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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.