According to the Oxford American dictionary, an entrepreneur is one who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. Two primary examples of great entrepreneurs in the business world would be the characters from Barbarians at the Gate, Henry Kravis of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Ross Johnson of RJR Nabisco. Henry Kravis proposed a more conventional but effective manner of conducting business in his years with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
On the contrary, Ross Johnson enforced his own eccentric styling in RJR Nabisco while conducting business, one that was not common, let alone favored by many. Although these two tycoons had opposite approaches in the business world, both were equally effective in their own way. Not only did these two entrepreneurs contribute to one of the largest buyouts on Wall Street in 1988, but also they did so in their own individual styles. Upon entering the business world, Ross Johnson portrayed the role of a very efficient and respectable entrepreneur.
As stated in the early chapters of Barbarians at the Gate, “He would recite all the steps he had taken to get the stock up: the profit gains, the pristine balance sheet, the stock buy backs, and Premier” (111). He as also noted to be “America’s Toughest Marketing Man” (114). Johnson at the very beginning of his career started out with a big bang. He was very efficient and persistent in gaining success. He drove his points of interest rigidly and made sure he delivered a successful result every time.
However as he began to make his way up to the top in RJR Nabisco, his attitude and performance changed tremendously. Of course, when Johnson first started out, he tried to maintain a certain image as a very prominent employee. He would make sure everything was done perfectly, double checking everything. It is expected that once you get settled into working with a company, your performance would be more relax and comfortable. However no one expected Johnson to change in such a rapid speed. Johnson switched from an excellent, efficient and conventional worker to a very casual, unprofessional and laid-back worker.
He created a different type of workplace; one that an outsider looking in might assume was unproductive and certainly unprofessional. He and his team often did most of their productivity after hours over beers and take out food. As stated he would say these such as, “Screw the slides.. We’ll tell them the numbers are good” (115). Although Johnson treated his team members like they were the best of friends, Johnson was noted to be a ruthless authoritative figure when it came to firing and hiring workers. It was noted that he would have no remorse firing a worker after he found that they no longer had any value to the company.
He fired them and did not look back even once. As for those who were lucky enough to be inducted into his close inner circle, he did whatever he could to guard them. He often gave them relatively generous promotions. He also had tendencies to instantly dissolve any work ethic problems or conflict of interests involving his inner circle. Those who were there were staying there. As the RJR Nabisco company stocks began to fall below expected prices, Johnson receives many reality checks not only from his team members but also his fellow competitors.
It is at this instance that Johnson’s true character as an entrepreneur begins to take center stage. Johnson showed signs of being a very laid-back and carefree authoritative figure previously, however there’s only so far that he could’ve fell until he came to his senses. As the company’s stock prices dramatically dropped, Johnson realizes that not only has he enforced a very unprofessional and unconventional working environment, but he also let it take control of the entire company.
Johnson was the type of entrepreneur that was serious when he was serious but didn’t fail to work and play all at once. When he was interested, he made it a priority to succeed and do what ever was called for to do so. However, when he got bored with that he was doing, which is evidently what happened somewhere along the line at Nabisco, he stops caring and enthusiasm. When he loses his interest, he loses all of his motives as well. Bearing this in mind, he knows that when he falls too far, he has to pick himself back up.
While the rest of his team members were continuing to play around and drink beer over business meetings, he took the liberty of surprising his potential business partners at Premier and personally pitched his business proposition to them. Henry Kravis however was the direct opposite from Ross Johnson. Henry Kravis was described as “.. kind, gentle and upbeat, a caring father and husband who wrote long, ardent love letters- qualities, of course, that never quite came across in his business dealings” (129).
Henry Kravis showed signs of having a double personality and the two never crossed each other in the difference of atmospheres that he was in. When he was at home, he was an entirely man from when he put on the suit and went to the office to conduct his business. It is stated that in the office he was “Often characterized as even-tempered and controlled, he nevertheless had a mean streak, a tendency to dismiss a competitor… or to remark cruelly about an overnight associate” (129). Kravis was a no nonsense type of entrepreneur.
He put his business suit on and that’s what he was when he had it on. He was strictly work and no play. Kravis was the type of man to get business done the right way and the most efficient way. Unlike Johnson, he didn’t have much of an inner circle and an unconventional relationship with those at the office. He got down to work when he stepped into the office and he got things done. He had tendencies to maneuver around anything and everything that was thrown in his course. He once said to an employee of his “Well, we’re going to do it this time..
We’ll make it worth your while” (209). Kravis’ main motivation was to do everything he could to produce results. No matter what was expected of him, he did more than that. When comparing the two, Ross Johnson and Henry Kravis took two very different approaches within the office. Ross Johnson was more laid-back while Henry Kravis was strict and stern. Although both entrepreneurs were successful, I would want to work for Henry Kravis. Even though he might have a temper and a rigid work style, I would assume that he’s more efficient.
Ross Johnson was efficient but made a lot of errors in his business deals. Being that Ross Johnson enforced the work hard but play harder moral in his workplace amongst his inner circle of team members, there would be too any room for mistakes. Henry Kravis was rigid and got right down to business. I don’t think he would leave any room for mishaps and playtime. If you don’t create a serious work environment, it will be difficult for clients to take you seriously, which is one of the many problems that Ross Johnson ran into.
Each entrepreneur that enters the business world enters with his own style. There are some that take examples from their previous successors while others just create their own tycoon techniques. Both Johnson and Kravis created their own technique that they used to walk through the business roads during the buyout periods on Wall Street. Not only did they gain fame from it, but also they were effective in their own individual ways.
Burrough, Bryan, and John Helyar. Barbarians at the gate: the fall of RJR Nabisco. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.