Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Gawd Help Us!

I was eagerly looking forward to seeing 'An Audience with Lord Alan Sugar' as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week last night at the British Library and it certainly started off well, with lots of entertaining put downs and answers.

eg Audience member: 'Do you read business books and which have influenced you?'

L.A.S.: 'Nah'

But as we got deeper into the evening it seemed like there was a descent into anger and completely off-beam responses. At one point Chair of the evening Matthew Rock (editor of Real Business magazing and CEO of Caspian an £8million company) felt the full thrust of the Sugar temper:

'Weren't you listening? I've just answered that haven't I?'

Gems of the dinosaur-like advice included:

'There's no point going into a sector you don't know or understand'
(So you were wrong James Dyson, Innocent Smoothie guys and

'Personal brand PR is a useless waste of time'
(So you were wrong Anita Roddick, Stelios and Branson)

'You can't teach enterprise skills'
(Close down all those degree courses every University in the country)

Of course, Sugar was whisked off immediately after the event so didn't stop to mingle with the crowd, if he had he would have heard the feedback I did - that everyone was left totally dis-empowered, dis-engaged, de-motivated and even dismayed by his comments.

Most entertaining as a spectacle of old-style and outdated business thinking - and it was an enjoyable evening with lots of networking and lovely wine and food , so thank you British Library for putting it on.

But if this is the government's advisor on enterprise GAWD HELP US !!!!!



Hani O'Keeffe said...

What a difference from some of the people I was reading about yesterday on the BBC news page 'Reading for business inspiration' I was especially impressed by James Smith, chairman of shell UK and Laura Tenison founder of JoJo Maman Bebe.

'James Smith says he has turned every page of Lord Stern's heavyweight book, The Economics of Climate Change.

But for something a bit lighter, he suggests a crime novel by R. J. Ellory called A Quiet Belief in Angels.

And he explains why it is figures from history known for their modesty who have influenced him most.

'Laura Tenison in the Green Room
Laura Tenison, founder of clothing company JoJo Maman Bebe, says she was not brought up to believe she could go into business.

It makes sense, then, that she says she was inspired by stories about the "plight of the underdog", including John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

She also explains how getting on her bike helps her generate new ideas.

Here is the link which also features audio clips. Well worth looking at.


Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel,

He's not a motivational speaker. Nor should he be. The issue was probably his brief or selection committee...he is an entrepreneur speaking from experience.

Business Degree...mine didn't teach me to sell things. Degrees create managerial types not entrepreneurs. My friend ditched his degree and opened a series of Hot Dog stand and made a mint.

Anita Rodick...fantastic business case. Wonderful. Know it well. Contentions between profitability over responsibilty. Great PR. Well done to her. Love her ideals, tactics and franchise growth model.

If you want positivity, employ an inspirational speaker. Sugar is great, but you've gotta understand the beast.

He talks about "product to market" and bypasses everything else.

@toptentips is collating info for entrepreneurs, we want the widest view points. Including "Personal Branding", "Inspirational Speakers", "Public Facing Entrepreneurs"...we want it from the horses mouth so to speak.

Would love you to support.

Rachel Elnaugh said...

The point is he is advisor to the government on enterprise , that is what left the audience incredulous!

Anonymous said...


You can see the points are not popular. Government must create framework allowing entrepreneurs to flurish.

When he says "business must stand on its own feet", you can't disagree. It must. Banks and big business have let everyone down. Small Business and entrepreneurs will prop us up by creating new jobs.

Funding needs to get to the people who can create jobs. We would like to help people do just that. We are slowly gathering speed.

A little backing would be good.

Will you contribute your top10 to us. We are independent, private, a collective and trying to push a positive message.

Pls follow @toptentips

We want to deliver relevant, reliable and reputable advice to those who need it (from within the community)...learned experience.

Pls follow, we're looking for a few champions.

@simon_editor said...

I agree, Rachel - this really isn't what we're entitled to expect from a champion of small businesses. This isn't about whether or not he's a good entrepreneur, but whether he's the right person to be steering, guiding, mentoring, inspiring and lobbying government on behalf of entrepreneurs and small businesses in the early 21st century. This is a role that requires patience, diplomacy and the ability to make compromises - whatever his other attributes, these aren't really qualities you associate with Alan Sugar (though I'm happy to be corrected). It's not his fault really, but it strikes me his original appointment was driven more by a desire for headlines than a consideration of whether he actually is the best person to represent modern UK businesses. Which provokes the question - who do you think would be better suited to the position?

Anonymous said...

I think this last point is absolutely on the ball.

The question is "Why did he get chosen?". "Who created the Selection Criteria?"

It is not Alan's fault.

He shouldn't be blamed for being himself (and being honest).

Rachel Elnaugh said...

I would create a team of highly passionate, energised, 21st century entrepreneurs and enterprise advocates/experts who work at the coal face of small business and understand what needs to be done...

People I have been really impressed by:

- Tim Smit, social entrepreneur behind the Eden Project, big passion & huge energy
- Glenda Stone of Aurora (already involved in Women in Enterprise) really understands drivers of getting women into business
- Derek Brown - social entrepreneur doing great things bringing kids into enterprise via Entrepreneurs in Action, very smart, very connected
- Oli Barrett, young entrepreneur doing amazing stuff to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation
- Emma Harrison A4e - social entrepreneur already connected into employment/training issues

Forget Mandelson, Sugar et al; put a group like this in charge of sorting things out and we'd have UK enterprise sorted out in no time.

(Apologies to all the great people in the enterprise sector I've left out!!!)


Top10 said...

