May 30, 2018
Larry Farrell, who wrote JA's Centennial book, The Entrepreneurial Attitude, recently wrote a blog post for McGraw-Hill, the book's publisher. In addition, he sat down with Asheesh Advani, CEO of JA Worldwide, to discuss the book project.
An Interview with Larry Farrell, author of The Entrepreneurial Attitude
by Asheesh Advani
Tell us a little about yourself, Larry, both your entrepreneurship experience and your JA background.
After graduating university in Arizona, I spent two years as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran, which started my lifelong interest in international activities. I worked overseas a few more years, and then went to the Harvard Business School and received an MBA, which led to my early business career. I was a young marketing Vice President at American Express in NYC, and then President of Kepner-Tregoe, a worldwide consulting firm in Princeton, New Jersey. I actually became disillusioned with big business and MBA-type management practices, and in 1983, started my own company to research and teach entrepreneurial practices, which, at the time, was a completely new field. I’m pleased to say that The Farrell Company has become the most experienced firm in the world for researching and teaching entrepreneurship. We’ve trained over six million people in companies, universities, and government economic-development projects, across 40 countries, in nine languages. Along the way, I’ve written five books on entrepreneurship (including The Entrepreneurial Attitude), which have been published in numerous languages, from Spanish to German to Chinese.
After all these years and a thousand blue-chip customers, I must say that my favorite client ever has been Junior Achievement. In 2005, JA hired me and my company to create new entrepreneurship programs for middle and high school students. We developed the JA It’s My Business and the JA Be Entrepreneurial programs, plus a new unit on entrepreneurship for JA’s flagship offering, the JA Company Program. For a couple of years thereafter, I became JA’s “ambassador for entrepreneurship” and delivered dozens of presentations to JA areas and member countries on the increasing importance of entrepreneurial education in the 21st century for the world’s young people.
How did The Entrepreneurial Attitude come about?
It was one of those rare, happy, coincidences in life. In 2016, one of my former book publishers called to say they were interested in having me write another book on the entrepreneurial spirit, if we could come up with a unique approach on the increasingly popular subject. Writing another book was the furthest thing from my mind at the time, but being asked by a major publisher to do a new book almost never happens, so I took the proposition seriously and suggested several possible themes around various clients and projects I had worked on over the years. When I mentioned that JA had been a great client, the publisher jumped at the idea of a book on youth entrepreneurship, and then asked if I thought JA might be interested in cooperating on the project. I first called Jack Kosakowski, my old friend and the CEO of JA USA, who informed me that JA Worldwide had been thinking about doing a book for JA’s upcoming Centennial. He then introduced me to you, Asheesh, shortly after you had assumed the helm of JA Worldwide. You agreed to the idea of a book on youth entrepreneurship, using the stories of successful JA alumni around the world as the core of the book. So, what made it happen was the confluence of McGraw-Hill, a blue-chip global publisher, wanting me to write a new book on entrepreneurship, and Junior Achievement, my favorite client of all time, looking for a book to help celebrate JA’s Centennial, and my being ready, able, and super excited to do all the interviewing and writing. And as they say, the rest is history . . ..
What surprised you as you interviewed 70 JA alumni for the book?
I was stunned, not just surprised, at the high level of loyalty, enthusiasm, and gratitude every interviewee expressed about their participation in JA programs. Honestly, it bordered on the unbelievable. I can’t tell you how many dozens of alumni told me that JA changed their lives! And, to a person, alumni said that joining JA was a powerful and positive experience on their careers and in their lives. The net result of this amazing level of enthusiasm from all the alumni (and I’ve been saying this in my recent speeches to JA audiences) is that JA Worldwide is sitting atop a goldmine of alumni goodwill, devotion, and eagerness to support JA around the world. And it seems to a large extent, this is an un-tapped goldmine! Many of the most successful alumni I interviewed told me they were pleased we had reached out to them to be interviewed for the book, as they had not been called on in the past to help out. So, it would seem that continued contact with and pursuit of JA’s estimated 100 million living alumni, is one takeaway from the book that could be worth its weight in gold!
What did you find that those 70 have in common?
Regarding the immense commitment and goodwill all the alumni showed toward JA, the single most common thing they said they gained from their JA experience was self-confidence. They described it as gaining the confidence to fend for themselves, to manage their own careers, and to achieve their own entrepreneurial dreams. There are several alumni interviews highlighting this phenomenon in Chapter 12 on Self-Efficacy, one of the seven JA competencies covered in Part Two of the book. Whether we call it self-confidence or self-efficacy, it was clearly the most common JA benefit alumni talked about in my interviews with them. While numerous specific skills and techniques were applauded by the JA alumni I interviewed, by far the most powerful and long-lasting benefit they all gained from JA was believing they could really do something great with their lives.
Your research shows that there are four fundamental practices of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs (sense of mission, customer/product vision, high-speed innovation, and self-inspired behavior). Can you tell us a little bit about each?
