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How to be an entrepreneur, by Blankfein, Buffett, Bloomberg and Dorsey

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Warren Buffett, Lloyd Blankfein, Michael Bloomberg and Jack Dorsey in Queens

Goldman Sachs has no problems attracting applications – 250,000 people tried to get on to its graduate scheme alone this year, and queues of people tried to get into other banks too. But for all the millennials seeking a job in finance, there are just as many going it alone as an entrepreneur. Good news – senior financiers have some advice for you too.

Yesterday, Goldman Sachs hosted an event in New York City featuring a panel of big names: Lloyd Blankfein, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg and Jack Dorsey. The topic? The state of small business in America. So what if you want to start out on your own right now?

Buffett – it’s all about the customer 

Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, humble-bragged that his company was once a small business but is now worth $350bn, give or take. Then he talked about the key to success in business.

“Tomorrow morning when you look in the mirror after you’ve gotten up, write it in lipstick, ‘Delight my customers,’” Buffett said. “Any business that has delighted customers has a sales force – you don’t see them but they’re talking to people all the time.

“Your customers will be out there as salesmen for you if you delight them,” he said. “Don’t settle for satisfied, have that person walk out the door saying ‘I’ve never had a better experience with a human being and they’ll buy your product and tell their friends and family.’”

Blankfein – it’s tough out there

Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, said: “Right now the environment isn’t very conducive to small businesses” due to the slow-growth environment, lack of access to capital, the high cost of acquiring and learning new technology and training employees with limited resources, and regulation.

Blankfein conceded that banks could be doing a better job. “It’s still a moment in time when it’s not an equilibrium as far as banks’ willingness to take risk and customers’ needs,” he said, before summing up: “Small business success should just be a weigh station to large business success.”

Bloomberg – hire people who’ve been through the school of hard knocks

Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg, as well as the former Mayor of New York City, said that most small business owners won’t be hiring people who graduated from Yale or Harvard, but that they probably shouldn’t anyway.

“I would like to hire the person whose father was never there and whose mother was in a drug treatment program and had to work three shifts at McDonalds to take care of their siblings,” Bloomberg said. “You want someone who takes the bull by the horns and puts in sweat capital – that’s where the results are.

“Don’t hire your relative or friend – I have a no nepotism policy, because you wouldn’t treat other employees fairly,” he said. “I will not let my daughters work for my company.”

Dorsey – build the right culture

Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of Square and Twitter, talked about the importance of building the right company culture by cultivating employees who complement each other.

“In attracting the right people you have to have a deep understanding of what your purpose is, and be able to detect alignment or misalignment with that purpose,” Dorsey said. “Ask, ‘Why do you want to be here?’ If I see passion, I can teach any skill, but if they don’t have it, that will be a drag on the entire organization.

“Focus not just on the individuals you hire but how each fits into the overall dynamic, with the goal always being alignment of purpose,” he said. “If there is a misalignment, we part ways, because it unlocks potential and growth.

Photo credit: @MikeBloomberg with permission from Goldman Sachs

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