Robert Peston coined the term ‘The Entrepreneur’s Wound’ in his BBC Radio 4 documentary of the same name, which explored the link between highly successful businesspeople and experiences of trauma early in their life. Peston’s hypothesis was that these people became extremely driven and ambitious individuals to compensate in some way for their childhood trauma, hence the ‘Entrepreneur’s Wound’.
Peston’s documentary featured an interview with Lord Gulam Noon, who was known as the ‘Curry King’ and supplied ready meals to supermarkets (Davidson, 2008). Noon was born in Bombay (Mumbai) where his family ran a sweet shop (The Telegraph, 2015). The childhood trauma that affected Noon was severe; both his father and his brother died before he had turned ten. Noon recalls seeing his mother crying at night and describes the impact it had on him (BBC, 2009). Noon became highly motivated to achieve success and gain money; he has been quoted as saying ‘there is no substitute for money’ and, in an interview with Management Today in 2008, he explained why money was so important to him, ‘ The only way out of the poverty trap was to earn money. I always had a hunger for cash.’
Noon’s describes his main motivation as money, with this desire perhaps stemming from a belief that having wealth can prevent the type of trauma he experienced in his childhood. There can be other motivations caused by the ‘Entrepreneur’s Wound’ other than money, however. These motivations include a fear of failure or a desire to fill a void in their personal lives (Rigby, 2011). Take the example of the media mogul Ted Turner. His father, Robert Edward Turner II, held Ted to a very high standard and could be extremely critical throughout his childhood and teenage years (see the letter Robert sent to his son, describing how he was ‘appalled’ and ‘puked’ at Ted’s choice to major in Classics at college), potentially creating early wounds to a young Ted, before he later experienced the heart-breaking trauma of his father committing suicide. Guthey (1997) describes how this turned Ted into a ‘manic-depressive son’ who has been ‘trying to live up to and stand up to his father ever since’. Turner is therefore at least partly driven to succeed by his ‘wound’ and a desire to fulfil his father’s expectations.
These two examples provide an interesting insight into how early trauma affected these entrepreneurs personally, however they are by no means representative of all highly successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople. One study, which sheds some light on whether the ‘Entrepreneur’s Wound’ is actually a prevalent among these groups, is ‘The foundations of success: the development and characteristics of British Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneuers.’ by Cox and Jennings. This study found that an important common factor among very successful self-made entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs was childhood adversity (Cox and Jennings, 1995). This adversity was often the loss of, or separation from, a parent. Cox and Jennings sum up how this childhood adversity relates to later success:
“[The early adversity] seems to set a pattern of behaviour throughout life which contributes to their success by giving them the ability to cope with and learn from different situations and setbacks during their careers.”
A survey by the Aldridge Foundation had similar findings to Cox and Jennings’ research, finding that seven out of ten UK entrepreneurs cite early trauma as a factor in their business success (Management Today, 2009). This shows that the ‘Entrepreneur’s Wound’ is very real, with the adversity created by the early trauma playing a crucial role in determining later life success by providing the vital skills and mind set necessary for success to those who adapt and overcome it.
References and additional reading:
BBC, (2009). The Entrepreneur’s Wound. [podcast] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nh06m [Accessed 19 Sep. 2016].
Cox, C. and Jennings, R. (1995). The foundations of success. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 16(7), pp.4-9.
Davidson, A. (2008). The MT Interview: Sir Gulam Noon. [online] Managementtoday.co.uk. Available at: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/mt-interview-sir-gulam-noon/article/865052 [Accessed 19 Sep. 2016].
Guthey, E. (1997). Ted Turner’s Media Legend and the Transformation of Corporate Liberalism. Business and Economic History, Vol. 26, no.1, pp.184- 199. [online] Available at: http://ww.thebhc.org/sites/default/files/beh/BEHprint/v026n1/p0184-p0199.pdf [Accessed 21 Sep. 2016].
Management Today. (2016). Entrepreneurs driven by hardship, not hard cash. [online] Available at: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/entrepreneurs-driven-hardship-not-hard-cash/article/950267 [Accessed 19 Sep. 2016].
Lettersofnote.com. (2012). This is my son. He speaks Greek.. [online] Available at: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/07/this-is-my-son-he-speaks-greek.html [Accessed 19 Sep. 2016].
Rigby, R. (2011). 28 business thinkers who changed the world. London: Kogan Page.
Telegraph. (2015). Lord Noon, businessman – obituary. [online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11958112/Lord-Noon-businessman-obituary.html [Accessed 19 Sep. 2016].