It is rare when business leaders and entrepreneurs turn to politicians for life-learnt lessons about success, unless of course it is larger-than-life and inspirational figures like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Mandela. Quite the contrary, visionary politicians, hungry for change, have resorted in the past to success stories of successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs for tips and lessons that would help them in the complex world of politics.
Recently, however, successful politicians, who against all odds, make it to the top have attracted the attention of students of entrepreneurial behavior. Obama is now a classic textbook case for a non-traditional politician, with little chance to make it in a political system whose results had always been predictable, at least along racial lines, who has successfully used entrepreneurial skills and technology to mobilize millions around his vision for change.
The newest in the line of politicians-acting-like entrepreneurs is the young and dynamic freshly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron. Macron did not only make it to the top of the sixth largest economy in the world, but has irreversibly and seismically changed the political landscape of his country. His success gives hope to millions around Europe and the World at a moment when apathy and political despair have already been gaining ground in the US, Europe and the Middle East.
Experts and students of successful entrepreneurs are scurrying to read Macron's story and understand his success. He is qualified as a pragmatic visionary, who has believed in his message and his capacity to make it heard; he has taken risks and has managed to listen to, mobilize and to galvanize thousands of militants, sympathizers and volunteers; he has used technology to get information and use it to target undecided electors to get them to vote for "change and hope", the underlying message for his movement, branded savvily as "En Marche" (We are moving).
Macron has used these classical entrepreneurial skills in a highly dexterous manner. He knew what he wanted and set up the right means and tools (including big data) to go and get it, not alone but with a group of change-hungry, young and not so young, men and women of France. But I believe there is more to Macron's success than just vision, risk, technology, branding and a galvanizing message. New forms of entrepreneurial behavior have surfaced up with Macron's campaign and victory that are worth studying by entrepreneurship media and academic circles.
1. Be there at the right moment
Macron was at the government of François Hollande at the right time but left it when it was time to move on. It looks like he came in with a purpose (to serve and learn) and left with a purpose (not to be associated with the misfortunes of the Socialist Party and to set forth a much bigger dream and see it come true). Macron was there when the Right was having troubles finding the right candidate, the Left was divided and the Extreme Right branded itself as the only alternative.
Macron presented himself as a non-conventional non-party independent candidate moving beyond divisive issues and convincing the French to collectively espouse change. He saw a void, a vacuum, and purposefully filled it with a new message, a new way of seeing and doing things. He acted on the weakness of others and used it to develop a new vision that makes those who believe in it stronger and more confident. He became the alternative; his movement embodied the hope the French were so thirsty for.
2. Turn adversity into an opportunity
Macron seemed at first to be a one-man-show figure acting against formidable party machines, well-seasoned to orchestrate campaigns and navigate through rough times during elections. But Macron used his "loneliness" to his advantage: he is the outsider who brings a fresh message to a political élite that is perceived to be outdated and "dépassée." Being outsider was not only "good", but was instrumental in getting the attention of the desperate and disillusioned silent majority.
What was a disadvantage became not only a strength but a campaign theme, a marketing mantra that served to get the message across. Macron's campaign not only "sold more" but persuaded others, generally by-standers, to act as vehicles for the new message, the new product, the freshly invented brand.
3. Don't be afraid to swim against the tide
Macron could have chosen to run on an existing party platform from the left or the right, giving a new look to already used messages. The result would perhaps be a divided public opinion, a President with no mandate to rule and everybody back to "business as usual." Macron chose to face the storm and not to run away from it. The odds were against him but that only made him more determined, more organized and ultimately more persuasive. If the wind blows strongly against you, it could either break you or make your resolve stronger.
The more it lashes at you, the stronger you become, if you choose to face it and walk through it. Macron substituted a "fresh start" for "business as usual" . And it worked: his message resonated with millions and took pundits and the press by surprise. What was a walk into the unknown became a giant step out of the box, into something visionary and galvanizing. A giant step into the unknown was what made YouTube, Apple, Ryanair, Google, Booking, Airbnb, Netflix, Uber and scores of others, strikes of genius that have revolutionized whole industries and changed the world as we knew it, forever.
4. Don't shy from defying established order
The established order sets entry conditions and rules of conduct, both in business and politics. To defy it is risky: it could make you or break you. Defiance means that you are deprived of tools that help you broker deals with the powers that be. But Macron saw more power in catering to the needs of those who feel left out or powerless. Because he was thinking outside the box, the traditional power machines did not hurt him much by shutting him off. In fact, he felt liberated and free to instill a sense of newness and inventiveness among those who volunteered with his campaign to be agents of change. He shook the established order so much that he made it irrelevant in the eyes of the electorate as has been demonstrated later in the legislative elections.
Defying the established order could be the beginning of a great success story for entrepreneurs. Often criticized for employees' bad work conditions, Michael O' Leary, the controversial CEO of Ryanair, was able, however, to transform the Irish airline company from a regional player carrying a mere 3.7 million passengers using 21 aircraft into a giant European player carrying "119 million passengers on more than 1,800 daily flights from 86 bases, connecting over 200 destinations in 33 countries on a fleet of over 360 Boeing 737 aircraft, with a further 305 Boeing 737’s on order, which will enable Ryanair to lower fares and grow traffic to 200 million persons by year 2024.” O'Leary did this by defying the established order both in Ireland and the UK and at the European Union level. Both Macron and O'Leary show that challenging the status quo could pay off in both politics and business.
5. Let adversaries communicate about you
During the televised debate against the extreme right candidate Marine Le Pen (at the second round of the Presidential elections) in May, 2017, Macron presented his vision for France as well as the decisions he would take to deal with its economic and social woes. His opponent attacked him all throughout the debate. By accepting the criticism (even the most vicious part of it), Macron let all the attention be focused on him. He turned Le Pen's attacks into opportunities to communicate about his program and his innovative approach. Le Pen's relentless critiques made him look as if he were the only candidate. It was a communication gift that made him shine more and made his opponent look as if she were a non-viable candidate. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who turn opponents' attacks into opportunities to communicate better about oneself and one's brand.
6. Manage your success well
Macron did what successful entrepreneurs should do: he developed the brand and kept promoting it even after its reputation got to the highest level. He went on being inclusive, communicative and innovative even after he became president. In fact, he used his success to create a new party out of scratch and lead it towards domination of French politics during the legislative elections.
Not only did he manage well his victory but maintained the dynamic of change he created by aspiring to the role of a unifying European leader, a much-needed model in a Europe going through one of its lowest moments of doubt about its destiny. Managing success is a great quality of successful entrepreneurs: they never become complacent; on the contrary, it's when change takes place that the real work begins (as Apple's Steve Jobs' life and work story teaches us); that of systemic transformation and transition to a new way of doing business in a fast changing world.
Conclusion: golden opportunities will strike but you need to be able to see them
Macron took today's world, in search of a glimmer of hope at a moment of doubt, rising populism, xenophobia and protectionism, by surprise. Instead of ceding to apathy and selfish nationalistic self-aggrandizement, he provided a new reason for hope and belief in the future. He showed leadership on a large scale that befits France's role on a European and global scale.
His is a useful textbook case for entrepreneurs to learn from. And it is still unfolding, as we speak. Macron's shining success hides a lot of reflection, hard work and savviness behind it. Successful entrepreneurs not only take the world by storm but do it with dexterity, perseverance and a sharp eye for opportunity. If the opportunity knocks, embrace it in a timely fashion, and you will strike gold as Macron just did.