A few years ago I was sitting in Radio City Music Hall, mid-week and mid-afternoon, surrounded by a sea of navy suits waiting for the highly anticipated keynote conversation with Sir Richard Branson. There was a palatable buzz even for an audience primarily composed of management types. He leapt on stage to a thundering applause to be initially guided through a subdued series of expected "when did you launch Virgin Records" "where did you get the idea for Virgin Airlines" questions (which solicited the required factual answers and appropriate polite applause). Then the interviewer asked a question that caused the room to sit up straighter in the plush red theater seats, grab the pens from the conference swag bags and truly take notice:
"What do you attribute your entrepreneurial success to?" asked the interviewer.
To which Sir Richard quickly replied:
"I come from a loving home".
Radio City Music Hall was deflated. The corporate disappointment in the room was obvious to the point of amusement. It appeared to me that the suits were hoping for the ONE tip that would turn-around their division or catapult third-quarter profits for their company or perhaps, encourage them to green-light a stalled initiative.
Mom was not the answer they were looking for.
Sir Richard's answer--"my mom, was loving and encouraging" - has stuck with me. I'm not sure I had previously associated a "loving home environment" with entrepreneurship. Personal relationships with siblings and spouses, yes--likelihood someone will pursue entrepreneurship, not so much. It is why "who are your heroes?" has become a standard interview question for me. More often than not, the hero is a parent or grand-parent--that close family member who instilled confidence and powerfully encouraged the future entrepreneur to not only dream big, but to act upon those big ideas. When you come from a loving home, as Sir Richard noted, what have you got to fear?
To Sir Richard Branson's supportive parents, thank you for creating the home environment you did as by your loving actions, you not only unleashed onto the world an entrepreneur who continually takes-on huge, apparently unachievable challenges (and we've benefited from his bold vision) but you've also set one fine example of how to create the next generation of innovators. Not only charity but apparently also entrepreneurship, starts at home.
From my interviews with entrepreneurs, here are a few of my favorite answers to the question "who are your heroes" which highlight, once again, the importance of parents (and grandparents) in fueling entrepreneurism:
My mom is my biggest hero. She teaches me, again and again, that I am in charge of my life and that I can create the life I want. She always says that it is not about what happens to you in life, it's all about how you react to the things that happen to you and around you.--Sofia Franzen, founder and CEO of travel app, Owegoo.
People who bridge gaps. And who do so quietly. That's humbling. I think about my father a lot when it comes to this. I saw him revitalize neglected communities through his real estate interests. From a parenting perspective, he bridged an enormous divide in just one generation, and I am awed every time I think on what his childhood was like, and how he got to where he is--and we all are--today, given that he was a single father to five children for most of our lives.--Lenore Horton, Lawyer and founder of The KETNOI Group LLC.
And my other heroes are my parents. They went through the Cultural Revolution in China, and couldn't pursue their career dreams and goals. Despite having very little, they were (still are) extremely loving and supportive, and gave everything they had to let me and my sister pursue what we love to do. To have two daughters who are both entrepreneurs can be quite daunting for traditional Chinese parents. I hope I can be as selfless when I become a parent one day.--Jia Li, Creative Director and founder, Jia Collection.
My Teta (Arabic for 'grandmother'). My Teta taught me that tough can be elegant too. Growing up as a young woman in Syria and Lebanon, life was never easy for a lady who had strong opinions. She worked, made dinner every night from scratch, and raised a family of six through civil war, eventually emigrating to the United States. She was strong, fierce, yet loving, classy and always well-composed. She defined femininity for me. She wore a slip with her dress or skirt every single day of her life. Whenever I put on my Luxxie Boston Slip, it is really a homage to my Teta. - Stefanie Mnayarji, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Luxxie Boston LLC.
I come from a family of very forward-thinking women who were always "the first" to do something at their time. My great-grandmother was one of a handful of women in the first female graduating class of college in Korea. Her sister, a famous opera singer, was also extraordinary. My mom was educated by American missionaries while growing up in Korea because her parents believed their five girls should all be highly educated. The focus on female education and development in my mom's family has always been astounding. The women on my mom's side of the family have always been ahead of their time, and they have been a constant reminder of my desire to be at the forefront of change.--Melissa Mash, co-founder and CEO of Dagne Dover.
My grandmother, Andrea who was the original short glamorous Puerto Rican Shero [feminist], and my Aunt Maria, who died long before me. Both were born in Puerto Rico, and both came to America with nothing. My grandmother was 4'9" and her sister, Maria, was 4'8". Maria came to the U.S. first and started working in the plantations of Hawaii, and then the fields of California picking fruit. She built a small empire after she settled in California, owning real estate, and then brought all of her family from Puerto Rico, including my grandmother. In spite of all of her challenges and not speaking English, she was smart and determined. What she did in the early 1900's makes her badass in my book!--Andrea Armstrong, CEO and Founder of Turnaround Technology.