Business guru says 'shut up and listen' is the key

<I>Corey Wicks/Chieftain</I><BR>Ernesto Sirolli gestures broadly as he discusses his greatest passion - building new businesses - with a group of equally intent Wallowa County residents.

An internationally known business wizard told an Enterprise audience Thursday that one of the biggest secrets to helping a business venture succeed is to simply shut up and listen.

Italian-born Ernesto Sirolli, founder of the Sirolli Institute, spoke to about 40 people at the Community Connections center about why all the efforts of westerners have failed in places like Africa, despite trillions of dollars being pumped in to assist locals.

Generally, westerners show up uninvited, tell them what to do, and disregard their local culture and religion, he said.

In the end, much of the effort to "help" Africans only made their situations worse and ruined local economies in the long term, despite giving billions in aid.

But no one really ever stopped to ask Africans themselves what they actually wanted - even if it is simply to be left alone, he said.

"If people do not wish to be helped, leave them alone," Sirolli said. "We only go where we're invited, so we never get involved with naysayers, because we don't meet them," Sirolli said.

Once invited, rather than coming in and telling everyone what to do, Sirolli's philosophy is just the opposite: he listens to people's dreams and aspirations, and then takes that information and thinks of a way to help them accomplish those dreams.

It was a way of thinking that jived with growth psychology - that all people harbor dreams of self-advancement, and that accomplishing those dreams is the best path toward self-healing and self-realization.

"Every human being, no matter how young or old, has a dream for self-improvement. I know you have a dream," Sirolli said, pointing directly at several members of the audience.

Another key that Sirolli discovered through researching the early histories of many major companies in the U.S. and Italy was that, of all the most successful companies, none of them was started by one person alone.

In order for a business venture to succeed, he said, "three different brains have to come together."

"Business is an act of love. Business is giving birth to a new creature ... These people have to love each other so much that they are prepared to argue together, make decisions and stay together," Sirolli said.

His website,, details how the institute's Enterprise Facilitation projects are designed to diversify the economic base of communities by creating jobs, respecting the environment and infusing the community with local vigor.

"When invited, we help you to establish a community-based organization that works in concert with existing economic development efforts to assist entrepreneurs.

This organization serves as a catalyst for renewed community pride and civic spirit," Sirolli's website says.

His book, " Ripples from the Zambezi - Passion, Entrepreneurship and the Rebirth of the Local Economy," has been used in academics teaching courses on community economic development.

In 14 years of operation in Lincoln County, Minn., population 6,429, the first enterprise facilitation site in the U.S., created 348 new jobs and 329 of those were retained. There were 125 new businesses created, 122 of which have been retained or even expanded.

In six years of operation in Richfield, Minn., a similar group created 168 new jobs at 57 new businesses; 34 of those businesses were retained or expanded. The projected gross revenue through the program was $28 million.

In Baker County, in just over five years of operation, 175 new jobs were created in a county with a population of 16,748. There were 66 new businesses that started up with a sustainability rate of 93 percent.

The Chieftain's business columnist, Myron Kirkpatrick, assists Wallowa County residents using the principles of Sirolli's philosophy, via Wallowa County Business Facilitation Inc.

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