10 minute read 9 Dec 2019
Unstoppable scarlet macaw

How burning ambition can become a beacon for the future


Stasia Mitchell

EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader

Helping entrepreneurs connect, contribute to their businesses and make the world better. Strong advocate for women-owned companies and women business leaders.

10 minute read 9 Dec 2019
Related topics Growth Entrepreneurship

The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Class of 2019 and other business leaders share the innovative strategies they use to drive growth. 

When entrepreneurs get together, it becomes clear that they have a lot in common, even across industries. That’s certainly the case at EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ in Monaco, where EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Award winners from around the globe celebrate their successes and learn from other business luminaries. But many of those successes would not have been possible without the lessons learned from failure as well.

All of these entrepreneurs have shown themselves to be unstoppable in the face of adversity, and many have chosen to hone in on similar growth drivers in their journey to market leadership. They focus on their customers while valuing their talented employees. They use technology to transform their business and adjust their operations for agility and strategic alignment. They adjust their financial approach to derive maximum benefits and look to partnerships and strategic acquisitions to seize opportunities. And they manage risk to reduce volatility overall.

Throughout the event, the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Class of 2019 shared how they are driving growth in their companies. Many of those strategies were echoed by keynote speakers and panelists as they described what they’ve learned over their careers.

EY 7 Drivers of Growth

EY 7 Drivers of Growth

Using the wisdom of thousands of high-growth businesses, the EY 7 Drivers of Growth is a tried, tested and trusted framework that can enable you to think differently about your business and successfully deliver your growth strategy.


Learn more

Engage and delight customers

It’s important for businesses to build loyalty through a true understanding of their customers’ needs. “We really believe that what’s good for our customers is good for our business, and I think that with that type of mindset it’s very difficult to go wrong,” said David Darmanin, CEO of website user analysis firm Hotjar and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Malta.

A customer-focused mindset, brought on by a broken suitcase, sent keynote speaker Jen Rubio, Co‑founder and Chief Brand Officer of Away, on her journey to transform the travel experience. In just over three years, she and her co-founder Steph Korey have sold over 1 million suitcases. Away is now a unicorn (valued over US$1b) that wants its people to concentrate on customers. “We have made it clear that our people feel empowered, have access to leaders, are encouraged to constantly iterate and be customer-obsessed,” Rubio said.

Concentrating on customers can be harder than it seems, said keynote speaker Anthony Pritzker, Chairman and CEO of Pritzker Private Capital (PPC). The firm invests in companies that already have strong management teams, with a particular focus on family businesses undergoing a generational transition. But one year a PPC pallet rental business lost a major customer when it perceived PPC didn’t care about the account.

“I was aghast. What did we do wrong?” Pritzker wondered at the time, adding that PPC was eventually able to win back some of the business. “You have to take care of your customers,” he says. “You have to do a lot to make sure everybody is engaged.”

We really believe that what’s good for our customers is good for our business.
David Darmanin
CEO, Hotjar

Win the war for talent

In a world of continuous disruption, a business is only as good as its people. It’s important to seek out employees who fit the company’s culture by sharing its purpose and vision. “To attract talented people, you have to have an ethos behind what you’re doing,” Pritzker said.

That sentiment was shared by Brad Keywell, CEO of Uptake Technologies and the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019 Award winner. “Culture is outrageously important to any enterprise — any enterprise, any family, any organization,” he said. “At Uptake, our culture is derived from our ability to understand each other and empower each other and understand where we’re going. And the where we’re going part, as the CEO and founder, that’s my job — to explain where we are, where we’re going and what I see.”

A company’s culture also needs to embrace the importance of preparing employees for the future. According to Šimon Šicko, CEO of PIXEL FEDERATION and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Slovak Republic, it’s imperative to “build a constantly learning organization and teach people the joy of learning.” He noted that the three key skills of the future will be critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

Part of preparing for the future is recognizing that technology augments, rather than replaces, human capabilities. “If you don’t work as a team, then you’ll lose, even if you have the best technology,” said María Elena Obando, CEO of Coordinadora and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Colombia.

Technology ignores borders, ignores geography. Suddenly, all over the world, you have talented people coming up with solutions.
Filip Granek

Harness the power of technology

Digital technologies continue to have a profound impact on businesses in every industry, and entrepreneurs are recognizing that how they interact with customers and adjust their business models to embrace sector convergence will be forever changed.

“I think technology is the greatest gift imaginable,” said Jo Horgan, Founder and Co-CEO of cosmetics marketer MECCA Brands and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Australia. “It has to be harnessed in a way where you look at it and go: How is this best implemented in my business? How is this best implemented for the customer? How do we use digital to connect with our customer? … The list is endless to what technology can bring.”

One item on that list is disruption, and it’s unavoidable for companies and individuals alike. To best address it, businesses need to establish a culture of innovation that can quickly ramp up new projects, said Nico Gabriel, Managing Director of Sixt. He noted during a panel discussion that not only do they need to be agile in starting pilots, but also in closing pilots.

Another advantage of technology? Opportunities are becoming more uniform worldwide. “You don’t have any borders anymore,” said Filip Granek, CEO of circuit board maker XTPL and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Poland.

