We were delighted to welcome Jamie Waller a British entrepreneur, philanthropist and investor back recently to Cranfield as part of our ‘Wednesday Business: Enterprise Talks’ series. Jamie is a great friend of Cranfield and is a former participant of our Business Growth Programme.
His story is a remarkable one and is a testament to his drive and tenacity, leaving school without qualifications at 16 and going on to sell business such as the JBW Group for £33million. It is always a joy to have Jamie talk to our students and faculty about the lessons he has learnt along the way, which are captured in his new book ‘Unsexy Business’.
But what does this all have to do with chasing Cornish pasties? And why did he get a room of a hundred people chasing one? Apart from being one of the more bizarre ice-breakers. For him it is a key learning lesson in his life – that he was addicted to business, entrepreneurship and risk. You can listen to the full story about why the Cornish pasty played in Jamie’s entrepreneurial career in a recording of his talk, it’s about 18 minutes in!
Inspired by his pasty life lesson, Jamie conducted an analysis of the UK and US stock markets. He grouped companies into two categories ‘sexy’ and ‘unsexy’ and he found that despite the dot.com boom and the hype around technology industries. The majority around three-quarters were what he termed ‘unsexy’ or traditional businesses.
On further investigation he struck on a hypothesis that ‘sexy powers unsexy’ and he had three examples to illustrate this, Amazon, Facebook and Nike. As he explained, it takes one Amazon to power hundreds of thousands of companies from the self-employed to large companies. Amazon – the ‘sexy’ business has powered the ‘unsexy’ businesses, those selling traditional products such as books, DVDs and everything else that Amazon sells.
For Jamie this also illustrates an important point about entrepreneurship – that you don’t have to be a creator or an inventor to be an entrepreneur and that you don’t have to start a ‘sexy’ business. Inspired by his hypothesis he set up an investment fund to support his research – he sought out ‘unsexy’ businesses that he could power through ‘sexy’ technology.
As an example he spoke about one of the businesses in his portfolio, Lasula. Lasula, if it was on the high street, would be a traditional fashion boutique, selling clothes, just like any other you could see on every high street. Through technology the business is powered to be something very different, they are able to have clothes delivered to a customer to try on and send back what they don’t want within 24 hours.
The moral of Jamie’s story as he puts it is: ‘Through basic, unsexy business, entrepreneurship can be available to us all. You don’t need to be an inventor, the next Zuckerberg or Bezos. You don’t need to go away from here thinking but I don’t have an idea. You can do what has already been done and do it better.’
It was a fascinating evening and we are incredibly grateful that Jamie took time out to come to speak to us. A full recording of Jamie’s talk and his presentation slides is available here https://echo360.org.uk/media/b493c1fa-d822-4b85-8bac-ecc501bebc3c/public
For further details of The Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship’s ‘Wednesday Business: Enterprise Talks’ please visit https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/som/events/wednesday-business-enterprise-talks
Dr Stephanie Hussels, Director, Business Growth Programme, Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship