Entrepreneurs - who do you want to look like when you grow up? Private Vs Public Sector realities

Yesterday I had the chance to participate in one of the regular breakfasts that the
FUNDACION MUJERES POR COLOMBIA (Women for Colombia Foundation) organizes. For each breakfast, they invite a certain woman, whose life story, career, acomplishments or simply vision, is assumed as worth telling to other fellow colombian women.

Yesterday, the host of the breakfast was María Isabel Nieto and the talk promised to be about her career change from the public to the private sector ... María Isabel had been a politician since she started her professional career, holding several positions in different regional and national terms, being one of the last ones, Vice Minister of Interior. Since 6 months or so, she`s the Director of Government & Industry Issues of Bavaria-SAB Miller in Colombia.

Some interesting quotes I could rescue from the talk (from the host as from the assistants), regarding the differences between the public & private sector, were:

“In the private sector if you are (a) good (professional), you are indentified, nurtured and developed into a leader… if you are (a) bad (one), you are fired. Show me performance! That`s not the case in the public sector. The public sector has employees by profession. Meritocracy still seems to have a long way to go”

“The word accountability doesn´t seem to exist in the public sector. In the public sector at times the person takes priority over the function”

“In the private sector you earn better”

“In the private sector you have access to top class sources of information to support the decision making process (name it Mc Kinsey or the world guru in certain topic), in the public one, Google and your own criteria (whichever it is) is your best support”

“To make/pass a law, doesn´t mean that you change a reality. In the public sector the game is about being (or seeming?) different … every politician wants to propose a different way to do something. In the private sector “continuity is king”. You achieve when you execute and finnish, not when you propose and start.”

Some of the previous comments might be farfetched and certainly there must be amazing professionals working in the public sector trying to make a change in Colombia … but still there is a high amount of truth. Sad, very sad news.

From a Talent Development perspective another issue discussed was the fact that the first bosses that a junior professional has, tend to mark (for good of bad) the kind of professional this person becomes. I personally agree with that. 100 % indeed. Few young professionals that were at the talk, reinforced this, telling how uninspiring it was to, instead of seeing a good role model or a real coach, to see people that they could not understand how they made it to their position (and how have they actually stayed there!). Are we sending young professionals to the public sector to commit a professional suicide? Scary, very scary news.

It was a very entertaining breakfast. One point though I made in the end, was the fact that we were generalizing way too much when we talked about “private sector”. The perceived “best practices” named before, in my opinion reflected the reality of the big, consolidated, and especially multinational private companies. What about the entrepreneurs? What about the social sector? I can confidently say they are in a dangerous grey zone between seeming more public sector than private sector. And here is where I feel happy to work for Endeavor. Bottom-line, what we do is pulling entrepreneurs away from management mediocrity and making them think big, giving them tools that, if well executed, can bring them faster to the achievement of their goals, but more than that, to become a role role model for fellow entrepreneurs that are just starting its journey.

Finally, I want to make the disclaimer that this small reflection is not intending to affirm that our Colombian public sector (or any global public sector) is as previously described – I do not have evidence. But “perception is reality”, and if a vast majority of our people feels like this, there is already a reason to be concerned.