FT Entrepreneur of the Year Inspires the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

2 November 2012

FT Entrepreneur of the Year Inspires the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

Charles Wilson, Financial Times Entrepreneur of the Year and CEO of Booker, inspired a next generation of entrepreneurs this week at an event to mark Global Entrepreneurship Week...

 

Charles Wilson, Financial Times Entrepreneur of the Year and CEO of Booker, inspired a next generation of entrepreneurs this week at an event to mark Global Entrepreneurship Week. Wilson whose turnaround of Booker took it into the FTSE-250 listed companies, joined the University's Professor Mark Casson, author ofThe Entrepreneur, to talk to an invited audience of Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship students and guests. This was the first of an annual series of conversations between leading theorists and practitioners of entrepreneurship, and was introduced by Deputy Dean, Professor Ginny Gibson, who underlined that Henley Business School's mission was to develop better interaction between business school theory and business practice.

Wilson outlined his own entrepreneurial career starting with making jam at a young age before working in a wide range of organisations, most notably in partnership with Sir Stuart Rose in a series of turnarounds culminating in a hugely successful period at Marks and Spencer's. He left Marks and Spencer's in 2005 to take on the CEO role at Booker, a move initially greeted with some surprise by leading retailers. But Wilson transformed near-bankrupt Booker into one of the UK's strongest and fastest growing retailers today.

He reflected on the intensified speed of change within the current business environment and the increasing need to produce quick, short-term business plans for new ventures, whether start-ups or new projects within larger organisations. He dismissed the value of those business plans that had become long documents, 'If you can't explain the idea in one page, you don't know it well enough.' And he emphasised the importance of entrepreneurs developing strong leadership skills. 'Entrepreneurs have to learn how to win for their organisation. No one follows a loser.'

Mark Casson then elaborated on Charles Wilson's reflections, emphasising how much of what rang most true was not particularly well emphasized in the academic literature. That leadership could be learned while serving as a subordinate to another leader was obviously true, yet is not covered in the academic literature. And above all what rang most true were features that were wholly absent from the populist 'airport' literature on entrepreneurship, confirming that there is enormous value in bringing together the best of theory and practice in entrepreneurship studies.

James Green, a Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship alumni, now employed in the blue chip sector, explained: 'It was really interesting to hear about intrapreneurship within large organisations. Working within a large organisation myself, it made me appreciate how key it is to provide evidence of success very quickly when you are implementing new projects.'

James Hakesley and Roy Kimani of Nideo, new digital entrepreneurs and regular speakers for the Centre, were encouraged by the talk. James commented: 'It was inspiring to hear Charles talk about his business experience, particularly as new entrepreneurs. Professor Casson's commentary was also very useful at setting Charles's practical experience in context. It is a while since we were sitting in lectures ourselves, but we found this session really helpful and it would have been great to have had something similar when we were at University.'