An Inspiration of a Kind

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of listening to a speech of one of Finland’s most prominent business figures. It was one of those special occasions when the intimacy of the venue combined with the sincerity of the speaker and the potency of the message ignited a spark of inspiration which soon burst into flames of inspiration.

The spine of the speech was about entrepreneurship. It was about waking up to dismissing our hardships, finding opportunities from challenges and defying challenging circumstances by innovation and perseverance. It was about having the courage to see the impossible as possible. As a point of reference, Mohed Altrad, elected on June 6th 2015 as Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year, was used as an example – and as a role model.

Mohed Altrad started with literally nothing. Altrad defied his own destiny of becoming yet another generation of Bedouin in the Syrian desert and took initiative to plow his way out from a nomadic future. The orphan was not even allowed to go to school (but still did..). Against all odds, Montpellier-based Altrad Group now employs over 7000 employees, has customers in over 100 countries and Altrad’s net worth is over $ 1 billion.

Altrad’s semi-autobiographical book Badawi made as excellent summer reading. Badawi, first released over two decades ago, is not about his saga from Bedouin to entrepreneur, but it gives perfect back-drop for discussions about overcoming hardship of unimaginable proportion. Altrad’s achievement is indeed of extreme caliber and perhaps unique, but when looking at what we (i.e. general business, economy etc.) are up against, his story is encouraging.

Many companies now suffering from lack of growth, of eroding margins and of evaporation of competitiveness have assumed a posture of business-apathy and a pessimistic view of their horizons. Compared to Altrad, we are much better off and should not overly discourage ourselves. And even if we were indeed in a dire straits, scarcity is excellent feeding ground for innovation.

Scarcity is partly a matter of perspective. Most of us have assets which we have not yet fully exploited. Very often these assets have to do with human capital; ability to over-perform, will to succeed, ambition, innovation and of course blood, sweat and tears. But escaping from particular conditions requires particular actions. Finding the suitable actions often requires unusual thinking and just as often from outside of the usual box. Or just hard-headed perseverance and an infinite supply of will to succeed. Or just instinct and an eye for opportunity. In the case of Altrad, I suspect all of these came into play. Surely also some luck and coincidence.

In any case, these precious stories are worth discovering and I thank the speaker for caring enough to having shared it with us. I hope the book is soon published also in English so that it reaches a broader audience. “My story should tell anyone that you can change your destiny” – Mohed Altrad, June 2015.

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Mika Tanner

Bilot Alumni