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The Power of Mentoring

Behind every business success story you will find great people, something our region prides itself on having in abundance. A quick visit to any ‘about us’ web page and you’ll discover the business leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, shareholders, grass-roots operatives and customer service teams that drive the business forward, but it’s often the people not named here that are having the most impact.

The relationship between an entrepreneur and their mentor is perhaps the most important of all, something backed up by almost half of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum members citing a mentor or coach as their key source of business advice; after only their accountant and the Forum itself.

It is reassuring for business people, as it is for professionals in any field, to be able to draw on the experience of people who have been there and done it all before. While success in business, especially in the early phases, comes down to the drive of the founder and their team, mentoring can help entrepreneurs avoid pitfalls and see opportunities as they arise and the business grows.

There are many different kinds of mentoring arrangements, some formal and some informal, some free and some paid for. These can take the form of a cup of coffee and a chat from time to time, or a more structured, planned programme, and can come into place by chance or by the individual actively seeking a mentor.

The kind of advice provided by a mentor varies from person to person, and depends on circumstance. From strategic advice, and ideas about motivation and management, to financial control and international marketing, no business subject is off topic.

As with any relationship, that of the mentor and mentee only works when both parties are committed and play their part. The Entrepreneurs’ Forum Mentoring Charter expresses that a mentor should act as an altruistic, wise friend, offering advice and counsel and providing constructive feedback. It defines the role of the mentee as someone who asks questions, listens to the answers and recognises the value in not leaping to the defence of all their own views and actions; being open to the mentor’s suggestions, but also responsible for their own decisions and development.

As an organisation we were proud to name James Robson of Alexander Jewitt & Co. our Mentor of the Year, at the North East Entrepreneurial Awards. This award celebrates the importance of people who offer their time altruistically to support their peers, helping them to overcome the barriers to business growth. James joins Alastair Waite, who won the inaugural award in 2015, in our hall of fame.

As a business support organisation, we run regular mentoring drop-in sessions for our members, which allow them to spend an hour with an experienced mentor, confidentially discussing challenges faced in their businesses. Some of these sessions provide one-off support that allows an entrepreneur to triage an issue or take on an opportunity, and some result in long-lasting, mentoring relationships and friendships.

I’m really encouraged the North East LEP sees the value of mentoring as part of its effort to support businesses to scale in the North East and I am keen to support this as much as I can through my new role as Business Growth board member.

Mentoring is a two-way process and there are no guarantees but, whether it’s a long-term relationship or a specific answer to a specific question from an entrepreneur who’s been through the same experience, the impact of having a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction can be business changing.


Gillian Marshall, chief executive at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum

Home / entrepreneurs forum

Together we can take on the world

A guest post by Gillian Marshall, Chief Executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

The future of leadership and entrepreneurship were at the fore during our recent Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s spring conference, ‘Together We Can Take On The World’.

Top entrepreneurs from across the UK and around the world joined those in the North East for what turned out to be a truly inspirational day of sharing knowledge and creating valuable new business connections.

There was a real, positive upward trend that could be felt amongst the 300-strong audience of business leaders, who were also joined by some of the region’s aspiring entrepreneurs.

Floyd Woodrow, founder of Chrysalis Worldwide, has an international reputation for designing and running leadership and elite performance training for business, government, sport and the police. The ex-head of the Counter Terrorist Unit and decorated former Parachute Regiment and SAS soldier told the audience: “The ability for you as leaders to create the right environment for the leaders of tomorrow is critical, because that’s what leaders do. They create the future.

“You’ve got to have courage. Without courage, nothing happens, none of the things worth having in life are going to be given to you. You have got to fight for them. You have got to have discipline, especially as a leader you have to perform at that level.

“I’ve been involved in leadership my entire life and I still don’t think I’ve got it. It’s evolution. The best leaders are going to listen to everybody in the room and say ‘help me make my plan better’. In my entire career in business and in the military, I’ve only ever twice had to go against my team. Every other time, they have helped me to make my plan better.”

Charlie Mullins is the archetypal entrepreneur, having started his business, Pimlico Plumbers, from scratch in 1979 and building it into a multi-million pound enterprise. Born in Camden and growing up on an estate in South London, Charlie left school with no qualifications but, after completing a four-year apprenticeship he started his own firm, with just a bag of tools and a very old van bought at auction. The company now generates a turnover in excess of £25m, employing more than 260 staff, including 170 professional plumbers and 35 apprentices.

His advice to entrepreneurs and young people starting out in business harked back to his days as a young boxer in London. He said: “To succeed, you have got to put all and everything into it. You’ve just got to go for it. I know it’s corny, but you’ve got to be confident, have the will to succeed and believe in yourself. A bit like a boxer, if you take a knock in business, it’s important to get back up. I find in business, the harder I work, the luckier I become. You are not going to get nowhere without hard work.”

Richard Tait, of Golazo, is one of Seattle’s most accomplished entrepreneurs. He started his career at Microsoft where he had 12 start-ups within the company and pioneered four waves of innovation. He then founded Cranium Inc, which became the third largest games company in the world, selling more than 4 million board games in 22 countries and winning a world record five game of the year awards. He then worked with Howard Schultz at Starbucks, pioneering healthier alternatives in more than 10,000 stores, before founding BoomBoom, the Seattle branding and innovation lab, where he co-founded four companies in the last two years, including Golazo, a football mad company making natural sports fuel.

Richard talked of having a clear sense of purpose within business, saying: “We had a clear sense of purpose and mission that we would let people get lightened and enlightened with the creation of Cranium. We gave them a platform to show the world what they are capable of, it gives them a chance to shine.

“Rule number one in our book is ‘have a mission’. There is nothing more inspiring as humans than having a sense of purpose. If you can’t say to me what that mission is right now, either change it or learn it. Life’s too short.”

Jamie Combs, the unorthodox American entrepreneur, activist and educator behind the industry-leading NAKD brand, is a champion of the wholefood revolution. NAKD bars are the UK’s best-selling health food bars, outperforming global competitors on a fraction of their budgets. A fitness trainer, wrestler and pole vaulter, Jamie moved from San Francisco to Oxford with his brother and business partner Greg, feeling it was the perfect place to set up their new venture in 2004.

He concluded the conference with a message of simplicity: “Simplicity precedes confidence. It’s impossible to be confident if the world around us is too complex. For me, the insight that simplicity precedes confidence shows that the first step, if I am going to get something done is simplicity – simple, like falling off a boat kind of simple.”

The day offered a unique insight into how a number of hugely successful and respected entrepreneurs have built their businesses and lead their organisations. It was a chance for our region’s entrepreneurs to learn from the experience of their peers. To take time out of the day-to-day and have the opportunity to listen to those that have been there and done it.

Everyone you meet in life teaches you something and, although each speaker had a totally different background and experience, they all shared the same underlying message that excellence is not a single act. It takes great vision, strong values, a sense of purpose, team work, courage and a whole lot of support if you’re going to lead and grow a great business.