Eduardo Saverin, Singapore and the Cambridge MBA. Or how to spot an MBA entrepreneur.

The news that Eduardo Saverin, a co-founder of Facebook, renounced his US citizenship and took up residence in Singapore has attracted widespread attention, as well as thrown a spotlight on his supposedly Kardashian-like lifestyle in Singapore. I am not going to get into an argument about the morality of Saverin’s actions. But I think it is more interesting to think about how one spots an entrepreneur.

I know from my time working in the Singapore civil service that Singapore has tried to develop local entrepreneurs and companies. There is an entire public service organisation set up to develop local companies, and another organisation to help the larger ones expand outside Singapore. Then, there are schemes, not unlike those in other countries, to attract individual investors to move to Singapore, with the hope that by investing some money in Singapore, these investors create companies and jobs for locals. Many investors are attracted by the stable political and legal environment, the business-friendly atmosphere and the excellent infrastructure.

My question is how does one assess, before the fact, whether an investor or entrepreneur will indeed have the multiplier effect on the economy that is hoped for. I don’t know much about Saverin but it seems from many press articles that his presence in Singapore has so far been underwhelming to local entrepreneurs.

It’s the same type of question that I have to ask myself everytime I read an application for the Cambridge MBA from an entrepreneur. I have to decide whether an entrepreneur will contribute to, and benefit from, the Cambridge MBA to the same extent as other candidates. This is not an easy decision. Almost by definition, an entrepreneur would have suffered failure along the way and would not have the smooth career that we expect from candidates who have worked in large multi-nationals. Even if an entrepreneur has a successful company by the time he or she applies to the Cambridge MBA, I have to ask myself whether the candidate was plain lucky (no bad thing in and of itself), and how large a role did the candidate play in this venture. My knowledge of facebook’s early days is confined purely to the movie the Social Network but to use that as an example, is the candidate a Zuckerberg who saw the potential and developed a company; or a Severin, who just put in some cash; or the person who did most of the coding; or the twins, one of whom later got an MBA at Oxford.

Ultimately, I rely on several aspects. Like any other candidate, a candidate who is an entrepreneur must demonstrate strong academics and a good GMAT (I am not arguing that these are essential criteria for entrepreneurs, just that these are criteria for everyone on the Cambridge MBA); and have strong references. More importantly, an entrepreneur should demonstrate a sense of maturity from his or her experiences, whether they have been successful or not. Many of the entrepreneurs on the Cambridge MBA have shown courage in one form or another (I know one from the 2010 class who took the brave step and stopped out of a prestigious undergrad degree to focus on his company), and all have shown the resilience to bounce back from failure.

 I will be the first to admit that we do not have enough data to say that we have cracked the question of how to spot an entrepreneur. But hopefully, as we attract more entrepreneurs to the program, and have more time to study their track records post-MBA, we will refine our ability to assess such candidates.

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6 Responses to Eduardo Saverin, Singapore and the Cambridge MBA. Or how to spot an MBA entrepreneur.

  1. lol if u, the Director of Admissions don’t know how to spot good entrepreneurs to join the program, then the University has a problem and needs to find someone else who can.

    the Judge school is living on the borrowed reputation of Cambridge. on its own, the school is just a second rate MBA, yet it wants to act elite and selective.

    pride goes before the fall. lol

    • Tom

      As you can imagine, I disagree that the Business School lives on the borrowed reputation of Cambridge. We, like every other department in the University, builds on the values of the University.

      Conrad

  2. @Tom- I appreciate the fact that you have observations but, this is serious stuff that certainly deserves sensible comments. For you to say that Judge is ”living the borrowed reputation of Cambridge” is not called for (we can not prove that) It would be much more better if you give constructive feedback on predicting future entrepreneurs for a place like Judge.

    Having said that, if you guys (Conrad and your friends) have not yet discovered techniques of spotting future entrepreneurs, then some people might have genuine reasons to question your competence (I am sorry). I mean, this is part of your job and you are supposed to be good at it. Plus, saying ”we” implies including your colleagues. I am not so sure whether it would be better speaking for yourself only!

    On the other hand, we must also not forget that not all successful MBAs will need to be entrepreneurs per se. And not all entrepreneurs need MBAs. In fact MBAs can do some really terrible things to would-be good entrepreneurs by launching then into ” job seeker” mode. The type that you see in investment banks, no to mention the type that led to the demise of Lehman brothers and the birth of the recession.

    Disclaimer: All the above might be wrong. They are just my own opinions.

    Nice blog. Jar bless.

    • Mwanje

      THanks for your comment. I did not convey my thoughts that well in my post. What I was trying to say is that it is inherently difficult for anybody, and I include myself in this, to identify, before the fact, who would make a successful entrepreneur. Time-tested ways, such as academics or GMAT, fall short. Even work experience is not a great indicator of a person’s success as an entrepeneur post-MBA. Quite a number of the best-known entrepeneurs did not do well in school, and led quite unremarkable lives before they took off. Think Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. Even Zuckerberg who went to Harvard — was there something about him at the admissions stage that marked him out as different from the other hundreds of Harvard students admitted that year?

      We do have entrepeneurs on the program. They have done well academically and on the GMAT and most of them have had successes with their companies. But they will also be the first to tell you that past success counts for nothing when it comes to starting another business, post-MBA. Ultimately, from the standpoint of MBA admissions, we have to make a judgement based on what we can see, imperfect though it might be.

      I completely agree with you that an MBA does not make one an entrepreneur, nor do entrepreneurs need to have an MBA. But what do I see is that the interaction between entrepreneurs and the right type of MBAs (ie people who are open to learn) can be an exhilirating experience.

      Conrad

      • Alright, I completely understand you now. I do realize now that that’s a pretty tough task for any one. And quite frankly, it’s unfair for someone to judge you on that. It’s tough predicting future entrepreneurial successes even in the face of enough information.

        People like Tom are trying to bully you. He is a Jerk
        Thanks.

      • This is a fascinating post!

        I would be interested to see a further exploration of this topic. My understanding is that while the GMAT, Undergraduate GPA, and rapid organizational ascension might be predictors of Graduate school success, these factors are not useful in predicting entrepreneurial success.

        The major problems I see in the quest to find these predictors are the variables that contribute to developing a successful business. My first thoughts are to break out the analysis into category-specific dimensions, such as creativity, interpersonal savvy, ability to inspire others, strategic acuity, mastery of intended market knowledge, chance, etc. Then, leverage this with the traditional business analysis of market saturation, capitalization, talent acquisition, price strategy, etc. to create a cumulative score. There are so many variables that are at play here that it is difficult to codify a framework that is applicable across the board, but it would be a challenge worth taking on.

        Ryan