Oli Barrett MBE: Perspective

In the spring issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine, our Ambassador and co-host, Oli Barrett, took some time to consider the word ‘perspective’ and its meaning to entrepreneurs. 

As the train departs from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, two things strike me. Firstly, I realise just how infrequently I look out of the window. As we leave the tunnels and head into the countryside, my fellow passengers are transfixed, by their laptops and phones, looking up only occasionally at a passing ticket inspector, or a clanking drinks trolley. My second observation is about a very particular word; “myself ”. Because in the outside world, we say “come and speak to me” or “don’t hesitate to ask me”. Whereas when you work for a train company, it seems, you have to say “come and speak to myself” or “don’t hesitate to ask myself”.

Entrepreneurs, I’ve found, tend to describe themselves in multiple ways. From Founders to Directors, and from CEOs to Chief Trouble Makers. Yet very rarely as “entrepreneurs”. Just as we all have heroes and role models, we rarely meet someone who describes themselves as a hero, or as role model. And if they did, I suspect I know what you would do with their LinkedIn request. No, it strikes me as we pass through Milton Keynes, that an entrepreneur tends to be something for someone else. A word for others. Just as we need to identify heroes and role models, it’s important that we, the others, identify entrepreneurs. Because their stories and adventures are too often hidden.

The NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards has set off on its sixth year. From construction companies to cocktail makers, travel agents to kids clubs, we have met and celebrated literally hundreds of business owners, and we’re about to meet a whole lot more. With the support of NatWest, the spotlight shines on the podium, however, it’s the bigger picture which I find so inspiring. With every hashtag, Tweet and Instagram post, a new community has been formed. Through every Awards night conversation, every follow up email, every reunion, I’ve seen a different kind of network emerge.

In a group of people with their glass half full, the positivity can often be overflowing. Recently, it’s the second, more grounded conversations which have made me stop and think. Those extra few minutes with a finalist. Discovering that an organisation which campaigns to support people addicted to gambling only began because its founder had been sent to prison. The story of Angus Drummond, who founded a travel company, Limitless Travel, for people with disabilities after he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy (and you can read about Angus’ story from Pg.40). Or Paula Wilkinson, the creator of Mums Bake Cakes, who realised that she could create the Interflora of baking after a six hour drive to see a seriously ill friend. Again and again, the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards helps us see beneath the slogans, underneath the one liners, to meet the people who start things. It helps us understand what they do, and it helps us to reflect on why.

Whether you are someone who runs a business, or someone who supports the people who do, you are massively welcome here. On the stage we see the founders. The wider room matters just as much. The partners, the advisors, the mentors and investors. Across five cities, from London to Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh, we see a technicolour range of businesses of all shapes and sizes. That variety is both humbling and inspiring. As is the contrast. Because we know that the black-tie moment is the exception. That by day, business is about something altogether less glamourous, with sleeves rolled up, and a fair amount of sweat and tears.

As our train departs, I look forward to another year celebrating great British entrepreneurs. Wherever you are from, whatever your motivation, I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy the view.

You can take a look at a full, digital version of the spring issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine here.