The Second Bounce of the Ball by Ronald Cohen
- 7 Nov 07, 12:52 PM
In the latest entry into the Newsnight bookclub, businessman Sir Ronald Cohen offers budding entrepreneurs guidance on how to approach the challenges and opportunities ahead of them.
Sir Ronald Cohen speaks to Newsnight on Wednesday, 7 November.
Extract from The Second Bounce of the Ball: Turning Risk into Opportunity by Ronald Cohen published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at £20.00.
There is a cliché that entrepreneurs are born, not made. If I think back on my experience, I know this is not entirely true. Yes, all entrepreneurs share certain personality traits: a high level of confidence and high levels of optimism, energy and determination. But the people who become entrepreneurs come in all ages, shapes and sizes, and their entrepreneurial skills vary considerably.
There has been a significant increase in the number of entrepreneurs during the three decades in which I have been a professional investor. This speaks not so much for a sudden growth in the gene pool of ‘born’ entrepreneurs, as for the opportunities that have opened up for all kinds of people to use their entrepreneurial ability.
Major waves of entrepreneurship have been forming in the world for the past thirty years, first in the United States, then across Europe and Israel, and now across Asia.
Not only are there more entrepreneurs than ever, but a significant proportion of the workforce is employed by firms backed by the principal entrepreneurial investors: the venture-capital and private equity funds. Many more people today are touched by enterprise than was the case when I started out in the early 1970s.
This book is, I hope, a timely contribution to the understanding of entrepreneurship, including the roles of venture capital and private equity, as well as a guide to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Many potential entrepreneurs who could start out have not started out. Many have failed who could have been successful. The reason is that they are not equipped. They have not grasped the fundamentals. Because few entrepreneurs have an overall view of what is involved in creating a successful venture, they have to learn about entrepreneurship the hard way: from their mistakes. Such learning is at the cost of considerable time and hardship. This book is not a total substitute for experience – no book could hope to be that – but it should help you save time and hardship, and, hopefully, avoid some
Today’s entrepreneur does not have to be like a nineteenth-century explorer, heading off into the unknown without a map. This book is a map, drawn from more than thirty years’ experience. If I have been successful in distilling what I have learned, this book could help a generation who feel that they would like to do something entrepreneurial with their careers, but wonder whether they can really be successful. They ask: ‘Is it realistic for me to aspire to building a successful business?’
This book sets out the road to be travelled; it describes the qualities and skills of those who have travelled it successfully before you; and it discusses the principles that ensure you reach your destination. It is the book that would have been useful to me when I started out in 1972. It would have been useful to have confirmation that launching out at the age of twenty-six was not too young; that I was right to start with the idea that I was building a large business, and to channel my energies into putting in place the infrastructure needed to become a market leader; and that, given my diligence, my likely ability to attract good people to work with me and my aptitude for the sector I had picked, if I just stuck with it I would be successful.
Start young, think big, stick with it: that is valuable advice that I did not get, but which I can now offer the aspiring entrepreneur.
If you are thinking of an entrepreneurial career, this book will have served its purpose if it helps you to define your attitude towards uncertainty and your ability to exploit it; to assess properly the opportunities before you; to judge timing in relation to business cycles and market trends; to adapt your role as leader to the needs of your business and to attract the best people to your team; to take into account the financial dimension of your proposed venture; to turn setbacks to your advantage; to make the right decisions quickly and effectively; and to understand that high ethical standards are not only desirable but essential.
This is not a how-to book, in the sense of providing a plan, a checklist, exercises and tips. The subject is too complex for that. Nor is the advice given on the following pages about the details of implementation. It is certainly not part of my purpose to tell anyone how to write a business plan. Rather, the book shows you how to approach an entrepreneurial opportunity and how to put yourself in a position to best take advantage of it. In so far as I lay down any rules at all, they are higher-level rules, the fundamentals of entrepreneurial strategy.
If I have achieved my objective, the book will help you decide if an entrepreneurial career is for you, and show you how to make a real success of it.
Text © Ronald Cohen 2007