HR & Management

There's a muse behind every leader: Entrepreneurs and MPs on their mothers

10 min read

10 September 2015

MP Zac Goldsmith received a donation from his mother in support of his bid to become London's mayor – the sum of which, "trusting [his] mother," would be substantial. This is by no means the first time a mother has influenced a leader's view on business – or in this case, had the potential to help turn the tide.

Appearing on an LBC debate with his fellow candidates, Goldsmith was asked if his family had donated to his campaign.

He replied: “I’m going to come across as a mother’s boy. My mother has made a donation to my campaign. But you know what, if I can’t persuade my mother, I’m not going to stand a chance with the rest of London.”

When asked how much she had donated, he claimed that it hadn’t come through yet. “But trusting my mother it will be a generous donation,” he said. 

When he was told on the show how much his mother had actually donated, his expression became rather priceless. He never expected such a large amount, despite knowing that his mother would have definitely pitched in to help him – and that she would probably spare no expense.

It certainly did turn out to be a substantial sum – £50,000.

Essentially, behind every leader is somebody who believes in them and believes in their dreams. For a lot of people, it all starts with their mother.

In a Standard interview, Goldsmith claimed that despite his father – financier James Goldsmith – being the most interesting person he had ever met “by a hundred miles,” it was his mother that had been constant throughout life.

Goldsmith may have been worried of appearing to be a “mummy’s boy,” but he is far from the only MP to have placed such a large value on his mother.

An archive news report unearthed by BBC Newsnight revealed that Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn was once dismissed as scruffy by a Conservative MP, for wearing a jumper knitted by his mother. 

MP Terry Dicks allegedly called for “higher sartorial standards from his fellow members,” saying that “Labour scruffs” like Corbyn should be barred from addressing the house.

Of course, Corbyn defended his outfit, saying Parliament “isn’t a fashion parade.” He claimed it was, “very comfortable and perfect for [the day’s] weather because [he was] hopping in and out of different buildings, going to meetings.”

That he shunned the normal attire to wear something his mother made says quite a lot. There’s a reason why Corbyn has all the mothers’ votes.

Of course, parents have also been known to influence their children in following in their footsteps.

History was two decades in the making for the women of the Osamor family after Edmonton MP Kate Osamor was successful in securing a seat in the North London constituency – 26 years after her mother was controversially stopped from doing the same.

In an interview with The Voice, Osamor said: “Naturally, she has influenced me politically.”

She also claimed that she couldn’t be more proud that her mother had been very mindful that this was now her journey. 

Speaking of her triumph, Osamor told the Enfield Independent: “I was a young person when my mum was going through what she had to endure and that affects your own politics and how you see it. It was a privilege to have my mum here too.”

Then there’s business secretary Sajid Javid, who said his parents came to the UK from Pakistan in 1964 “with dreams of a better life”. Before coming to own a clothes shop, Javid noted that his father not only worked in a cotton mill, but also drove buses and ran a clothing stall at the local market. His mother made clothes for said stall. 

He admitted that she was one of the reasons behind his deep knowledge of ladies clothing, and suggested that he was certain no other male MP knew more about womenswear than he did.

In his first speech as business secretary, Javid explained that working in the clothes shop had taught him the principles of running a small company. And while his father had instilled in him the notion that hard work led to great rewards, his mother helped give him an unwavering belief in enterprise.

Read on to find out what lessons entrepreneurs, such as Richard Branson, learned from their mothers.

When asked who inspired them, many of today’s most famous business leaders credit their mothers. 

In April 2015, Arianna Huffington named her mother as the most influential role model in her life.

She said: “I was brought up in a one bedroom apartment in Athens, Greece. She made me feel that I could aim for the stars. And if I failed along the way, that is okay. Failure is not the opposite of success, she used to say, it’s a stepping stone to success.”

Similarly, Bill Gates suggested in an interview that his mother had persuaded him to delve into the world of philanthropy. 

He claimed that on his wedding day his mother wrote in a card: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.” She died six months later.

While Melinda Gates also plays an equal partnership in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she too credits her mother for her current success.

“When Melinda Gates was in grade school, she was assigned to a lower-level math class,” claimed Glamour magazine. “Her surprised mother, Elaine, asked the teacher why. It turned out that Gates had actually qualified for a higher level, but the classroom was short a chair, and the teacher figured she was so sweet she wouldn’t mind. Her mother offered to come in after church every day to move a chair into the classroom if necessary.”

Later in the same interview when asked why she believes so deeply in giving back, Gates responded: “If you know how to get that one chair for that woman, you can make a difference.”

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson hasn’t been quote about his mother either. 

He claimed to be often flabbergasted by the amount of time people waste dwelling on their past failures, rather than directing that energy into new projects. In one of his blog posts, he suggested that his mother had always taught him never to look back in regret, but to immediately move on to the next thing. 

“Our family budget was fairly tight when I was growing up, and I was always fascinated by her money-making projects, which were often craft-based, like building and selling wooden tissue boxes and wastepaper bins,” he wrote. “If an item didn’t sell, she tried something else.”

As for PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, she claimed that her mother had instilled in her the belief that they could grow up to become whoever they wanted.

“Every night at the dinner table, my mother would ask us to write a speech about what we would do if we were president, chief minister, or prime minister – every day would be a different world leader she’d ask us to play,” Nooyi said. “At the end of dinner, we had to give the speech, and she had to decide who she was going to vote for.”

The winner of the debate then signed a piece of paper that stated they had become whatever the world leader of the day was. 

“Even though my mother didn’t work and didn’t go to college, she lived a life vicariously through her daughters,” Nooyi said. “So she gave us that confidence to be whatever we wanted to be. That was an incredibly formative experience in my youth.

“In my heart I said, ‘I can do this better than anyone else can, and if everything else fails, they’re going to come to me and say, ‘Fix it,’ because I know I’m that good,” she said. “Remember, I could be president of India!”