It’s EJ Packe’s business to work with high growth entrepreneurs, and she knows a thing or two about them – what it takes to be an entrepreneurial success, and how the UK can become more entrepreneurial. But to tell the tale, we need to start with heroes and crooks.
EJ Packe is the Managing Director of The Supper Club, and a judge at this year’s NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards. She says: “We aim to inspire an entrepreneurial mindset in all leaders, because we believe that where entrepreneurship thrives, so too does innovation, growth and wealth creation.” The Supper Club is an invitation only membership group of the country’s most innovative, fast growth entrepreneurs who share knowledge, experience and contacts in the spirit of give and take.
And she has one thing in common with David Bowie, because like the late iconic pop star, she likes to sing about heroes. In her case, the heroes are entrepreneurs. She says they are the “unsung heroes of our economy.”
She has a concern, though: “there is a growing culture divide between the public and private sector and a feeling that entrepreneurs are only out for themselves.” But there is more to it than that, she says. “Money in most cases is not their main motivation, they want to make a difference.”
And she contrasts the entrepreneur with big corporations, “that haven’t paid tax, but entrepreneurs pay tax and go on.” She says: “We did a tax report a few years ago, and took a number of our members, looking at the tax they paid, and related that to how many nursing jobs that that tax paid for. It was staggering.”
Read the media, and scan fiction, in books on TV and the movies, and entrepreneurs do not come across as heroes, at all. She says that according to a research piece from five years back, “taking all the entrepreneur characters across the soaps in the last 20 years, without fail every single entrepreneurial character were either crooks or murderers.”
We paused, and talked about Phil Mitchell, the entrepreneur of the EastEnders’s Albert Square, with his protection rackets, and rule of the fist. EJ said “it was interesting that even subconsciously all those fictional characters were all out for the money and all out for themselves, they were evil people.”
We turn to the TV show the Apprentice. She says “shows like the Apprentice do celebrate business and entrepreneurial spirit, but I think they have to be careful that it is not all about who wants to become famous. We have a culture where a lot of people want to go on TV. A lot of ideas and some great stories have come out of these programmes, even if they don’t get investment but it has to make good TV, and some of the entrepreneurs can be painted or created into caricatures of themselves.”
Okay, so entrepreneurs are the good guys, we tried to come up with a character from popular TV that gave a more accurate portrayal of an entrepreneur – the best we could come up with was Poldark.
But if they are heroes, what advice would you give a budding entrepreneur? “I would say that it is going to be a long journey and a tough journey. You can’t do this alone, go out there and get advice, whether it is through mentors or communities like The Supper Club.” She said that you need to “share ideas and protect yourself from making mistakes, because you will do, and also to take advantage of opportunities.”
And that brings us to co-working. “The way that the world is starting to work is changing towards co-working,” she says. “For example I was at a massive legal firm the other day and they are rolling out flexi-working, so all of their fee earners can be based anywhere in the world; they don’t mind as long they are doing their hours. This will create management challenges and they are going to have all this extra space as people don’t have to come into their desks every day. I think co-working is great for creating collaboration, people working together and sharing ideas.” But she warned: “There is this questionable perception of how much is actually getting done, within the incubators everyone is hanging around trying to be creative. I think that they could reach saturation point. It will be an interesting few years in terms of how we work, working from home or from these accelerators.”
So that’s collaboration, talk to people, join communities, or maybe work at a co-working space.
But then there is also the question of why the UK has become apparently more entrepreneurial. EJ says “There is a belief factor, over the past 30 or 40 years people have been demonstrating that they can create wealth themselves, and have a real impact on the world.” and from this, she says “entrepreneurial rock stars have been born – the likes of the Richard Bransons right up to the Mark Zuckerbergs.” And she adds “I also think the next generation and current generation are more person led. The baby boomer generation is all about coming out of the war and creating wealth and providing stability, this generation is about purpose.”
Bowie said: “We can beat them, just for one day. We can be heroes, just for one day.” But entrepreneurial rock stars are not going to be heroes for one day – they can beat them – whoever they are – but create a lasting legacy.
The UK is emerging an entrepreneurial success story – but more needs to be done, and one way to achieve this is to shine the media spotlight on entrepreneurs, their challenges, their failures and of course their successes.
The NatWestGreat British Entrepreneur Awards are currently open for applications, and entrants can apply here.