Enterprise is what Lee’s talking about

A PAST winner of hit TV series The Apprentice was in Ipswich yesterday to fire up the business dynamism of a new generation of social entrepreneurs.

Lee McQueen was the star attraction at The Social Entrepreneur – Social Enterprise Explained, an event organised by students from University Campus Suffolk on the eve of today’s launch of the Suffolk School for Social Entrepreneurs in the James Hehir building on Ipswich Waterfront.

The 33-year-old, whose catchphrase during the 2008 series was: “That’s what I’m talking about”, told conference delegates gathered at Trinity Park about his own entrepreneurial journey and what drove him to want to become his own boss after being chosen to become Lord Sugar’s “apprentice”.

His own story involved going out to work at 18 and juggling two jobs to pay the mortgage on his first home. He went into the recruitment business, working for a large company, and worked his way up to a management role where he was responsible for a team of people before he was picked to appear on the show.

“I wanted more, and I wanted to be taken out of my comfort zone,” he explained. “I always wanted to be that word, an entrepreneur.”

Although it was something he aspired to, it was not something he felt he had the skills to do until he had won the competition and gone to work for Lord Sugar, helping to set up a business from scratch under his leadership, then setting up his own business after leaving Lord Sugar’s business empire.

Although a hard taskmaster, he found working for the business guru rewarding, and enjoyed his sense of humour.

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Building relationships is key to being successful, as is having a strategy and a goal, he told the audience of business leaders and social entrepreneur students.

He believes this was what led to his success in the TV series, while other candidates got caught up in a more negative game.

“They go into it thinking: ‘I’ll stitch people up,’” he said. “They don’t understand that if they work as a team, if they work as a unit, they will win the task.”

He added: “To me, it’s not rocket science.”

Mr McQueen gave an insight into the hugely challenging conditions competitors were working under, including an intensive first few days when they went for 46 hours without sleep after being handed their first challenge by Lord Sugar.

“The Apprentice is effectively the job interview from hell,” he said.

Yesterday’s event, which included an introduction by Suffolk School for Social Entrepreneurs director Celia Hodson, was aimed at giving an insight into social enterprise, and covered areas such as entrepreneurship, social media and sustainability.

Also among the speakers was chef-entrepreneur Ed Halls, owner of the Rose and Crown at Great Horkesley and winner of the Archant-backed ONE competition, who explained how, aged 28, he had given up a successful recruitment career to start again at the bottom, peeling carrots in a kitchen.

“Being an entrepreneur means approaching things from a different direction,” he said. “It’s very easy to get caught up in traditional ways of thinking and it doesn’t work when you are running your own small business.”

The most important lesson he had to learn was getting the right staff and trusting them to get on with the job: “I knew I wanted to control my own destiny. I think that’s the key to being an entrepreneur,” he said.

Determination, resilience and perseverance were all qualities needed to succeed when setting up a business, he added.