Instinct: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial DNA to Achieve Your Business Goals
By Thomas L. Harrison, Mary H. Frakes
In 1987, Victoria Chacon left her home in Peru to come to the United States. The twenty-seven-year-old was alone; she had left her young son behind with her family. She spoke no English, knew no one in this country. "I would wake up everyday alone, without my family, without my son, without my friends, without my whole world. For several months, believe me, I was crying day and night." She held two jobs as a housekeeper and busgirl at two Atlanta hotels and worked from 6 A.M. to 11:30 P.M., all the while studying her copy of How to Learn English in 15 Days.
When a friend told her that jobs available through the Georgia Department of Labor paid far more than the $4.25 an hour she made cleaning rooms, she got someone to drive her there. The recruiter set up an interview at Hormel Food Corp., but warned Chacon that even though she had gotten high scores on the labor department's written exam, her broken English would be a problem. The Hormel manager who interviewed her said the same thing: "I have hundreds of applications from people who speak good English and have experience. Why should I give you this position?"
"I told him, 'All I'm asking is for one opportunity. Let's make a deal. Let me work for you for one week. After that, you can put me together with your best worker, and I'm going to beat them. And if you still don't like my work, you don't even have to pay me.' I guess that moved his heart." She got a nine-dollar-an-hour job on the night shift in the bacon department. She quit one of her two hotel jobs, but still found time to sell kids' shoes on weekends at a flea market.
Months later, a friend said his boss, a builder, needed someone to clean the house they were painting and asked Chacon if she wanted the job. "I asked how much they would pay. He said, 'Well, it's a huge house, so I guess they're going to pay you $1,200.' The builder recommended me to other builders, and that was the beginning of my business."
She hired a couple of her hotel co-workers. For more than three years, she would go from site to construction site with flyers and business cards during the day, and then to her night job at Hormel. When the Olympics came to Atlanta, she started a second company to provide temporary construction workers. In addition to those two, Chacon is now exploring a very different opportunity: "I saw my community growing very fast, and I said, 'At some point we're going to need a publication in order to raise our voice, for the English-speaking community to be aware of what's going on inside the Latino community.'" In May of 2000, she launched La Vision, a bilingual newspaper from a Latino perspective that circulates throughout Georgia.
Contrast Chacon's story with that of a former vice president at a subsidiary of a global financial data firm. After the division for which he worked was shut down, he tried to start a small independent consulting business, but never really gave it his full attention. With his severance package gone and the consulting business floundering, he decided he'd like to return to a corporate job. However, he is now over fifty and has been out of the workforce for a couple of years. He has had difficulty finding a job. He's considered overqualified, his experience in a rapidly changing field is outdated, and employers can find people younger who are willing to work for less. And he can't figure out where he went wrong or what to do next.
What prevents one person from evolving and adapting to change, and makes another a Victoria Chacon, who gets ahead regardless of the obstacles that stand in her way? Are some people naturally endowed from birth with characteristics that invariably lead to success? And if so, what about those of us who may not be so genetically gifted? Are we doomed to a lifetime of repeated failure if those qualities don't come naturally? Is success the product of something in our DNA or something we learn? Or is it some combination-a genetic, instinctive predisposition that we can enhance at crucial moments in our lives by using learned skills and abilities? With the mapping of the human genome, scientists have begun answering those questions. Every day, new research is overturning assumptions about how much of our behavior is acquired and how much is inborn.
I've been at various times an advertising executive, a marketing representative for a pharmaceutical company, an entrepreneur, and now a corporate executive-an intrapreneur. It's been quite a ride for a small-town boy whose father owned a grocery story in Maryland. However, my original training was in cell biology. My evolution from research scientist to CEO demonstrates how anyone can take the building blocks they've been given and make something completely unexpected from them-creating an addiction to success in the process. As my example demonstrates, careers do not need to be-and often are not-linear.
Today I'm the chairman and CEO of Diversified Agency Services (DAS), the largest, most profitable, and fastest-growing division of a multibillion-dollar corporation called Omnicom Group Inc. Our group includes more than 150 distinct-and often quite distinctive-profit centers. DAS has hundreds of offices worldwide, and we're responsible for just over half of the parent company's revenues. DAS functions as a holding company of talent that we can deploy in virtual, flexible, strategically aligned teams to represent our client's specific initiatives. In a way, DAS is like a receptor nerve cell for Omnicom. We try to serve as an intake mechanism, strategically acquiring companies that will keep DAS and Omnicom leaders in each discipline in which we choose to compete, that will strengthen our global talent offering, or that will open up profitable new markets for continued growth.
As I worked with entrepreneurs over the years, I began to realize that there was something that set successful entrepreneurs apart from most other people I dealt with-or even from less successful entrepreneurs. We all know people of whom others say, "He (or she) is a born entrepreneur." Indeed, it did seem as though these people had always had certain characteristics that came as naturally to them as their hair color (in some cases, even more naturally!).
Instinct: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial DNA reveals how highly successful people have leveraged certain inherited personality traits and learned how to compensate for those that they lack. Many of the people interviewed for this book happen to be entrepreneurs, but the qualities they embody are needed by everyone in business today. Even if you inherited great potential, you need to learn the techniques and mind-set that help you turn it into the entrepreneurial attitude that best builds a career. Regardless of where we work, each of us needs to approach our careers as though we're a company of one, with a picture of personal success.
If you think you got shortchanged in the genetic lottery, you can still be successful-but only if you know what you're starting with and, more important, how to make up for what you may not possess. This book provides a road map to the attitudes and behaviors that can help you capitalize on the genetic foundation you inherited and compensate for what you feel you lack. Understanding how to activate your "success genes," compensate for your weaknesses, and make better instinctive decisions constitutes what I call "the DNA of success." Businesses have marketing plans; you need one, too. The DNA of success is that personal marketing plan. Doing these things will help you, your employees, and your organization perform at the highest level and achieve their greatest potential.
Using real-life examples and the latest scientific discoveries about the connections among genetics, biology, evolution, and psychology, this book demonstrates how success in career, business, and life often depends on using your instincts to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances.