Brain Food: Sir Ronald Cohen - If I had to start again ...

My crossroads was getting a Henry Fellowship in 1967 after I left Oxford. It gave me entry to either Harvard business school or Yale law school to read the subject of my choice.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I chose Harvard, partly because I saw business as the way to financial independence, which I thought at the time meant earning £300,000. My family had come to England from Egypt when I was a child, and having to learn English from scratch made it clear to me that I had to perform so as not to let my parents down. I was always aware I'd have to look after them at some stage - business was the best way, so I don't regret the Harvard decision. I'd also wanted to go into politics, and I stood unsuccessfully for election as an MP in 1974. But I began to see the political process increasingly negatively as friends of mine became backbenchers, while the world of pioneering venture capital was very exciting. My personality is very geared to entrepreneurship - I have the necessary perseverance. I knew intuitively that venture capitalism would grow eventually, but it took nine years to raise our first fund.

We had to create the industry in Europe in order to build the firm. In 1975, the four Apax partners each wrote a paper. Two compiled calculations on how it could never work, and I wrote mine on the relationship between perseverance and so-called luck. The two left the company, I turned out to be right and Apax now manages a $20 billion fund. It feels fantastic to have passed on the legacy - like the runner who has run his leg of the relay, handed the baton on and watched his team-mate disappear round the corner. I could have stayed longer, but this was the right time to leave. I'll have time to do things that would otherwise have been impossible, such as my community development work. And I'll be able to spend more time with my family. My advice - start early, think big and stick with it.

- Sir Ronald Cohen was a founding partner and executive chairman of venture capitalist Apax Partners from 1972. He retired in July.

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