Lord Bilimoria on why anybody can be an entrepreneur

Lord Bilimoria

Lord Bilimoria, founder of the curry-friendly lager brand Cobra Beer on his annual jaunts to Cape Town, brainstorming on the go and the virtues of an empty desk

I think inherent creativity is in everybody. It’s sad that, throughout my childhood, I was told that I wasn’t creative because I was useless at art and couldn’t sing. Only when I started my business did I realise one can be creative and it’s a great asset… If that’s unleashed, anybody can be an entrepreneur.

Switching off is the best way to come up with ideas – it’s the Eureka concept. You think, think, think about a problem, you work at it, research it, discuss it; then you have to switch off and suddenly it falls into place. I come up with some of my best ideas when I am shaving or in the shower.

I’m a big believer in life-long learning. I’ve been going to Harvard Business School every year for 14 years. I learn as much from my classmates as the course.

I love long-haul flights. It’s the best time to have a pad of paper and a pen, just to brainstorm and write out plans. Just clear-sky thinking, reflecting and planning.

My desk is always empty. It comes from my father, who always had a clean desk.

Socio-economic vicissitudes bring business opportunities. I started importing polo sticks from India because the Falklands War meant companies could no longer import from Argentina. When Indian restaurants doubled in the 1980s, there was an opening for Cobra.

There is always scope for innovation. The extreme example is Cobra. Why come up with a new beer brand when there are already thousands? You can still devise a product that is different and can innovate in even the most entrenched industries.

I’m very proud of Britain’s capabilities. Despite having less than one per cent of the world’s population, we’ve been at the forefront of every major innovation of the last two centuries – even the internet.

I’ve been in the House of Lords since 2006. The breadth of world-class expertise is unlike anywhere else in the world. From science to engineering to academics to lawyers to journalists to politicians to civil servants to armed forces to religious leaders – it’s a privilege to be exposed to those debates.

Giving away free beer for charity makes me happy. Cobra provides the beer for the annual House of Commons/House of Lords tug-of-war contest.

The brand I most admire is Cirque du Soleil. Circus, ballet and gymnastics have been around forever. But they put them all together to create a billion-dollar business that is so different. Why didn’t anybody think of that before?

I escape to South Africa once a year. Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Where else would you get a city with a huge mountain in the middle, with wine, gardens and the sea?

The underlying foundation of all business is integrity. The best definition of integrity comes from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who told me it comes from the Latin word integritas, which means ‘wholeness’. You can’t practise integrity unless you’re ‘whole’ as an individual.


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