Building a business

15th November 2016

News, Student news, Alumni news

'What makes a successful entrepreneur?' was the question engaging more than forty students who gathered to meet alumni Heather Stevens, co- founder of Admiral Group, and John McCall MacBain, founder of Trader Classified Media.  

“Be a big fish in a small pond, and jump from pond to pond,” advised John McCall MacBain (Law, 1980). “It is better for entrepreneurs to lead something small and go to something bigger than be in a large group and move up the corporate ladder” he added.  

Heather Stevens (Experimental Psychology, 1976) advised getting your people right and making a business that you would want to work for.

“Try to have no pride and limit your ego to below you capabilities,” recommended John and  Heather suggested that it was better to be frugal and not grand, for example, using basic cheap furniture that works rather than making a grand statement.

Both emphasised the need for hard work in becoming a successful entrepreneur and that sometimes you have to take risks. John added:  “Your best career, entrepreneurial and indeed life choices will be found at the intersection, not necessarily simultaneously, of three activities:  what you like to do, what you are good at and what does good for humanity, human progress and employment.”

Following the presentations, Wadham Sub-Warden Colin Mayer called for questions from the engaged audience. These included:

How do you know when to leave academia and go in your own direction?  How do you get market information without paying for research firms? In expanding globally, what must you consider? Was it passion or opportunity that helped you choose which industry to work in? Do you believe there is an entrepreneur in everyone?

Heather and John offered ample and hands-on guidance to budding entrepreneurs in the audience, and, following the talks, informal conversation and networking continued in the McCall MacBain Graduate Centre.

This event was organised by the Alumni and Development Office in collaboration with Oxford Entrepreneurs. It is part of Wadham’s Access to Excellence programme aiming to support young people from the moment they consider university, through their undergraduate and graduate studies, and as they go out into the world to make a positive impact on society. If you want to hear more about our events for students please contact

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