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.

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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.