Scientists are studying whether genes hold the secret to business success

A burnout at the Bathurst 1000. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Australian scientists have started a study into success.

Are entrepreneurs made or are they born? Researchers want to know whether the secret to business success and entrepreneurship is locked in our genes.

The RMIT study is investigating how families pass on entrepreneurial traits and the positive role of narcissism — a strong belief in your own talent — in business success.

Previous work found that narcissism runs in families.

Gabrielle Miles, a PhD researcher from RMIT’s school of health and biomedical sciences, is leading the project to determine how narcissism in families relates to people’s attitudes to money, financial risk taking, and other reward-seeking behaviours.

“While narcissism often has a negative connotation, as a personality trait at moderate levels it can also have some beneficial adaptive aspects, like the development of psychological resilience,” says Miles.

“This research will help us understand why some individuals and families go on to be particularly successful entrepreneurs while others seem to have difficulty with certain types of financial or business decisions, or have no interest in business at all.”

The focus is on the degree to which psychological traits and attitudes related to business success are transmitted genetically within families.

The researchers are currently looking for 60 families to take part in the study.

There are many prominent families in Australia which have produced highly successful entrepreneurs across generations. For example, billionaire James Packer has grown the wealth created by his grandfather Sir Frank and added to by his father Kerry.

The project builds on the team’s previously work showing that narcissism runs in families. That study, which looked at 144 Australians from 36 biological families, was published in the international journal Psychiatry Research.

Other studies have found that narcissists are more likely to be found in the ranks of senior executives.

The traits that make narcissists so difficult to be with — including a constant need for validation, a willingness to control people and a ruthlessness in getting their needs met — happen to make them effective at rising through the ranks.

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