I was privileged last night to be invited to the Glasgow area meeting of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for Scotland to hear John Anderson of the Entrepreneurial Exchange. What an inspirational speaker! John, an accountant to trade, described how he developed a passion for nurturing entrepreneurship, and the measures his organisation put in place to build an entrepreneurial culture in Scotland.
John doesn’t think our young people are the “lost generation”. It’s their parents who lost their way. Overly reliant on public sector or large corporate employers, ambition was stifled. Entrepreneurs were viewed as Arthur Daley type characters – not a role model to aspire to. For the good of Scotland’s indigenous economy, this had to change.
Working with US business guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter, John saw the need to o get a real understanding of what makes an entrepreneur. The result of this was “Local Heroes” – a study of Scotland’s successful business leaders. Interestingly, few were graduates. Many had held sales roles within corporates, and started a business in the belief they could do it better. Having profiled these individuals, the challenge was to make entrepreneurs heroic.
John’s vision was of an “Entrepreneur Eco-System” – a self sustaining infrastructure that would breed, nurture and support successful business. Education is central to this, and John described a primary school where the P7s not only initiated and ran their own social enterprise, but also had succession planning in place to hand over to the P6s! The Young Enterprise Scotland programme gives many young people a taste of running a business, and many universities have programmes in place to foster entrepreneurship. Some local authorities see entrepreneurialism as the key to unlocking potential in our non academic young people and John mentioned Renfrewshire as being particularly proactive. John observes that there is good support out there for pre start and startup business, and would like to see more for growing businesses. The Scottish entrepreneurs who comprise the Exchange’s Hall of Fame are testament to the quality of business in Scotland: Charan Gill, Maitland Mackie, Michelle Mone…it’s a long and varied list.
This is all great. Scotland has a vibrant enterprising economy with many examples of successful growing businesses. The elephant in the room remains. What happens next? When these entrepreneurs and families sell on, many of these firms will leave Scotland, taking the jobs and skills and wealth with them. The Entrepreneurial Exchange is doing fantastic work in creating a prosperous Scotland. We have to find a way to root these businesses in our economy ensuring a better future for generations to come.
Selling to employees as an exit option is one way to deliver this sustainability. Many of Scotland’s employee-owned businesses are demonstrating stellar growth driven by entrepreneurial employees. Should we be making employee ownership “heroic” and putting more effort into embedding collaborative working into the curricula of schools and colleges? As John told a captivated audience last night, Scotland is in a better place now than 30 years ago. I see the challenge as making this success sustainable.