How much risk can you take?

In the last session at the Summit we listened to an exceptional, entertaining and highly inspirational keynote presentation by Lloyd Dorfman, who founded Travelex in the midst of an economic downturn. Along the way he took what appeared to be some major risks, gambling his whole business. Does risk tolerance reduces as we get older, particularly if we are successful? In youth, are we often more likely to be fuelled by burning ambition, the “confidence of ignorance” and less to lose? Given the opportunity, I would have liked to ask Lloyd if his risk tolerance was lower now than when he started.

It feels counter-intuitive but many people seem to become more risk-averse as they get older and wiser. Jon Moulton’s view, supporting his position against the motion, is that there is risk all around us right now.

My position is that entrepreneurs have to take on more risk than most to have a chance of real success, but that they don’t need to gamble. If there is nothing ventured, there is nothing gained. The current economic uncertainty combined with the accessibility of new technology is creating a whole new generation of entrepreneurs who are spotting market opportunities that just weren’t there before.

As the CBI Future Champions report shows, the “gazelles” – a small number of high-performing mid-sized businesses – are the innovators and job creators that will get this country moving again, not the politicians or the multinationals. If we are ever going to make Britain great again, then our cultural attitude to both risk and failure must change as must our willingness to celebrate success. We can’t rely on the government or the banks – so it is down to UK business and its entrepreneurial community to share experiences, knowledge and wherever possible provide the funding for growth.

The Real Business Hot 100 is evidence of what is happening out there for a few. We just need more of them – and who wouldn’t want to be one? My mantra is: “vision without action is hallucination”.

If you want to achieve faster growth rather than just survive, it must be worth asking yourself:

  1. What is my risk tolerance?
  2. What, if anything, is holding me back?
In this global economy we have no choice. Both risk and opportunity are all around us.

Martin Leuw is a serial entrepreneur and former CEO of IRIS, UK’s largest private software house.

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