Samer Ibrahim Kurdi, global Chairman, Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), talks about why, he believes, EO entrepreneurs have an edge over the others and his observations about entrepreneurship around the globe
Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is a catalyst that enables entrepreneurs to learn from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life. This global community of entrepreneurs, with almost 9000 members in 45 countries, and more than US $165 billion of combined revenues of members, celebrated its 25th Anniversary with events around the world. The organisation’s Global Chairman, Samer Ibrahim Kurdi, Partner, Sunbulah Group, (a company in the Middle East in the field of food manufacturing and distribution), has been a member of the EO since 2003, and the president of the Saudi chapter and then the director for the Middle East chapter. Since 2010, he has been elected as Global Chairman for the entire organisation for a term that lasts till 2013. He talks to us about EO’s role in enriching an entrepreneur’s journey and his observations about entrepreneurship around the globe.
Why should an entrepreneur become a member of EO?
As entrepreneurs, there is more to our needs than only business needs. Our members are a part of a peer group that shares the same type of aspirations, concerns and interests. We get together and share our experiences and understand how our peers are dealing with a certain crisis and take that experience from them, and, if relevant, apply it in our own business or industry. An entrepreneur’s business needs to have at least a US $1 million in revenue to become a member of EO.
Recently, we came up with a new concept called EO360 degrees where we define our personality in four different aspects – business, family, community and self.
In your tenure as the chairman, you were to address and concentrate on the totality of an entrepreneur, specifically through EO360 degree methodology. How successful have you been in accomplishing this?
I don’t think we can fully accomplish it – it is always work in progress. The main thing what we did in the past six months is that we changed the mentality of our chapters and the global organisations and hence our events are no longer pure business events. If one is looking for pure business takeaway value they might be better off joining their local industry chapters. We want to strike a balance by giving value otherwise. So our global events and regional events are more spouse friendly. The communities are also benefitting from this. For instance, we have a member who built houses for orphans in Africa; another member in Japan gave away his business and turned it into a non-profit organisation. Our members are really changing so many different things in their community and also the global communities. We want to be more balanced as entrepreneurs and give back to our families, communities and ourselves and excel in business. Without excelling in business we will not be able to achieve all of this.
How does EO support aspiring entrepreneurs?
We support entrepreneurs at all stages of their lives. If you are a student entrepreneur (below the age of 25), where a business has been revenue positive for six months at least (doesn’t have to be a registered business and you can do it out of your house or hostel), then you can apply for the global students entrepreneur’s award. It’s a program that we have been doing for seven or eight years and we have applicants from different countries – 30 or 35 countries with over 1500 applicants. In 2012, we had 24 regional events and we filtered these applicants from the regional levels and sent them for final nomination at the global level where they compete against each other. More than the competition, what’s important is the network, connection and inspiration that they get from each other. This year, the winner was from the U.S.
At a slightly higher level is the accelerator program with US $2,00,000 benchmark in revenue. With the help of the local chapter we mentor startup entrepreneurs. We accelerate their businesses so that they become EO members. Since its start about six years ago, 171 accelerator participants have joined EO, reaching the US $1 million level with their businesses.
What are your observations as a chairman about entrepreneurship in various countries and how important is the domestic ecosystem in fostering entrepreneurship in that country?
We are seeing increased entrepreneurial activities and movements than we ever saw before. It is not specific to one country and it is all over the place. In thriving economies like South Asia, certain parts of Africa, Middle East and Latin America, entrepreneurship is becoming more lucrative as they are getting a lot of support from the ecosystem – government, banking sector, financiers etc. In other countries, where they continue to have economic difficulties, like the U.S. and Europe, entrepreneurship is becoming a way out from being unemployed for a lot of people. It’s working very well in thriving and suffering economies.
In South Asia, Latin America, the government is truly in a partnership with private sector and NGOs and are working together to foster entrepreneurship. The size of the businesses that are member-owned and operated is increasing – number of members, number of employees per member – which means businesses and profitability, are increasing.
How does an entrepreneur know what he is gaining from being a member of EO?
It is subjective. It boils down to what that member is really looking for. We found that many of them were looking for business and beyond business. At the age of 25, with no wife or kids, an entrepreneur does not have much interest in the family aspect and wants to concentrate on his business. He may not be mature enough to care about the community and concentrate on personal fulfillment. At the age of 40, another entrepreneur may be interested in community, family and self and not as much in business as it is doing well. Our measure is our retention rate. In South Asia, retention rate is almost 96.2 per cent.
What is the impact EO has had on entrepreneurs in India?
We have 650 members in India who employ 1000 people on an average. Around 6.50 lakh people are employed by our members in India. There are two million to three million people who depend on the decisions that these members in India are making every day and I am certain that these decisions can only get better by them getting together in India or South Asia with friends and peers from 45 other countries, learning and sharing from them and becoming stronger leaders. The indications that we have such as retention of these members, their yearly revenue and profit growth rate suggest that there is a positive impact.
Many entrepreneurs, when they get successful, sometimes they find themselves without friends or like-minded people. Does EO community help them address that gap?
We have different programs to do that – EO forum and mentorship. In mentorship, we help our own members get mentors in a specific industry and location and these mentors could be other industry leaders. The other program which is one of the most important benefits that we have for our members is the EO forum. It is a specific set up where members (around 7 to 10) get together on a monthly basis and discuss issues – they could be business or personal issues. It is the same group every time and the forum has to maintain confidentiality. We have a clear protocol on how to communicate in the forum in a way that is not insulting, judgmental, forceful and that speaks from experience only. And eventually, the members become your board of trustees, board of directors and become your group therapist. Every forum has a moderator.
What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?
A successful entrepreneur is one who takes more risks than an average person; is more driven; is more creative. As the entrepreneur owns the businesses, the business and the person become one. There is always that strong attachment and it adds to the drive. Once they realise that failure is not an option it helps them become a stronger entrepreneur. These are some observations that I have made from what I see around the globe and from speaking to over thousands of people. You have to be a successful entrepreneur before you join EO. EO is going to accelerate you to become more successful and a better person.