Last week, I was asked to host a lunch at the University of Southampton, where I shared my experiences on creating innovative engineering companies with staff and students from the Univeristy of Southampton. Read the full blog below, ‘A Mentor’s guide to starting, growing and selling successful businesses’ by Jon Nurse, which can also be found on the Future Worlds website.

Juggling the demands of starting, growing and selling a business is a challenging task and is in many ways as trying as keeping plates spinning on several precarious poles. A sell-out audience settled into the University’s Hartley Suite this week, where the metaphor was unpacked and expanded by pioneering businessman Geoff Baker in the first of a series of lunch talks with some of Future Worlds’ most experienced and respected Mentors.

A composed figure, Geoff can draw from a distinguished career which started as an engineer working on the initial stages of the iconic Concorde jet and continued with him co-founding and subsequently selling two companies. “I’ve never regarded myself as being an entrepreneur,” he opened. “I’ve never really invented anything or come up with a brilliant idea like many of the other Mentors have on Future Worlds. What I’ve done is make certain lifestyle choices that have taken me down a particular path.”

Geoff is Vice President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and has always strived to develop innovation in engineering during his professional journey. “You need to know what you want from life,” he added. “Whatever goal you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s setting up a business, being an entrepreneur or achieving something in the academic environment, you’ve got to know what you want from life. If you don’t really know that then you’re not going to get there because it’s not mapped in your head.

“You also need to have a vision of the person you want to be. I had the great advantage of working with people I could see I wanted be like. Whatever walk of life you’re in, it’s very important to have role models that you can aspire to.”

Geoff firmly believes that when people have the right mind-set they can take advantage of opportunities that come their way. “Lucky breaks can be there all the time and you spot them when you’re tuned in and know the direction in which you’re going,” he said. “Setbacks will happen in equal proportion over your career too and you need to learn how to deal with those and learn from them.”

Quick quotes – Create and sustain your ‘entrepreneurial energy’

“You need to know what you want, where you’re going and have the energy to sustain that journey.

“The second law of thermodynamics says that nothing stays in the same state forever. Everything in the universe decays and reduces down to its original state. It also states that energy has to be put into something in order to create it.

“Businesses obey the second law of thermodynamics. In order to create them, you have to put energy into them. I call it entrepreneurial energy. If you don’t then sustain that energy used to create the company on a continuous basis it will disappear and go back to its original state.

“This is something that some large companies don’t realise. They were created with a huge entrepreneurial energy from their original founders but they often get to the stage where they don’t understand the fact that they need to keep up that energy in order to keep the innovation going. Otherwise, they will eventually disappear.

“If you’re talking about growing a company over 10, 20, 30 years, you will need to maintain your level of energy to keep it up day in, day out, year in and year out.”

What knowledge can really make a difference to your business when you’re founding and building it over a period of time? According to Geoff, there are two fundamental principles: vision and values.

“Every single business is built on somebody’s vision,” he explained. “You must have a vision of what you want to achieve so that people can buy into your vision when they join the company. Everybody also has values and I believe you have to embed your values into your business in everything you do. When people join a company, they are also buying into its values.”

Geoff outlined his experiences directing Plant Asset Management and the ATL consulting group during his talk, and seized the chance to warn listeners to keep their perspective as they make day-to-day decisions. “One of the plates you’ll have spinning when you are growing a business is family,” he said. “They are sharing the process with you and sometimes you can be so focused that you don’t realise that. Your children only grow up once – it’s important to understand that throughout your journey. Keeping a balance between family and business is very important. At the time you might think there are much more important meetings to go to and deals to be done, but when you look back they don’t really mean anything.”

The Future Worlds Mentors lunch talk series will continue on Tuesday 19 April with former Management Consultant Chris Spackman speaking on ‘Risk and expectation – what you need to know when dealing with big business’. Read more and sign up to the event in the Future Worlds Engage section.

Find out what Geoff can offer aspiring University entrepreneurs on his Future Worlds Mentor profile or read what inspired him to become an engineer in his Future Worlds blog post ‘Sonic washing machines and supersonic jets’.

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