Management / Rene Carayol: David and Mehmet show how to combine entrepreneurship with business leadership

Rene Carayol: David and Mehmet show how to combine entrepreneurship with business leadership

I recently had the privilege of hosting a provocative debate around the Business of Football and, just like a good Premier League match, it proved to be a special, fast moving and passionate affair.

reneOn this particular panel at Hult International Business School, we had David Gold, one of the co-owners of West Ham and a serial entrepreneur, alongside Mehmet Dalman, the non-executive chairman of Cardiff City, and a classy investment banker by background.

Instructively, no other chairs or owners accepted invitations to sit on the panel. One could understand why they might perhaps give this type of event a miss as there would appear to be no upside for them. In fact there might be nothing but grief.

The two men could not be more different. Mehmet was the ultra-smooth and ultra-sophisticated corporate leader. He answered every question in a diplomatic and suave manner and always got his point across. He did so without breaking any eggs or bruising any egos. He was structured, measured and always stayed within the unwritten rules. It was noticeable that he was a little hierarchical and thoroughly enjoyed the status that had been so hard-earned.

David, on the other hand, was David. He cannot be anyone else, and doesn’t even think or try to sugar-coat any of his messages or responses. He was sparky, forthright and outspoken. His passion allied to his self-deprecating humour, enabled him to get away with some pretty confrontational stuff. It was clear to all that he was comfortable in his own skin. He never really bothered, or perhaps even noticed, that he was not just bending the unwritten rules, but sometimes trampling all over them.

What we were watching in action was the consummate professional business leader, and a raw, high-octane entrepreneur. From a distance, one could assume that they have similar roles, but nothing could be further from the truth. At West Ham, David Gold and his co-owner and partner, David Sullivan, were astute enough to appoint Karren Brady, who effectively manages the day-to-day running of the club, as vice chair. She is much more akin to Mehmet.

The owner of Cardiff City is the Malaysian serial entrepreneur, Vincent Tan, who is much more like the two Davids; forthright, mercurial, a little in-your-face and forever backing himself no matter what the odds.

Growing economies and industries and expanding businesses require both. Without our somewhat unmanageable entrepreneurs, who can think the unthinkable, and do the things other people say cannot be done, we wouldn’t have enough successful start-ups to fuel our local and national economies.

In order to capitalise on the innovation and risk-taking of the entrepreneurs, we then need good business leaders to ensure these fast-growing businesses are run in a more measured, structured and therefore sustainable manner. The heady mix of electrifying entrepreneurship and seasoned business leadership delivers the sustainable wealth creation our faltering economy desperately needs.

Entrepreneurs sometimes need a foil to enable longer-term thinking and a more organised, consistent approach. More cautious leaders can find it easier to deny the sometimes scary entrepreneurs the space that provides the essential, but quite risky oxygen all businesses need. It’s never been about who’s right for the business, but what is right, and collaboration is the new leadership.

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