In the latest series of the BBC TV show ‘The Apprentice’, Alan Sugar sparked controversy for firing a contestant on the basis that he's 'never come across an engineer that can turn his hand to business'. Suranga Chandratillake, founder and CEO of video search engine blinkx argues why engineers such as James Dyson, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates prove Alan Sugar wrong…
A high profile business personality recently commented that engineers do not make successful business leaders, sparking a stream of media commentary supporting this statement, when in fact we should be encouraging entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in all industry sectors.
There is no evidence in the first instance to support this apparent widely held perception. The reality is that some of Britain’s most innovative and successful business leaders have come from an engineering background. Take for example inventor Sir James Dyson, or Dr. Michael Lynch of Autonomy, both of whom have taken a ground-breaking idea or concept and built it into a successful global enterprise.
An economic downtown is precisely the time when we most need enterprising engineers to bite the bullet and help kick start the economy - after all, small and medium-sized enterprises play a vital role in our economy, employing more than half of the UK’s workforce and contributing to more than 33% of the nation’s GDP.
The UK must focus on promoting and cultivating innovation and entrepreneurship within schools and universities by showcasing role models who can share their experiences, wisdom and passion within their chosen fields. This will not only excite and restore some much needed enthusiasm into establishing new businesses, but will also encourage the world’s most talented employees to relocate to these shores. It is this energy and optimism that characterises the world’s most successful centres of innovation; such as Silicon Valley, and, more recently, parts of Israel. Unless this culture is nurtured here in the UK, we will struggle to be a leader in technical excellence and evolution.
One of the most high profile examples of such a hub is Silicon Valley, in California, a region famous for a culture of optimism and exploration that was characterized by the 1849 gold rush. Silicon Valley is a beacon for the most talented and motivated engineers and IT experts from around the world. In California, engineers and innovators are feted in much the same way as Hollywood film stars, a sense of glamour and excitement, famous personalities like Gates, Ellison and Zuckerberg. This mindset has yet to catch on in the UK, perhaps because the tall poppy syndrome still dominates our psyche!
If the UK is to grow its economy in the next couple of years, it will undoubtedly need support and innovation from its bright, enthusiastic engineers. Current attitudes however, will not help get things back on track and could even drive our best and brightest engineers abroad.
The UK must ensure that it fosters talent and creates its own engineering hub, to motivate entrepreneurs, encourage innovation and inspire our technical talent, or risk being left behind.
Suranga Chandratillake is the founder and CEO of blinkx the world’s largest video search engine.