Posted on 25th June, 2015

by Martin McCourt
VentureFounders Senior Advisor

Nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs

"I often get asked to share my thoughts on what I have learnt in my experience of leading some of the biggest global brands. As a passionate believer in nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs to becoming leaders, I have some simple advice to offer from my straightforward way of thinking." 

Martin McCourt, senior adviser at VentureFounders and former CEO of Dyson


Defining who you are

Deciding the answer to the question  ‘who are we?’ as a business and expressing it through explaining what is different about you, what you value, what you wish to be known for, is key to preserving your brand identity. You and your colleagues need to live by everything that makes you different, whether it’s through internal or external communication, and constantly remind everyone around you 'who you are', without appearing to do so. Make it your identity; your business passport.


Celebrate the good and bad ideas

Ideas are more important than innovation. There is no such thing as a bad idea and there is an art to idea generation. Most businesses will say that they wish to be innovative, and that they wish their people would be more creative.  That is easy to say, but much harder to do. So much gets in the way; meetings, action points, past experience and prejudice, workloads that exceed time available, poor setting of priorities, and at times inept leadership.

If the starting point is that there is really no such thing as a bad idea and if the environment is conducive to idea stimulation, then it will happen. Ideas should be celebrated regardless of whether they are progressed. Wrong or left-field thinking should be encouraged. Asking workers to identify problems or solutions within the business can often be more effective than asking for feedback on what they would like to see improved, or what they think they need. 

Failing to have an effective approach to generating ideas is the equivalent of opening the door for your competitors to walk in and take what they fancy. It’s important to encourage your employees and colleagues to use their knowledge of what they do to make that next step in sharing their ideas. Often you will need to a build in a scheme or conduit to make that happen. 

Growth challenges

It is great to track vertical growth and to watch the cash rolling in, but success is rarely that easy. It is exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. Phenomenal success requires excellent planning and bang on execution- falling short will not get you there. Strain on resources, physical and mental pressure on the team, financial challenges as expansion eats up capital, and costly mistakes are all hurdles to be overcome. Your resources are stretched ever thinner as you expand, and your team has to hold the ground whilst your capital builds up again to take the strain.

Clarity of thinking is crucial. The big picture goals need to be distilled in to something simple and memorable that can be constantly reinforced and referenced. This provides the bedrock to test any potential deviation. If you are spending valuable resources on a new venture, then it absolutely has to help achieve the ‘big goals’. An idea that isn’t pulling towards your objectives can become a distraction, and there can be a right idea at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Every single person in the company needs that clarity of vision to work towards the same overall goal.

 Competitor attention

Are you freaking out because your competitors are attacking you? Take a breath and get out the champagne to celebrate, because you are being taken seriously and you must be doing something right. In my experience, there is every chance that your competitors will spend time, money and resources trying to impede your progress and that may actually help put your brand on the map.

Take a step back and ask the question: “How can we turn our competitors’ actions to our advantage?”

I have personally encountered situations where competitors have blatantly attacked my business. However, this can be turned to your advantage. When London taxi drivers gridlocked the city last summer to protest over licences being granted to Uber, no one knew who Uber were. But by the end of that day everyone did, thanks to the publicity gifted to them by the protestors.

Any successful business will have bumps in the road. Bearing that in mind will help you to see the benefits to continue motivating your marketing and sales teams to come up with new, positive initiatives that will keep you ahead of your competitors. New products and services are important, but never lose sight of finding new ways to sell the product you have already established.

Tough Calls

Doing the right thing is not always easy, although an organisation that is prepared to square up and make the difficult calls ought to prosper in the end. But if you are confident the action is the right one for the organisation, don’t be afraid of making the moves that will benefit the business, even if it carries a high level of associated pain. If they also bring poor PR, then the challenge is for the management team to decide how best to weather the storm rather than to set an alternative course.

Confront failure

When things don't work out, react swiftly and effectively. Accept the setback and do not waste precious resources trying to revive a lost cause. It is a signal of strength to customers, employees and competitors when you do this in demonstrating a clear, renewed focus on them. Do spend some time looking at whether there are salvageable resources and materials from the set back, and understanding and learning from mistakes that were made.

Last thought on Leadership

In hindsight, I think I may have been quite a handful as a rising executive! A oneman steamroller with a mission. If I could go back and give my younger self a tip it would be: “Martin, you are a go-getter but you might want to think about how you bring people along on the journey with you.” I have learned that there are many subtleties with leadership and to get the best out of all your resources requires more than just personal strength and drive, it needs everyone’s strength and drive.


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