Clarke Stars At Fortune Favours The Brave

Posted on the 21 November 2014

Clarke Stars At Fortune Favours The Brave

Bravery in business and having the confidence to accept change were central themes of a major conference for entrepreneurs in the North East.

Around 150 business owners who came together for the Entrepreneurs' Forum annual autumn event Fortune Favours the Brave held, for the first time, at Wynyard Hall, were also asked to try and leave a positive legacy for the next generation.

Keynote speaker George Clarke, architect and presenter of The Restoration Man and Amazing Spaces, returned to his native North East to share his passion for transforming buildings and innovation.

He spoke about how his design teacher at Oxclose School in Washington helped turn his love of building and design into a career by introducing him to a local architect. "For a school teacher to take the initiative and care that much to take me there and see if I'd be inspired was brilliant. It changed my life," he said.

After studying architecture at Newcastle University he went on to work for a leading practice in London and Hong Kong before starting his own firm, which has grown into an umbrella organisation for seven different businesses.

"In life you see small opportunities and you take a little step and another little step and you achieve things. I only ever wanted to be an architect but when you've got a real passion for the things you're involved in things happen," he said.

"I'm always trying to innovate and I'm constantly asking questions like how can we make this better, how can we push this back?

"The advantage of having a number of small businesses is that they are very light on their feet and they don't get dragged down with red tape and bureaucracy. If you can keep it all very very simple then the opportunities are genuinely endless."

Through his Empty Homes campaign Clarke has become a government advisor and has set up a scheme where disadvantaged, "angry" young people can learn the building trade from mentors who are retired builders. 

Earlier the conference, held during Global Entrepreneurship Week, had heard from motivational speaker Paul McGee, author of the best selling book SUMO, or 'shut up, move on'.

He recommended delegates to "get off auto pilot" and accept that, while change might feel uncomfortable and challenging, it was also exciting.

He asked them to challenge their critics, not just outer critics but also the voices in our heads that can undermine us.

"When you are trying to be courageous and brave sometimes things don't go right immediately. But what have you got to lose? In life there's always going to be a donkey telling a racehorse how to run faster," he said.

He warned that "stress makes you stupid", to get some perspective and, when things go wrong, to allow some "hippo time" but not to wallow for too long.

"You don't become successful because you thought 'what will be, will be' or we'll just see how things go. Life rewards the decisions you take," he said.

Pamela Petty, managing director of North East success story EBac, talked through the practical steps to create a successful business.

"Don't ever be afraid of making profit, it's not a four letter word and it creates wealth and jobs," she said.

EBac, which has enjoyed global success with its water cooler and dehumidifiers and has brought washing machine manufacture back to Britain, under went significant change when the business was put into a foundation trust, so it has no shareholders.

It meant Pamela and her sister Amanda giving up the inheritance built by their father, John Elliott, who founded the business.

"We didn't think about it for more than a day," admitted Pamela, who is also a Forum board member.

"Putting it into a foundation was daunting but EBac is EBac, it's not for the benefit of just the family, it's far more important; it's for the people who work there. And dad will still be controlling it when he's six foot under."

Delegates were also encouraged to seek support from others, a central ethos of the Forum.

Paul said: "Seeking support isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of wisdom."

Board member and founder of event sponsor Recognition PR, Graham Robb said: "Being in business is a bit like being a high wire trapeze artist. You may be experienced but you still have to get on the wire whether there's a safety net or not.

"There isn't a trade union for entrepreneurship, but in the Forum there is a sense of fellowship. We have a duty to mentor and support the new businesses that will create the jobs that will make our region successful and prosperous."