Interview by Kathleen Yazbak
This “CEO Perspectives” features a conversation between Bridgespan Executive Search Partner Kathleen Yazbak and Linda Rottenberg, CEO and co-founder of Endeavor Global.
Kathleen Yazbak: You’re an entrepreneur, leading a network of organizations led by entrepreneurs, each supporting entrepreneurs in their countries. How do you define ‘entrepreneur’ and has your definition changed over time?
Linda Rottenberg: Endeavor Global has always been of, by, and for entrepreneurs. Originally, we thought of “entrepreneurs” as those who create jobs and wealth and give back to Endeavor’s work with other entrepreneurs, creating that positive cycle. However, the term “entrepreneur” has become ubiquitous, and I think it has been devalued over time. At Endeavor, we now talk purposefully about ’high-impact entrepreneurs,’ those who drive innovation and growth. Growth potential is now a more rigorous lens than it was. We now think of our entrepreneurs’ success as a multiplier effect and are now far more definitive about growth being the role model.
There have been distinct phases to your work at Endeavor, and thus your role and leadership. How do you categorize those phases?
Rottenberg: If I look at the phases, they’ve all been about the people. Phase one—roughly 1998 to 2003—was about getting top, local business leaders to pick us up. We found the movers and shakers and we told them, ’We have a model, but you have to decide whether you want it, and you have to pay us for it.’ We put the onus on them, and we built local boards and partnerships to find and nurture the best entrepreneurs.
Phase two began in January 2004, when Edgar Bronfman, Jr. [the chairman of Warner Music Group] became our board chair. We went from being a founding board to developing into a board that had a focus on resources and strategy at its core. Edgar wanted to help make Endeavor important and pushed us to take on a goal of 25 countries by 2015. Our growth and expansion led us into South Africa, Turkey, and the Middle East.
Phase three, which occurred roughly three and a half years ago, is when Omidyar Network took a bet on us and gave us a challenge grant to build our leadership team and management and to build in retention, because we were finding that because we are private-sector driven, we were losing smart, young people to business school, as well as to hedge funds and private equity firms.
Phase four is now, with our Endeavor 3.0 strategy. We have an operating plan to double in the next five years what it took us 14 years to do. Part of this phase is about unlocking our long-term sustainability.