Interview with an Academic: John Hoffmire, Director at Saïd Global Entrepreneur Network at Oxford University!
Through his for-profit and nonprofit career helped to start and grow 32 companies in addition to the hundreds of firms he has either financed or advised. He now directs the Saïd Global Entrepreneurship Network and the Center on Business and Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He serves on the board of directors of two companies in the media and finance industries.
What non-academic skills do you believe are important for young entrepreneurs in today’s economy?
The most important skills relate to common sense. Many young entrepreneurs know how to quickly analyse situations. They know how to withdraw from situations that are not going to be profitable. And they know how to invest their time and resources in ways that show an understanding of the fact that early market testing is necessary to better formulate ideas for their firms.
How important do you believe it is for young entrepreneurs to have a tertiary level academic qualification such as a degree?
While it is not essential that entrepreneurs receive higher education, it is highly advisable. Most entrepreneurs are not successful at developing enterprises. My personal feeling is that we do a real dis-serve to many young people if we do not encourage most to study. If they are not successful at starting companies or social enterprises, they will have to obtain jobs with others. To do this, they need education. The real question in my mind is: What should young entrepreneurs and others study as they enter higher education?
Do you believe small businesses have a greater or lesser chance of success than five years ago?
It depends what country and what regions of individual countries we are talking about. There is no doubt that it is easier to start a firm at times of growth than it is to start something during times of recession. In general, I would say that while there are fewer barriers to start companies, from a governmental perspective, now than five years ago, it is more difficult in most developed countries to successfully start companies.
How do you see business schools changing during the next five to ten years?
I believe that business schools will continue to become more and more responsive to students’ expressed needs. Those needs will continue to be diverse. But, they will focus on making sure that students are readily employable when they leave business school at rates of pay and in the types of professions the students want to be undertake. I also believe that students will continue to want to learn the skills that will allow them to have interesting careers that will help them make the world a little bit better place.
What’s your opinion regarding Lord Alan Sugar’s recent comment about university education “…not required to be successful in business”?
While I am very respectful of diverse opinions about university education, I think it is very important to differentiate between different types of people and different types of education. There is no doubt that education will need to continue to change to meet the needs of entrepreneurial students. At the same time, for some young people, the message that sometimes education doesn’t matter needs to be understood at a very deep level. There is no doubt that some people could pick out a few very able young people who did well in school before going to university. A few of them might not need university education to be successful in business. On the other hand, if some students get the impression that education before university is not important, that is the wrong message and I don’t think that is the message that many commentators are trying to communicate.
Many working within the employment sector say today’s graduates don’t have the ‘soft skills’ necessary to achieve in the real world – what’s your opinion on their view?
I agree with that critique. Too many students are spending far too much time using social media and games. Certain types of communication skills are going to continue to be most highly valued by employers. Graduates will have to have the ability to speak with individuals face to face and over the phone and they will have to be effective at writing clearly. I am not saying that social media is unimportant. It is just not most important for most jobs of most people.
In a diminishing economy, do you believe postgraduate business degrees are still as important as they once were?
It does depend on who we are talking about. For some, an investment in postgraduate business education will not make sense. For some who will be receiving less valuable education, I am especially concerned. On the other hand, for those who really want to have influence in certain fields, there is no doubt that a high quality advanced business degree is more important than ever.
How do you see new types of business degrees such as the ‘Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)’ affecting businesses?
For students who want to teach or complete research at good universities, the DBA will be an important degree. For people who want to participate in business on a day-to-day basis, I don’t believe that the DBA is going to be perceived as a required degree any time soon.