How can you tell someone’s going to be successful when they start a new business venture? It’s a common question but it doesn’t always have a clear answer. This blog will review a few of the traits Atrium CEO, Rebecca Cenni-Leventhal views as having been most helpful to her own journey, and provide thoughts on how aspiring entrepreneurs/leaders could cultivate these qualities in themselves.
I speak with many aspiring entrepreneurs and they often ask me some version of the following: “what makes an entrepreneur successful?” or “what habits or behaviors should I emulate if I want to make my dream a reality?” These are not easy questions to answer. There are many examples of successful entrepreneurs who often have very different or even opposite personalities from each other. I’m convinced there’s no single “entrepreneur personality type.” Yet there are a few characteristics that crop up again and again among entrepreneurs.
In this post, I thought it would be interesting to review the qualities that most resonated with me in founding and growing a successful business.
Adaptability has been a huge part of my journey from a small group to the amazing team I have around me today. I used to call myself a chameleon. Adaptability helps you deal with new situations and challenges as they come, but also helps you build important relationships in your industry when you’re just getting started.
Adaptability continues to serve Atrium now that it’s a larger, more mature business. For years, we’ve used “nimble” as one of our key differentiators. If you work at Atrium, you’ve heard me say, “‘can’t’ isn’t in our DNA.” And it’s not. We pride ourselves on finding a way to make things happen for us and our clients.
I’m not a solo operator and I believe you are only as good as the person next to you. We are Atrium because of our team. When I started Atrium, we quickly brought on good people that organically developed into today’s executive leadership team. I took the time to build a fierce, loyal team: Most of these people have been with me for more than 26 years! Humbly speaking, I think that kind of tenure says a lot.
How did we do it? I surround myself with good people and always try to embrace the power of collaboration. I also think it’s hugely important to create a space that allows individuals the autonomy they need to ideate and thrive. Get this right and you get the full benefit of people’s engagement and creativity.
When I started Atrium, I asked “what if there were a staffing company that was employee/applicant centric?” and then made that my mission. Entrepreneurs bring new ideas to the market. To me, this means asking “what would happen if …” and experimenting to solve a problem or create change in our industry. We were focused on the employee experience before “experience” was even a thing! I wanted to change the way the industry did business and that meant being willing to challenge the status quo and do things differently. This willingness to try new things and new ideas is highly valuable to the aspiring entrepreneur.
I used to think innovation meant making some scientific breakthrough. In reality, innovation often means taking what exists and finding new ways to apply it. For example, I offered co-paid medical benefits to our contractors in the 90’s before it was the law! I wanted to give them, the extended workforce, a reason to stay with us and feel part of a bigger organization, and it worked.
Innovative use of technology has been huge for us over the years too. We adopted video resumes and interviewing well before the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to go virtual. Back in the 90’s, before HR tech was even a thing, we developed the “e-office” so candidates and clients could get complete transparency into the hiring process.
The point is, when you’re willing to challenge established ways of working and able to deploy new technologies effectively, your brand instantly stands out.
I try to take calculated risks; often asking “What happens if this fails and how will I manage it? What’s the worst outcome vs the best? How do we move forward knowing the chance we are taking?” Growing a business from the ground up is inherently risky, but a successful entrepreneur knows that not trying anything new is also a risk.
Many of our new services and products are born from embracing challenges and taking risks. We embraced a down economy as an opportunity to grow our AtriumWorks service line when our clients needed solutions other than hiring. During the Pandemic, we pivoted to serve new industries which eventually became entirely new service lines. Once again, when Superstorm Sandy paralyzed some of our locations, our team worked to quickly triage our operations and get our people up and running in temporary locations within 24 hours.
You can’t let setbacks and risks paralyze you. Throughout my career, I’ve made a point of taking calculated risks and being willing to fail. We try new things, we pivot in the face of adversity! We don’t always win, but we win often enough that we are here nearly 30 years later and continuing to grow.
This was a huge realization for me. You can’t do everything, everywhere, all at once. That means we have to prioritize, balance, and even set aside plans or potential opportunities. Once you’ve made your choice, live with it and, if you can, try to enjoy or even celebrate it.
This is a difficult lesson for some of us, but change happens all the time. Change often leads to growth. Successful entrepreneurs accept that whatever they are doing now could change in a big way. In fact, scratch that, they don’t just accept the fact, they learn to embrace it. Atrium was a direct hire staffing firm in 1995. Today, we are a global workforce management and talent solutions enterprise.
A successful entrepreneur cannot be all things to everyone. Nobody can! But you can develop partnerships that offer and deliver solutions beyond your own expertise. Find people you trust with knowledge and experience you don’t have. I’ve found that being a good partner means knowing how to play well with others, develop relationships, and (perhaps most importantly) share the stage and not get credit for everything.
Starting out, I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but I was a people person. Relationships were always my thing. Knowing how to partner with others effectively is a major catalyst for future success.
Like I said, there are no set characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, but there are commonalities. The eight traits we explored above have been intrinsic to my entrepreneurial journey. So, if you have a superpower, and a cluster of other entrepreneurial strengths, you may be well-positioned to start and scale your own business.
At the time, starting my business was easy for me. I saw it as a fun adventure and I took lots of people along for the journey. These people became part of my ever-growing team and we learned together.
I can’t promise the road will be easy. But, if you apply some of the ideas I’ve discussed above and surround yourself with good people, you’ll definitely have a leg up on everyone else out there.
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