Entrepreneurship is increasingly recognized as vital for economies to grow and survive in an increasingly competitive world. Studying the critical success factors of entrepreneurial activity is and will continue to be a primary scholarly interest. Factors that have been identified in current times as critical to the success of entrepreneurs can even be seen in the actions of an entrepreneur in nineteenth‐century America. This paper seeks to use historical evidence about the career of Henry B. Plant to illustrate the application of those key factors and to expand knowledge of customer networks in entrepreneurial success.
The recent Kauffman study of successful entrepreneurs identifies 12 characteristics that are associated with their success. Clustered into three groupings in descending order of importance they are: work experience and previous success, management team, and luck; professional and personal networks, university education, and availability of venture capital funding; geographic location, advice from investors, alumni networks, and state and/or regional assistance. Consequently, this article examines the career of Henry B. Plant to provide additional historical evidence for the Kauffman study's classification of critical characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. Moreover, it illustrates the value of strong ties in a customers network as a valued resource for entrepreneurs.
Henry B. Plant was an entrepreneurial pioneer and a visionary leader. Singlehandedly, he made Tampa, Florida by building the railroad to it. His strategy of opening up the state with an integrated rail and ship system necessitated thinking through the interconnections of different modes of transportation, tying together schedules, and making it possible to move people and goods from New York to Havana. By examining Henry B. Plant examples of how he used key success factors, similar to those in Kauffman's study, to create and develop his entrepreneurial efforts can be found. Moreover, his ability to create strong ties with his customer network created a valuable and unique resource in his entrepreneurial success.
While many studies of entrepreneurs focus on the twentieth and twenty‐first centuries, an example from the nineteenth century remains of value in understanding the key drivers of entrepreneurial success. This is particularly true for Plant who showed that by carefully creating and maintaining strong ties with a customer network he could provide his enterprise with a valuable and unique resource that was a major contributor to his success as an entrepreneur.
Ford, R.C. and Petersen, P.B. (2011), "Henry B. Plant (1819‐1899): Florida's west coast entrepreneur", Journal of Management History, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 254-269. https://doi.org/10.1108/17511341111141341
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