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Business Partners: Jo Schwenke

The outgoing MD of Business Partners, Jo’ Schwenke, talks to Juliet Pitman about entrepreneurship, reading people and the importance of passion.

Juliet Pitman



Jo Schwenke of Business Partners

You retired from your position as MD of Business Partners at the end of 2008. Looking back, what have you enjoyed most about your time there?

The incredible diversity of the investments we’ve made, and meeting and serving so many different entrepreneurs. For me, they are the real heroes of business. I think they are all truly remarkable people and I’ve felt privileged to know and work with them.

What are some of the toughest lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Unsurprisingly, they’ve all been about people. This business is about people who invest in other people and you constantly have to make judgement calls about individuals. From time to time, you get it wrong. However, when this has happened, it’s always led to the development of new methodologies that have helped to avoid similar mistakes in future. So all mistakes, really, have been learning opportunities. Hard lessons prepare you for the future.

What techniques have you learned along the way to ‘suss’ the entrepreneurs who apply for investment?

Not all people are trying to pull the wool over your eyes, but one thing you do learn is that very few people can keep up a pretence for long. So we aim to interact with people in as many different environments and as many times as possible before we feel able to make a judgement about them. It’s particularly helpful to meet with people in their place of business, because it gives you a good feel for the culture of the organisation and how the business is run. Sitting in a reception waiting room can be a very eye-opening experience!

What do you believe separates the good from the great as far as entrepreneurship is concerned?

For me, entrepreneurship is the talent for doing business and I think that all people have some entrepreneurship in them. Anyone, when really pushed, could probably run a moderately successful business. But to be really successful I think you need four critical components:

  1.    Be willing to take risk with your money or your reputation
  2.    Have passion and a clear vision for the business, and a strong drive for excellence
  3.    Have a determination to make it happen, even when there are obstacles
  4.    Have boundless energy – some people have the first three components but they lack energy

What would your advice be to aspirant entrepreneurs?

Do something that you love. You can’t have the requisite drive, passion, determination and energy unless you absolutely love what you’re doing. I’ve seen business graduates buy into franchises, for example, and fail dismally because they don’t love what they’re doing. It’s not something you can fake.

What does the future hold for you?

I have been very fortunate in that the day I announced my retirement Johann Rupert approached me to take up a three-year stint as CEO of Reinet Investments in Luxembourg. It’s a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it!

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.



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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?




I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.



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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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