Leading entrepreneurs from across the UK and around the world spoke at the conference, focussed on the theme of leadership, in Hall 2 of The Sage Gateshead.
Nigel Mills, Chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, opened the conference with a message of an improving economy, saying: “There is a real, positive upward trend.
“Of the 150,000 businesses here in the North East, 75% are one man or one woman businesses. If each of those businesses took on one person we would wipe out unemployment overnight.
“All net new jobs in the world are created by businesses under five years old. Those businesses where people have set up on their own are potentially the small businesses of the future.”
Mr Mills also looked to young people as the future of entrepreneurship and praised educators in the North East for recognising and responding to that.
He said: “The future entrepreneurs and business leaders are here. I’m delighted to see that some of our Corporate Partners of the Forum, Teesside University and Gateshead College have embraced that. We are seeing the educational system in the North East offer a choice of employment of self employment, whichever suits them most.”
Floyd Woodrow, Managing Director and founder of Chrysalis Worldwide, has an international reputation for designing and running leadership and elite performance training for business, government, sport and the police. He is an ex-head of the Counter Terrorist Unit and a decorated former Parachute Regiment and SAS soldier.
Mr Woodrow 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 the Seattle area’s most accomplished entrepreneurs. He started his career at Microsoft in 1998, where he had 12 start-ups within the company and pioneered four waves of innovation. After Microsoft, Richard started Cranium Inc, which became the third largest games company in the world, selling more than 4 million games in 22 countries and winning a world record five game of the year awards. He then worked for 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.
Mr Tait talked of having a clear sense of purpose within business.
Richard said: “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.”
AFTERNOON SESSION UPDATES
The conference’s Post-Election Panel, chaired by the BBC North East and Cumbria Political Editor, Richard Moss, looked at issues arising in the aftermath of the General Election.
Panelist Gillian Hall, of Gillian Hall Consulting, a non-executive director of the North East LEP, said: “Locally, most of this region voted Labour. There is a history of antagonism with Conservative governments. We have to make sure we all work together, we persuade the local politicians that there is a greater goal to play for. It’s not who gets to be mayor, who gets to lead the LEPs, or whatever. It’s the bigger job. It behoves all of us to understand the environment we are operating in and to be vocal about it.”
Ben Gutteridge, of Brewin Dolphin, looked at the threats of greater powers North of the Border.
He said: “I think the North East has a very valid claim to be concerned about what is happening in Scotland. Any show if separatism is not what the North East needs, it needs to be combined with neighbour cities as it can. Newcastle needs to have a close working relationship with Edinburgh to remain in the Northern Powerhouse league.”
When asked about the likelihood of the UK voting to leave the European Union, Ivor Knox of Dipsticks Research said: “I believe that when it comes down to it, people will vote for the status quo, but there is the renegotiation of terms with Europe before that.”
Jamie Coombs, 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.”