Does your business need a marketing manager, or an entrepreneur with a flair for marketing? As an owner you’ll need to choose one or the other – because it’s unlikely you’ll find both in a single package.
That’s the advice of Ken Varejes, once a maverick co-founder of ComutaNet commuter advertising and for the past five years the head of Primedia Unlimited, which specialises in nurturing entrepreneurs who have clever marketing ideas. “Very few managers are entrepreneurs,” cautions Varejes. He says a manager is best suited to a business that’s already established and with appropriate systems in place, as this allows decisions to be made based on available information. But in a fledgling organisation requiring innovation to grow and succeed, a high-energy entrepreneur who flies by the seat of his pants and without regard for corporate structures is what’s required.
A stake in the business
He believes the entrepreneur should also have a stake in the business – the chance to be at risk and “lose skin in the game”, as he calls it. “It changes the mindset,” he explains. “Managers are often happy to settle for less, but entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to change the game.”
Where do you find such a person? Probably not among university-educated marketers, who tend to do well in corporate environments but lack the willingness to cut across corporate silos in an effort to understand and influence other aspects of the business. “You can’t place a job ad for this sort of person,” says Varejes. “Most people think they’re entrepreneurial, but they’re not.” He suggests the ideal candidate is someone who has started their own business and shown a willingness to risk their own money. Family background can also be an indicator, with many entrepreneurs learning the necessary skills at an early age from their parents. Passion is another yardstick. “I’m always into the passion. You can have a clever guy and a stupid guy; if the clever guy is dour and the stupid guy’s got passion – I’d rather take the stupid guy,” he explains.
Seek people with passion
Passion played a crucial role in one of Primedia Unlimited’s most successful ventures to date – the establishment of its Primall Media mall advertising division, which has delivered a five-fold profit over five years. Varejes recalls meeting one of the young co-owners of the original business at a time when they were struggling to make an impact against a more established industry player. “I liked his passion; this guy loved malls,” he says. This attitude gave Varejes the confidence to use Primedia’s muscle to help secure advertising rights with some of the biggest mall owners in the country. The rest, as they say, is history.
Don’t stifle creativity
And how do you nurture an entrepreneur once you have one on board? Have a structure that’s loose enough to allow them to work across the business without being hindered too much.
As the owner or senior manager, it’s also important that you aren’t seen as “reigning supreme”. Entrepreneurs need to be convinced of courses of action and respect must be earned. Varejes concedes that corporate governance and good management practice can’t be ignored – but it must be implemented over time in order to avoid stifling creativity. “Bring it in too early and you destroy the entrepreneur and the business,” he says.
The difficulties inherent in nurturing a free-spirited approach are something Varejes understands from personal experience. As a founder of ComutaNet – the company which provides opportunities for marketers to reach millions of taxi, bus and train commuters – he was largely the master of his own destiny. “We made our own calls and made decisions quickly,” he recalls.
Find the right fit
But the business was eventually purchased by the Primedia group and Varejes then found himself in the staid corporate world. He was very much a square peg in a round hole – until the opportunity came along five years ago to create Primedia Unlimited.
Essentially, it starts up or acquires new businesses by partnering with entrepreneurs who have great ideas, but lack the financial muscle or infrastructure to realise their full potential.
“We have a structure that allows people to be maverick and to deliver innovation; that is critical.” He says when partnering with an entrepreneur it’s important that there’s a camaraderie. The parameters of the relationship must also be clear from the start. “It’s no good trying to set the boundaries after you’ve established a relationship – then it’s too late.”