Entrepreneur and Wisconsin School of Business Alumnae Toni Sikes spoke to students and faculty about the qualities of successful leaders and entrepreneurs Nov. 15, as part of the M. Keith Weikel Speaker Series. During her remarks, Sikes argued that the term entrepreneur and leader are not necessarily synonymous.
“Every entrepreneur may not be able to make a company successful until they become a leader. In today’s environment, a leader needs to think like an entrepreneur because everything is changing so quickly,” she said. “Being an entrepreneur is not a job title. It’s more of a state of mind.”
Sikes is a successful entrepreneur with 30 years of operational, fundraising, and investment banking experience. She is the founder of three art companies and currently serves as the founder/co-CEO of The Art Commission, an online platform that connects artists with architects and design professionals.
In her speech, Sikes laid out the qualities she believe successful leaders and entrepreneurs share: vision; willingness to take risks; innovation and creativity; determination and perseverance; and courage and fearlessness.
Vision – The vision is where everything begins, according to Sikes, when a person strives for something big.
Willingness to Take Risks – A vision often comes with enormous risk, Sikes said. A great leader needs to have flexibility, a willingness to change, and see opportunity where others see risk.
Innovation and Creativity – Sikes argues this is a requirement today because technology forces the structure of economy and society to be constantly changing, and said the most successful leaders proactively shape ideas.
Determination and Perseverance – These two qualities are common thread in all success stories you read about, Sikes said, and it often means abandoning models and trying new methods.
Courage and Fearlessness – Fearlessness can be considered self-confidence, over-confidence, or being ignorant of what you don’t know, Sikes said. She said she likes the term “pathologically optimistic.”
Sikes also spoke about her time as a market research graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and how her vision and passion helped her start her first company.
As a student, Sikes’ boyfriend at the time was a sculptor who was struggling to market and sell his work. She also had several friends with the same problem. While helping her boyfriend pitch his work, Sikes noticed that many architects and interior designers were looking for new artists, but didn’t have the right channel to find it.
“I wanted to do something to help them make a living creating art,” Sikes said.
She eventually moved to New York City and started her first company, The Guild, which produced booklets of artists that the company would distribute to architects and designers.
Throughout her career Sikes has started, raised capital for, and sold several businesses, but has kept her passion for connecting artists and buyers. Her latest company, The Art Commission, uses a connection model to help artists connect with professionals looking to purchase artwork.
For more information on Sikes, check out our preview story.