Authors: Nina Glass and Igor Quézel-Perron
In this period of Brexit uncertainty, Eric Salmon & Partners has been considering the leadership characteristic of entrepreneurism, a trait which it hypothesises is arguably more mission-critical to the UK than ever.
Beyond just “keep calm and carry on,” it fosters a sense of forward-propulsion to do more, faster, better – even against strong headwinds. And, arguably, it is fair to say that the UK will be against some strong headwinds over the coming couple of years: at a minimum and no matter what side of the Brexit fence one is on, it appears that it will be a bumpy ride.
Somewhat reassuring for the UK is that it has always excelled in comparison to other geographic markets when measuring entrepreneurship: statistics reflect that the UK stands within the world’s top 10 markets for rates of entrepreneurship, nearly twice as high a rate as the average of the eurozone countries.
Sir Richard Branson, Dame Margaret and Helen Barbour, Sir James Dyson, Bernard Lewis and – of course, Lord Sugar -- are typical of the entrepreneurial verve. They have amassed not only great wealth but also notable legacies as a result of a powerful combination of innovation and tenacity – a spirit which one can still see coursing through the spirit of Britain today.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari puts forward a thought that some of our behaviours are transmitted to us by our hunter-gatherer ancestors, Homo neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens.
This includes the instinct, at least for some of us, to yearn for more: we eat a packet of sweets in a few minutes without necessarily being hungry because - not unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors who tended to eat everything when they had the rare windfall of falling on a tree covered with cherries - we respond to the instinct to capitalise on opportunity and “make hay while the sun shines.”
Homo erectus, which became extinct, in fact demonstrates the point in reverse: archaeologists from the Australian National University (ANU) recently published new research suggesting that the species employed a number of ‘least-effort strategies’ to develop both tools and resources. Rather than advancing things, Homo erectus just used “whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality…[than what was] just a short distance away,” commented Dr Crei Shipton, who led the field study.
Simply put: Homo erectus did not have that entrepreneurial flair. Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens did and, clearly, the modern Briton does today. Indeed, according to the Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses (FSB), there were a record 5.7 million private sector businesses at the start of 2017 contributing over 60% of all private sector employment in the UK.
This represents an increase of nearly 200,000 year-over-year, and a whopping 2.2 million private sector businesses more than were cited in 2000. There appears to be no let-up in those who are willing to set out their stall and try their hand.
It is said that Napoleon referred to the English as a “nation of shopkeepers,” a description loaded with derision, but which was nonetheless debatably piquant, accurate, and one that the country’s people might now see as something in which to have pride. Encouraging the characteristics that embody that entrepreneurial spirit - innovation, creativity, tenacity, bravery - is essential if one is to surmount the economic vicissitudes that are sure to come from Brexit uncertainty and change.
That ancestral bequeathing of hunger to achieve and opportunism is further complement; and then, to cap it off, there is self-belief, along with keeping calm and carrying on, of course.