Lessons Learned: Derek Browne, CEO, Entrepreneurs in Action

Derek Browne left a lucrative career in the City to start his own business, Entrepreneurs in Action, aimed at teaching students the value of entrepreneurship. He went on to win Queen's Award for Enterprise Promotion in 2006 and to act as coach and business mentor for Jaime Oliver’s four graduates on the Channel 4 ‘Jamie's Chef’ show.

SmallBusiness.co.uk asks an inspirational entrepreneur to share their experiences and offer advice for SMEs. With the benefit of hindsight, what do they wish they’d known when they started?

How did you start out in business?

My background is in investment banking and after receiving some cash from a round of redundancies, I took a few months off to decide where to go from there. I realised that investment banking wasn’t for me and that I really wanted to set up a business doing something I was passionate about.

EiA offers programmes for young people designed to unlock their untapped talents and open their minds to the possibilities and opportunities in the business world. We have a slightly different approach and a very strong set of values at the company.

What has this new avenue taught you?

Well, first of all, the huge difference between the public and private sectors as we work across both spheres. The private sector can be cash orientated, very transactional and fast paced, whereas the public sector tends to be much slower. You are also subject to government changes in the public sector, more so than in the private sector, and these changes don’t necessarily happen for financial or business reasons, but political ones.

I think if I knew then what I know now, I’d have done a lot more research into the mechanics of the public sector. There’s a huge learning curve and a certain amount of arrogance or snobbery between the two backgrounds.

What motivates you?

I had a good run in the City and a number of people helped me along the way. Originally I was a south London kid and I can appreciate that there is a lot of young people with talent out there, but it’s wasted because they don’t necessarily have the motivation to carry that forward. It’s all very well us all going along on our merry way, but I think we have a responsibility to put something back.

How do you make sure the people you work with share your strong values?

We have a very challenging recruitment process that aims to assess people’s values. We also give people a trial period to make sure they are right for the business. But in any business, it’s important to surround yourself not only with people who share your ideas and beliefs, but also those who aren’t from your field; who might be able to give a more critical and clinical view of the company and the decisions you make.

Actually, I’ve had some amazing experiences with the students I’ve spoken to. Their minds haven’t been corrupted by anything yet, so they come at business from a very clinical perspective. I’m yet to have students with a really good business idea.

That’s not to underestimate the value of someone who knows your business. It’s important to have access to a mentor in the industry for the door-opening possibilities that they’ll provide through their network of contacts.

Any other words of wisdom?

I advise anyone starting a business not to wait to set up their systems and company procedures. Try to capture what makes you unique and set it down on paper so other people can get out there and do it too. I think there’s a tendency to try to do everything yourself when you start out because you’re passionate about your idea.

One of the biggest challenges is learning how to give certain tasks up. Let other people get out there and deliver, so you can free up some time for managing staff and running the business. If I could go back, I think I would have bitten the bullet and outsourced more processes early on.

Adam Wayland

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

Related Topics


Leave a comment