Does Entrepreneurship Within a Corporation Really Exist?
Not too long ago, a business professor friend invited me to address a luncheon of university students enrolled in his class on entrepreneurship. I was honored to have been asked, but not sure I was the right person for the task.
“Your students would be better served by a high-tech entrepreneur half my age,” I told him.
“They’ve already heard from entrepreneurs,” he said. “I want you for balance. My class needs a perspective on entrepreneurship within the corporation — if that really exists.”
I went in assuming his students believed corporate management and entrepreneurship were principles of contradiction — the only contrarians would be members of the flat earth society. I figured it might be best to tackle the assumption head on by addressing the culture of corporate giants, particularly the “old economy” companies responsible for creating the preconception.
At one time it looked like “clout” and “scale” would prevail as the most powerful forces in business. Corporate giants dominated markets and gobbled up competitors; along the way they failed to cope with rapid change. Their competitive edge eroded because the people at the top, who considered themselves the corporate brain, failed to adapt or innovate. The brain viewed the masses below it as the muscle. The muscle never got to see the big picture. Bureaucracy and stagnation set in. The brain “cut the fat” to shore up profits. But strategic health continued its free-fall.
Eventually, the giants embarked on reinventing themselves by simplifying decision-making and acting with haste. Innovation and entrepreneurship made a comeback, albeit in measured bites. In the meantime, perennial innovators the likes of Apple, FedEx and Amazon extended their leadership over old-guard competitors. Large or small, we have bureaucratic companies, entrepreneurial ones and plenty in between. Innovators drive the marketplace, followers are the passengers and those who refuse to abolish redundancy are roadkill.
My friend’s students saw themselves as entrepreneurial thinkers, yet at graduation, most of them will begin their careers in a corporation. I told them not to worry; corporate life isn’t a death sentence.
“Your job,” I said, “is to choose an organization with a buoyant culture and a leadership team that’s not afraid of change. The change-makers are small- to medium-size enterprises that either lead niche categories or are hell-bent on knocking the big guy from the top rung of a mass market. In those companies you’ll find entrepreneurial thinking.”
When it comes to job hunting, several avenues are open to grads with an entrepreneurial drive. To assist in the selection process, I suggest seven basic search guidelines:
- Search for small players or divisions of large players in industries you like.
- Lean towards industries on strong growth curves.
- Check out the target company’s mission/vision statement. Does it inspire? If it doesn’t, move on.
- Research the reputation and the modus operandi of the CEO.
- Beware the entrepreneur. Several, such as Trump, still operate by the brain and muscle ethic.
- Explore corporations that value diversity.
- Don’t resist starting in the sales department. No one is closer to the customer than the front-line sales representative.
What's an Investor to Do When History Doesn't Repeat Itself?
We’re in an era of extremes. It seems a day doesn’t go by without the word “historical” popping up in the financial news.
The equities market and consumer debt are at historical highs. Interest rates and high-yield credit spreads are at historical lows. We haven’t seen even a 5% pull-back in the market this year—for the first time since 1995—and the DJIA is exhibiting its narrowest trading range in history. These are indeed historical times. And whether this fact has you filled with extreme optimism or extreme pessimism, you have some important decisions to make going forward.
There are theories about how we landed in this particular era of extremes, and most are rooted in the significant changes that have impacted both how we live and how we invest. At the top of the list are globalization, automation, and the largest aging population in history (yet another “historical” to add to the list). It’s said that the most dangerous words in investing are, “it’s different this time,” yet one has to wonder if, in fact, it really is different this time. Not just because of the historical market highs. After all, there always has been and always will be a new market high waiting around the corner. What’s different today is the sheer number and confluence of these extreme highs and lows—and their duration. It’s a situation no investor has experienced before, which can make these waters feel pretty daunting. History repeats itself, and investment strategies are largely built on that conviction. But what do we do when it doesn’t? When history fails to repeat itself, how can investors plan for tomorrow with confidence that they are positioned to protect their assets and gain a reasonable level of yield?
The first step is to recognize that, at least in many ways, the investment landscape really is different this time around. All you have to do is look at the numbers to be sure of that fact. And the catalysts I mentioned before—globalization, automation, and the aging population—aren’t going anywhere. If anything, the impact of each will only grow as time moves on. What that means is that there’s no way to predict what’s coming next. The only thing we know for certain is that predictability is a thing of the past (if it ever really existed at all). The result: you need to approach your portfolio differently than you ever have before.
Your goal, of course, is to find return given a risk tolerance. Current yield is an important part of total return and getting it is an elusive proposition in today’s market. If, like many people, you’re less than confident that the four major sectors that currently drive the equities market—healthcare, discretionary, tech, and financial—are poised to continue to rise at even close to recent rates, it may be wise to seek out alternatives to help drive yield without adding more risk to the equation.
But if alternatives are the wise path forward, which alternatives are the best options?
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), Business Development Companies (BDCs), and energy stocks, traditionally the favored “non-correlated alternatives,” defied expectations when the stock market crashed in 2008, inconveniently revealing high correlations just as the equities market began its freefall. Anyone who was invested in these alternatives at the time knows all too well the devastating impact “non-correlated investments” can have on a portfolio, especially when they fail to do their job when it matters most.
Luckily, there is one alternative that can be counted on to remain uncorrelated to the traditional financial markets and, ultimately, deliver that precious yield: life insurance-based investments. And because this asset is literally built on one of the irreversible catalysts of change, the aging Baby Boomer population, owning life insurance may in fact be the ideal alternative to help investors generate non-correlated returns, regardless of where the market turns next. Even better, these investments typically deliver those returns with very low volatility.
What makes life insurance different is that, unlike typical alternative vehicles, secondary life insurance returns aren’t based on the economy. Instead, they are inherently non-correlated because returns are based solely on the longevity of the individual insureds.
As much as we would all love for the bull market to continue on its merry way, one thing history does tell us even today is that a bear market will come. It’s only a matter of when. As you strive to hedge your portfolios and prepare for the inevitable, life insurance-based investments are one tool that can help you achieve the three things you need most: diversification, low volatility, and yield.
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