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Change—It’s the only constant

As Assistant Managing Director of the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), Kiren Kumar, SF ’12, has seen a good many enterprises come and go, thrive and crash, slowly grow and gradually wither. The common denominator of the thriving enterprises, he noted, were leaders who were both versatile and persistent.

The world is always in a state of flux, markets are continually changing, technology is perpetually evolving, and a smart entrepreneur is ready to change with it, Kumar says. If consumers, en masse, have begun to use their phones as flashlights, for example, a flat, phone-sized flashlight is probably not about to take the market by storm. “When you start something new,” he points out, “you must be prepared to continually innovate, rethink, pivot, and change direction as need be. You must match your product or service to the current realities of the marketplace.”

Persistence of vision

Kumar has advised multinational corporations on their Asian strategies and helped Singapore-based companies expand into the Asian, European, and American markets. He has observed leaders at every stage of leadership. “The best leaders have the sympathy of their teams in good times and bad,” Kumar says. “They have the people skills to shepherd their employees through the tumultuous journey that most startups take. If leaders model persistence and an unwavering belief in their missions, their employees are more likely to share that persistence.”

But persistence isn’t possible, Kumar says, without passion. “Founders must not just be positive about the ventures they are launching, they must be passionate about the value it provides. It’s that passion that fuels the persistence and enables the flexibility. True passion is contagious and spreads across the team, it spreads to investors, to the media and, of course, to consumers.”

Have a little humility

Finally, Kumar underlines an observation that Einstein once made: “A true genius admits he knows nothing.” That humility, he says, is a common trait of the best entrepreneurs.

“Founders—as with all leaders—must realize they don’t have all the answers. If you are honest with your team about the ups and downs, ready to admit what you don’t know, and open to learning what you need to know, you will earn the respect of those around you. Even more important, you will empower others to exercise humility and admit the things they don’t know and reach out for the information they need to make decisions. Bottom line: a little humility goes a long way on a journey with many twists and turns—and that pretty much characterizes any new enterprise.”

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