Ask David Dietz, the founder of sustainable fashion retailer Modavanti, and he’ll tell you double-majoring in Arabic was one of the best things he ever did.
“When you study Arabic, you have to be very disciplined and diligent about learning the grammar rules, practicing writing the script and, of course, reading,” says the Georgetown University graduate. “As a young entrepreneur starting a business, that sort of discipline is imperative.”
While Dietz acknowledges taking businesses classes like economics helped, some experts believe young entrepreneurs are actually more artistic than they would like to think.
“An entrepreneur creates a business from a dream in the same manner that a painter creates a masterpiece from a canvas and tubes of paint,” says Philip Black, the president of Houston-based Urban Business Initiative, an organization that provides business education classes.
And the similarities don’t stop there. “Successful entrepreneurs spend countless hours at their kitchen table working out the details of their business just as a virtuoso spends long hours rehearsing,” Black says. “And both need the confidence to ignore criticism.”
But when it comes to nailing down a major, the answer isn’t so simple.
“I always tell my students to major in something they’re passionate about,” says Christopher P. Neck, an associate professor of management at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business.
Once you find your passion, next comes the goal of learning as much as you can about that discipline and the industries related to it.
“For example, if you want to be an entrepreneur in the music industry, learn as much about music as you can,” Neck says. “Then perhaps minor in some business courses like marketing and accounting or some computer-related courses.”
As for Dietz, studying Arabic has done more than increase sales. It has also given him instant credibility.
“When I meet a designer or brand rep at a trade show and they are Middle Eastern, speaking Arabic is an almost automatic guarantee that I’ll be able to sign that brand,” he says. “It has already happened three times and was something I could never have planned for, or accomplished, had I only studied economics.”
What other unconventional courses have you taken that have helped you be a better entrepreneur? Let us know in the comments.
Lambeth Hochwald is a freelance journalist, whose stories have appeared in magazines such as Coastal Living, O The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple and Redbook. She is also an adjunct professor at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.