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Inspirational British business men and women for young entrepreneurs

What have Terry Leahy, Andy Murray, and Max Mosley got in common? Answer: They’re all people who, in their chosen fields, defied the odds to become outstanding successes. The kind of people with the grit, determination and flair to inspire a younger generation to explore their entrepreneurial talents and enter the world of business.

One of the defining hallmarks of the most successful entrepreneurs isn’t some peculiar immunity to mishap and failed endeavour; it’s their resilient aptitude for picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and hopping right back on the entrepreneurial saddle again in pursuit of new options.

Just think for a moment of Terry Leahy’s story. This working class boy from Liverpool, who grew up in a pre-fab in an impoverished part of the city, was no stranger to early knock-backs. He started his working life stacking shelves at Tesco and was turned down when he applied for another job with the chain. He also applied for and was turned down for a product manager role. But by 1979, this fiercely intelligent shelf-stacker had become a marketing executive with Tesco. By 1997, he was the supermarket chain’s chief executive and went on to preside over record profits until his retirement from the role in 2011, helping Tesco stretch its lead as the largest retailer in the UK and expand internationally.

This drive to excel, to innovate, to stand out and refuse to bow to misfortune is at the core of the entrepreneurial spirit. And that spirit is so crucial to the success of the UK economy that it’s no exaggeration to describe it as the backbone of the country. We tend to think of Andy Murray as a sportsman, a brilliant tennis player. But these qualities are at work in him and other top competitive athletes; it’s crushing to get so close to victory in a gruelling tennis tournament and then lose. But this guy keeps on improving, keeps on fighting, and keeps coming back to face all the challenges the sport can throw at him. This is the kind of resilience that lies at the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit.

It’s easy to overlook the inspirational achievements of Max Mosley after he fell pray to scandal-mongering in some sections of the British media a few years ago. But this former barrister was to prove his entrepreneurial mettle in the high-octane, bruisingly competitive world of Formula One motor racing during his tenure as President of the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) and later of FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile). Thanks to Mosley’s vision and formidable negotiating skills, Formula One motor racing became a vastly safer and greener sport, and a considerably less fractious and disputatious one, too. Tellingly, his gripping account of his time in Formula One is called “The Art of War – Five Years in Formula One”.

If we’re to continue the long climb out of the economic crisis that exploded in 2008, it’ll be the entrepreneurial spirit, exemplified by inspirational figures such as Leahy, Murray and Mosley, that will lead the way. What each of them demonstrate to young prospective entrepreneurs is that it’s possible to come from nothing and scale the heights to the top of a business empire or a field of talent.