The individuals who head up companies are often praised for each and every success that their organisation achieves. But should we look beyond the person at the top of the tree? Would the likes of Facebook and Dyson have worked with whatever level of support their visionary leaders had received?
John Donne wrote that “no man is an island” and, despite what many people would think, no entrepreneur is an island either. The well-worn phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’ is true, but it would be foolish to think that some of our most remarkable leaders have achieved success without a right-hand man, or team of willing soldiers, ready to fight their cause.
Entrepreneurs are the Pied Pipers of the business world, the embodiment of their brand and it is them alone that can sell their story. They are seen as the bold and the brave, but we all too often forget about the people that they lean on for support.
We like to give our entrepreneurs superhuman powers, but where would Batman be without Robin? Where would Bond be without M, or Q? More to the point, where would Harry Potter be without Ron and Hermione?
Behind every great leader is a network of powerful players who support, advise and most importantly, act on the crazy ideas cooked up by the entrepreneurial mind. Entrepreneurs need a counter-balance in order to maintain stability and maintain the momentum in a business as they continue to innovate and drive forwards.
Take Apple CEO, Tim Cook. He was long seen as the humourless and unemotional man in the shadows, standing behind Steve Jobs, running the show from behind the scenes. Apple could never have more than one charismatic leader, or creative talent, but Jobs relied on Cook to keep Apple running - something which he is now doing as CEO himself and which has resulted in the firm reporting record-breaking profits.
The people that keep the day to day ticking over can often garner the most power. Consider that, for many leaders, there are few people in their lives who know more, or hold more power than their executive assistant.
Behind every great entrepreneur is an army of vital connections, a network of people that help the dream become the reality.
They are the gatekeepers, the wardens of time and are often privy to the most private information. In my experience, even the most powerful CEOs, who take advice from nearly no-one, will accept a stern talking to from their assistant. They are the right-hand man or woman, without whom the day job would not get done.
Anikka Fragodt was Mark Zuckerberg’s assistant for seven years. She was his eyes and ears and was described by one engineer as "the most powerful woman at Facebook".
Similarly, there are people that leaders call on in a time of need, people that have inadvertently shaped the course of their success. Great leaders may not naturally come into the spotlight, they, like many others, may need to have talents recognised and nurtured in order to succeed.
The British entrepreneur and inventor, Sir James Dyson was mentored by Jeremy Fry, who identified Dyson’s talents in the 1960s, when he was a student. Together, they invented the sea truck, a high-speed maritime vehicle that skims along the water on a layer of bubbles. Dyson’s career was kick-started by this relationship, which he says taught him the entrepreneurial spirit of taking "an iterative approach to a problem...adapt and improve on an idea ...rather than giving up at the first hurdle".
Of course, the role of 'best supporting…' rarely wins awards outside the entertainment industry and these right-hand men and women often remain in the shadows. This is no less true of the team behind the leader. In many ways, an entrepreneur’s team acts a little like Sherlock Holmes’ Watson, translating the eccentric, brilliant but sometimes inscrutable mind of their leader into something tangible. This takes tenacity and talent.
Anyone who has worked for an entrepreneur will tell you it is exhausting, but rewarding. The same reason why these enigmatic leaders succeed in business, are the same reasons they inspire their teams into action.
So behind every great entrepreneur is an army of vital connections, a network of people that help the dream become the reality. These players shouldn’t be forgotten, because every ship needs a captain, but it also needs a crew.