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Richard Harpin on Monaco, Bentleys and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs

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At a glittering event at the London Hilton, Ernst & Young hosted their 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year awards. Richard Harpin, who scooped the overall entrepreneur gong last year, took to the stage to tell wannabe winners how he fared at the global Entrepreneur Awards in Monaco.

“Everyone was driving round in Bentleys,” he told the audience. “But I decided I wanted to stand out. When I told my driver that I had a new vehicle for him, I think he was expecting a Rolls Royce. Instead, I made him drive a Homeserve van around Monte Carlo for four days.”

It was a clever marketing ploy. Compared to the luxury cars, the branded van stood out like a sore thumb. But Harpin didn’t stop there. “I put on a Homeserve engineer uniform for the actual award ceremony,” he laughs. “I was just missing a wrench!”

Harpin founded Homeserve, a home emergency insurance cover and domestic repair service, in 1993. Since then, he has grown the company to a turnover of £555m with 2008 profits of £91m. This year, despite the downturn, he has increased profits 14 per cent to £100m.

“The recession forces you to cut out the fat and the waste from your business,” he said.

But it’s not all about the money for Harpin. “I feel that we, all of us in this room, have a social responsibility to encourage more entrepreneurs,” he said. “We have to commit to do our bit.

“I want to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs,” he went on. “So I’m giving away a book about entrepreneurialism, free of charge, to every secondary school in the country. And, because not all children want to learn about business in a school environment, I’m also talking to the Scout’s Association about the idea of setting up the first entrepreneurs badge.”

Then it was time for the new crop of entrepreneur winners to receive their gongs and Harpin had to step down from the stage. But as the applause died away, he said: “Passing on this crown will sure be a wrench.”

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