Founding the World Entrepreneur of the Year

After winning EY's award for “Entrepreneur of the Year” in Austin back in 1996, I later became a regional judge, and then co-chaired the national judging panel for the United States. We knew that the program was expanding around the world and gaining popularity. Throughout the 1990s many countries started to add the “Entrepreneur of the Year” program and already had country winners.

Starting and Judging the Process

I teamed up with John Wall, the President of NASDAQ at the time, to work with EY’s CEO, James Turley and Greg Erickson, the head of the “Entrepreneur of the Year” program, to discuss thoughts about having a grand overall winner. We asked, “What if we took the winners of all the countries, put them together, have a big event, and plan on doing one of these ‘World Entrepreneur of the Year’ winner events annually?” They hadn’t thought about that. Then, we brainstormed with other judges and former winners. What would a “World Entrepreneur” program look like? Where would it be? How would the judges recognize one country’s winner out of others? What is there to consider with different cultures, economics, forms of government, and financial standards?

The 2000 US national judging meeting was in Kansas City at the Kauffmann Foundation, and it was there that we proposed a "World Entrepreneur of the Year" plan. EY ended up liking it and agreed to host the program the following year. It was during that meeting when I was asked to be one of the founding judges and co-chairs of the world judging panel, which I was honored to accept.

Viewing the Event as a Startup

The hardest part was assembling that first group of judges from around the world, and having to invent the criteria for the “World Entrepreneur of the Year". We finally all met early in Monaco for the very first “World Entrepreneur of the Year” event in 2001, and held up a conference room for several days and nights. Like the entrepreneurs we were judging, and similar to our own entrepreneurial experiences, we put in a lot of hours. The core judging standards devised in 2001 became the foundation for future judging as well. I definitely saw the entire process of that as a startup environment.

Just sitting in a room with people from around the world deciding how to judge this kind of thing was a memorable experience. John Wall, a fellow judge, had a great perspective being from NASDAQ, where companies from all around the world went public. We had foreign judges as well, which was tremendous. Of course there were big, heated discussions, aggressive and from all angles, about how to evaluate companies . When I subsequently judged the White House Fellows program, I was able to use much of my experience as a founding World Entrepreneur of the Year judge. How could you judge some of the greatest people you’ll ever see, and select one amongst others? How could you compare them?

Deciding Where To Host the World Entrepreneur of the Year

We needed somewhere that would enhance the prestige of the “Entrepreneur of the Year” program. We discussed the idea of hosting it somewhere in the world that would be truly international, such as New York City, Monte Carlo, London, Hong Kong, or Geneva. There were many discussions about this. Should it be in the same place every year? Should we vary the location? In my opinion, the decision to host it in Monaco made great sense because it was such a high class, intriguing and unusual city. Many people viewed it as a neutral ground. We also felt that if it worked really well the first time, it should remain in that location. Although they took our opinions with high regard, ultimately it was of course EY's final choice. The decision was confirmed as Monaco, and it has remained the perfect venue every year since the start.

Thoughts for the Judges

Every time I talk to new WEOY judges, I like to reinforce to them just how big of a commitment it is. My message to them is: You’ll be in an exquisite place and will meet and be around a lot of great people, but you’ll miss a lot of the activities and will have to focus on the judging. I had never known any judge in all of these years, especially at the world level, that didn’t take the task seriously. Judges want to ensure they give it their  all, and that they provide fair evaluation to every candidate. Judges must look at criteria  from each possible angle so that they can make the strongest recommendation for a winner.

Message to the Country Winners

When considering all the hard work people put forth this program, it becomes such an incredible honor to win, and then go on to represent one’s country at this event. Like any contest of any form, everybody would love to picture themselves as the winner. Everyone has an equal shot, but of course it’s such fierce competition where the global winner must truly represent a standout amongst standouts. If you’ve made it to the “World Entrepreneur of the Year” event as a country winner, you’ve already accomplished an amazing feat!

Recommendations for the Attendees

Of course attendees of the WEOY event consist of country winners, but you can also expect to see their leadership teams, journalists, invited speakers, past winners, and other outstanding entrepreneurs and business leaders. So really the country winners make up a smaller percentage of the people who actually attend. If you are just attending, my advice for making “World Entrepreneur of the Year” a truly memorable experience would be to really soak in the all surroundings, the beauty, the uniqueness, and the pageantry of Monaco. You should enjoy, of course, the natural beauty of the Côte d'Azur and the Mediterranean Coast.

Attending the “World Entrepreneur of the Year” event offers participants one of the best chances to gain knowledge about each of the winners and their countries. Remember, there’s always something to be learned, as this makes for quite a fascinating experience. When attending the event, talk to them and ask them their stories. Don’t just view this as “Oh, well, this is just a great event.” The event will be more meaningful if you take the time to discover something about the country winners. Ask them what it was like when they started. Ask them who their competition was and who did they beat out to win in their country. Ask them what their thoughts are about that process. Ask them about the hardest times that they faced building their own companies. Ask them what their dreams are. Since the country winners make up a unique set of individuals, you must take it as a rare opportunity to talk to them in person with people from countries and cultures from all over the world.

Let me know what you’re most looking forward to at “World Entrepreneur of the Year” or if you have  any great stories to share if you’ve been before. Please ask any questions in the comments section below. Of course, if you see me in Monaco, say hello!

Recommendations for the Attendees

Of course attendees of the WEOY event consist of country winners, but you can also expect to see their leadership teams, journalists, invited speakers, past winners, and other outstanding entrepreneurs and business leaders. So really the country winners make up a smaller percentage of the people who actually attend. If you are just attending, my advice for making “World Entrepreneur of the Year” a truly memorable experience would be to really soak in the all surroundings, the beauty, the uniqueness, and the pageantry of Monaco. You should enjoy, of course, the natural beauty of the Côte d'Azur and the Mediterranean Coast.

Attending the “World Entrepreneur of the Year” event offers participants one of the best chances to gain knowledge about each of the winners and their countries. Remember, there’s always something to be learned, as this makes for quite a fascinating experience. When attending the event, talk to them and ask them their stories. Don’t just view this as “Oh, well, this is just a great event.” The event will be more meaningful if you take the time to discover something about the country winners. Ask them what it was like when they started. Ask them who their competition was and who did they beat out to win in their country. Ask them what their thoughts are about that process. Ask them about the hardest times that they faced building their own companies. Ask them what their dreams are. Since the country winners make up a unique set of individuals, you must take it as a rare opportunity to talk to them in person with people from countries and cultures from all over the world.

Let me know what you’re most looking forward to at “World Entrepreneur of the Year” or if you have any great stories to share if you’ve been before. Please ask any questions in the comments section below. Of course, if you see me in Monaco, say hello!