Finance: Make it your business to go for gold

Want to make a fortune? Then start training to join the business elite. By Roger Trapp
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The Independent Culture
DAVID LANDAU is hardly most people's idea of a typical entrepreneur. Softly spoken and retiring, he became a businessman only in his thirties after previously training as a doctor (to overcome his squeamishness about blood), and becoming a university lecturer (to conquer his shyness).

And yet - as a result of founding the classified advertisement newspaper Loot - he is now the wealthy head of a company that employs about 600 people and has annual sales of more than pounds 25m.

Despite a shaky start, when Landau and his colleagues were assured that the idea would not work, the company has grown strongly since it was founded in 1985, and enjoys the distinction of being the only organisation to have featured every year in the Independent on Sunday'slist of Britain's fastest-growing private businesses.

The appearance of the Loot story, in a new book on entrepreneurs by the management writer Robert Heller, is a clear demonstration of the fact that enterprise can come in all shapes and forms.

Heller points out in his book, Goldfinger: How entrepreneurs grow rich by starting small (HarperCollinsBusiness, pounds 19.99), that Landau and his co-founder, the then music critic Dominic Gill, were essentially copyists. The idea of publishing a small ads magazine that sold copies, but publishing the ads for free, came to Landau when he picked up what he thought was a paper about antiques on a trip to Milan. But, as Heller writes: "Imitation may well be the sincerest way of making money," adding that Ray Kroc, for example, got the inspiration for what became a world-wide hamburger outlet chain by enjoying a meal at a place called McDonald's.

The Italian city was also the inspiration for Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, the US coffee house chain that recently bought up Britain's Seattle Coffee Company, itself an imitator of Starbucks.

But although it appears that Schultz created a business worth several hundred million dollars simply by adapting the espresso bars he had seen in Italy to US tastes, Heller stresses that that is not the whole story. Entrepreneurs have to have the foresight to spot trends and the courage to act on that information, as well as such attributes as an instinct for design and a sense of how much people will pay.

"The key is thinking - the ultimate management technique," he writes. Like any technique, this can be improved, which is why both established business owners, and those seeking to join them, pay a lot of attention to creative thinking.

And that leads on to the real purpose of the book. As well as aiming to remove much of the mystery surrounding entrepreneurs - or, as Heller terms them, "the heroes of capitalism" - it is designed to set out certain techniques for making a success of new businesses.

Convinced that it is "patently untrue" that entrepreneurship cannot be taught, Heller writes that business may or may not be in the genes, but business know-how is in the teaching, training and experience. "At every stage - from the thinking that produces the Big Idea, through planning, to implementation and beyond - the entrepreneur can benefit from the example of others, people who have been there before. Their experience establishes clear precepts and practices, from which others can learn."

Even those entrepreneurs who defy categorisation and seem never to have needed a lesson can, in fact, be found to be following a pattern: "They act on logic and observation, as well aus intuition, and their plans, decisions and execution are controlled by methods that can be understood - and imitated."

An additional motivation for Heller is the view, increasingly held in government circles, that small businesses are often the seeds of big ones. At the outset, he explains how he came upon the techniques embodied in his acronym IT BECAME FAST by studying BTR, a business that came from nowhere to appear at the top of the Management Today growth league. That company has since run into trouble but, under the leadership of Sir Owen Green, it was a real powerhouse, becoming a pounds 10bn company and an international name.

The techniques cover such issues as improving efficiency constantly, evaluating businesses and opportunities objectively, spreading authority around the organisation and ensuring that you make money because "if you don't, you can't do anything else". But, while keeping things as simple as possible is at the heart of much of his book, he also ventures into expansion and diversification - since these are usually prerequisites for growth.

Determined to inspire as well as explain, he concludes that successful entrepreneurs do not rest on their laurels. Rather, they exploit "superb presents to achieve a far more brilliant future" - so the best definition of entrepreneurs is that they make their futures themselves.