I like it that you said "social entrepreneur"...agreed totally.

Social change is what is requried...a shift in mind set. The demograph and dynamics of employment, business and home have changed. The mood is different too. Any change manager knows after crisis comes revolutionary change. Period.

In terms of innovation...the problem is people see "new" as 'ooohhh' don't want to get involved. We'll Top10 is new and people said the same. The most difficult thing is not rushing. Some people can ride it out, others crumble. The problem is incubating and not spoiling it. We have 10 hungry contributors writing their best ever articles to submit to us right now. That's cool.

Vision > philosopy > intent...
we're feeling the mood of the people and trying to engage.

If this isn't the beginings of "social enterprise", then I would like someone to explain "how things start"...and where creativity comes from.

Top10 is UK, we would like you to stand by us. We're just a group coming together as one.

We need a spokesperson.

Perhaps this is an opportunity to use our project as a vehicle, a voice and a platform to start building something positive around.

We're small business through and through. 3,000 unique visits a month. 2.5 months old. 10 features in, 10 coming in. People coming together.

This is innovation, creativity and change rolled in to one. Pls follow.

Anonymous said...

Tim Smit, one class geezer, in fact he should be put in charge of the country, the No. 1

@simon_editor said...

An interesting selection, Rachel. But does it cover all bases? I think you have to have someone in there who understands the digital economy and the potential for online commerce (a Martha Lane Fox perhaps?) and someone who knows about/supports home-based micro-business (Emma Jones at Enterprise Nation?). I think you'd also need someone with the specific role of promoting enterprise among the UK's minorities and it's critical that some or all of the team really understand the day-to-day mechanics of running a small enterprise (ie, everything they do and say is grounded in reality). I'm impressed by Glenda, who I've interviewed and who is a very clear thinker - and we've spoken to Derek recently, too; the others are now on my list! How about you? Could we interview you for the Marketing Donut?

Rachel Elnaugh said...

I picked them for their energy and passion, they are the kind of team which could get things moving. I didn't include the others you suggested because I haven't experienced them personally.


Anonymous said...

Energy, Passion, Vision, Mission.

That's what entrepreneurship is. All these things get diluted the larger an organisation gets and when the cogs start to turn. That's why you've gotta love Small Business and the people that set things up. It's so raw. Pure genius.

It so obvious that you've got real passion Rachel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the follow.

DM us if you feel the need to.

Matt Thomas said...

Hi Rachel (everyone else),

Really good post and one I definitely agree with - concur that Sugar's whole mentality is wrong for the role of Enterprise Tsar (if that's what it's called).

I blogged my review of the night on (which I edit). Hope you don't mind me posting the link, thought you and others might be interested in reading:

Look out for the great interview with Rachel in the video section too!


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Bronwyn Durand said...

This is a really long comment.
I understand your drive to deliver something really tangible to make a difference to anyone that could become an entrepreneur. This country (and all of the others) needs to provide the ingredients that spur the drive to create successful and sustainable businesses. So whilst I unreservedly support your position, I feel I do understand why Lord Sugar has been given this role.
I consider myself to be an 'entrepreneur in training' - I've started a business, and have a fabulous idea for another business I am developing. I believe I have what it takes to be a multi-entrepreneur. I learn from everywhere. I haven't had any specifically enterprise orientated tertiary education in this country - I was born elsewhere. To me, any resource that I come across to learn from is a goldmine, and I don't believe there is any one place that could best shape or train me into becoming what I can be. My ability to take what I learn and shape it to add to what want to be is what will ultimately make the difference.

As your points above clearly illustrate, there is no single way to explain how to win success. I agree with your comments, but thought I'd offer what I took from Lord Sugar in those comments. I think he makes a good Tsar of Enterprise because he represents that you can become extraordinarily successful without having to have someone educate you into becoming an entrepreneur. He represents the entrepreneurial dream - that anyone can do it.

Reading business books, having someone manage your personal PR - these things are not what is going to make your idea into a sustainable business. You can make a sustainable business in spite of those things. I took Lord Sugar's gruffness as frustration as so many of the questions were so light-weight or theoretical, and his real strength is in taking action. This is what I took from his comments:
'There's no point going into a sector you don't know or understand' - a really good idea is based on a real insight. I believe Lord Sugar's challenge to the question was that he couldn't really believe the position that the guy had no knowledge to drive the insight for the business in the first place. Innocent didn't have any smoothie experience, but they sure experimented in making smoothies before starting up - so they did know something about it.
'Personal brand PR is a useless waste of time' you have to understand PR to really make use of it. Suggesting that someone with no flair for it could use it to propel their business would be irresponsible. There are other ways. He made the point that the PR for likes of Branson only works because of what they are actually doing - without the newsworthy story, there is no personal brand PR.
'You can't teach enterprise skills' - putting someone through a tertiary education is not going to put fire in their belly. It's not going to show them how to become adaptable, find an opportunity in a anything. It can certainly propel those skills, make them capable of even greater heights. You may make someone capable of running a company, but you can't give them brilliance. It's in them already.

Thank you Rachel, for your dedication in supporting businesses and entrepreneurs. You are also a fantastic learning resource and I look forward to meeting you one day.

Rachel Elnaugh said...

Hi Matt

I loved your blog post on and thought it was far more eloquent than mine!

Since Tuesday I've been at lots of enterprise events and unfortunately the feeling for Sugars appointment is the same whoever I speak to - he is not the right choice for the role as Government Advisor on enterprise and Browns decision is seen as superficial and vote grabbing.


Peter Cook said...

Here's someone else's views on Sir Alan....