Last month, in collaboration with data wizards Carat, we conducted a survey of 500,000 successful small business owners to find out what makes them tick. It turns out that Britain’s business owners are a busy bunch that like to play as hard as they work. Constantly seeking out new information, they’re a tenacious group who are often relied upon for advice.
The topic of advice led us to another question: which public figures do these small business owners look up to, and why? Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and James Dyson were common responses, as were inspirational figures like Barack Obama, JK Rowling and David Attenborough. The results were interesting, more left-field choices included Quentin Tarantino and Nigel Farage.
Our curiosity piqued and I decided to dig a little deeper. I found a wealth of inspiration—here are some of my favorites nuggets from the public heroes of Britains and small business owners.
A poster boy for the self-made businessman, Richard Branson’s impressive entrepreneurial career spans nearly five decades. After founding the successful record store chain Virgin Records in 1972, he quickly grew the Virgin brand, starting a music label and airline.
Branson is cited as an inspirational figure as he discusses resilience, learning from failure and embracing risk–things almost all small business owners will encounter. Affable and humble, Branson is also revered for the value he places on his staff and his savviness when it comes to financing.
Here is one of his most famous quotes:
“There’s a very thin dividing line between success and failure. And I think if you start a business without financial backing, you’re likely to go the wrong side of that dividing line.”
James Dyson is a formidable inventor, industrial designer and business owner. Dyson became a household name after inventing the iconic Dyson vacuum cleaner—the first type of cleaner that can operate without a disposable bag. After thousands of prototypes and rejections, by the mid-1990s—nearly 20 years after Dyson first had the idea—Dyson became one of the most popular brands in the UK.
It’s not hard to see why Dyson inspires small business owners. His persistence, pursuit of innovation and overcoming of hurdles (Dyson was actively slowed down by the UK’s £100 million disposable bag industry) are attractive traits to entrepreneurs.
If your entrepreneurial passion needs reigniting, here is one of James’ most famous quotes:
“I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure.”
If there is one writer that has captured the hearts and minds of the millennial generation, it’s JK Rowling. Author of Harry Potter–the best-selling book series in history–Rowling’s determination to be a novelist took her on a ‘rags-to-riches’ journey from living on state benefits to becoming the world’s first billionaire author and one of the richest people on earth. A committed philanthropist, she relinquished her billionaire status by giving away a substantial amount of her fortune to charity.
Rowling is an inspirational figure to small business owners, as despite extreme personal and financial hardship (as well as countless rejections from publishers), her passion, belief and perseverance drove her to success.
If you ever need a boost of strength, here is one of JK Rowling’s most inspiring quotes:
“If someone asked for my recipe for happiness, step one would be finding out what you love doing the most in the world and step two would be finding someone to pay you to do it.”
After reading such powerful words, it’s not difficult to see why Britain’s small business owners admire these public figures. Intelligent, tenacious, passionate and not fearful of failure, they embody the traits that can make or break a business owner.
My personal mantra that never fails to inspire? It’s from entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den investor Deborah Meaden.
“There isn’t a single path to success – there are many.”
For me, this quote highlights the power of possibility as Deborah encourages us to forge our own path. Whether this relates to finding new ways of marketing a product, using alternative funding streams or taking the leap by entering a new market. Personally, I’ve always found these words help adjust my outlook at times when I need it most.
Which public figures do you admire? Do you have a quote or saying that inspires you? What makes someone a business icon? Let us know what you think.
Originally published May 14 2018 , updated February 24 2020