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Bath Entrepreneur In Residence

Margaret Heffernan gives advice to future entrepreneurs at Bath School of Management

By  Harriet Murdoch

Sun Oct 2 2011

The Bath Entrepreneur in Residence (BEiR) brings together successful entrepreneurs and aspiring students. It aims to create an entrepreneurial community combining academic knowledge with practical application.

Margaret Heffernan, 2011/12 Entrepreneur in Residence at University of Bath School of Management kicked off the year with an inspiring workshop delivered to the Full-time Bath MBA cohort.

Split into two sessions her presentation focused on 'The Global Customer' and 'Managing Across Cultures'.

Each year the University of Bath School of Management invites entrepreneurs to become part of its entrepreneurial community by serving as the Bath Entrepreneur in Residence. The BEiR exemplifies the School’s commitment to infusing the MBA and undergraduate curriculum with an entrepreneurial viewpoint.


Margaret Heffernan has written many books on women and business

Margaret has written many books on women and business and produced radio and television programmes for the BBC for 13 years before moving into the US where she spearheaded multimedia productions for Intuit, The Learning Company and Standard & Poors.

She was Chief Executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and then iCast Corporation, was named one of the “Top 25” by Streaming Media Magazine and one of the “Top 100 Media Executives” by The Hollywood Reporter.

Margaret is now living in the UK and writes regular columns for Real Business magazine and US Reader’s Digest. She is also a published author and has written two books about women and business: The Naked Truth: A Working Woman’s Manifesto (Wiley, 2004) and How She Does It: How Women Entrepreneurs are Changing the Rules of Business Success (Viking, 2007).

Margaret wrote and presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the rise of female entrepreneurship, ‘Changing the Rules’ which won the Prowess Media Award in 2008. Her two radio plays on the Enron scandal, ‘Power Play’ and ‘Wilful Blindness’ were broadcast on Radio 4 and her investigation of social entrepreneurship in the Channel 4 series, The Secret Millionaire was broadcast in 2008.

Margaret gave an interview to BEiR about her career as an entrepreneur:

What is the single most important lesson you have learned as an entrepreneur?

Listen to your customer. Talk to your customer. Empathize your customer. Remember your customer is your source of revenue.

You have written extensively about women and entrepreneurship. What are your key messages for women who want to be entrepreneurs?

The most consistent mistake women entrepreneurs make is underestimating themselves. They can - and do - do anything and everything.

• This may be tempting fate, but what in your view are the next big ideas on the horizon?

Green energy obviously will be a big thing. Genetic therapies and emerging therapies that derive from our dynamic understanding of the brain.

We all talk about looking after all the stakeholders. In your view how important is it for business owners to be socially aware, especially when they are trying to survive the first few years?

All great businesses begin with values. From values emerge products and perspectives on the market, a sense of process and culture. So on one level, you always have to be socially aware, otherwise you will make something nobody wants. And I am a firm believer that you can't tack on values later.

A business will have values and a culture whether you plan it or not. Approaching this deliberately increases your chance of coherence and success. However no business can make a contribution if it isn't producing something that people want and will pay for. Making a profit is how you make your business sustainable - which means you can create jobs and create an impact, both of which can change lives. I don't think there are social businesses and the rest. All great businesses contribute to society and make an impact on society. That entrepreneurs are perhaps becoming more idealistic to me merely means they set the bar a bit higher - which is wonderful.

What three pieces of advice would you give to our undergraduate students who want to become entrepreneurs? Would you recommend they join a big company first or start their venture upon graduation?

Definitely! My advice is:

1. Get whatever additional learning you need from your next employer - education you actually get paid for!!

2. Go work for a start up or early stage venture. See how you like it. Not everyone does. But the resume that alternates big company (where you develop contacts and a sense of process) with entrepreneurial company (where you get more authority sooner) is golden.

3. Don't believe that entrepreneurship is only for the young. The oldest entrepreneur I've encountered started her business in her 80s; my father became an entrepreneur in his 60s, and he had never made more money or had more fun. There's lots of time.

What three pieces of advice would you give to our MBA students who want to become entrepreneurs? The ‘plunge’ decision is a difficult one for them, given that they can return to their corporate careers.

1. The best entrepreneurs either didn't have, or felt they didn't have, a safety net. One told me she defined an entrepreneur as : no product, no market, no customers, no employees, no money - and no safety net. And she went on to found a fantastic, world-changing multi-million pound business. She took the plunge because she felt she could not not do it; it was an existential quest to discover her own capacity. This is true of many entrepreneurs. For them, the bigger risk lies in not taking the plunge.

2. Get a partner. It's easier and you are more likely to succeed if you have someone as driven, inspired and committed as you are. Many people worry about what happens later on if the relationship doesn't work out. That is a small problem comparied to the one of never getting started! In the early days, partners keep you focused, give you momentum, have ideas you wouldn't have - and it's wonderful to have someone to go to the pub with on Friday night.

3. Hire great people. If you aren't sure about someone, don't hire them. Those first employees define your culture and will determine who else wants to come in. Don't accept 2nd best.

What are the three biggest mistakes that would-be entrepreneurs make?

1. They don't test their product with customers or, if they do, they don't listen. They think service is demeaning and that they know more than the customer.

2. They don't think strategically about partnerships. Great partnerships teach you a lot and get you further faster. Entrepreneurs love autonomy but that doesn't mean you have to do everything by yourself.

3. They hire too fast and breed internal demons inside the business that they never get rid of. And just as an extra...

4. They think the business is all about them. It isn't. It's about everyone in it - and that includes customers.

What are you hoping to achieve in the role of Entrepreneur-in-Residence?

I see myself as part evangelist, part teacher, part realist. It is very tempting to study entrepreneurship and come away thinking that ifyou just follow the plan, everything will work out. Business (like life) is rife with contingencies. The true test of a great business person is their ability to respond to these with intelligence, creativity and integrity. Although I am well versed in business theory, it is business practice that drives me.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am intensely proud of many of the people I employed and mentored, now running successful businesses of their own. No, I didn't necessarily know that they would, or could, but the fact that they were inspired to and that they learned good things from my companies makes me very very happy.

How do you define success?

You know you are successful when you have the freedom to choose between several different , and all good, options. When you strive not for a good decision but for the better one. And if you can feel that in some way you have left the world a little better than you found it.

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