Catching The Entrepreneurial Bug

Andrew Rickman who made a fortune when Bookham Technology, which he founded, IPO’d in 2000, tells how he got grabbed by the entrepreneurial bug when he worked for an American company.

“First I went to work for GEC, because my father suggested I should go and do something to get some credibility. And then I went to work for an American company – Genrad a computer company.”

“That got me into the computer industry. The division we worked for was in Maidenhead, but headquartered in Silicon Valley, so I’d go over there to visit and understand the culture. One thing that struck me, when I first went, was that these people weren’t super-human – they were no different to the people here – in fact they seemed to be more spaced-out than people that I had worked with here.”

“What was different – it’s often been repeated and its very boring to say it again now – was that nobody seemed to be particularly worried about people who made money. If you have a Rolls Royce over here, somebody would put a scratch down the side of it. In the US they’d say ‘Well done’. It’s summed up by Winston Churchill: ‘If you want a wealthy nation, you have to have wealthy people.’ ”

“There was something about the environment over there that it wasn’t a problem to do well, and that seemed to be the only distinguishing factor between the environment that I was in here, and the environment over there.”

“The people weren’t in any way more brilliant. There isn’t anything that you can put your finger on that says that people will be more innovative, or that genetically they are better, or there is something in the water.”

“Success was just accepted. The envy element wasn’t an issue. I got exposed to those to those cultural differences in my early twenties, and I guess that was the influence that enabled me to break out of the negative start-up culture that we had here.”

“What Genrad exposed me to was the realisation: ‘Here is this place called Silicon Valley. What’s going on here? Blimey! People are doing really well out here! This is an incredibly innovative place.’ “

“There is a feeling here that in the US everything is bigger and better, that money is easier to get for start-ups, that customers are easier to find, that it’s a much more competitive environment, and that it’s more capable. What came home to me that it wasn’t – it was purely a state of mind.”

“There was a good line I heard from Hermann Hauser the other day: If you were a young chap in Europe, and you worked for Siemens, and you had a great job, with credibility, and profile, and you had your pension, and your life ahead of you – and then you gave it up to take a job at some futuristic start-up, your girl-friend would give you up. But in Silicon Valley, your girlfriend would leave you if you didn’t leave Siemens to join a start-up.”

So I was exposed to two different cultures – the GEC, as it then was, ‘the British can’t do anything, don’t take any risks’ culture, and the Silicon Valley culture. It was realising that people weren’t different, it was simply the culture that was different and the people were just as capable – that’s what set me on this direction.”

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