Martin McCourt is no stranger to manufacturing business success. In his role as CEO of Dyson for over 15 years, he helped a small start-up become one of the UK’s greatest business success stories.
Talking to Michael on this weekend’s episode of Capital Conversation, Martin explains how he now applies his experience, advising growing businesses up and down the country as a prolific investor and non-executive director.
The first piece of the puzzle is having a great idea: “Businesses I see up and down the country that are great at generating ideas have a much greater chance of succeeding and succeeding big time,” Martin explains. “’There’s no such thing as a bad idea’ is the mantra.”
But to succeed, Martin says a strong dose of ambition has to be thrown into the mix in order for him to consider investing: “If the fires aren’t burning then I wouldn’t really be drawn towards a business,” he explains. “If the idea’s great, I then look at the people. I look at the founders and ask, ‘What are they like?’ And ‘do they have the capacity to take their idea forward?'”
As an investor, Martin’s role is to ensure companies not only start-up but scale-up, something that the UK’s businesses have traditionally found difficult. While the UK ranks as one of the best countries in the world to start a business, it lags behind in 13th for scale-ups.
Martin, an avid campaigner for science education in schools, believes schools need to overcome their STEM stigma: “One of the reasons why we are not succeeding in scaling up as many of our businesses as we ought to be is because we have a serious skills shortage in the UK. We’ve got 40,000 [STEM] jobs more than we have people to fill them.”
He adds: “If we don’t get a grip and change the constitution of our young workforce, then what will happen is as the workplace changes through automation, AI, the number of jobs will be affected negatively.”
But he believes that unlocking the talent in the younger, digital native generations will turn the UK’s scaling fortunes around: “The smart businesses I see are tapping into their young people and giving them free reign. The youngsters are going to crack this for us.”
And on the topic that cannot be avoided, Brexit, Martin appeals for a solution: “There is no doubt that the uncertainty that is created on the back of such an extended debate as this is damaging for business, so can we get somewhere please?”
You can watch the full episode here.