The Hunt

Entrepreneur vs. Professional

What is the secret of ‘professional’ success?  Is there a universal trick? Global business journals are flooded with myriad case papers involving who-is-who that ever made it big.  The secrets seem to be as abundant as the stars in the cosmos —a few of my past blogs have delved on the same subject as well.   But is there a unique ’white’ truth in the universe that binds all the stars together?  The hunt of that elusive mystery seems worth an adventure!

So where do we start our voyage?  Considering that the mystery is hidden, logic dictates that it has stayed unnoticed somewhere on a road less traveled.  Therefore, let us start with the footprints of the brave crusaders who challenged the norm of pursuing the conventional trails.  The data-driven approach advocates three easy steps: Step 1: Assemble a healthy sampling of rags-to-riches tycoons; Step 2: Chronicle their success journeys on a graph; Step 3: Study patterns at the intersecting points.  At the end of this exercise, we will have a narrower list of key attributes that maximize the likelihood of success.

Unfortunately, there is only one problem with the above approach:  we might be starting off with corrupt input data!  You see, while successful entrepreneurs sure appear as excellent pioneers to emulate, sadly their role-model worthiness is not always proportionate to their success.  Why?  A success case study can be broadly divided into two: a) The initial phase when the entrepreneur rakes in his first $million; b) The subsequent phase when he manages to add a few more zeros after his first $million.  The hitch is that we are in the habit of seeing the initial phase as ‘pure’ accomplishment of an individual, and not in ‘combination’ with good luck, fortunate timing, or a privileged ecosystem.   The issue with the subsequent phase is that it is plausible our entrepreneur became just a front-ending proxy boss who struck gold with one or two rock stars in the command line-up; and they, in turn, leveraged the initial momentum to steer the organization to dizzying heights.

Of course, the above intangible influences are difficult to segregate; moreover, such analysis has zero excitement value after a successful businessman has achieved a certain stature.  As the popular saying goes: Nothing succeeds like success!  By the time an industrialist makes it big, all the power, confidence, and exposure present the persona of a leader who was always ‘destined’ to be successful!  The world is convinced that if he were to do it all over again, he would repeat the feat! We forget very easily that not every successful entrepreneur is necessarily brilliant, no different than how every failed entrepreneur is not necessarily dumb.

It seems like our conquest to unravel the mystery has already hit a roadblock!  Perhaps then we started off in the wrong direction?  Maybe we should have explored the road more frequently traveled by the ‘masses’?  And who are these masses?  How about the millions of fresh graduates being enrolled by global corporate zoos every year!  A few make it big, most don’t.  Sure, those ‘fizzling out’ are not necessarily undeserving.  Often, they might just be victims of wrong ecosystems, politics, role misfits, etc.

But how about those who do end up soaring?  The employees who climb formidable corporate hierarchies all the way to the top?  The probability is high that these individuals are indeed worthy of their success.  Why?  Because the corrupting factors like ‘good luck’, ‘right timing’, ‘nepotism’ etc. can’t be expected to rapidly push up an employee forever in a mature competitive environment.  Particularly when a fresher starts his career from scratch in a large organization (without prior ‘connections’), he has to possess some phenomenal traits to overtake the more established incumbents on a continual basis.

It seems like we are finally on the right path of discovery.  Except, the visibility ahead just got murkier.  For now we are staring at multiple forks on the road.  You see, the employee achievers handsomely outnumber the club of successful entrepreneurs.  And the varied leadership roles in different organizations require a complex permutation & combination of skills—communication, people management, hard work, attitude, process, and the list goes on.  Moreover, most professional achievers are package-deals; their weak points are very few and those too are on a continuous self-improvement plan until they hit the ‘genetic’ cap of their full potential. By the time they qualify for our case study, all their skills are already stretched and optimized, thereby making the job of isolating that ‘one’ special skill nearly impossible.   In short, while we are finally on the right trail of our conquest, there is nowhere to proceed as the road ahead has disintegrated!

Our coordinates, amusingly, are similar to that of an employee who has finished exploiting the full potential of his capabilities and is clueless where to go from there.  And that’s where the difference between a good professional and an overachiever kicks in.  A good professional runs until he covers the ‘genetic stretch’ of his road, but an overachiever continues running long afterwards while paving his own path ahead!   It is at the end of this achiever-made road that we have some hope of discovering the secret of ‘professional’ success.  For it appears that the secret doesn’t reside within us, but somewhere outside—perhaps in the choice of the destination we are pursuing?!

Sounds too theoretical, doesn’t it?  Therefore, it’s time for something more practical.  Over the next three blogs, I will be narrating short stories of three professionals who have achieved stupendous success without starting their own business.  These stories belong to three of the closest friends I have made in my personal journey over the last two decades.  The stories are simple, not as glamorous as the Cybage story—and that is precisely the reason why they are able to bring out the ‘white’ secret of professional success so elegantly.

In the meantime, here is an interesting question that I am sure all professionals would love to ponder on.  All of us have our own genetic limitations and most of us continuously try to address them.  So which of the following skills do we find the most difficult to improve upon:

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Original, Skills, Strength, Style


  1. Another gem! I have always been fascinated by entrepreneurial success stories. The ones who rise to success as an employee are definitely underrated and go unnoticed. I read an article once, long time back and the memory is so diminish that I can’t recollect where I read. The story too seems a bit too fairy-talish! This was a read on how a ‘chai-waala’ became a copywriter in an advertising agency! He used to bring the daily morning chai for the employees. On one such day he walked in as the creative team was discussing an idea and looking for a copy, he pitched in some of his thoughts which astonished the team! Yes, as odd as that sounds, it was definitely fascinating and inspiring. It inspired me.
    P.S – Still searching for that article online.

  2. All above skills needs continuous improvement but my vote for Organizing Skills because the process and structure are always needs to change according to time and situation, same formula may not work every time.

  3. Something like godsend for those who had been following these blog series (be it aspiring entrepreneurs or professionals) ..

    Would be waiting for next two blogs.. 🙂

  4. Pleasure reading the blog… sounds close match for a blog to find GOD 🙂

    Voting for attitude. As we say attitude decides altitude, we would know that this fuels the trait of wanting something to a limitless extent that one feels like a guided missile always seeking the opportunity to act and grow.

    Waiting for the secrets to come out…

  5. I believe environment influences emotional EQ, which influences perception and consequent action. Or to put it another way, the more in tune with ones surrounding environment, the better odds of “unlocking” that success sequence.

  6. Once again a lovely blog.

    Once again a lovely blog.

    Though all of the skills require continous improvement in one form or other.
    I feel “Attitude is everything”. Attitude and opinion do not change easily. Attitudes are influenced by core values, atmosphere, social, economic conditions,
    people around us etc.Life puts us in test like situations. Our reaction is always determined by the way we perceive the situation, and this depends on the attitude one possess.Nothing can stop the one with the right attitude from being successful.

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The Hunt - Arun Nathani Blog