17th Nov 2010
Michael Hayman, who runs his own successful business despite once being told he was more of a corporate man than an entrepreneur, urges anyone with a business dream to make the leap.
It is one of the great crossroad moments of my life.
"You are more of a Stuart Rose than a Philip Green" were the silky smooth words of an interviewer to entice me to take a job with a firm rather than make one by going it on my own.
At the time I felt flattered. Being mentioned in the same breath as two business giants was compliment indeed. But flattery, as it has been said, is the food of fools.
Strip away the two names and you have a fairly stark message. You are a big company person and not an entrepreneur. You need structure in your life, support and certainty. The life of the entrepreneur is not for you, you can't do it.
My message today is much more Obama than my cautious response all those years ago. "Yes we can" is my view of entrepreneurship and I should have heeded that message earlier.
According to Enterprise UK, over half of all young people in the UK want to start a business but only one in 20 of them actually goes for it. That means lost potential, lost opportunity and ultimately lost dreams.
This week, the world seeks to shake off the shackles of doubt and spread the go for it message. Global Entrepreneurship Week kicks off in over 100 countries around the world providing a showcase of the can-do attitude that epitomises the entrepreneur.
And it is a week that we need as the stakes are high. The government has set its sights on an "enterprise-led recovery". It's no surprise that the prime minister champions the "doers and the grafters" and he is right to do so. The UK's entrepreneurs are a nationwide army of foot soldiers who will lead the long march from recession to recovery.
Yet a lot of people stare in disbelief at those that take the leap to become entrepreneurs at times that seem so uncertain and dangerous.
It’s not an unreasonable point. For the 270,000 businesses registered each year there are 220,000 that fold. For those entrepreneurs the stakes prove to be terrible.
But whoever said that running your own business was a reasonable endeavor anyway?
It's why I am a big fan of the George Bernard Shaw quote that "all progress depends on the unreasonable man". For the businesses that fold there are superb success stories. What is more is that for many entrepreneurs a downturn can be their own upturn.
Leaner, meaner and faster than larger and often bureaucratic competitors, entrepreneurial businesses can thrive in dark times.
I believe this explains why some of the most successful and memorable businesses on the planet were forged during recessions. Microsoft might not be the company it is today if Bill Gates had not learned the tough lessons of life from the recession of the early 1970s.
An aversion to risk is natural part of the human condition. But it doesn't make it right. The future of the world is a more entrepreneurial one and the UK needs to be at the forefront of an enterprising decade that rebuilds wealth and delivers new outlets of competitive advantage. It is no time for doubt.
Entrepreneurs, by their nature, are optimistic, often reveling in risk, and living lives that triumph over adversity. It's a spirit that will be on full display during Global Entrepreneurship Week.
It's a spirit I feel proud to be part of. In the end it turned out I was neither Sir Stuart or Sir Philip. I became an entrepreneur but I didn't do it on my own. I went into partnership with a great friend who was also a former colleague. It was the best decision of my life.
Michael Hayman is co-founder of the public relations business Seven Hills and chairman of entrepreneurs at Coutts & Co. He represents entrepreneurs including founder Dragons' Den panellists Doug Richard and Peter Jones; Pacific Direct founder Lara Morgan; and The Black Farmer, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones. Michael recently co-authored 'Disruptive Influence: The Entrepreneur Report' for Virgin Media Pioneers.