Lord Young has had a remarkable career in both the business and the political worlds, serving under various conservative governments and acting as the Secretary of State for Employment. He has spearheaded multiple initiatives including Start Up Loans, was an Enterprise Adviser to David Cameron and has written a number or vital reports about the small business landscape in the UK. Towards the end of last year we were lucky enough to sit down with him and discuss ‘business’.
Having looked into your background it’s clear your path could easily have been in law but after one year you changed course. Why?
It’s quite simple – I hated it. When I was 16 years old I wanted to be a film director, that’s all I ever wanted to be. I had arranged to have an interview as a seven-year apprentice. I had the interview with the union and my father said to me “I’ve got some bad news for you; 52% of films have been taken off the film quota”.
He then said “You will become a solicitor and your brother will become an accountant”. So I became a solicitor and did five year articles. One thing I am convinced about is if you don’t enjoy the journey, you only have yourself to blame.
You have been heavily involved with Start Up Loans. What lead you to create the scheme and how successful do you think it has been since it was founded in 2012?
I was on the council of the Prince’s Trust and I was responsible for their business program, which was a form of Start up Loans but only for disadvantaged people, but I saw the enormous difference it was making to people’s lives.
When the Conservatives came into coalition in 2010, David Cameron made me deal with Health and Safety. I later told him I would like to advise on enterprise. My original idea was that loans would be paid off like student loans, over a longer period, and we could administer it through the tax system.
How much can the growth of startup and micro businesses in the UK be credited to the recession?
It should be credited much more to the work that David Cameron did with the coalition government in 2010 and the decisions that were made in that period. A majority of 18 year-olds leaving school now want to work for themselves – they might not know how to but they want to do it – and that’s a revolution that has been growing.
Some people might say ”Oh golly I am not going to get a job, I better work for myself”, but I think that’s quite a small number. To work for yourself you need to have a get up and go attitude and be very positive. One thing I will tell you, I have never met a successful person in my life with a negative attitude. If you don’t have a positive outlook in life you will never make a success. You will never see opportunities if you are negative.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing startups today that are still to be addressed?
I am not sure there are that many. There are still issues in the education system because we still send people out unfit for life. We could do more programs like Start Up Loans. But I am quite optimistic as the world is changing. When I left school at 16 to become an article clerk, in those days 80% of people left school at 16. A number of people told me to find out if my place of work had a pension scheme – can you imagine that today? There used to be lifetime employment, that has now gone. People now only work at places for a few years and then maybe will work for themselves – it’s a very different world now.
What do you think of shows such as the Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice? Do they show a positive image of entrepreneurship?
No they are terrible. Business isn’t about “You’re fired”. Business is creative. Dragons’ Den is a bit better – but far too simple. You ask half a dozen questions then you get the money or you don’t.
What qualities do you think a successful entrepreneur needs?
A positive outlook, no question. Self confidence is also very important.
Are entrepreneurs born or bred?
I think both. We ran a program called The Fiver Challenge*. 31,000 primary school children were given £5. There was a boy who turned £5 into £495. In eight years time he is coming to work for me! Young people are naturally entrepreneurial like that. You can also be entrepreneurial working within a large company up until a point.
* Participants are challenged to set up mini businesses to create products or services they can then sell/deliver at a profit and engage with their local community
What advice would you give to someone starting a business?
Just go and do it. Very simple – if you don’t do it you won’t know what it’s like. Focus and follow through. Too many people start things and don’t finish them. Take something and follow through on it.
We hope you enjoyed part one of the interview. In next week’s post Lord Young will discuss more about what the government is doing to help small businesses.
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