Education and Entrepreneurs: Can one be too educated in the business world?

Campro Discussions on December 22-25, 2010

Compiled by Kim Natacha

Last year in December, amid the WikiLeaks’ US diplomatic cables’ disclosure, one unexpected claim from a famous British entrepreneur caught the attention of CAMPRO members.

Richard Branson, who is most well-known as the founder of the Virgin brand and Virgin Group, agreed with a group of Chinese businessmen during a 2008 lunch in Beijing that “British entrepreneurs are overeducated and that schooling does not prepare one for entering the business world.”

Read the article about “WikiLeaks cables: UK businessmen ‘overeducated’ says Richard Branson”

Which brings one to ask: when talking about entrepreneurship, can one be over-educated? What would formal education be good for then? And does this statement ring true in the Cambodian context?

CAMPRO members weighed in on the issues, supported by anecdotes and Khmer sayings.

Thy Khemra:

“I just wonder if there is significant proof showing that the number of successful people in multinational corporations who drop school outweighs the number of those who get higher education. And the same proof in medium and small business.”

Heng Dyna:

“To me, the story of success and failure is statistically interesting. We can hear about a few successful big guys like Bill G., Warren B., and Mark Zuckerberg who dropped out and succeeded in business. Yet, we don’t usually hear about stories of the majority who dropped out and failed in business. The big part is untold and perhaps might be never told.”

Chan Sophal:

“Exceptions aside, generally the more education people have, (i) the more risks they know and want to avoid, and (ii) the more principles they are educated to adopt. These two characteristics tend to work against businessmen maximizing money returns.
Sadly, in business, there tend to be zero-sum games, rather than win-win situations. E.g. The cheaper the price of paddy during harvest, the better the profit rice millers (with storage capacity) can make, but it means the less income for farmers. The more land a few get/grab, the less other country fellows have.
This is why, to be rich businessmen, having higher education is not only unnecessary but also a constraint. Again, there are always exceptions. Bill Gates is one of the exceptions.”

Chan Sophal:

“(…) many powerful and rich people are returning to school/university. But I don’t know if they are seeking knowledge/skills, or network, or degrees for looking good or for showing that they don’t have only money but high educational degrees as well. I personally know one case.
A poor boy in Kean Kleang village in the late 1980s risked his life by venturing to work in Koh Kong province and then crossing to work as a migrant worker in Thailand.
Due to his Thai language acquisition during his work, he later partnered with a Thai businessman to sell Thai glasses in Cambodia. With good savings he bought many land plots and made fortunes in time before the bubble burst in 2008. He now drives a brand new Lexus 570, is building a second home worth more than a million $ including land on the Mekong river, and owns a lot of land and a few businesses.
He is attending a Bachelor course now.
He told his lecturer who asked why he bothered to study that he could know dozens of people as classmates by just spending $200 a semester, just the sum he would spend on karaoke one time.”

Ung Bun Ang:

“This discussion reminds me two of the stories my professor told my MBA class
in the 70’s.
1- In the heyday of the Japanese business and commercial development, there were many Japanese students crowding American MBA courses. When a professor asked the Japanese students why they bothered to learn business management from the Americans when they had been doing so well themselves, one of them responded: ‘We are here – not to learn from you – but to establish business networking.’
2- An MBA professor asks a student who became a millionaire before he was 28 why he did bother to do his MBA course, then comes a reply, ‘Yes, I have been doing well in business. I return to school because I want to find out how I did it so that I can repeat it.’”

Heng Dyna:

“I might agree on the ‘overeducated’ as too much analysis/thinking might be at the cost of speed and decisiveness, which are in many cases essential in business.
If education is not about curriculums and degree, then the few successful guys mentioned so far are well educated. Zuckerberg learned and mastered his programming skills when he was in high school; Warren B. learned how to invest since he was a boy and later was mentored closely by Benjamin Graham.”

Kruy Virak:

“My thought regarding education and success in business here is that they all are interrelated and success in business would not be possible without education be it formal or informal as education equips learners with the ability to think. As such, education even the basic one would make a difference in a person’s life as has been the case for those rich guys who dropped out from school and later became millionaires. That early education is what gives them wisdom/ideas paving their ways to success in business later in lives.”

Khieng Sothy:

“On a related issue, one study on entrepreneurship in Cambodia shows that the lack of strong entrepreneurial activities in the country is because people dare not taking risk, and NOT because of the lack of capital.
Risk-taking is one of the factors that define an entrepreneur. I’m not sure if Cambodians are too educated to take risk in their business initiative?”

Chan Sophal:

“Hi Sothy, in my view, too uneducated and too educated people are more averse in taking business risks.”

Hor Soneath:

“Or is it because capital is too highly concentrated, especially NOT in the hands of those who have entrepreneurial inclination?”

Din Virak:

“I recalled during a meeting with a few people from The Asia Foundation headquarter together with other CEA founders at EDC/SME Cambodia dated back 2002? We were discussing about constraints for SME development in Asia and in Cambodia, I raised one of the key factors is lack of entrepreneurship besides legal and judicial environment. I’ve raised also this in other circumstances. People seemed to ignore it, but now it’s great people started discussing about entrepreneurship which is the fourth factors of production.”

Ly Tayseng:

“My personal view is that one cannot dissociate business from education or education from business. The more successful your business is the more education you need. Because first you need to build a business, then make it a successful one. Then, you need to learn to maintain your business successful, or you need to learn how to make it more successful. Although a successful businessman would not need to hold MBA or PhD, the MBA or PhD holders can help him make our business successful.
My personal experience shows that after years in business I still feel that I am at school every day. The only difference is when I am in business I choose what to learn as it would be relevant to my business whereas when I was at University my teacher taught me some of the things I don’t think I need to learn. However, in some ways I recognize that my formal education at University has largely dictated the way I carry out business (profit oriented with ethical responsibility).”

