THE BRED ENTREPRENEUR Dubbed one of the most powerful women in Britain, Coffee Republic co-founder Sahar Hashemi now passes on what she learned to a new breed of entrepreneurs BY TAHIRA YAQOOB
ahar Hashemi is running late. She was hit by the creative muse that morning, she explains, and rather than fighting it went with the flow, penning the first chapter of her new book. It will be a kind of Lean In for entrepreneurs about “the female brain—because I think the qualities people used to make fun of are qualities that are becoming really essential in business— the empathy we naturally have, the fact we communicate and network the whole time and the fact we are shopaholics. Those are qualities that are going to set people apart now.” British entrepreneur Hashemi, 48, is well qualified to know. Back in the 1990s, when the phenomenon of coffeeshop chains was still a novelty in the UK, she brought the concept from
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the US and with her brother Bobby, founded one of the first chains of coffee bars in the UK. Coffee Republic became such a runaway success with 110 outlets nationwide and a turnover of $44 million that it grew bigger than either of them had envisaged, taking them further away from the dream they originally had as entrepreneurs. Disillusioned, they both left in 2001 and within a few years, the company ran into trouble, narrowly avoiding bankruptcy and scaling back its expansion plans. London-based Hashemi has since dabbled in other startups—she also founded the successful low-fat confectionery brand Skinny Candy in 2005, selling it two years later—but her main focus now is as a motivational speaker and author, running workshops for would-be entrepreneurs and, with her third book underway, teaching them that anything is possible and never to take ‘no’ for an answer. She has also accumulated a host of accolades, including an OBE from the Queen in 2012 for services to the UK economy and charity, was named one of the top 10 original thinkers by Director magazine and one of the 20 most powerful women in Britain by the Independent on Sunday newspaper. Her mantra—and the title of her first book, penned with Bobby and called Anyone Can Do It—must have the likes of Richard Branson and executives from Apple clasping their foreheads in horror. Hashemi argues there is nothing special about entrepreneurs and they are “bred, not born”. In Anyone Can Do It, the Hashemis write: “Legend and conventional wisdom have made us believe that unless you are a swashbuckling extrovert who has loved business since kindergarten (preferably making your first million selling sweets in the playground) and are somehow blessed with otherworldly skills, then starting up on your own is not an option…Rubbish. All sorts of people start businesses and all sorts of people thrive after doing so.” Hashemi’s workshops and books—her second was called Switched On—follow the same doctrine. Her books are effectively a manual in which she distills all the lessons she learned the hard way, as well as spelling out the need for a business plan, finance and research, particularly when—as she and her brother did—venturing into a field they had no experience of. She says entrepreneurs succeed because they
Published on May 1, 2016
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