London Business School

In the midst of all that is changing in the world, some truths remain constant. As with any good school, LBS is less about education education education than it is about people people people.

We hear every day about how quickly technology is 1changing the world. Less well understood is how quickly and thoroughly the world is changing in the way that change itself happens.

When I was invited to join London Business School’s Summer School for Entrepreneurs over a dozen years ago, to serve as one of some 25 mentors in what was then its second year of operation, we inhabited a significantly different world in many ways. The first Internet “dotcom bubble” was about to burst: and this was before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. There was little in the way of a health industry curriculum at LBS itself, and no Healthcare Club among the student body as there is now. And in the world of medicine, terms like telemedicine and eHealth were relatively new; and the sight of patients, back in the pre-PACS imaging days, lugging their X-rays up and down London’s Harley Street was a common sight.

The study of “entrepreneurship” itself was still a pretty young phenomenon. I recall the summer school’s founder and guru, John Mullins, describing how he had made it through business school at Stanford two decades previously without once hearing the term “entrepreneur”. Here we are thirty years later and entrepreneurship is entrenched on the LBS curriculum and Deloitte’s has funded the school’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

For all these changes, one perfectly understandable irony persists. Time and again we hear that investors don’t invest in business models as much as in management teams: get the people right and you can always change the model. And yet the academic focus on entrepreneurship, at LBS and elsewhere, is pretty much technical and focused on the model rather than on the person who will make it fly.

Thus, over my years of mentoring at the summer school, I have seen in the ideas being proposed something of a bellwether for what is happening out in the market: more health and technology businesses, certainly, and far less focus on froth and concierge-oriented business models. And yet the people proposing these more serious businesses are not noticeably more introspective or tenacious as people.

To a large extent, this is to do with the necessity that the process of becoming an entrepreneur evolves in the doing. For all the motivation felt by so many students to “get out of corporate” and “do their own thing”, some have to learn the hard way that for many people it is easier to get things done within a corporate environment where there is none of the pressure that entrepreneurs feel to keep their lights on.

Which leads to the one eternal truth that has certainly remained unchanged even since the days that John Mullins went to Stanford, and points to the real value in the LBS mentors programme. Students there set out to discover if their business has what it takes; if they are lucky, they may find out the same about themselves.