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BLOG - Entrepreneur or business person?

15 Nov 2014

Did you hear? Victoria Beckham, former Spice Girl, wife of the famous soccer star and owner of a successful fashion business has been named the UK’s Entrepreneur of the Year by Management Today, a respected British magazine.

In what seems like more of a defense of their choice than praise for the winner, the magazine’s editor, wrote: “She is what she is. And what Mrs. Beckham is has created a company that is both real and wildly successful. Philip Beresford, who compiles the MT Top 100, is the author of the Rich List, and you don’t pull the sequined wool over his eyes. Her numbers are impressive. I, for one, rather warmed to her admission that ‘first time around I felt famous, but now I feel successful.'” Yeah, I’m sure he felt something warm.

As you can imagine, the choice has been controversial. Some I know think it’s nothing more than a PR stunt while others are fully supportive. In the latter camp, a Forbes contributorgushed: “Since she opened her fashion boutique in London’s Mayfair five years ago, turnover has grown from 1m to 30m. Having started out with just three members of staff, she’s now employing 100. Sales growth of 2,900% and employment growth of more than 3,200% is hardly to be sniffed at–nor is it the kind of performance that can be generated by the sparkle of celebrity alone. Rather, hard-nosed fashion industry insiders–hardly likely to be swayed by Beckham’s pop music years or the identity of her husband–consistently praise the quality of her collections. Moreover, she has parlayed that flair for design into business success, displaying considerable acumen. Nor should we overlook Beckham’s work ethic–whatever you think about the Spice Girls’ music, the band was renowned for putting in the hours and Posh Spice, as Beckham was famously nicknamed, appears never to have lost the habit.”

OK, calm down Spice Guy. I admit, the numbers are very good. And I’m sure Ms. Beckham works very, very hard. How else could her and her band-mates have produced such an enormous amount of quality music for so many years? I’m also sure that the British magazine who awarded this prize did so after truly evaluating her entrepreneurship and that it had absolutely nothing to do with her celebrity, her husband’s enormous popularity and the controversy, followed by the viral attention this choice would (and did) bring to their previously unheard of website. And let’s face it–am I not as guilty as them for writing about her too?

My problem is the award itself. I don’t think Victoria Beckham is an entrepreneur. That’s because entrepreneurship is not just about business savvy, for which she definitely has. Or celebrity. Or wealth. Or even about financial success. She’s got all that too. It’s about the risk one takes to achieve those objectives.

For example, with the help of a $20,000 loan from his father-in-law and $5,000 that he had saved from the army, Sam Walton purchased his variety store in Arkansas in 1945 and eventually grew that into what would become Walmart. Richard Branson was once told by his headmaster that he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. Instead he started his record business with next to nothing in a church basement and suffered through many successes and failures before hitting it big. For decades, Warren Buffet worked countless hours and saved his earnings while making smart investments (some winners, some losers) that eventually grew into enough of a stockpile to enable him to go off on his own and achieve unbelievable success.

These are a few of the entrepreneurs you know. And then there are entrepreneurs you probably don’t know.

Like my friend who runs a website design firm. He quit his job two years ago with about six months of living expenses in the bank and a dream of doing something better with his life, being his own boss and creating great things for his clients. He’s grown his business to six people and it’s profitable enough that his wife was able quit her job and join him. Or a woman I recently read about who was formerly a successful rep for a wholesale clothing firm and, after having her second child, chucked it all to sell her own jewelry online. Today she’s making five times what she was earning at her job. Or a client of mine who, with his brother, left college and went into their dad’s fledgling business selling electronic components to the computer industry. They not only sacrificed their education but hours of time with their young children while they grew the company into what is today–a firm that generates $15 million a year and employs 70 people. These are risk takers. These are dreamers. These are entrepreneurs.

At the time she started her fashion business, Ms. Beckham was already sitting on enough money to live a thousand lifetimes. She took no substantial risks. She had plenty of capital and plenty of fame with which to launch her business. She was able to buy the best advisors and marketing help. Brand names lined up to do business with her so that they could enjoy some of the Beckham fame. And she had the backing of not only one of the most wealthy and famous soccer players in the world but was able to attract other deep pocketed investors, like 19 Merchandising Limited (related to “Idol” magnate Simon Fuller’s company which was sold to what is now called Core Media Group, a publicly held company, in 2005) as partners in her ventures.

I don’t begrudge Victoria Beckham for her success. In fact, the only beef I have with her is for making the movie Spice World (just watch ten minutes and you’ll see what I mean). She’s done a fantastic job growing and managing her business and I respect that. But she’s not an entrepreneur. Ms. Beckham is a successful and competent businesswoman. Ask any successful entrepreneur who took risks and suffered failures and they’ll tell you there is a difference.

Gene Marks