Leclerc, Free, Amazon… how do you draw inspiration from strokes of business genius?

His whimsical and provocative side annoys more than one. But he almost wanted to apologize. In May 2021 guest in the satirical show Saturday Night Live, Elon Musk has revealed that he has Asperger’s syndrome. A form of autism characterized by difficulties in social relationships. “I’m not evil, just misunderstood,” pleaded the father of Tesla and SpaceX. Three years earlier, the South African-born entrepreneur admitted, in an interview with the New York Times, to having gone through great moments of loneliness. At the time, the launch of the Model 3 was delayed, and Elon Musk told reporters that he felt exhausted after his 120-hour work week: “I haven’t taken more than a week off since 2001.”

These confessions from the now richest man on the planet will not make people cry in the cabins. But they remind us that the great entrepreneurial adventures, the ones that disrupt the course of the world, are always the result of atypical personalities and marked by trials. According to Schumpeter’s principle of “creative destruction”, these business adventurers strive to destroy the old world in order to invent a new one. Visionaries, obsessives, workers, sometimes brutal even a little rogue, these great names in business history have something more or different than ordinary mortals.

>> The contents of our file

You can love them or hate them. But their journey is always a source of lessons. On the development of capitalism. On everyone’s ability to make the most of their qualities. Richard Branson, dyslexic, left school at 16: that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most emblematic English bosses in 2000. Ole Kirk Christiansen, a bankrupt Danish carpenter, started making wooden toys before founding Lego . Paul Galvin, founder of Motorola, pioneer of radio telephony and walkie-talkie, spent half his life as an entrepreneur failing before seeing his innovations really take off in the fifties. Every story is unique and success is a random cocktail. Walt Disney was not only a brilliant designer, he was also on the lookout for new technologies (synchronized sound, first cartoons) and a marketing ace (derivatives, Club Mickey, etc.).

The business geniuses to whom we devote a dossier are therefore not all high-flying scientists or mad scientists. But all of them were distinguished by an extraordinary ability to turn their dreams into reality. All things considered, their story invites everyone to identify and build on their own strengths. This portrait gallery does not claim to be exhaustive, far from it. It also gives honor to French people because they are closer to us and perhaps, for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, a source of inspiration. In the end, we decided to highlight their most outstanding quality, through six families of entrepreneurs, from the inventor to the super salesman who passed through the buccaneer or organizer.

In this last category, we could have come back to Henry Ford, who not only generalized the scientific organization of work in the car, but also gave substance to his vision, “the car for everyone”. Lower costs allow lower prices, large volumes allow for significant profit margins and improve worker wages… so they can buy the vehicle they produce. The circle is complete.

In this family of efficiency aces, we preferred to zoom in on the story of Tim Cook, Apple’s boss. Less mythical than Steve Jobs, the former director of operations has nevertheless multiplied the value of the company at the apple by seven (2400 billion against 345) since the departure of his mentor thanks to his almost clinical knowledge of all links in the production and distribution chain.

Big business certainly does not thrive everywhere. And it is quite natural that the United States has provided the largest battalion of great leaders, or great leaders, such as Helena Rubinstein or Estée Lauder. Legal certainty, substantial capital, richly endowed universities, large domestic market, Uncle Sam’s country remains a land of conquest par excellence. But it is up to entrepreneurs to find their way even in a more difficult environment.

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