You retired from your position as MD of Business Partners at the end of 2008. Looking back, what have you enjoyed most about your time there?
The incredible diversity of the investments we’ve made, and meeting and serving so many different entrepreneurs. For me, they are the real heroes of business. I think they are all truly remarkable people and I’ve felt privileged to know and work with them.
What are some of the toughest lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Unsurprisingly, they’ve all been about people. This business is about people who invest in other people and you constantly have to make judgement calls about individuals. From time to time, you get it wrong. However, when this has happened, it’s always led to the development of new methodologies that have helped to avoid similar mistakes in future. So all mistakes, really, have been learning opportunities. Hard lessons prepare you for the future.
What techniques have you learned along the way to ‘suss’ the entrepreneurs who apply for investment?
Not all people are trying to pull the wool over your eyes, but one thing you do learn is that very few people can keep up a pretence for long. So we aim to interact with people in as many different environments and as many times as possible before we feel able to make a judgement about them. It’s particularly helpful to meet with people in their place of business, because it gives you a good feel for the culture of the organisation and how the business is run. Sitting in a reception waiting room can be a very eye-opening experience!
What do you believe separates the good from the great as far as entrepreneurship is concerned?
For me, entrepreneurship is the talent for doing business and I think that all people have some entrepreneurship in them. Anyone, when really pushed, could probably run a moderately successful business. But to be really successful I think you need four critical components:
- Be willing to take risk with your money or your reputation
- Have passion and a clear vision for the business, and a strong drive for excellence
- Have a determination to make it happen, even when there are obstacles
- Have boundless energy – some people have the first three components but they lack energy
What would your advice be to aspirant entrepreneurs?
Do something that you love. You can’t have the requisite drive, passion, determination and energy unless you absolutely love what you’re doing. I’ve seen business graduates buy into franchises, for example, and fail dismally because they don’t love what they’re doing. It’s not something you can fake.
What does the future hold for you?
I have been very fortunate in that the day I announced my retirement Johann Rupert approached me to take up a three-year stint as CEO of Reinet Investments in Luxembourg. It’s a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it!