"Not too many years ago," Joseph Mancuso says, "the word entrepreneur did not enjoy the relatively positive connotations that it does today. The line between the con man and the entrepreneur was not very wide. Only 25 years ago, to be called an entrepreneur was to be called a hustler."
Mancuso is the founder and president of the Center for Entrepreneurial Management (CEM), the world's largest membership organization for entrepreneurs. So he's somewhat of an entrepreneur himself. Founded in 1978 in Massachusetts, the organization is now based out of Mancuso's home in Manhattan. It provides numerous practical services for over 3,000 members, but the organization is also something of group therapy for entrepreneurs, still an unusual and often misunderstood fellowship.
Mancuso's motto is: "It's all right to be independent, but there's no reason to be alone." And it is through providing a sort of "information middleman," as Mancuso puts it, that CEM offers one of its most valuable services—helping bridge the gap between the infant, start-up company and the viable small business. It is here that many entrepreneurs flounder, for lack of management skills. Mancuso's organization puts them in touch with others who have made the passage safely and helps them develop specific business plans, getting it all down on paper.
Entrepreneurs are not a particularly happy lot, Mancuso says, pointing out that many people who are very good at making money are not particularly good at spending or enjoying it. Almost by definition, they are gamblers who lose on occasion. Mancuso's own hero is William Crapo Durant, the man who started General Motors. Durant went broke three times in the course of his life, lost GM, bounced back, and bought it back before losing it again to die in poverty.
So what is Mancuso like? He is obviously an entrepreneur, since he perceived the need for an organization to serve that group and started CEM. But he is also an educator.
The center is really an outlet for his didactic skills. Born in Connecticut, Mancuso started out as an electrical engineer. He went on to earn an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and finally took his doctorate in educational administration at Boston University. He has been a department chair at Worcester Polytechnic, an engineering school in Massachusetts.
In addition, Mancuso has written 15 books on management and associated business and entrepreneurial skills. He writes regular columns for Success magazine and National Business and Employment weekly and has contributed to Playboy and Harvard Business Review. He has produced audio and video tapes on management and gives countless lectures. Mancuso also edits CEM's monthly newsletter, The Entrepreneurial Manager.
Of course, all this data doesn't say much about the kind of person that Mancuso is. But that is in part due to the fact that, like other entrepreneurs, his hobby is his business. Even his wife, Karla, is his business partner. Together, they attend every local meeting of another organization that he founded two years ago from the cream of CEM's 3,000 members—the Chief Executive Officers Club, with 210 members. CEO local meetings are held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Houston, Dallas, and Chicago, eight times in each city annually. That means 56 meetings a year.
Mancuso himself is delighted that the public has begun to value the role of the entrepreneur in society, though not to the extent that he believes is deserved. Some academicians, particularly those associated with the monetarist and Austrian schools of economic thought, have for decades pointed out the vital function that entrepreneurs play in a healthy economy. They are, perhaps, most responsible for the intellectual appreciation of the risk-taking individualists who start the businesses that are later bureaucratized and become institutions. Entrepreneurs are finally being credited with the new jobs they create and the new products they deliver to consumers.
Nevertheless, risking it all at the altar of consumer taste and preference is not a particularly pleasant way to spend one's life. Between projects, or after an unsuccessful project, the entrepreneur is likely to be viewed as unemployed or, as Mancuso says, "a bum." Often cursed with the temperament of an artist, entrepreneurs do not fit into the strictly scheduled routine of corporate life.
Mancuso spends considerable time reassuring entrepreneurs "that they are good people, valuable people." He says that more and more, the public is beginning to believe that too.
"Every society somehow conjures up a hero," Mancuso says, "someone who slays the dragon, unties the Gordian knot, finds the holy grail, frees the beautiful damsel in distress. Every society has them, but heroes have to leave society to do it. They are not like those who stay behind.
"All I'm trying to do is provide the entrepreneur with a road map to the dragon, a little drinking water, a few candy bars—and a telephone number. If the entrepreneur finds and slays a dragon, we ask him to come back and talk to a few others who are getting ready to go on their own quest. Even entrepreneurs can forget where they came from."
Patrick Cox is a free-lance writer.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Spotlight: Entrepreneurs’ Entrepreneur".