Tycoon encourages 'can do' attitude

Sir Tom: we lost our focus, but we learned from mistakes

Sir Tom HunterScottish tycoon Sir Tom Hunter said today how his company was taught “an expensive lesson” after it failed to spot the financial crash.

Sir Tom reputedly lost tens of millions from his personal fortune as investments built up in property and retail during the boom years turned sour.

He said that the business had lost its focus and he admitted that it was “100% my fault”.

Sir Tom’s West Coast Capital private equity business had been left in bad shape and he said he faced the option of  “staying under the duvet” or learning from his mistakes.

Speaking to an audience of would-be entrepreneurs at a breakfast seminar in Ayrshire, he said: “One of my biggest mistakes was that when the financial crisis hit our private equity business we did not see it coming. I have now become an anorak about the crisis and I learn from mistakes.  I have read every book on the subject.

“We lost our focus. We were too widely spread in our investments. We were trying to do too much. When the crisis hit we were in a bad shape to deal with it. It was 100% my fault. I learned that we had to stick to our knitting, not believe in our own bullshit.

“We had to get back to the fundamentals of why we had been successful and get back to that laser focus we had. It was an expensive lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. It would have been easy for me to say ‘forget this for a game of soldiers and stay under the duvet’. I had to come in each day and face the team and I am glad to say that today we are in better shape because of the mistakes we made and we will benefit from them in the future.”

Responding to questions from the audience and from a Twitter feed he said that it was important for the country to develop a “can do” attitude.

He said he kept himself motivated by believing tomorrow would be better than today. “The best is yet to come,” he said.

“We need positivity. Are you a drain or a radiator? Do you want people to be warmed by you or will you make them disappear down a drain?”

“Don’t be afraid to fail. But if you’re going to fail, fail quick and fail cheap. We make mistakes every day and we learn from them.”

He said Steve Jobs the founder of Apple was sacked by the company. “If you’re sacked it’s not end,” said Sir Tom, who also had some advice on business plans.

“Business plans are a work of Hans Christian Anderson, a work of fiction. Every line goes up and there is always a pot of gold in three years time. Life is not like that. Life is a rollercoaster. I have never read a business plan that says in the first year we will hit a cash crisis and my wife will leave me. I like people to say they have a passion for their business and for their people.”

Sir Tom spoke about early stage initiatives such as the Scottish Edge fund. He said Entrepreneurial Spark founder Jim Duffy went to see Finance Secretary John Swinney and “in a heartbeat he got it. I have to take my hat off to the Scottish government.”

He said he promoted schemes that gave new companies a “hand up, not a hand out”. It was vital, he said, to avoid the latter which perpetuated the dependency culture.

He also noted that ESpark, which now has hatcheries around the UK, was planning to expand overseas. This was reported here in Daily Business in April.

David Duke, chief executive of Street Soccer, told the audience how developing the company helped himself and others who had fallen on hard times. “If you give people hope, you give them a future,” he said.


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