Tag: entrepreneurs

Tough getting to the top

The Shard is a very very high building. You forget this when the lift whisks you up to the 28th floor in a few seconds, not even a third of the way up Europe’s tallest building. Irvine Sellar (the entrepreneur behind the Shard), Ronan Dunne (CEO of O2) and Benny Higgins (CEO of Tesco Bank) gave a very frank overview of their thoughts on leadership – interviewed by the excellent Suki Thompson on the launch of Oystercatcher’s new report, ‘Tough at the top’. Perhaps the location on the 28th floor was a physical reminder of how tough it really is getting to the top (there are 92-floors in this monolith).

What did we learn about leadership – in order of importance it is about:

1. Building trust. Higgins, behind Tesco Bank, said that having ‘the courage to lean into the truth to create enduring trust’ as well as anchoring the company’s work in the truth, was essential. The Tesco mothership has been redoubling it’s leaning efforts over the last fortnight.

2. Having the courage – which few do – to pick the very best team (better than you) as well as having the courage to say when things are not going so well

3. Being a great storyteller in a way that inspires those around you to follow

4. Having the ability to make the right decisions and to learn quickly from making the wrong ones.

5. The ability to get things done. Irvine thinks entrepreneurs don’t necessarily fit the bill to be good CEOs – they are much better at start-ups and handing over to guys like Ronan and Benny to finish.

6. Conducting the team, and making everyone else’s success shine

In this brief

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interview, the conclusion was that marketing folk – with all their passion – could lead at the top of an organisation, but sometimes found it difficult to let go of their specialism.

When it got to what would be on each of their epitaphs – I crossed my fingers and hoped that the Arup’s ‘wobbly bridge’ bloke wasn’t the PM on The Shard! Ronan said he wanted to leave a positive legacy. I loved O2’s ambition of getting the UK’s one million youth back into work (is that really in O2’s business plan?). I wanted to ask Irvine how it felt to build the tallest building in Europe and yet forget to put bike racks in anywhere nearby – it took me 15 minutes to park my bike – but at least from the 28th I could see where I park it on the Southbank.

A few interesting quips and anecdotes from our CEOs but if you want to see truly inspirational leadership, look at interviews with Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard or Tim Smit (founder of the Eden Project) – they are real game changers.

Higher tuition fees will kill entrepreneurialism

Ever increasing student debts are beginning to affect the entrepreneurial spirit of our next generation. Students leaving university with up to £38,000 of debt (tuition fees are set to rise to a maximum of £9,000) will not foster a spirit of entrepreneurialism. It’s a far cry from the £1,000 overdraft I left with in 1991.

The higher fees worry me for two reasons. The higher fees mean only the more affluent will attend Uni and many less

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well off (but equally capable) students will be deterred by the increase in fees. A great swathe of future Bill Gates will be missed (and he has mentioned the importance of his university education). The genuinely talented may just miss the opportunity to develop their skills. We know two of the highest profile entrepreneurs – Lord Sugar and Sir Richard Branson – made it without a degree (but starting your career by selling car aerials out of a van is not for everyone).

Secondly, more sponsorship opportunities will become available to students, which itself may become a barrier to the spirit of entrepreneurialism. Graduates will increasingly be contracted to work for their sponsoring company for a set period of time (and rather like women tied into maternity pay, may not want to break the contract). Life for graduates will become a higher rental agreement. Some firms are even offering to pay for post A level training schemes as an alternative to Uni, which claims to train people to the same level as if they went to Uni (again tying them into a firm and preventing potential entrepreneurs going for it).

Students starting in 1998 didn’t have to pay tuition fees and means tested grants of up to £1,710 were available. Graduates left university without high student debts and were more able to take risks if they so desired and pursue endeavours for entrepreneurial success.

In contrast students applying in 2012 will graduate shouldering a large debt. It’s difficult to raise the funds and support to set up a business, which makes working for someone else a more appealing option.

Unis are not for everyone and it doesn’t guarantee a bright future. But everyone should have a chance. Lord Sugar hypothetically wouldn’t have benefited from being tied into a ten-year higher payment scheme for his first van.