Guest column: Recruit and nurture 5-star entrepreneurial talent


That’s the number of players from Louisiana that were on NFL rosters on opening day this season, making our state the nation’s top producer of professional football players per capita. That’s right, we’re number 1! Print the shirts.

This does not happen without a significant investment in talent. Millions of dollars and countless hours are invested each year in identifying, nurturing and recruiting elite talent in our football-crazed country. Securing a verbal commitment from a 16-year-old with five stars next to his name brings tears to the eyes of many fanatics who pull for the home team.

If a parallel can be drawn to developing world-class athletes, why isn’t our community and our state more focused on identifying, nurturing and recruiting elite entrepreneurial talent that has the ability to provide rocket fuel to our economic engine?

We know we need jobs and those jobs need to be good. The State of Working Louisiana 2017 Report states we need to generate 3,500 jobs per month over the next 33 months just to remain status quo. For the record, Louisiana should not aspire to the status quo. We should want championship-caliber jobs created and filled by championship-caliber individuals.

The benefits of creating remarkable entrepreneurs and entrepreneurially-minded leaders have been well documented. Those rainmakers generate significant wealth and wages, innovatively solve problems and change cultures—all elevating the quality of life.

Baton Rouge and Louisiana have some unique assets and support vehicles, which collectively have the potential to create a rich, world-class environment for entrepreneurial success. That said, there is an urgent need to align those assets and vehicles to create a cultivation continuum of experiences that nurtures talent through the pipeline. A passive, parochial approach will cause us to lose and in Louisiana, we don’t like to lose.

As executive vice president for the Junior Achievement National Headquarters, I travel way too much but I do have the opportunity to see how communities are starting to build collaborative partnerships to focus on entrepreneurial talent, recognizing the value that these leaders can have in the future. These cities are aggressively seeking individuals with great entrepreneurial strengths and working diligently to make them game changers.

You find them by creating a collaborative process that aligns resources and opportunities and then execute relentlessly. As a successful college football coach in Tuscaloosa recently said, “Process guarantees success.”

At JA, we have some excellent entrepreneurship education programs for students. We also work with some amazing national partners in this space, including research expert Gallup and Babson College, one of the top entrepreneurship schools in the world. Both have really elevated our thinking and brought fresh perspectives to discipline.

As an example, Gallup has developed a terrific assessment tool based a decade of scientific research that evaluates and measures ten innate entrepreneurial talents that have been proven to exist in wildly successful entrepreneurs. The tool allows you to ascertain who may have the ability to create economic energy where none previously existed. These people are the game changers everyone should be recruiting.

So why aren’t we offering this assessment to every high school student in Louisiana? Why aren’t we identifying the four- and five-star talent and working in partnership to implement relevant, engaging learning experiences for them that create authentic connectivity to the universities and growing ecosystems in our state? Those experiences could range from point of entry exposure designed for discovery and inspiration, to core learning opportunities that facilitate knowledge gain and skill development. The pathway could culminate in a rigorous and immersive experience for those with the uncommon potential to have a profound impact.

Each step of the journey should be experiential in nature, using a high tech, high touch approach to learning. Each step should include role models and mentors who bring theory to life. Each step should be measurable and memorable, building a powerful network of superstars with the mindset to define the future.

Entrepreneurial-minded leaders have tremendous value, whether they activate their strengths to incubate a thriving enterprise or create value within the context of a larger organization. According to Gallup’s research, these individuals are natural leaders that thrive under pressure. They constantly seek knowledge that informs their decisions and mitigates risk. They are great collaborators and communicate in a clear and compelling way.

Sounds like the folks we want in charge of anything and everything, right?

From a purely economic perspective, the research shows these uncommon leaders are three times more likely to build large businesses and to grow them significantly, and four times more likely to create jobs.

Convinced? So how do we find them?

You find them by creating a collaborative process that aligns resources and opportunities and then execute relentlessly. As a successful college football coach in Tuscaloosa recently said, “Process guarantees success.”

In our city and state, we have a strong business community, universities, incubators, chambers of commerce, non-profits and government agencies in place—all with the potential to create a cohesive playbook for success. All we need is a pipeline of talented players—and the leadership to get it done.

Steve Case, a JA alum, suggested in his newest book, The Third Wave, that perhaps organizations that support entrepreneurship should receive the same support and attention commonly reserved for athletic departments.

Maybe he’s right. When do we kick off?


Buzzy Thibodeaux currently serves as the executive vice president of Junior Achievement USA. He has worked for Junior Achievement for 36 years, the last 20 has been in leadership roles at the JA USA National Headquarters. He resides in Baton Rouge. 

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