Entrepreneur of the Year
C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb practices what he teaches
In a school dedicated to teaching the art and science of entrepreneurship, the question bordered on heresy:
“Are entrepreneurs born, or are they made?”
Brian Lamb didn’t hesitate a second before responding. He pointed at his midsection.
“”You gotta have it right here,” said Lamb, who succeeded in creating a television network, and contributing to a global communications revolution, without the benefit of a foundation in formal business training.
Not that knowledge isn’t vital, he was quick to add; it’s just that drive matters more.
“My motivation was stronger than my brain. If your motivation is strong enough, you can learn all this stuff.”
Lamb, founder of C-SPAN Networks, was standing at the head of the classroom in one of the world’s leading academies of “all this stuff” – the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He was the guest lecturer in an Introduction to Entrepreneurship class as part of being honored by the Bloch School’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation as the International Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012.
Later that evening, Lamb and two other honorees were the featured guests at the annual Entrepreneur of the Year Dinner at the Kansas City Convention Center. Also honored that evening were John McDonald, founder of Boulevard Brewing Co., as Regional Entrepreneur of the Year; and the Regnier Family Foundations as Social Entrepreneurs of the Year.
That morning, however, Lamb made sure the focus was on the students. In a freewheeling session lasting more than an hour, he both took questions and posed them. He peppered the students with thought-provoking questions to make his points, rather than simply lecturing.
“How much money do you think C-SPAN gets from the government?” he asked; guesses varied widely until a student finally hit the right figure: zero. Lamb’s point: that funders are always going to want to have some level of control over the enterprise. “Those who give the money can also take it away,” he said.
His first question may have been the most telling.
“Why are you in this class? What’s the point?” Answered varied; some wanted to see ideas realized, some wanted to get rich, some wanted to be their own bosses.
“I think it’s because you want to create something,” Lamb said. In his case, he told the students, it wasn’t about the money; it was about a revolution against an entrenched power structure in which three New York-based networks determined all of the television choices for the viewing public. C-SPAN, he said, deliberately set out to challenge that power structure and give people choices.
“This country is completely decentralized now, with regard to television. And guess who’s still making money? ABC, CBS and NBC,” Lamb said. “But now, if you want to start something, you don’t need anyone’s permission.”
He also took the opportunity to praise the Bloch School’s faculty and facilities.
“I didn’t have an entrepreneurship class like this. I didn’t have an entrepreneurial school. And I think this is fantastic. You are so lucky to have this,” he said. “If you have any feeling at all about wanting to start a business, give it a shot. There’s nothing like it.”