There’s no set path for becoming an entrepreneur. You can be a 19-year-old college student in Estonia, and work with your brother to build a major ride-sharing app for emerging markets. You might be a third generation CEO in Germany, transforming your family business into a top technology supplier for the global auto industry. Or maybe you’re a Peruvian wheat producer who realizes that there’s global demand for your local crops – and then grows a family business into an international nutrition company.
These are just a handful of the inspiring stories from this year’s class of EY Entrepreneurs of the Year. But while their journeys may be vastly different, the most successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common: they don’t get distracted by short-term pressures. Instead, they lock into a long-term strategic vision, and then they follow through.
This is something we’ve seen again and again in our work at EY. In fact, when we surveyed entrepreneurs and their middle market peers in this year’s Global Growth Barometer, we found that being future-oriented was a common refrain among entrepreneurs leading the fastest growing businesses. When compared to other respondents, three times as many of these high-growth entrepreneurs say you should spend as much time focused on the future as the present.
All over the world, entrepreneurs like this are leading the way into the future. And the best entrepreneurs demonstrate long-term thinking in three key ways.
1. Meeting society's needs
First, they recognize a growing, unmet need in society – and then position themselves to meet it.
Take Croatia’s Mate Rimac. When he was 19-years-old, Mate started working on automobiles in a borrowed garage. One day, the engine on his 1984 BMW 3 series blew up – and, in a stroke of inspiration, he decided to replace it with an electric vehicle drivetrain. This innovation worked so well that his re-engineered car earned a Guinness World Record for the fastest accelerating electric vehicle.
But beyond his spark for invention, Rimac had a vision. He realized that, because of environmental concerns and regulations, electric cars would play an increasing role in the future. He anticipated that a market of consumers would flock to electric vehicles if these vehicles were fun and exciting. So, in 2009 – well before most major companies were seriously pursuing electric technology – he founded a company to produce high-quality electric cars.
Today, that vision is proving an exciting reality. As major cities prepare to outlaw diesel vehicles, demand for electric vehicles is expected to increase exponentially – by 2040, 55% of all new car sales and 33% of the global fleet will be electric. Meanwhile, Rimac’s company now employs 350 people and manufactures the fastest electric car in the world.
2. Focusing on the long-term
Once entrepreneurs identify an unmet need, they also demonstrate long-term thinking in a second way: by refusing to let short-term distractions get in the way of their long-term strategy.
Often, this means spending years with razor-thin profits – or sometimes, no profits at all – while you grow your business and pursue your vision. It means making investments that will make your business much more valuable in the long-term, even if they come at a short-term cost.
Or consider how Hungarian entrepreneur József Váradi dealt with day-to-day pressures without ever losing sight of his long-term goal. In 2003, Váradi founded the low-cost airline Wizz Air. Unfortunately, one year later, the company was severely cash strapped. Instead of giving up or trying to find another enterprise that was more immediately profitable, Váradi made a sacrifice to hold on to his long-term vision. He and his staff deferred their salaries until the company was back on track. Today, Wizz Air is the largest low-cost airline in Central and Eastern Europe.
3. Embracing innovation
That leads to the third way the most successful entrepreneurs demonstrate long-term vision. More often than not, entrepreneurs are also early adopters. They aren’t afraid to embrace innovation to strengthen their businesses.
For instance, it’s no secret that a major concern for all businesses is the coming wave of AI technology. It has the potential to reshape the most fundamental aspects of a business’s operations, from how it predicts risk to how it processes contracts. The shifts will be so great that the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, has said that AI will create changes “more profound than electricity or fire."
But here, too, entrepreneurs are leading the way, taking advantage of the incredible potential of this new technology. Indeed, 73% of CEOs in the EY Growth Barometer say they have plans to embrace AI in the next two years. They’re hiring more people to accelerate innovation, too. Today, more than half of their recruits with specialized skills focus on areas like IT, data analysis, and social media – all of which will help them compete in a dynamic digital environment.
The best entrepreneurs are the best long-term thinkers—so it’s no surprise they are helping lead us into the future. In a world of short-term pressures, 24 hour news cycles, uncertain geopolitical and economic environments, and disruptive technology, entrepreneurs offer important lessons for us all. They’re spotting opportunity, making smart short-term sacrifices, unlocking new innovations, and demonstrating the power of a long-term vision. And along the way, they’re helping build a robust economic future for us all.
Between 13-17 June, the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018™ Forum will convene the world's leading entrepreneurs and businesses under the theme of "Does industry collision shatter or shape our future thinking?" Join the conversation by following #WEOY, #BetterQuestions, #GrowthBarometer.