By creating Eurasia Group, I was the first to build a private sector industry for political scientists. When I first landed in the job market as an expat from Academia-stan, I worked to persuade potential private sector employers that understanding ongoing, fast-moving changes in the world requires someone who understands politics—not just economics, demographics, and social trends. I wasn’t able to get jobs in these places (none of them actually hired political scientists…), but I was startled and inspired to learn that a lot of them would work with me as a consultant if I went into business for myself. That was 1998. Eurasia Group now has hundreds of employees and contractors in our three largest offices—New York, Washington and London—and on the ground around the world. And it’s now a lot easier to persuade the private sector that knowledge of politics is critical for their futures.
Looking back on what helped me to succeed, I’d focus on three factors. The first is luck. I can’t deny that I landed in the right place (the globalization-minded private sector) at the right time (as it’s becoming increasingly and unavoidably obvious that politics was throwing curveballs at their business plans). Timing is crucial, and it’s sometimes a product of pure luck.
The second is a refusal to let “no” be the last word. If you’ve got a good idea and are willing to stand behind it through adversity, you’ve got a good chance to succeed. Many people will say no, but someone will say yes. That’s a foothold, a chance to prove you’re right about the importance of the thing you believe in. A .300 batting average can get you in the Baseball Hall of Fame. For someone just starting out in business, you can get off to a strong start with a much, much lower batting average than that. You can’t be bothered by no. It’s a delay, not a failure.
Finally, I know myself and what I’m not good at. There are many things I have neither the knowledge, experience, or talent to succeed at. But I’m suitably self-aware to try to find people who are talented and experienced in those areas and to create opportunities for them so they can create opportunities for us. Nobody is good at everything, or even most things, but anyone can learn to be resourceful and to build profitable relationships.
Also not to be overlooked—I started small. Eurasia Group created a new sector. I didn’t just have to prove the value of our work but the importance of that work for the private sector. I knew I could do that, and that the tide of geopolitical events was going to help. But I needed patience. I hired only as we acquired the clients and the revenue to sustain the expansion. It wasn’t a great leap of faith. There was almost zero downside risk. But I also knew I needed to keep my balance as we gained speed. It’s slower and harder work to build a business methodically, but that’s the way it has to be done if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.
There’s a metaphor I like. I think it’s usually applied to writing, but it works here. Driving at night on a dark highway, you can only see what your headlights show you. But you can drive 1,000 miles that way. That’s how businesses are built.
Success came slowly enough that it’s hard to think of a single “reaction” I got from family and friends. It’s been 19 years now since I started Eurasia Group. But over time, more people want your opinion. And when a stranger on the street says he’s a big fan—in front of people who know you as a regular guy—that puts a smile on your face that stays there awhile.
Most importantly, I’m nowhere near done. I try to make sure that others have the same opportunities I did. I do that by speaking out against the damage being done to the American dream through the divisions and polarization in society today. Democrats and Republicans all say with pride that America is a land of opportunity. This is the place we’re allowed to take big swings, hit nothing but air, and then get up and try again. But success depends on cooperation. In any sector, any walk of life. No one succeeds alone. In recent years, I’ve seen mistrust grow and opinions harden in our country. Our politics and our society have become a lot more rigid and dangerously doctrinaire. Strife is nothing new, but I see a cynicism now that I used to associate only with older societies in other countries.
Eurasia Group has given me a platform, and I intend to use it to champion openness in all its forms. Bias is the cardinal sin in my business. Clients pay for ideas and insight, not for bias. But to have an opinion is not bias. In my opinion, we have to work to ensure that left and right, rich and poor, urban and rural, Democrat and Republican don’t drift too far apart in this country. And most important, that the US doesn’t drift too far from the rest of the world… since most of what matters globally is going to be determined outside America’s borders. We have to point out the danger in those divisions. That’s what I intend to try to do.
Ian Bremmer is the President of Eurasia Group, a leading global political risk research and consulting firm, based in New York. Mr. Bremmer is also the Foreign Affairs Columnist and Editor-at-Large for Time Magazine – and a Global Research professor at New York University. Ian has his Doctorate and Master’s from Stanford University in Political Science. Follow him on Twitter.