By Wayne Mates
When you think of Chris Columbus chances are his business capabilities and qualities do not come to mind. But, in his time he displayed attributes of an entrepreneur consumed by his dream of success.
Born a commoner in Genoa, Italy, he was exposed to the merchant traders of Venice and other Italian cites that sailed out of the Mediterrean through the treacherous water around the Cape of Good Hope. Their travels took them to Asia where they traded goods for silks, precious gems and spices. These voyages were long, treacherous and quite dangerous. The voyages that succeeded made their ship captains and investors wealthy.
During the medieval period, it was generally accepted that the earth was flat. By the renaissance age and the time of Columbus, most people accepted that the earth was in fact round. Although some merchants felt they could get to Asia by sailing west, it was an unknown for them. How far was it? How long would it take? What if the earth really was flat? What beastly sea creatures would be in the way?
Columbus had the vision and courage to want to try it. But, he had no money, no title and no standing. He set out to accomplish what any modern day entrepreneur would do. He wrote a business plan. He tried to figure out how many men he would need, how much would be needed for provisions, how many ships would be needed. And, what would it cost? He also projected the value of the goods he could bring back from Asia. He projected potential profit.
Obtaining initial funding from private investors, he used connections to pitch his plan to King Henry VII of England and King John II of Portugal. He also sought an audience with Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Portugal turned him down. England took too long to respond. Securing an audience with Spanish royalty, he made his presentation. Although impressed they were not enthused by the idea. But, Isabella and Ferdinand eventually funded the venture hoping to increase their influence throughout Europe.
Ferdinand and Isabella were not fools. For four long years they did their due diligence, before agreeing to fund the trip. This brought in other private investors. So far Columbus had managed to create and sell his vision of a successful venture and obtain the funding he needed.
The execution of the plan was less than successful due to faulty assumptions. When Columbus arrived in the Bahamas and moved to Hispaniola, he thought he had succeeded. Apparently, he also had a faulty GPS. He was sure he had reached Asia and spent several months trying to find trading ports. Not finding any, he did what any good business person would do….. he modified his business plan.
Finding no spices and silks, he left the PInta behind with about 40 men, loaded the one ship he had left with some goods and some Indians and headed for Spain. The Pinta was also headed for Spain. The men left behind did not want to stay in the “new world”. After 4 voyages to the Americas, Columbus’ voyages served to secure the Spanish realm as a colonizer of the new world. Columbus died shortly after his last voyage.
Over 500 hundred years later, Columbus has a holiday in his honor. What other business person can claim that honor?? Will it be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or maybe Warren Buffet? Doubtful.
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