“Technology ignores borders, ignores geography,” Granek said. “Suddenly, all over the world, you have talented people coming up with solutions. If they’re passionate and determined, they’ll be able to touch millions if not billions of lives.”

Deliver on strategic intent

As companies use technologies to transform their business, they should take a strong look at how their operations can make their strategy a reality. As a buyer and manager of businesses, Pritzker Private Capital moves past the portfolio mindset to use its network and skill sets to unlock opportunities that a company’s existing ownership can’t realize.

“We’re long-term business holders,” Pritzker said. “We have the ability to create a structure that’s very different from other people.” He shared the example of a family business in Texas that was focused on cash flow, but PPC decided to run it for growth. Pritzker’s team identified new sales channels and increased equity value by 42%.

Businesses that are serious about continuously improving their operations also take a hard look at their supply chains, said Alisjahbana Haliman, CEO of natural-ingredients producer Haldin Pacific Semesta and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Indonesia.

“We need to set up the whole value chain,” Haliman said. “Upstream sourcing is one of the most important aspects of our business. Without the constant supply of raw materials, we can't make product.” He noted that Haldin Pacific is increasingly focusing on building plants in remote areas of Indonesia to get closer to raw materials and shrink the supply chain.

Secure funding for the future

While all businesses need capital to grow, funding decisions can be fraught for entrepreneurs as they debate the merits of private equity vs. going public. For those considering private equity, they need to decide what’s important for the longer term, make sure everyone is aligned to the same goal and ask lots of questions.

“A private equity investor can challenge decisions, and that can lead to great decisions,” said Constantin Schön, Managing Director of Apollon SE, during a panel discussion.

When working with private equity, despite the importance of data, personal fit is important. Private equity invests in the people running the business, and entrepreneurs should take the same care over selecting their investment partners.

“There is nothing typical in the private equity world anymore,” said Kath Carter, EY Global Strategy and Transactions Markets, Accounts and Business Development Leader. “This means you can find the right fit for you. It’s like a marriage.”

Alternatively, with high stock valuations and low interest rates likely to remain for the foreseeable future, many entrepreneurs plan to fund their growth by going public. The process can help founders professionalize their business because of the governance required.

Find allies for growth

With funding secured, leading entrepreneurs have one path to growth. But businesses rarely evolve solely by organic growth. Strategic acquisitions offer a popular means to enhance market competitiveness and profitability, but entrepreneurs are increasingly looking toward partnerships — even with competitors — to build their profile.

José Shabot Cherem, Founder of Quiero Casa and EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Mexico, is dedicated toward breaking the cycle of poverty by building affordable homes that are close to transportation and workplaces. Part of that mission has seen the company financing its competitors.

“We feel that the market is too big,” Cherem said. “We couldn’t reach the whole market ourselves, and if we wanted to create an impact, we needed competitors to join forces with us. So we finance them, we provide them with technical advice, and through that we create a larger impact in residential housing in Mexico City to create a better city.”

When it comes to more traditional transactions, PPC’s Pritzker advised that it pays to know the dynamics of an industry. “There’s so much money chasing deals that if you don’t know a certain area, you just don’t have a good advantage,” he said. “Things are going to cost too much, and you’re going to make a mistake.”

Reduce volatility to reap rewards

M&A mistakes are just one aspect of risk. But without risk, entrepreneurs would find it difficult to realize their ambitions to become market leaders. In fact, Uptake’s Keywell notes, “An entrepreneur, at her or his best, helps others understand how to consider risk.”

The trick is to manage risk intelligently, and one way to do so is through board composition. To build a strong board that can inspire confidence, businesses should seek diverse directors who cultivate a culture of mutual respect between senior management and shareholders. “But it shouldn’t be a love-in,” cautioned Jack Cowin, Executive Chairman and Managing Director of Competitive Foods Australia Pty Ltd., during a panel discussion. “There should be creative tension.”

To reinforce that tension, boards must be able to adapt and change their composition (get younger, more diverse) as business risks (cyber, social media) change. They also should contribute to the business strategy — not just the operating plan. “The board’s role is to make sure the company stays relevant,” said Joanna Lau, CEO of Lau Technologies.

Boards can certainly help manage risk, but entrepreneurs know that risk is a fact of life. They are often forging new ground and disrupting industries, creating new business models that haven’t been seen before. Each of these paths is a choice, one that Keywell called “heroic” upon receiving the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019 Award.

“I view the act of creation, and the act of persistence, and the act of effort and hard work the highest-level order that humanity can aspire to,” he said. “Entrepreneurs believe in creating, not accepting. Entrepreneurs believe in possibility over simply reality. Entrepreneurs tend to carry humanity forward in little, itty-bitty steps. And — once in a while — in big leaps.”

Unstoppable macaw

Nominate an unstoppable entrepreneur today

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ recognizes unstoppable entrepreneurial achievements among individuals and companies that demonstrate vision, leadership and success.

Nominate an unstoppable entrepreneur


At EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2019 in Monaco, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Award winners from around the world shared how they are driving growth within their companies through a focus on their customers, people, technology, operations, finance, transactions and risk.

About this article


Stasia Mitchell

EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader

Helping entrepreneurs connect, contribute to their businesses and make the world better. Strong advocate for women-owned companies and women business leaders.

Related topics Growth Entrepreneurship