THE WELSH ENTREPRENEURSHIP HALL OF FAME
So who do you think are the greatest entrepreneurs of all time?
Well, according to Fortune Magazine, the list would consist of Steve Jobs of Apple; Bill Gates of Microsoft; Fred Smith of FedEx; Jeff Bezos of Amazon; Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google; Howard Schultz of Starbucks; Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook; John Mackey of Whole Foods; Herb Kelleher of SouthWest Airlines; Narayana Murthy of Infosys; Sam Walton of Wal-Mart; and Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank.
As with all such subjective lists, many of us might disagree with those selected. Dominated by American high technology founders, the list had no women entrepreneurs and only two individuals recognised who are based outside the USA.
The list failed to include Sir Richard Branson despite his various entrepreneurial ventures ranging from Virgin Records to Virgin Atlantic and being the individual that most young people, at least in the UK, would wish to emulate. It also didn’t recognise pioneers of the industrial revolution during the 19th century such as Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgewood, Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie, all of whom revolutionised their industries and left lasting legacies through their enterprise and innovation.
Yet apart from being something that a group of mates would argue over in a pub whilst having a few beers, what is the value of having such a list of successful entrepreneurs?
Part of the answer lies in research findings that demonstrate the importance of role models in encouraging entrepreneurial activity. This stems from early studies that showed a positive correlation between the decision to start up a new venture and having parents who were entrepreneurs and ran their own firms.
Research on networks has also indicated that peer groups can help to influence the decision to become an entrepreneur. In fact, those geographical areas where there are already successful entrepreneurs will continue to grow and prosper because of the presence of such role models who can provide information, resources or just simply inspiration.
Some have argued that lists of entrepreneurs such as Fortune’s are largely irrelevant to most businesspeople. This is because the average entrepreneur would prefer to look closer to home for inspiration and will rarely consider such iconic individuals such as Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg as role models.
I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with such a sentiment but there are two excellent examples of successful, but different, approaches in Wales that are utilising successful local individuals and companies as inspiration for others to follow.
First of all, there is the annual Wales Fast Growth 50 listings, which has provided a list of entrepreneurs who act as role models for other Welsh firms since it was launched back in 1999. Then there is the Big Ideas Wales initiative run by the Welsh Government that encourages young people to be start a business and uses entrepreneurs in Wales as role models to inspire young people.
Both have helped to celebrate Welsh entrepreneurship across the nation and provided examples of successful practice to those thinking of starting a new firm. Yet, if Wales is to fully embrace entrepreneurship across all aspects of its economic and social life, then there must be a more coherent way to recognise the achievements of those who helped build this nation since the industrial revolution.
Nearly twenty years ago, I discussed the potential of developing a Welsh Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame with the Welsh Development Agency (WDA). And despite gaining support at the time from the business community for the concept, those responsible for marketing within the WDA were not convinced that we should develop a vehicle to recognise individuals such as David Davies, Robert Owen, Laura Ashley and others whose risk-taking, innovation and creativity throughout the last two hundred years have shaped, and continue to shape, communities across Wales.
As a result, the idea never got anywhere and before it could be resurrected, the WDA was abolished as part of Rhodri Morgan’s infamous bonfire of the quangos.
The question is whether such a proposal should be considered again especially as we already have a Welsh Sports Hall of Fame that recognises the achievements of our best athletes, footballers and rugby players?
I believe few would disagree with the premise that we need to develop more entrepreneurs who would encourage greater prosperity and wealth creation within our nation. Therefore, the creation of a Welsh Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame that would acknowledge, understand and disseminate the achievements of those enterprising Welsh men and women as an inspiration for others would be a timely step towards this goal.
More importantly, it should include not only those industrial giants from our history but also those who, in today’s global economy, are making a real impact in Wales and beyond through their hard work and innovation.