Jacob Lorek arrived in the UK at the age of 18 with £200 in his pocket and a thwarted career as a classical pianist behind him. Two years later he was the owner of a high-end London construction firm with revenues of over £2.7 million.
His company, Finch Lockerbie, now employs around 100 people at any one time and has a client portfolio worth around £13 million.
So how did he do it? We asked Jacob for his top tips for Gateway readers aiming to make it big in the world of business – here’s what he told us:
1. Be prepared to work for it
“It’s a cliché but I truly believe that good things will come to you if you’re willing to work hard and never give up.
“I set out to be a classical pianist, but at the age of 13 I had my both hands cut badly in a gang attack. My hopes of playing professionally were ended then and there.
“At 18 I decided to move to London. The only job I could get was at a food-processing factory – I worked the night shift, beginning at 10.30pm every night. I knew I needed another route if I wanted to be successful. I started attending entrepreneur events in the evenings before work, wearing the one suit I owned, which was from Tesco.
“At one event I bumped into a distant relative from Poland who was running a small construction firm in Hampshire. With a bit of persuading he took me on in a business development role.
“It was the encouragement I needed: over the course of two months I’d lined up meetings with 40-50 potential clients. It was hard work – I’d catch the 6am train to London each day and arrive home at 10 at night. However, by making these connections I was able to bring in lucrative new contracts for the company and grow our revenues to £2.7 million during my first year.
“By this point I’d become so valuable that I was made a partner in the business.”
2. It’s about people, not ideas
“Nowadays entrepreneurship is often synonymous with innovation and technology, but you don’t always need to have an amazing revolutionary idea to be successful.
“If you watch Dragons Den, The Apprentice, or any other TV show about entrepreneurs, more often than not the people who come away with the investment are those who have the strongest personality and the biggest desire to succeed.
“When I began meeting with clients I knew relatively little about construction or the property industry, but I knew how to sell myself and to speak the language of the people I was pitching to.
“Most were self-made businessmen; they saw this young guy with this burning desire to make something of himself. I think they could relate to that.
“Whether you’re interviewing for a job or facing prospective clients or investors, it’s all about being able to sell yourself as a person. At the end of the day, people buy into people, not ideas.”
3. Don’t compromise on quality
“Of course, it also comes down to what you can deliver. It’s no good being able to talk a good game if you can’t back it up by offering great products and services.
“One thing my business partner and I agreed from the very start was that we weren’t going to try to compete on price, and our USP at Finch Lockerbie has always been incredible quality of service.
“Our clients are busy people; they want to know that their project is being managed to the highest standards; that it's going to be completed on time and within budget.
“Everything, from the materials we use to builders and engineers we hire, has to be the best. If we have an issue or complaint we deal with it straight away – we do everything in our power to make sure the customer comes away happy.
“Reputation is everything – it will make or break your business in the long-run.”
4. Never stop learning
“People find it strange to hear that I went from being a classical pianist to working in construction. But, for me, the journey involved in getting to those points was fairly similar.
“Property, like music, is an incredibly intricate profession – there is a huge amount of technical knowledge to get your head around, as well as the legal and regulatory side.
“It really comes down to self-development – being willing to learn your craft, develop the knowledge you need and improve yourself in order to be the best at what you do.
“If my story shows anything it’s that no industry or profession is out of bounds – it’s just a case of recognising where the gaps are in your skill set and working hard to fill these.
“I’m constantly learning – the industry I’m in is continually evolving with new regulations and technology, so I spend a lot of time reading and learning from those around me.
“No matter how far you go in business you can never assume that you’re the finished article.”