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Richard Branson bemoans 'overeducated,' risk-averse entrepreneurs: WikiLeaks

In a January 2008 meeting with Chinese businessmen, billionaire Sir Richard Branson agreed 'that British entrepreneurs are overeducated and that schooling does not prepare one for entering the business world.'

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Branson's off-the-record comments came in January 2008, when he and other high-ranking British businessmen accompanied then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Beijing and attended a lunch conference with Chinese businessmen entitled "What Makes a Good Entrepreneur?"

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Too afraid of failure?

According to the cable (read here), Chinese participants criticized British entrepreneurs as being “overeducated, too conservative, lacking passion for entrepreneurship, and too afraid of failure.”

Branson – who dropped out of school at age 15 but went on to found Virgin Group Limited, a conglomerate of more than 400 companies from Virgin Atlantic airline to Virgin Records music label – agreed with the criticism “that British entrepreneurs are overeducated and that schooling does not prepare one for entering the business world.”

The Chinese also criticized their own system as inadequate to prepare people for entrepreneurship, according to the cable.

Professor Ceru at Babson says education should not come at the expense of action, or what he calls "the paralysis of analysis." He says "entrepreneurs fail forward. They learn from their errors as they refine their efforts."

This willingness to fail needs to be encouraged, says Ceru.

Drop out to succeed

The Guardian points out that Facebook investor Peter Thiel has encouraged young entrepreneurs to leave education altogether by offering two-year $100,000 fellowships to teenagers. "Some of the world's most transformational technologies were created by people who stepped out of school because they had ideas that couldn't wait until graduation," Mr. Thiel has said.

Professor Bernel at Notre Dame agrees that there is a tendency for business school graduates to be overly conservative since they are, after all, gambling with others' money. "To some degree, we teach our students to be risk averse in dealing with somebody else’s money. We don’t teach students innovation, creativity, how to use your intuition. Most business schools avoid it," he says.

But not all business school graduates are meant to be entrepreneurs, Bernel adds: The world needs data crunchers and financial experts to whom the entrepreneurs can turn. It's also important to recognize that people like Branson and Mr. Gates and Mr. Zuckerberg are incredibly talented individuals whose success is not easily replicated.

"They’re special people. They see things," he says. "Very successful entrepreneurs are different from you and me. They can draw connections between disconnected issues into opportunities."

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