This is not my first time amid the palms and casinos of Monaco. I have been coming to the principality for the past 20 years, the first time as a cub reporter in 1997 attending a conference held at the Hôtel Hermitage, home to many of the guests of this year’s EY World Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Nothing ever changes in Monaco. The sure, steady light casts everything in sharp whites and blues (tinged, naturally enough for Monaco, in faintly shimmering gold). The casinos look exactly as they did almost 20 years ago; so does the Ferrari parked outside the Opéra de Monte-Carlo on the Place du Casino, but that’s probably because it’s red — colour being the usual limit of my knowledge about cars.
Back then I was covering investment funds; now, it’s all about entrepreneurs — and in particular, 65 entrepreneurs selected from 53 countries around the world competing for the WEOY title. According to EY’s breakdown of the finalists, they represent combined revenues of $38bn — and include individuals from Belarus, Croatia, Peru and Romania for the first time.
The number of women finalists is always an issue. This year there are six; last year, two. An improvement, of sorts, but much hope rests on the shoulders of female entrants such as Britain’s Rosemary Squire, a founder and joint chief executive of Ambassador Theatre Group and UK overall winner.
A rueful note of pragmatism crept into the last day of EY’s two-day Family Business Summit, running in advance of Saturday’s gala extravangaza. The quite wonderfully-maned (and named) Florian Langenscheidt, author and publisher, asked the panel of selected family business scions about the “key idea of succession”. Ghassan Nuqul, vice-chairman of Jordan’s Nuqul Group, a Middle East conglomerate, reported he had three sons, all of whom “have to work outside [the business] when they graduate”.
Fair enough, but, he warned, he was not very excited about them joining the family business. “If you look at the statistics, family businesses do not survive; just 3 per cent survive to the fourth generation.” For Mr Nuqul, “the family is more important. If my sons come to the business they’re gonna fight,” he said candidly. “But the key thing is for them to have freedom of choice. There are ways [in which it could work], but personally I’m not very much for it.”
Sir Michael Bibby, one of the sixth generation of the family to run UK’s Bibby Line Group, was equally clear about the pros and cons of joining the family firm. He held out from joining the company until he was 28. “I refused to work with my father as I would have just argued with him and he would have been my boss,” he said. “I joined the company the day he left.”
Who knew that Narayana Murthy was once a “confused leftist”? In conversation with EY’s Maria Pinelli, the billionaire co-founder of Infosys, the Indian IT and consulting group, talked of his younger years as a student working in Paris in the early 1970s. “I was a leftist,” he told the thoroughly amused audience, “and through a set of circumstances and discussion and debate, I transformed from a confused leftist into a compassionate capitalist.”
He qualified his current position: “I am conservative in economic matters but totally liberal in social matters.”
When Mr Murthy came back to India, he was clear on what needed to be done. “The only way society solves the problem of poverty is through the creation of jobs with better and better income. And second, it is not the responsibility of the government to create those jobs; is it the responsibility of the government to create the environment for entrepreneurs to create those jobs.”
But asked for what he felt his legacy might be, it is clear the remnants of that leftist — confused or otherwise — are still there. “I was once asked for the definition of success [and I replied that it was] the ability to bring a smile on the faces of people when you enter a room. Not because you’re rich or powerful or beautiful, but because they think you care for them. That is it important — and if everyone thought that it would be a better world.”