“Baroness Thatcher’s influence on my development as an entrepreneur goes far deeper than that, to my most fundamental beliefs. . . Baroness Thatcher’s lesson was clear: you get out what you put in, regardless of gender or race.”
by Sahar Hashemi
Often, we only realise the value of things when they’re gone, which is exactly what happened to me when I heard of Baroness Thatcher’s death.
The news made me suddenly aware of the huge impact she has had on my life and how, although I had never consciously acknowledged it before, I am one of Thatcher’s children and her values are deeply entrenched in my psyche.
My mum, dad, brother and I moved from Iran to England at the end of 1979. We arrived, unknowingly, in a new Britain and made Baroness Thatcher’s country our home. We took the move towards lower tax rates and curtailed union power for granted, and, perhaps more importantly, didn’t question a culture that encouraged enterprise, aspiration and self-reliance.
Reflecting back on the life of Baroness Thatcher, I wonder now how different things would have been had my family arrived in Britain only a few years earlier, when top tax rates stood at 90pc, the country was continuously rocked by strikes, and rubbish littered the streets.
I wonder not simply because of Baroness Thatcher’s reforms of business conditions in the country. Her influence on my development as an entrepreneur goes far deeper than that, to my most fundamental beliefs.
With hindsight, I now see the huge impact she had on my 12-year-old self and realise that many of my attributes, my conviction that “anyone can do it” and my disregard for “gender issues” are a direct result of the inspiration of a strong and steadfast female prime minister.
For Lady Thatcher, gender was simply not an issue. She focused on her goals and used all her human qualities, including her feminine side, to her advantage. She taught me to think of being female the same way she did, which appeared to be not at all.
Today’s quotas for women on boards and similar measures, well-intentioned though they may be, teach the opposite lesson. How could a young woman growing up today and learning of the necessity of these quotas not feel like her gender is an imposing obstacle to be overcome?
Lady Thatcher encouraged girls to follow in her footsteps simply through leading by example and getting on with doing things. Talking about the challenges, hurdles and difficulties that may stand in our way, overindulging in discussion of our potential lack of opportunities and discrimination in the workplace does little to encourage change. Baroness Thatcher was so busy breaking barriers that she had no time to talk about them. To say she did nothing for women is deeply unfair.
The influence of Baroness Thatcher also had a direct impact on my career and gave me the encouragement and belief I needed to leave my established legal career and make the leap to being an entrepreneur.
This isn’t directly a matter of policy – though we did use the loan guarantee scheme to build our business – but, instead, owes more to her example as a role model and the belief she instilled in the nation with her deep, unmoveable and authentic belief in enterprise.
Which is not to say that I ever heard the word “entrepreneur” spoken by Baroness Thatcher or anyone else growing up.
Unlike in today’s world of Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice, building a business wasn’t a reality TV staple in Baroness Thatcher’s Britain. Nor were successful entrepreneurs hailed as rock stars.
As a young person, my store of successful entrepreneurial role models included Sir Richard Branson and that was about it. So how did Baroness Thatcher encourage me to become an entrepreneur without lionising entrepreneurs? By doing something more fundamental: lionising work and grit.
In today’s world we can forget that entrepreneurship doesn’t come from TV shows or celebrity entrepreneurs at the doors of Downing Street. While our current Government has introduced the Start-up Loans scheme and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, we lack people who truly understand the conditions that need to exist for an entrepreneurial culture to be created.
The distribution of loans or development of tax schemes for entrepreneurs will not change the attitudes and attributes of the current generation and without this we run the risk of never reaching our full potential as a truly enterprising nation.
Glamorising the lifestyles of successful entrepreneurs will not push people to found businesses, because founding businesses isn’t glamorous. It’s a slog and an immense amount of work.
With every bone in her body Baroness Thatcher represented the real qualities and behaviours entrepreneurs need for success and in her passing we have lost someone who has had, and will continue to have, a huge impact on the thinking of many members of my generation
Our leaders influence the psyche of developing minds. It is a pity that our current generation will not have Lady Thatcher’s real-life model of persistence and true work ethic.
This is a woman who was famous for surviving on four hours of sleep and who was barely ever seen to take a vacation. The lesson was clear – you get out what you put in. It is undeniable that all of us enjoy “chillaxing” and embracing “date nights”, but sadly this does not and will not build successful businesses.
It will not take you up the career ladder and it will not develop our country into something we can all be proud of. When the top person works so hard, you learn that there’s a lot in hard work. Dangling money and success in front of young people not only fails to convey to them what entrepreneurialism is really about. It also does nothing to instill the determination that building a business demands.
How can we give people determination and actually create the additional entrepreneurs Britain needs? You can only become a role model, as Baroness Thatcher did, by embodying aspiration and steely nerves, and then you get out of the way.
The Britain Baroness Thatcher built welcomed immigrants like my family and me. The country she created promised that those who moved here would be able to build a life; the culture enabled and empowered new arrivals who understood that no matter where they came from or who they were back home, it was possible to reach their dreams through hard work. Everything, we felt, was achievable if we only took responsibility for ourselves.
Baroness Thatcher revealed the truth that anyone can do it regardless of your gender or where your journey began. I believe the way to encourage an enterprise culture is to surround our current younger generation with people who, just like Baroness Thatcher, just got on and did.
Sahar Hashemi founded Coffee Republic in 1995 with her brother, Bobby, and Skinny Candy confectionary in 2005.