I had a great meeting yesterday with three Directors from the University of Michigan College of Business and our topic of discussion was entrepreneurship. Their passion is helping students learn the necessary skills to becoming a successful entrepreneur in whichever field they choose. They teach courses on business, leadership, accounting, and other skills I wished I would have learned back in college.  Instead, I’m still trying to figure out what Mitochondria means and why General Custer lost the Battle of Little Big Horn.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point of this post is not my college education or lack there of, it’s the question that I asked the group regarding entrepreneurship. I asked them if they believed employees could be entrepreneurs or if you had to own your own business.

The answer I got was it depends. It depends on the type of culture the company has and the type of boss you have.

And that got me thinking back to my employment history and the places where I was allowed to be an entrepreneur and the places where taking risks and thinking beyond your job requirements were frowned upon.

I thought about eGM. This was a start-up within a humungous company – General Motors. We had a great leader in Mark Hogan and he let us be entrepreneurs. We sat in conference rooms and thought about how GM could use the web to operate more effectively and efficiently. We came to upper management with new ideas and they said run with it. We once had the idea of securing .gm from the country of Gambia (a country in West Africa) so GM could own the web domains www.chevy.gm, www.buick.gm and so on. We went straight to the top of GM asking permission to explore this possibility. Well, we explored and found it not to be as easy as we thought to lease a country code from a country, but it was fun trying!

This was pre-September 11th. After that, GM (and the rest of the country) took a huge hit and eGM was gone. And quickly I became an employee where risk and creativity were not what the company wanted. It was all about scaling back and freezing spending. And I was out of there.

That experience reminded me that entrepreneurship can live within a company and people can experience the freedom, and fear, that comes with being an entrepreneur.

By the way, I think GM has come back to letting employees be entrepreneurs and that has helped spearhead its resurgence.

So what I took from the conversation with my friends from UM was the assumption I had going in – that you can be both an employee and an entrepreneur. You just need the right place and the right people.

Are you in an environment that encourages you to be an entrepreneur?

If not, is it something you want or are you ok with the status quo?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and perspective – please leave a comment below.




Photo credit: http://www.yourmoneydictionary.com/Entrepreneur.aspx