless nights. Energy and persistence are key to getting your business off the ground and encouraging others to join you and stay with you in during the tough times. He spoke about length about setting up the Cooley Distillery and his absorption with the dream. How many times the dream almost ended over eleven years it took for the distillery to make a profit. A couple of remark he made struck a chord with me, “friends and fools continued to invest” and “the people of Cooley worked like dogs” and he credits them with much of the success of the business. This got me thinking about how men like John Teeling persist in the face of adversity for over a decade.
I have chosen to reflect on the John Teeling talk because it was clear he was a persistent man, especially when setting up the distillery. Passion appears easy for an entrepreneur (it’s their vision), but how do they keep that spark alive and persist with their vision as the company grows and use it to motivate others like investors and employees. This is linked to my PDP and future career plans in that as a management consultant the ability to demonstrate persistence, in addition to having the ability to understand the entrepreneurial mindset as I suspect that many of my future clients will be entrepreneurs.
Mr Teeling, made it clear that energy and persistence are key to getting your business off the ground and encouraging others to join you and stay with you during the tough times. He spoke about length about the numerous times the dream almost ended over eleven years it took for the distillery to make a profit. Wu et al., (2007) define entrepreneurial persistence as the ability to maintain the motivation to continue acting under challenging conditions.
Many people view the ability to start your own business as an aspiration goal that can yield favourable rewards. This decision is full of uncertainties (Burke and Miller, 1999), and entrepreneurs must be willing to assume personal, social, and psychological risks (Lumpkin and Dess, 1996). In addition, entrepreneurs need to be persistent when they encounter difficulties and uncertainties (Hatch, 2000). Holland (2011) says that the decision to start a business is typically, but not always, made under conditions that are favourable to new venture creation. Whilst, persistence is a decision that must be made repeatedly over time. Persistence can stem from the original commitment to start the business and individuals can feel a sense of obligation to maintain this commitment in the face of adversity.
Entrepreneurs as a group tend to want to be their own bosses, this can enable them to achieve more. This is supported by McClelland (1961) who describes the entrepreneur as an individual primarily motivated by a tremendous need for achievement and strong urge to build. Persistence is something that is innate within individuals. Alderfer’s, (1969) ERG theory can be used to explain this innate characteristic within entrepreneurs. His theory is that, needs and values are individualistic, and our innate human needs and ultimate desire to meet these needs is what drives our behaviour.
Entrepreneurial persistence is of the utmost importance, this is supported by Timmons and Spinelli (2009) who say that tenacious entrepreneurs have a greater chance of success. Persistence can result in positive or negative outcomes. Resilient entrepreneurs have the ability to adapt and emerge from an adversarial situation strengthened and more resourceful (Holland and Shepherd, 2013). On the other hand, entrepreneurs who maintain their commitment to a failing course of action end up investing in wasteful projects (DeTienne et al., 2008). Persistence may result in entrepreneurial success, it can be costly to the individual and/or the economy as the resources allocated to unsuccessful ventures could have been more efficiently used elsewhere (McGrath, 1999).
Inevitably, all entrepreneurs will encounter problems like losing a big customer or contract. Key members of staff will leave the company or regulations will change, adding to business complexity. Success depends upon them being able to persist through difficult times. Nothing can take the place of persistence and it is difficult to succeed without it.
“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” – Benjamin Franklin
The management consultant’s role provides considerable job variety. Pauwels Consulting, a Belgian consulting firm employing in excess of 300 management consultants, includes persistence as one of the eight characteristics of great consultants. They say that best consultants don’t give up, accept friction, unforeseen circumstances, and negative feedback. They use them as learning experiences, analyse them to ensure they don’t happen again and move on (Pauwels Consulting, 2014).
Management consultants must demonstrate charismatic/transformational leadership behaviour through persistence with business goals. Kanungo (1988) believed that goals set by managers for employees can promote personal efficacy among employees, and this can lead to persistence in meeting those objectives.
Persistence is frequently mentioned as one of the most important personality traits in successful people. It is rare for success to come without a great deal of effort. Often the only difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to keep going.
Highly persistent people are described as determined, conscientious, and ambitious. Their ability to persevere and work hard means they are often overachievers in academic and professional roles. They also have a propensity to be perfectionists, and need to be the best at whatever they do (Fleet and Hewitt, 2002; cited in Battersby, 2004).
People who are highly persistent are more likely to have anxiety disorders. High persistence increases both positive and negative emotions in most people, however, high persistence reduces negative emotions and increases positive emotions if a person is easy-going (Cloninger et al., 2012).
I consider myself to be persistent and have demonstrated high levels of persistence, particularly over the last number of years. I have set myself clear goals and used them to motivate and drive myself. The achievement of these goals has at times become the sole focus of my life and I have devoted vast amounts of time and energy in attaining my goals. I am also very disciplined and I’m also aware that the results of my current efforts may not be seen for a long time, however, I strongly believe that everything I do today will have a positive impact on the outcome. I come from an entrepreneurial background and was brought up working in the family businesses. I witnessed my parent’s persistence in attempting to keep the businesses going through the hard times and I feel this has been to my benefit. I also agree with Cloninger’s (2012) assessment that highly persistent people are more likely to have anxiety disorders and at times I have allowed my pursuit to be the best affect me in negative ways. Persistence is in my experience very much the double edged sword.
I constantly strive to perform to the best of my ability and will persist with a task to achieve excellence. At times, this borders on perfectionism and this breeds anxiety. I also have a very vocal inner critic and at times I let her overtake my thoughts and this leads to further anxiety. As previously mentioned I use goal setting to help me achieve my objectives. I also try to set myself challenging yet realistic goals, however, even small setbacks like not maintaining a pre-planned schedule can cause frustration.
Bailey (2008) offers the following to help people reduce perfectionism tendencies:
- Set realistic goals – require hard work but be unattainable.
- Allow for mistakes – viewed as learning experiences rather than as failures.
- Listen to how you talk to yourself – change your self-talk to positive statements, rather than negative.
- Accept that the pursuit of perfection can cost you – relationships, as well as self-esteem.
- Limit the time you spend on projects – give yourself a time limit and accept the project at the end of that time so that you can move on.
I am a born perfectionist. I like being efficient, and I get pleasure out of knowing I have tried my hardest to get the results, however, this is an aspect of my personality that I will have to learn to manage, particularly in my future career in dealing with colleagues and clients.
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