Tales of an entrepreneur: success, failure and how to be a leaderPublished on 16 Apr 2019
Bobby Burnett, serial entrepreneur and director of the UK’s leading taxi advertising firm Ubiquitous.
Having built and managed several businesses over the years, many people of 71 years old would be looking to retire. Not Bobby Burnett. Starting in the early 1970s he has had a hugely varied career. From engineering and textiles he went on to palm oil refining, shipping, aircraft management and motion picture film production. More recently Bobby was appointed as Non-Executive Director and played a pivotal role in the transaction between Foyles and Waterstones. He is currently Director at Ubiquitous, a taxi advertising firm which he founded in 1982 before selling in 2001 and reinvesting in 2008.
Since he started out, there have been significant changes to fundraising strategies with the massive growth in private equity and the advent of crowd-funding and other online financing platforms. However what remain constant are the qualities required to be a successful entrepreneur.
Be prepared for failure. To be a successful entrepreneur you need the confidence of a teenager and the resilience of maturity to take the knocks. In my thirties, one of my early ventures failed and I lost my house. I have had a couple of businesses go bust but you have to be able to move on. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have bought the businesses that went bust, I should have done more market research, but I was prepared to take risks.
Ask for help. My first job after training as an accountant was with a young property entrepreneur. I learned more from him in nine months than I would have learned at a large financial advisory firm in three years. The most valuable piece of advice he gave me was to know when to ask for help. Entrepreneurs are often too controlling and view asking for help as a sign of weakness. You can’t be good at everything. If you want to move fast you need to ask for support to fill the gaps in your knowledge to avoid simple mistakes.
My greatest inspiration is my parents. Having played tennis and Squash for England, my father always told me never to give up. I inherited his ambition and determination. He was unbelievably successful, first working his way to the top of the air force and then as chairman of Wimbledon. There he transformed the Championships, yet he never made a fortune, and I think that that was what made me ambitious. From my mother I learnt to network. It is so important to talk to everyone, including your competitors. It can have a hugely positive impact on your business. You have to be lucky but you only get lucky if you network, network, network and work, work, work.
I have always had many pots on the boil. I have a brain like a butterfly - I loved the speed, energy and variety. I sometimes wonder whether I would have been more financially successful if I had stuck with just one business, but I might have chosen the wrong one.
Good leadership is transferable. People want to be led and you need to be able to convey your passion and drive to your workforce. The ability to make decisions and be ruthless when required is very important. If you can manage mavericks, they will grow your business but the ability to recognise when a business outgrows its management is also essential.
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