You may have come across Vikas Shah if you’ve been onboard a recent British Airways aircraft and rifled through the Business Life publication in your seat pocket. Vikas is one of the regular writers at BA, tasked with providing the inflight guide to all things entrepreneurial and motivational. Vikas Shah is the consummate professional: Financier, government advisor, investor and philanthropist, he is an exceptionally kind, charismatic, intelligent, and unique individual.
Vikas is managing director of the £16m turnover Swiscot Group, the co-president of TiE in the north – one of the largest networks of people on the planet – and Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan in Lisbon. He is quite simply inspiration at only 35 years old having achieved more to date than most people in their lifetime. If this isn’t enough he also sits on many boards including the UK Government’s Industrial Development Board (IDAB) which oversees £billions in investment.
We talk to Vikas about his think tank consultancy, his renowned blog, driving sheep across London Bridge and how he views mentoring and membership at ALFIES.
In 2012 Vikas was awarded the Freemen of the City of London for his contribution to textiles, where he was able to drive sheep across London Bridge – a unique privilege bestowed on those who attain such an award.
Vikas, the Livery Companies are all around us, nestled in the City of London and steeped in the history of the City of London, but no one really knows much about them. What are they and how do they sit within modern city society? It must be an incredible network to belong to so what makes it special and how do you get in if you’re a city professional?
VS: Every major industry has livery companies attached to it, they’re steeped in incredible history and have some of the most beautiful buildings in London (often hidden in plain sight). The livery companies are a great place to network with senior individuals from your industry, but also engage heavily in philanthropy in the city and beyond. If you’re interested in becoming a liveryman, the best thing to do is to contact the livery company and look at their application procedure- usually you will require to be nominated and seconded (if not thirded!) but once you start to ask individuals you know, you are sure to find people who know you well enough to nominate you. London is indeed a modern city, but one that never forgets the history on which it’s built.
Whilst you’re a Freeman of the City of London, you live and work predominantly in Manchester: The new centre for business; home of the BBC, house for two of the most profitable football clubs and a hub for investment, technology and innovation. Apparently, Freshfields is one of several law firms and businesses considering relocating there. Why is it a City that should be embraced and do you think Brexit will lead to Manchester becoming even more prominent on the UK stage?
VS: Manchester is a fantastic destination for business; the city has relatively favourable costs, a very skilled labour market and world-class infrastructure. One thing we can’t ignore is the fact that London is the economic magnet for the UK however in the same way that the cities of Silicon Valley tend towards San Francisco, cities like Manchester can find their own voice and style in collaboration with London. Post-Brexit, I think most cities will have to very carefully think about competition and competitiveness- for what it’s worth, I think it was a crazy decision to leave the EU, however- we are where we are and it’s time to make the best of it.
You are the mastermind behind Thought Strategy and Thought Economics and you have interviewed some seriously influential individuals including, Wil-I-am, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Sir Richard Branson, former South African President F W de Klerk and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Who has been your favourite interviewee so far and who is next on your wish list? It’s been an immense privilege to be able to have personal conversations with some of the most interesting and influential individuals on the planet, and reflecting back on a decade of these- it’s very hard to pick out favourites. However, sometimes
VS: It’s been an immense privilege to be able to have personal conversations with some of the most interesting and influential individuals on the planet, and reflecting back on a decade of these- it’s very hard to pick out favourites. However, sometimes certain conversations stick with you. Philippe Starck and Moby, for example, were tremendous philosophers, and Maya Angelou was one of the most warm-hearted and interesting people I’ve ever spoken to. It’s also been incredible to hear the personal journeys of people like Iby Knill (who survived Auschwitz) and 3 of the remaining individuals who have walked on the moon. The world is full of fascinating people, and as for who next… who knows, perhaps Obama!
You have one of the most varied but hectic schedules of anyone we know, but even more so, you manage to balance what time you have with your love of photography, poetry, philanthropy and mentoring. So what do you love doing most when you do you find time to switch off and where’s your go-to place for relaxation far away from the madding crowd?
VS: Switching off is hard to do, but important. I take a lot of care to make sure that I have down-time in my schedule to do things which are important for the mind, body and soul. Making sure I do regular cardiovascular exercise (gym, bike, run) is critical along with things like Yoga and Pilates. Sometimes, though, it’s important to escape completely – and I love to get out into the mountains, away from WIFI!
You champion the recognition of mental health issues at work. How bad is the current situation in reality? What would you say to members who may be concerned about to disguise, rather than openly trying to handle their issues? Mental health is a huge problem- particularly impacting those in demanding, stressful careers. There’s also a horrible ‘cult of the alpha personality’ prevalent in professional industries which makes it immensely hard for people to talk about these things.
VS: Mental health is a huge problem- particularly impacting those in demanding, stressful careers. There’s also a horrible ‘cult of the alpha personality’ prevalent in professional industries which makes it immensely hard for people to talk about these things. My advice? You have to talk. You have to talk to your colleagues, manager(s) and even health professionals if you feel things are getting too much. I’ve lost too many people close to me over the years to suicide because they simply couldn’t open up.
You spend 2 weeks each month travelling to and from Lisbon as a Professor and lecturer in entrepreneurship and marketing. Within this and your other commitments, you must meet many students and individuals who wish to be mentored by someone like yourself. Do you have a mentor and why is having a mentor and being a mentor important?
VS: Mentoring is incredibly important, and that means having and being a mentor. I mentor hundreds of young entrepreneurs and professionals a year through a network called ‘TiE’ where I am President of the NW UK Chapter (although mentor globally) and I also, have mentors of my own. Any successful role can feel immensely lonely, and mentors provide you with the chance to have a co-pilot and confidante to help keep you on-track!
You meet many individuals and start-ups that wish to seek investment for their business and ideas? What would you say to people who are thinking about investing in a business or a project and what should they consider most? Do you believe the people behind the investment are the key to confidence, or the brilliance and viability of the idea/proposition?
VS: Without a shadow of a doubt, people are the most important part of a startup and for most investors like myself, we’re investing in the people not the idea- as ideas often change and develop from their initial shape. Investing requires you to look at hundreds of factors, but the most important ones? The people behind the venture (can they do it!), the cost of acquisition and lifetime value of the customers of the venture, the scalability and the scale of the opportunity to exit.
What is your one bit of advice to member’s with a good business idea, wishing to seek a career change and should they make the move to becoming an entrepreneur, or is their gut right that it is too big a risk to take?
VS: Being an entrepreneur is the scariest, loneliest, most stressful but most amazing job in the world. I would never encourage anyone to get into entrepreneurship for the sake of doing it because it sounds ‘cool,’ but if you have a great idea? It can be the most incredible journey of your like.
You are a member of ALFIES and we hope soon to be regular writer. What does ALFIES offer you that other member’s networks currently don’t and what kind of networking events would prompt you to give up your precious time to attend and meet fellow members?
VS: ALFIES is a breath of fresh-air in a sea of networks, and one which really puts a huge amount of value on the quality of the connections you make rather than the number. For me? Any opportunity to have interesting conversations with interesting people is a worthwhile one!
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Read more from the series:
- ALFIES Folk : a series of interviews with our members. #6 Chris Benarr.
- ALFIES Folk : a series of interviews with our members. #5 Tim Allen.
- ALFIES Folk : a series of interviews with our members. #4 Suzi Sendama.
- ALFIES Folk : a series of interviews with our members. #3 Kienda Hoji.
- ALFIES Folk: a series of interviews with our members. Indre Butkeviciute.
- ALFIES Folk: a series of interviews with our members. James Gordon.