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Enterprise 12 May 2017

Silence...The Mentors of the Greatest Entrepreneurs in the World Speak Out

Master, guru, adviser, guide... The mentor is one of the most important figures for an entrepreneur during all stages of their career. Even those who have reached the top and are true celebrities have needed (and continue needing) the sage advice of experts.


When one reads about the trajectory of the most successful, rich and envied businessmen in the world, the conclusion is usually the same: behind a great entrepreneur, there’s always a great mentor. These examples show as much:

1. Richard Branson: harness your talent

In the mid-80's, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, was launching his own airline, Virgin Atlantic, with a low advertising budget compared to large airlines. Branson sought advice, as he had done on other occasions, from his mentor: Sir Freddie Laker. That legendary entrepreneur didn’t question him, and told him something that forever marked the path of one of the most successful, adventurous and extravagant businessmen of all time:

“Use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise, you won’t survive.” Branson ended up being the image of his own company in order to reduce costs

On numerous occasions, this magnate has recalled his mentor, to whom he’ll always be grateful: “I wouldn’t have achieved anything in the airline industry without the guidance of Sir Freddie Laker, founder of Laker Airways, he says on his company blog. Laker was a source of inspiration and a constant help in the practical aspects of the business during the earliest stage of Virgin Atlantic. “He helped to give shape to our vision of a high-quality service at competitive prices. He was the first that made me understand how much we were going to have to fight with other airlines to be successful with ours,” Branson explained in an article in Forbes magazine.

Now the magnate takes every chance he gets to be a mentor for other aspirants to push their own businesses forward: “I love to mentor young entrepreneurs.”

2. Mark Zuckerberg: travel, disconnect and reflect

Starting Facebook was not easy. “We hit a tough patch, and lots of people wanted to buy Facebook”, said the founder, Mark Zuckerberg, in an interview with the magazine Business Insider. The young entrepreneur needed advice and decided to go to the best: Steve Jobs. The answer from the founder of Apple to the beleaguered entrepreneur’s problems was surprising.

“He said, if I wanted to reconnect with what I believed was the mission of the company, I should go visit this temple in India that he had gone to early in the evolution of Apple, when he was thinking about what he wanted his vision of the future to be

 Zuckerberg, beset with doubts, decided to take Jobs’ advice to heart. His trip to India served to disconnect, reflect about his own company and come into contact with a culture where people live in a community, connected to each other. “That reinforced to me the importance of what we were doing, and that is something I will always remember,” explained Zuckerberg.

That wasn’t the only advice Steve Jobs gave him. In an appearance on the Charlie Rose Show, Mark Zuckerberg recalled how he advised him in other aspects of his company, always insisting that he surround himself with a team whose objective was to look for the best quality. When the founder of Apple died, the now famous entrepreneur didn’t think twice about writing on his Facebook wall: “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thank you for showing that what one builds can change the world. I’ll miss you.”

3. Bill Gates: learn, and especially, enjoy

Even the richest man in the world has also had, and continues to have, his own mentor: the investor and businessman, Warren Buffet. In an interview with CNBC, Bill Gates said gratefully how Buffet had taught him to manage difficult situations and think long term.

“I admire his desire to teach things that are complex and make them simple, so that people can understand them and get the most benefit

In an article published on his Linkedin profile, Gates paid homage to his mentor, sharing three things that he had learned from him: write letters periodically, telling shareholders the state of the company with your own words; have a global vision of the company if you’re thinking of investing, and value your time, never give it away. But the advice from Buffet that has impacted him most after 25 years of friendship is the following: “Learn more and laugh more”.

The stories of these great businessmen show that success isn’t achieved alone. Entrepreneurs that need advice have many means of finding an experienced person to help them. Networking events and incubators are a good way to meet people in the sector and come into contact with them. That is the case of BBVA Momentum, which has mentors highly valued by the participants. The most important thing is to stay motivated, be humble and open to advice that other experts give along the way. In the end, it’s just as Richard Branson says, “That’s part of the work and the adventure.”