Sunday, June 13, 2004

Can scholars become entrepreneurs? 

There were more stories in The Straits Times yesterday on the release of scholars from the public sector to the private sector (see also Friday’s post, “Too much talent in government”).

“Overwhelmingly, business people, civil servants-turned-businessmen and current scholarship holders are opposed to the idea of creating a system to turn scholars into entrepreneurs,” The Straits Times reported.

While most of those interviewed “welcomed the idea of letting the private sector have more brains”, they had misgivings about getting them to become entrepreneurs.

Ron Sim, founder of health product firm Osim, thinks they will need to change their mindset. He said: “They may have to shift from thinking administration to execution. You can’t calculate everything, unlike writing a policy paper.”

Scholars may also be reluctant to leave the civil service. Loss of pay, privilege and financial stability would be deterrents to a civil servant quitting to go into business, especially for those who have hit superscale grade, where salaries may be higher than most top performers in the private sector.

Another problem for civil servants is their lack of knowledge of the market. Some think that it would be helpful for scholars to spend more time in attachments to the private sector.

Whatever scheme the government decides upon — assuming it does proceed with the idea of getting more scholars to become entrepreneurs — it must also bear in mind the personality traits that make good entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is not about intelligence or intellectual capabilities, the hallmarks of scholars. Rather, entrepreneurship is about passion for the business, a point made frequently in Singapore.

However, more importantly — and less-frequently mentioned — entrepreneurship is about the drive for independence. Entrepreneurs are willing to take risks with their businesses and careers because they need independence, freedom from control by others.

Scholars who do well in a government organisation are likely to be organisation people and probably make good managers. Are they likely to exhibit the independent streak that entrepreneurs have?


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