Vijay Patel: How I made it as an entrepreneur - the five key attributes you need to succeed

Vijay Patel
Vikjay Patel won EY’s UK Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2001 (Source: EY)
Global Entrepreneurship Week, last week, provided an opportunity to celebrate British enterprise and to assess how we can stimulate new business creation further. The more entrepreneurs we have, the stronger our economy will be.

I am a British entrepreneur who has, over the last 40 years, built a global business from just one small pharmacy in Essex. Together with my brother Bhikhu, I created a multinational pharmaceutical company, Waymade, which employed 700 people and had an annual turnover of £300m.

Although my brother and I built a large business from scratch through hard graft, we sold our creation last year to a private equity group for £370m. Some find it hard to let go, but I was ready for the next venture (or should that be adventure?). I am often asked for the secret of entrepreneurial success. There is no single recipe for winning but, when I reflect back, I can identify five key attributes of a successful entrepreneur which enabled me to build up my business.

First, natural entrepreneurs will have passion that can never be quenched, and will always be interested in new projects and possibilities. They are committed to whatever they are doing and care deeply about it. When I arrived in the UK at the age of 16, with the equivalent of just £5 in my pocket, I may not have had resources, but I had a hunger and drive to make a go of things. There is a saying that, if the mind can conceive it and the heart can believe it, then you can achieve it.

Yet passion needs to be backed up with perseverance. In hindsight, it is easy to applaud success, but no achievement comes without dedication and this is especially true when creating and developing an effective business. When I first started out, no bank would give me seed capital, but I did not give up. After I had been turned away from every high street bank, I persuaded an uncle to guarantee a very small loan for 25 per cent of my business. Although I was giving a lot for what seemed like so little, it was what I needed to kick-start my first venture, and the rest, as they say, is history. Business tenacity is particularly common among migrant groups, and that is why there is such a high level of enterprise in communities such as British Indians (there are an estimated 300,000 ethnic minority-led SMEs in the UK).

The third attribute an entrepreneur needs is self-confidence. Confidence grows with success, but self-confidence is innate in any successful entrepreneur. What gave me the patience to keep trying, despite all the hurdles in my way, was the belief that I was going to make it eventually; and that belief was unshakeable. Of course, external recognition helped the firm gain self-belief. One significant breakthrough was when I was fortunate enough to win EY’s UK Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2001, which raised interest in the company.

An entrepreneur needs to be a strong communicator. You have to sell your vision at every stage to staff, investors and customers, from soliciting capital investment all the way through to marketing the end product or service. My customers often comment on my enthusiasm when I present my company and ideas. When you believe in your product, it is so much easier to sell.

The final characteristic of a winning entrepreneur is a willingness to learn from others. Each of us can’t be good at everything. Therefore we need to deploy and rely on the skills of others. This has been my guiding principle when constructing senior leadership teams. Also my brother, with his architectural skills, has taught me to think in several dimensions. I have successfully built many businesses in the pharmaceutical world in retail, distribution, sales, marketing, and research and development; in so doing, I have had to rely on the expertise and talents of colleagues in different areas.

My experience as an entrepreneur has made me an advocate for an enterprise revolution in this country, promoting a startup culture and helping to remove some of the barriers to entry. With our economy still in a fragile recovery after the credit crunch, we need young risk-takers with commercial minds to create new businesses and boost growth in the economy.

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