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‘Just do it’: paving the way for a new generation – Neeta Patel, CEO, Centre for Entrepreneurs

About This Episode

Paving the way for a new generation is the mission of my guest today. Neeta Patel is the CEO of Centre for Entrepreneurs, the UK’s leading entrepreneurship foundation. With its flagship programme the NEF+ – New Entrepreneurs Foundation – it is helping the UK to maintain a world-leading start-up ecosystem. It is a programme and an organisation that seek to release potential and ambition, which are also recurring themes in Neeta’s own life. Recognised as one of the UK’s most influential women in enterprise, she has established herself as one of the pre-eminent voices on entrepreneurship and opportunity for the next generation.

Neeta Patel CBE, CEO, Centre for Entrepreneurs

Neeta Patel CBE is CEO of Centre for Entrepreneurs and New Entrepreneurs Foundation, and an experienced executive with over 25 years of strategy and operational leadership experience in launching new ventures, business turnarounds and change, with a sharp focus on impact, growth and revenues. Prior to joining the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, Neeta worked in Private Equity advisory, matching technology entrepreneurs with investors. Neeta held senior positions at Thomson Financial (Reuters), Legal & General PLC, Financial Times Group and at the British Council. She is an early internet pioneer having launched the first personal finance web site in Europe for L&G in 1996.

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Lockdown List

What is a book that has changed your life?

Many books have had an impact on me in different parts of my life journey. The ones that stick out are:

1. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I read it nearly 30 years ago but I still remember the vivid descriptions and writing of the story of Indian Independence and subsequent partition from Pakistan as told through the eyes of Saleem Sinai, the main protagonist. It captured my imagination and had me gripped for days. It’s a book that I re-read every few years and it never fails to move me. I think this is my all-time favourite book.

2. Becoming by Michelle Obama, which I read during the lockdown and was moved by her honesty and integrity of her life story. It’s well written and such a poignant account of her early childhood and also about her time in the White House. I actually heard her narrate it on audible and one felt that she was sharing her life with you personally.

3. I read a lot of business books but two are constantly on my bedside table as I re-read them frequently. The first is The Armchair Economist by Steven Landsburg which explains how economics can be summarised into ‘people respond to incentives’ and then goes on to show how economists propose policy and prove that successful policies are those where incentives are aligned. It looks at all aspects of interventions from employment policies to trade, transport, and everything in between. It was such an eye-opener for me who is not an economist and helped me understand the world of policymaking. The other is by the British Economist, Tim Harford also titled The Undercover Economist, which looks at the world of economics from a micro perspective and everyday decisions. The two books are complementary and look at world issues from slightly different issues.

What are you watching at the moment?

Like everyone else in lockdown, I binged on Netflix box sets. I generally don’t have time to watch much TV but I caught up on all the ones everyone has been talking about for ages. House of Cards, Designated Survivor, The Crown, Homeland, Queen’s Gambit etc. I am currently re-watching the first series of The Sopranos and about to re-watch the early series of Peaky Blinders, in advance of the new series being shown later this year.

Who is your biggest inspiration and why?

I have been lucky enough to have met so many inspirational men and women and I look to many of the women I have met for inspiration. These include Dorothy Hodgkins, the only British female Nobel Laureate, Helen Sharman, the astronaut, Baroness Daphne Park, an SoE spy, Dame Stephanie Shirley, Margaret Thatcher, Shirley Williams, and many others. Closer to home, my inspiration for many years was my boss at Legal & General. Her name is Margaret Smith and she inspired me to give ‘everything a go’. She is such a visionary and was one of the early pioneering women in technology, having started her career at The Woolwich tasked with developing the first cash machines (ATMs). She was always willing to swim against the tide and back crazy ideas and the people who had them, in the then very staid and old-fashioned and male-dominated world of UK insurance. She backed me with my idea, way back in 1995, of launching a website to service customers and supported me throughout. We became pioneers as this was the first personal finance website launched in Europe!  I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with her and have kept in touch ever since. Every time we meet, her first question is always ‘what new and exciting thing are you working on now?

In one sentence, describe your ‘new normal’.

It seems like the old normal, just working from home a lot more and seeing fewer people in person.

What is your best tip for life?

Apologies to Nike for borrowing their tagline but I really do live by the ‘Just Do It’ tagline. It’s something I ‘preach’ to every incoming NEF+ cohort. It is such a powerful line but it does take courage, resilience, self-belief, confidence, and an ability to bounce back after failure – I admire all those people who just do it.

A quote for life

I have several but the one I use is a combination of other people’s quotes. It is: “Everyone has the right to play but you have to choose to play and once you do, give it everything you’ve got.”

What is your lockdown soundtrack?

I haven’t really been listening to music as most of my free time has been listening to audiobooks or on Netflix! I only ever listen to music when in my car and the radio is generally tuned in to Magic FM. No particular track comes to mind.

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