Chapters 1 to 4 of the book are actually an updated version of my own earlier research into the basic practices of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. We included these chapters for two reasons: The first was for credibility, to give the book an external reference in defining what entrepreneurship really is. The second was to ensure that the book could be used as a teaching tool. The application section at the end of the book, called “My Entrepreneurial Start-Up Action Plan,” is based on applying the four entrepreneurial basics to the readers’ own careers or start-up businesses. The book can be summarized as my latest research on the practices of the world’s great entrepreneurs combined with examples of those proven practices brought to life through interviews with 70 high-achieving JA alumni from around the world. This powerful combination worked well.
For example, “sense of mission” is perfectly defined by alumni Steve Case, the founder of AOL, when he said, “Our goal was to get America and the world online.” It turns out that all entrepreneurs believe they are doing something important, something great, in their work and lives. It’s a powerful theme across all interviews, across all regions. Just to reinforce the global point, here’s JA Zimbabwe alumni Titus Mboko: “I founded Grain Solutions with the mission to reduce hunger and poverty of the rural poor.”
Absolute focus on “customer/product vision” is the single most important practice of all entrepreneurs, and every alumnus I interviewed could recount in detail the product they created and the customers they served as a JA student. I’ve come to believe that instilling customer/product vision in JA students—actually making a product and selling it to customers—is indeed the single most valuable practice learned in all JA programs.
Likewise, interviews with innovative and fast-moving alumni such as Sanjay Gupta in the U.S., Eleonora Arifova in Russia, Christophe Robilliard in Peru, and Eric Chen in Hong Kong all illustrate why and how “high-speed innovation” is such a critical factor in all entrepreneurial success and all JA alumni achievement.
Finally, “self-inspired behavior” underpins all entrepreneurial success and JA alumni achievement. No matter your age, your gender, the color of your skin, or your nationality, if you are self-inspired, you cannot be stopped! Take the UK’s Ben Towers, who started his company at age eleven and whose motto is, “You don’t have to be a fully polished machine to start . . . just do it!” Or India’s Bisman Deu, who invented her product at age 15, who says, “You have to create your own opportunities. They won’t come knocking on your door.” Or 80-year-old Alfred Bright—the only African American in his JA program in Youngstown, Ohio, and the oldest alumni interviewed—whose lifelong credo has been, “Life is what you make of it . . . the answer is in your hand.”
What has been the best part about writing this book?
Without a doubt, the best part has been the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and interview so many high achieving JA alumni around the world. Some are world famous, many are national celebrities, and others are simply very successful people in their own professions or industries. Although they come from different parts of the world, and from different professions and careers, they have similar gifts to share: their own stories of success and their own tested advice for others.
They were all smart, inspiring, and caring people, with powerful career advice for young people, as readers of the book will see. Just imagine, three or four pieces of practical career advice from each of 70 super-successful people around the world, all available in one place. That large collection of advice, from high achievers across 30 countries, has to be one of the most valuable compendiums of good career ideas ever assembled. No theories, no academic treatises. No back-slapping exhortations from motivational gurus. Just proven, practical tips on how to succeed in your chosen career or business from 70 high-achievers, from all walks of life, who have actually done it for themselves.
Suffice it to say, it was an honor and a pleasure for me to collect and edit an entire book full of great ideas on developing and applying the entrepreneurial attitude!
What now? How will you be spending the next few months?
First, with JA Worldwide’s generous support, I have already begun presenting overviews on The Entrepreneurial Attitude at several JA regional board and management events. The plan is to cover all six JA Worldwide regions in 2018. Also, I’ll be writing several columns to promote the book on the McGraw-Hill Business Blog [we’ll link to this], which has some 84,000 subscribers. We also have a couple of magazine book excerpts lined up in the USA later in the year. And of course, I will make myself available to speak at any promotional events organized by the publisher or other conference organizers. At the same time, I’ll be involved in facilitating any international publishing arrangements for the book. At the moment, we have several already approved or in the works for Romania, Bulgaria, France, and China. I’m sure other countries and languages will follow.
Beyond these immediate activities, I hope to once again be available to JA area offices and JA countries as perhaps JA’s “unofficial ambassador for entrepreneurship.” Certainly, over the next 12 months, I’ll be delighted to come to any JA area or JA member country to help introduce the new book specifically and help promote JA’s entrepreneurship programs generally. A keynote title such as, “The Entrepreneurial Attitude—What it Is and Why it’s So Important for JA Kids in Our Global Economy” might be a good general theme for such visits. The goal of such events might be to raise the local profile of JA, reward key groups of stakeholders, or even support fundraising activities.
For anyone interested, I can always be reached via email. Thank you, Asheesh, and JA supporters everywhere, for all your enthusiasm for The Entrepreneurial Attitude, JA’s Centennial book!