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Being an entrepreneur or company founder is “the nearest a man can come to giving birth”, says Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP and midwife to many an ad campaign and acquisition over 30 years at the helm of the world’s biggest advertising group by sales.
“Not physically, but mentally; you’re emotionally committed,” he adds.
Sir Martin quotes Bill Shankly, the former Liverpool FC manager, who said football was not a matter of life and death; it was much, much more important than that.
“It is really important for people to understand that. If you give birth to an idea and develop that idea into something significant, you have an emotional bond to it that any manager or turnround artist that comes in from the outside cannot [feel].”
The point is commitment, he says. “Sometimes people will say it’s a negative thing as you can be too committed. But, speaking personally, I’d rather have people committed than uncommitted.”
Sometimes the emotional bond can prove too strong. Sir Martin has been accused of being a micromanager. “I don’t think it’s an insult,” he responds. “I think it’s a compliment.”
Georgia was a bloody mess in the early 1990s. Racked by civil wars in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it was being torn apart. Not the best time then, you would think, to launch a bank. Not so, says Mamuka Khazaradze. With the $500 for the registration process, he set up TBC Bank in 1992 — at the height of the turmoil.
“It was really challenging,” he says with magnificent understatement. But Mr Khazaradze and his team — “young students [who are] still with me, but no so young any more” — have built the bank into an institution with $3bn in assets.
He is not keen to translate his business talents into politics — yet. “I have had several offers in the past but I refused them as I believe strongly that for myself there is a place where I can make a difference.”
But he does hint of a life beyond business. “Entrepreneurs should do entrepreneurship,” Mr Khazaradze says. “And if one day I shall finish in my business I shall think to do something else. But for now I am very happy doing what I’m doing.”
This is a “golden time” to be a female entrepreneur in Saudi Arabia, says Lateefa Alwaalan, founder of Yatooq, which has developed brewing technology specifically for Arabic coffee. “There is so much change going on,” she adds.
Sensing my scepticism, the serial entrepreneur is keen to convince me. “There are more women coming into the private sector wanting to [improve] their business and take it to the next level,” she says. “We have so many micro-businesses, women working from home. The trend here is that women are taking their business to a more stable, corporate and established level.”
People are surprised, Ms Alwaalan says, when they discover that women are becoming entrepreneurs. “Sometimes you knock on the door — some people are surprised to find a girl behind it,” she laughs. “But I have said it many times that it is all about building your internal courage and believing that you’re worthy of being where you want to be and worthy of pursuing your dream.
“Once that is there, then no matter what hurdle you find, whether it is discrimination or a simple business obstacle or negotiation with a partner or supplier, then you can overcome it.”