Chan Sophal:

“During my secondary school, I learned a morale in Khmer that ‘knowledge is the wealth that cannot be stolen and the more it is spent, the more wealth it makes.’ In this sense, knowledge is wealth. But education doesn’t automatically mean knowledge especially if the quality of education is not good. Knowledge is generated from outside schools or university too.”

Srey Chanthy:

“Agree with both Sophals – human ancestors got no education but they started
education for later generations. Education is just a small part of life, and it could take one to a certain point, then [that] one has to make decision (i.e. get more education for relevance or for over-education … or get into real life for the rest of [that] one’s life). To add to Sophal (E)’s, two other Khmer sayings are: (a) “cheh steu phleu lekh muoy little education makes a stupid person”, and (b) “cheh prakod prak rut tam hauw right education helps to build wealth”.
One could derive eight (8) from natural numbers in different ways… and one does
not have to repeat the mistakes of the pasts… or does not have to repeat the bad hi[s]tory…”

Kruy Virak:

“(…) Social status, respect and recognition are what people need in their pursuit of education since some people are not sure if they are respected for whatever means they use to be rich.”

Ngin Chanrith:

“Virak, two sorts of respect: self-respect and being respected. We need the former first. And two kinds of education: learning to earn a living and learning how to live. We need both.”

Chan Sophal:

“Good point, Chanrith. I believe that the Maslow pyramid of human needs hold.
It moves step by step from 1) Basic needs, 2) Security, 3) Social respect, 4) Self respect, 5) Self actualisation.
Mostly, the rich people in Cambodia have met their basic needs and security. So they need social respect, which I see as subjective, depending on society. In Cambodia, people invite 1,000 guests or more to the wedding reception. Isn’t the purpose to show face/social status and earn social respect?
At this low level of development, it’s still very much about “face” culture. Many still buy a car for its popularity, rather than for their like. It’s to please society so that they believe they have social respect.
Self respect is the next level, not easy to achieve. It’s easy to make big crowd admire their cars, their houses, their titles… but it’s not easy to earn self respect/esteem. And even far fewer can reach level 5 where they seek to actualise their ideas and dream.”

Chea Sarin:

“To me I always score three factors for success in life or business:
1. Education share about 1/3
2. Opportunity share about 1/3 and
3. Personality share about 1/3
The more you have the three together the more success you may gain.”

Chan Sophal:

“Thanks, Sarin, for sharing your verdict. The rich guy from Kean Klaeng village I wrote about earlier said he believed in four words: smart, courage, perseverance, and luck. He strongly believed that anyone with these four factors will succeed, whether they are in business or government. I kind of agree.”

Chan Sophal:

“Before I didn’t believe in luck at all. I only believed in hard work and results earned. Now I believe luck plays a role in success. It’s something unexplainable. But key is people relying on luck alone aren’t likely to succeed or retain their success. There are pre-requisites such as hard work & hard study, intelligence, courage, and perseverance for luck to prevail and contribute to their success. In other words, people have to set up themselves for luck to work for them.”

Narath Veasna:

“If I may inject a small thought on this topic, Luck to some people means opportunity + preparedness. There are times when golden opportunity comes but people are not ready for it. For those who are well-prepared, they would be able to make the best use of that opportunity (in this case, they are lucky).
I kind of like this explanation & my take on that is as follows: Education, experience, persistence, etc are the things that help people to get ready & in a better position to claim the opportunity that comes along. They also help people to better predict what opportunities will come along & when, roughly. But, at the same time, I share Bong Sophal’s & others’ idea that opportunities do not always come our way, no matter how well prepared we are (in this case, we are not lucky). The best thing we can do is, perhaps, continue scanning the horizons for the next wave of opportunities & how not to miss those again.”

Chea Sarin:

“Dear Veasna and all,
To me one can have an opportunity by two ways: one is by giving and taking and another by self creation.
– The first one “giving and taking” seems to take less time and effort. For example your father owns a five star hotel and after you complete your education he appointed you as general director of the hotel. This kind of opportunity we all can see with our top leader’s son and daughter.
– Second, although we don’t have the first one, we can create our own ‘opportunity’ but this would take some time depending on other two factors
you have “education and personality”.
For example, you wish to own a hotel but at present status you have only MBA with about $1000/month salary. To have the opportunity to own a hotel you have to do many things over the period of time with clear objective and good strategies. One day you may get the opportunity.”

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3 Responses to Education and Entrepreneurs: Can one be too educated in the business world?

  1. Sok Leang says:

    I agree with Narath Veasna about “Opportunities and Preparedness”, which most people call “LUCK”. We label other people’s achievement as luck, because, then, we don’t need to strive to do anything to reach that level. Simply because they are “lucky” and we are not “lucky”.
    In the case of Mr. Sok Siphanna’s children, many people would say the children are lucky because they have parents who are economically better, who travels abroad often to buy things not available in Cambodia and so on and so forth. I doubt if Mr. Sok Siphanna will say his children are lucky to arrive where they are now. But he already mentioned about his many activities and leadership in his family. In short, he is very well-prepared and make the best use of good opportunities available.

  2. spicy says:

    Last week, a $ 2000 deal for local client, I charged just $ 50 because I use the knowledge of research and gave to them.
    Maybe too educated and morality lost our profit sometimes.

  3. spicy says:

    wow, I am glad that website or blog allow me the post message without censorship.
    Good job! much better than group mails of ordinary mails.
    However, facebook group mails allow us to access to thousand and thousand of members, without restriction and also our messages could go to e-mails of some members, too.

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