When I get back to the mainstream, the first thing I'm confronted with is a situation in the US. Outside our Castro Street store in San Francisco, we've hung a banner which shouts: 2-4-6-8 USE A CONDOM OR MASTURBATE. Our American CEO doesn't like it. His antipathy makes me feel dysfunctional in my own company. I'd be disturbed if it wasn't for the fact that I realised a long time ago that dysfunction is the essence of entrepreneurship. I've had 18 requests so far this year from places like Harvard and Yale to talk about the subject. It makes me laugh that Ivy Leaguers are so keen to "learn" how to be entrepreneurs, because I'm not convinced it's a subject you can teach. I mean, how do you teach obsession? Because it is obsession that drives the entrepreneur's commitment to a vision of something new. There is a fine line between the delinquent mind of an entrepreneur and that of a crazy person. The entrepreneur's dream is almost a kind of madness, and it is almost as isolating. When you see something new, your vision usually isn't shared by others. The difference between the crazy person and the successful entrepreneur is, of course, that the latter can convince others to share the vision. That force of will is fundamental to entrepreneurship. Like a genie in a bottle, the idea is nothing unless someone can exploit it, which is another thing that separates entrepreneurs from everyone else. They act on what they see, think and feel. And why are they that way? Blame the dark side of entrepreneurship. If the entrepreneurs I'm familiar with didn't have a disadvantaged childhood, they were at least pushed into adulthood early on. They all share a sense of loss, which only deepens as the companies they create grow up and away from them. That in turn compounds the feeling of isolation.
Is it any harder for a female entrepreneur? Cliche claims that women bosses run a caring, sharing ship. According to the results of a Manchester Business School study published this week, the truth is other- wise. The survey says women at the top are tough cookies, autocrats who rule by fear. I wonder if that isn't a misreading of the entrepreneurial spirit, regardless of gender. It's great at starting something, not so good at running it. The best thing I ever do is find people better than myself. But I felt the most telling detail in the study was the comment made by a government official to the effect that data isn't collected on the differences between male- and female-run businesses because that would be seen as "sexist". Of course one huge difference is that women's work is unrecognised. Where are the studies that show how women have positively influenced the workplace, made it more productive with their relationships and their intimacies? For that matter, where are the studies on the invisibility of women's labour? The sad thing in this country is that women in business don't talk to each other enough. In America, there is such an openness of debate. Women share skills and network brilliantly, and there is an implicit faith that they can bring a new approach. Here, we're still narrowing the gap between what men value and what women are worth.
Speaking of delinquent minds, why does my mother still smoke? I know why she started. She was in her fifties, running the El Cubana in Littlehampton, and she was convinced a nightclub owner had to smoke to be credible. She wanted to look cool, so she'd perch on a bar stool in her glittery toreador pants with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. And she never stopped. With all the horrifying statistics doctors and health authorities are throwing at them, a substantial number of young women still see "nicotine delivery systems" as a chic appendage. For many more, they are a so-called "drug of solace", an antidote to image problems or thwarted aspirations. But such solace is lethal: five women die every hour in the UK as a result of smoking. The fashion and beauty industries are conspicuously silent about this single biggest threat to the well-being of their constituents. At least we don't see advertising from cigarette companies in British fashion magazines, but they don't get much tougher than telling you smoking gives you wrinkles. And then some.Reuse content