Amish entrepreneurs? Check out 'Success Made Simple.'

Amish values of hard work, humility, loyalty, and community make for surprisingly – or maybe not-so-surprisingly – successful entrepreneurs.

Steve Jahnke / The Southern Illinoisan / AP
In this photo taken Sept. 22, 2010 in Campbell Hill, Ill., Sam Coblentz (right) and Willard Yoder (left) use nail guns to piece together a wooden pallet, at the Hilltop Pallet business. There are about 45 Amish families and a dozen farms in the Ava and Campbell Hill area, and if one falls on hard times, the rest are there to pick them up.

I wrote a review on Erik Wesner's book, Success Made Simple, back in May. After reading his book about the success of Amish business owners we decided to get him to our campus.

Wesner spoke to a group of students and people from the community this past week here at Belmont University.

Beyond the remarkable five year business survival rate of about 90%, Wesner offered some wonderful insights into the Amish culture and how it shapes their entrepreneurial nature.

Like many entrepreneurs, the Amish look at entrepreneurial success in ways that go well beyond financial success. Owning a business allows the Amish to have more time with family, as most of the businesses employ family members. Time with family is at the core of their culture, so using business ownership as a tool to maximize that time is paramount.

Success is also tied to legacy. Amish entrepreneurs hope to be able to pass down their businesses to the next generation.

The ability to give back to their community through mentorships, supporting missions, and financial contribution to those in need is also at the core of how they view success.

It is clear that their culture is behind much of their ability to build sustainable businesses. A strong work ethic is at the core of their culture. And if a business falters, the community rallies to offer help with the struggling business, including acting as trustees if necessary.

Wesner offered three business lessons that he learned from the Amish that he believes are transferable to any entrepreneur:

  1. Humble leadership -- never expect employees to do anything you won't do yourself.
  2. Husbandry of resources -- there is very little waste in Amish businesses. They find ways to use waste for new functions whenever possible.
  3. Appreciation for small scale -- bigger is not better to the Amish. Their schools are kept small, their churches are small, and they limit the growth of their businesses. They believe that too much growth can lead to arrogance and pride. Small scale also keeps time for family. The virtue of temperance is definitely evident with the Amish.

Hearing Wesner speak about Amish entrepreneurs brings home the fundamental role of culture in shaping entrepreneurship in an economy.

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