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Entrepreneur of the Month! Gordon Oldham

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Gordon Oldham arrived in Hong Kong from the UK in the late 70s, and it’s likely you’ve heard of him. The question is who do you know him as? The founder of leading independent Hong Kong law firm Oldham, Li & Nie (OLN) or the founder of award-winning Pavilions Hotels & Resorts, now in 14 locations around the world? Maybe you’ve heard of Gordon as the man who created MTV Asia or Action Asia Events. Here, he provides some inspirational advice for budding entrepreneurs.

Q What are the main characteristics that every successful entrepreneur needs?
A passion for the business he wants to do that keeps him awake at night and is the first thing he thinks of in the morning. The ability to pull people together and inspire them. (An unfriendly hermit entrepreneur has a short life.) A conviction that what he is doing is ultimately making things better for people rather than just creating wealth. A large set of cojones helps.

Q What’s the single most important thing to consider when setting up a business?
Do I have the commitment and the energy to see this through because it’s no use getting excited for the first week and then deciding it’s all too difficult. Set yourself a test – set the alarm for 5am, have a cold shower for at least two minutes, then walk two kilometres down the road. Walk back and write a piece of poetry even though it’s your first time doing any of these three things. If you can do that you may just have the strength of character required. Otherwise, just turn off the alarm when it rings, roll over, go back to sleep and keep your day job.

Q Should you only start a business if you’re passionate about it?
Well, if your sole motivation is to make money then of course you don’t need to be passionate about it. But it certainly helps. If your sole motivation is making money then go and do it, but it kind of takes the fun out of things, doesn’t it? If it isn’t fun, don’t do it. Then it becomes just another job. I read recently that over 50% of people frequently regret not doing something and suffer the torture of “what if…” Stop thinking – get up and do it.

Q What’s the key to entrepreneurial success?
Innovation plus business rigour. It’s easy to be a very unsuccessful entrepreneur. There are lots of failed geniuses who have come up with brilliant ideas but can’t see them through, and then a businessperson comes along who has the wit, experience, money and work ethic to turn it into a success.

Q Are entrepreneurs high risk takers?
To a degree. My biggest disappointment is with people who avoid trying to innovate or be creative because they don’t want to screw up a bonus or change something that isn’t broke. But that attitude doesn’t keep you moving forward. In my hotel group, we always ask what if we could… And then we go ahead and do it, and pleasantly enough half the time it succeeds.

Q As a lawyer, can you tell us the common legal mistakes that entrepreneurs make?
Not documenting their verbal agreements and not protecting their intellectual property are two things but also thinking that their product/ service is the best there is – that’s a fallacy, there’s always better. People also tend to ignore the boring parts of business – getting the goods produced and shipping on time with no short shipments, and collecting money for payment. These processes are the very foundation and superstructure of a business. Get that right and it doesn’t matter what you build around that structure – it will succeed very often.

Another common mistake? Not getting professional legal advice in time. Lawyers are widely seen as expensive, but I can tell you that today most legal services are affordable even for small businesses. However, if you haven’t consulted a lawyer in time and find yourself in the middle of a dispute, the legal costs are just silly. That is why my law firm created OLN Online, a starter’s guide to creating businesses. The preliminary advice and standard documentation is set at an affordable price and takes you in front of your competitors from the get-go.

Q What types of contracts should every small business have?
Depends on the nature of your business, but shareholders’ agreement, website terms of use, confidentiality agreement and employment contract are at the top of the list.

Oldham, Li & Nie has been actively involved with Hong Kong start-ups for many years, the OLN Online platform is a ‘law as a subscription service,’ built for small businesses that don’t necessarily need or can’t afford an in-house lawyer. It’s the first such platform introduced by a Hong Kong law firm and it provides instant access to a wide range of legal documents, 24/7, remotely, with online support from our lawyers.

Q Lastly, what do you do when you have made a success of your business?
Ha-ha! Start another one – and start giving back. Over the years I’ve realised I actually enjoy seeing people happy. That service mentality has helped enormously with my hotels and my law firm supports various Hong Kong charities. We’ve recently started sponsoring local sports events, like the DB Beach Tennis.

Gordon Oldham is the Senior Partner at Oldham, Li & Nie, a full-service independent Hong Kong law firm. Established in 1987, the firm has some 45 lawyers, admitted to one or more jurisdictions, including Hong Kong, France, the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada and Japan.

The team’s start-up practice has been helping Hong Kong entrepreneurs for many years. To find out more and hear more from Gordon, visit www.oln-law.com.

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