The importance of mentoring

I am a passionate believer in the concept of mentoring. I have never been one of those business owners who want to leave everything as it is – it’s important that the people who work for me develop on a personal level as well. From a business perspective this is also a big help, because you want your employees to become well-rounded and multi-skilled individuals. There is nothing better than taking somebody on at a relatively junior level, and then seeing them progress through the ranks to become one of the senior people within the business.

Of course when an organisation grows then it is not possible for the owner to be a mentor to everybody. But this is where a culture of mentorship – if you have implemented one – pays off. You may mentor some of the senior people underneath you, and they may do the same with people in their departments. What you end up with is a situation where everybody in the company has someone who can guide them not just in terms of the work they do, but what they will do in the future. In particular, many junior employees need help in terms of defining a career path and it’s important these aren’t neglected.

As well as guiding those who work for you, I’m a big believer that entrepreneurs should give back to the business community. I still feel that, certainly here in the UK, there isn’t enough of a support network for entrepreneurs. It is of course improving – I am Chairman of the Start Up Loans Company, and the mentoring we offer to every loan recipient is just as valuable as the capital we give them. But I think we still have some way to go, because quite frankly, anything that can go wrong when running a business will go wrong. Whether it is customers not paying on time, suppliers raising their prices, employees leaving or a bigger competitor coming in and taking your market share – there are all manner of issues entrepreneurs have to contend with. How much easier would it be if they all had somebody experienced and objective that they could turn to?

I have over 40 businesses within my portfolio and I see myself as a mentor to every single CEO. Crucially though, I encourage all of the CEOs to create a network between themselves, because whatever issue one of them may be facing, you can guarantee that someone else in the portfolio has been through the same thing.

Even on a more general level, the Internet has provided another route for entrepreneurs to help each other. I hope that columns such as the ones I write for Business Matters can have some impact, whilst there are plenty of forums available specifically for entrepreneurs to ask each other for advice.

At the end of the day, running a business is one of the toughest yet most rewarding things anybody can do. By sharing our experiences with both our employees and the wider business community, we can all contribute to a thriving economy that gets more and more entrepreneurial by the day.


James Caan

James Caan CBE is one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. He made his fortune through the global success of his Recruitment companies, Alexander Mann and Humana International, before founding private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw in 2004. He is best known for joining the panel of the hit BBC show Dragons’ Den, and more recently, The Business Class on CNBC. A passionate supporter of small businesses, James chairs the Government’s Start Up Loans scheme, which provides funding and mentoring to budding entrepreneurs.

About James Caan

James Caan CBE is one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. He made his fortune through the global success of his Recruitment companies, Alexander Mann and Humana International, before founding private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw in 2004. He is best known for joining the panel of the hit BBC show Dragons’ Den, and more recently, The Business Class on CNBC. A passionate supporter of small businesses, James chairs the Government’s Start Up Loans scheme, which provides funding and mentoring to budding entrepreneurs.
  • Sun Van denbrande

    “I’m a big believer that entrepreneurs should give back to the business community.” Entrepreneurs who’ve celebrated big successes and stayed humble on their way will become great leaders (mentors) by helping others to raise all levels of performance and guiding them through the obstacles with the solutions they’ve used when they faced the same/similar obstacle. That is why I’m so grateful (having the privilege) to share my experiences and knowledge by mentoring CEO’s to small business owners and solo-preneurs.

  • Carrie Battley

    I believe that most entrepreneurial people have a strong desire to make a change within society for better – which is what ultimately helps them to succeed in the first place.
    Business skills aside, it’s all about being the authentic you and believing in self. Therefore I guess that giving back to the business community comes very naturally – it’s part of every great leader’s identity.

    I’d personally love to find someone who’d provide mentoring, yet when you work for yourself in a specialised field – it’s a bit more difficult. Reading articles like this and following other inspiring people is what’s helping me for now. So thank you!

  • Andrew Goodwin

    Who said “it’s lonely at the top”. Occasionally it is, largely because the people in our firms join because of us (and the business we have created) and they quite often look to us for answers and solutions. But who do we turn to for our solutions or inspiration?
    I think the answer is for us to keep searching for higher level input, the occasional inspirational text, the new ideas in business, the thirst for more knowledge. The secret is to keep the company development moving, to keep pushing and to keep involved. Search for the next constraint and conquer it. If we do that, we will create a natural trickle down effect. To me, if I continue to improve myself then my colleagues see my efforts, that itself is a form of subliminal mentoring.
    Similarly, reading articles like this provides trickle down mentoring to me. Thanks.

  • Lesley

    As an entrepreneur the financial challenges we face is more than often the biggest hurdle to overcome. Although there are many avenues to explore for possible funding assistance from government funding institutions, the lack of urgency with which applications are treated is enough to dishearten any serious entrepreneur. In saying that, I believe any one worth being called an entrepreneur will be pro active and explore all possible avenues to make a success. For any start-up business seeking necessary financial assistance, patience is key. I think taking a strategic approach to obtaining funding will be well worth the efforts. So far, it has taken me 14 months from writing and submitting my business plan. Investors will not always share your optimism, although the data is there to back it up, some investors depend on there gut feel. A word of advise to aspiring entrepreneurs…Work, work, and work your socks off! Be determined, be precise, be punctual be pro active. One of the most important attributes I have adopted is not to be intimidated but be respectful and humble! Just because as an entrepreneur, starting off your business by laying the foundation of your business by going from presentation to presentation, sending thousands of emails and knocking on every opportune door, Just because your bank balance does not reflect the millions you are well on your way making, just because of all these facts, does not make you any less a business man than those who have achieved the heights of the entrepreneurial objectives. To fellow entrepreneurs, be strong, stay committed, eat, sleep and breath your business. If you don’t, and you don’t explore every, single opportunity the opportunity might just pass you by and who knows, it might take a very long time for it to come around again! I am almost there. I have never read about success coming without sacrifices, well unless James Caan was my father, it might have been a different story. lol

  • I have seen, first hand, the benefits that mentoring can bring, not only to employees, but also to the owners of businesses, enabling them to tap into their skills and knowledge to make good decisions about their businesses.
    There is no need to restrict oneself to one mentor either, each will bring a different perspective and enable the mentee to blossom in various dimensions.