Follow the Leader

Wanda Hunchak.

Building an Entrepreneurial Culture to Drive Continued Growth

While every company is unique, there are common threads among the most successful. It is no coincidence that these commonalities are also the foundations of something called “entrepreneurial culture.”

An entrepreneurial culture can be defined as “the attitude, values, skills, and power of a team to deliver results,” and it starts with leaders. In his iconic TED Talk “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” Simon Sinek makes a case for leaders to build trust within their team. This is based on the fundamental principle that trust allows teams to pool their resources for the benefit of the organization, rather than individuals eroding valuable resources to
protect themselves. More can be achieved when people are united and focused on a common goal.

Trust Us

Trust allows people to make mistakes without fear which is the foundation for great innovation. Mistakes can lead to some of the most valuable innovations—for example, the product WD-40 (which today is found in almost every household) got its name because there were 40 attempts to get the formula right!

The impact of high-trust teams was the focus of a study referenced by the Covey Institute by Watson Wyatt which determined that high-trust organizations materially outperform low-trust organizations returning almost 300 per cent more value to stakeholders. High-trust was the agent that drove teams to be agile, entrepreneurial, innovative and collaborative—all qualities that are essential to growing a successful company in today’s economy. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum might have said it best: “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.”

No matter the stage of the company, from start-ups with “scrappy” founders to mature companies with experienced leadership, those with an entrepreneurial culture will most often outperformand exhibit similar traits. They create high-trust environments, stay close to their customers to drive innovation and are agile to pivot as required. This enables them to continue to grow, while weathering unforeseen events to emerge stronger.

Stay Close

Although we often think of entrepreneurial cultures in technology giants like Google, Twitter and Amazon—which not surprisingly are some of the most successful companies in the world today—these principles were pioneered long before. Take the story of Toyota, for example. A company started in the 1930s, dedicated to building trucks for the military during World War II, was on the brink of bankruptcy by 1950 as it struggled to adapt to a changing post-war market. Often credited with the invention of lean manufacturing as a result, Toyota also employed a key principle of entrepreneurial culture. It was during a walk of the production floor that the CEO realized that the people working on the front line were the best source of innovative ideas to improve production. In turn, this concept of transferring authority to workers to identify efficiencies and improvements created a culture of trust and empowerment among the company’s skilled workforce. The result was a company that adapted to not only survive but went on to produce the Toyota Corolla, the world’s top selling automobile of all time.

At Home

Local examples of this principle are also all around us. Amit Gupta was the founder of Solido Design Automation, a former portfolio company that Golden Opportunities Fund (managed by Westcap) was an early investor in, which was a pioneer in machine learning technology. Solido was acquired by Mentor, a Siemens company, which represents a success story in Saskatchewan’s innovation ecosystem. When asked about advice that he would give other founders, Amit reports that one of the keys to Solido’s success was to keep its executive management and development team close to its sales team, and to empower the people working directly with customers to suggest innovations and improvements. This helped to propel the company’s technology to become the best on the market, attracting the attention of Siemens, and resulting in its investment in Saskatchewan where the team still operates today.

We see evidence of entrepreneurial cultures in all sectors in Saskatchewan. Degelman Industries, another of our portfolio companies, was founded almost 60 years ago by Wilf Degelman who manufactured the company’s first rock picker in his barn in Raymore, Saskatchewan. Wilf always encouraged his team to visit farmers in the field to help direct innovation, and this culture remains today with the company’s ongoing innovations being driven by farmers.

Build It

Where do you begin when building an entrepreneurial culture that will continue to drive growth? The starting point is leadership that supports three main values:

  • Trust: Establish a culture of trust among your team with open and transparent communication about both successes and challenges.
  • Innovation: Empower those closest to the customer to help identify opportunities and be agile to change when the time is right, recognizing that great innovations often take more than one try.
  • Results: Measure and track the impact of an entrepreneurial culture.

Saskatchewan people are entrepreneurial by nature and necessity. Entrepreneurial cultures permeate companies in industries across our province, from agriculture and healthcare, to technology, and this is where Westcap
will continue to invest—in our people, in our Saskatchewan entrepreneurs.

Wanda Hunchak is the EVP at Westcap Mgt. Ltd. (Fund Manager for Golden Opportunities Fund) with over 20 years of experience investing in business opportunities in Saskatchewan. She holds a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CMA) designation, and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation.