5 Lessons from Ernst & Young's 2012 Entrepreneurs of the Year

rsz_computerwithphone by Tim Parker on January 21, 2013
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Each year, Ernst & Young names a cadre of business owners as Entrepreneurs of the Year in various categories and then picks one overall winner. In 2012, the global accounting firm chose 10 innovators from more than 2,000 professionals nominated by somebody who knew of their outstanding accomplishments as an entrepreneur — customers, colleagues, friends, or family.

The overall winner in 2012 was Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Yogurt company, Chobani, Inc.

E&Y and the Kauffman Foundation recently presented a study [PDF] outlining some of the mindsets that made the 2012 entrepreneurs stand out in their respective fields. Here are some of their findings — and how you can apply them to your business.

1. They do not focus on risk. Entrepreneurs and investors typically learn to weigh the risks and rewards (return on investment) before making decisions. The E&Y study found that top entrepreneurs are so passionate and driven by an idea that it often doesn’t register as risky. Failing to weigh the pros and cons of any decision could have disastrous results; however, if you’re the type of person who dismisses new ideas solely because of risk, consider taking a chance next time.

2. They focus on people. Top entrepreneurs spend more time supporting key workers than obsessing about the business’s efficiency. They know that hiring — and retaining — the best managers involves making people feel valued and important. In fact, 41 percent of respondents in the E&Y survey listed their management team as the main driver of their success. If you’re a startup with few or no employees, think of your customers and vendors. Put extra emphasis on communicating that they’re partners with you. If you have employees, look at how industry leaders treat employees. You may not be able to be as generous as Google, but there are plenty of low-cost ways to make employees feel valued.

3. They think about expansion. The markets that top entrepreneurs are in today are not the markets they plan to be in tomorrow. They have their eye on domestic and, perhaps more importantly, international growth. Have you thought about additional markets that may fit your business? They might not be geographic in nature but may actually be market segments or divisions of businesses that you think are too large to target as a whole.

4. They stay ahead of innovation. If you stay where you are, your competitors will pass you by. Top entrepreneurs constantly examine the marketplace and look for what’s next. What is tomorrow’s big problem to solve? Solving today’s problem tomorrow can only sustain a business for so long. Have you considered the next milestone for your business? Don’t let success fuel complacency.

5. They don’t hold on to the startup mentality. A new business often has one person doing all of the work, which limits growth. As soon as possible, sharp entrepreneurs hire people to do the jobs that are not in their skill set. As a company grows, it is not only more efficient, but also more cost-effective. Are you still doing everything yourself? It’s hard to grow if you’re already working at your personal capacity. Is it time to hire somebody so you can put more effort toward expanding your operations?

Ernst & Young is accepting nominations for the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year awards through March 8. The winners will be announced at an event in Palm Springs, Calif., in November.

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Tim Parker is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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