Featured Business Leader: James Dyson

Featured Business Leader: James Dyson


This week I examine the career of James Dyson – the man behind the world famous vacuum cleaner. Known as a pioneering risk-taker, Dyson demonstrates that in order to improve and innovate, you have to be prepared to take risks. This profile examines his journey to establish the Dyson organisation as well as how taking risks can be beneficial to your business endeavours and careers.

Born in Cromer, England, James Dyson attended the Royal College of Art from 1966 until 1970. It was during his time at this college that he got fed up with his personal vacuum and how it lost suction after each use. He developed the idea (http://www.famous-entrepreneurs.com/james-dyson) of ‘using cyclonic separation in a vacuum cleaner so that it would not lose its suction quality as it picked up dirt’. However, his path to creating this revolutionary vacuum was not without difficulty.

Forbes Magazine quotes Dyson in an interview to say ‘I spent about five or six years developing a completely different kind of vacuum cleaner’. ‘I built over 5,000 prototypes to get the system to work; each year I was getting further and further into debt’ he adds. In the end, he owed close to $4 million in debt. It was a huge risk both financially and personally, which fortunately payed off for the entrepreneur.

Although Dyson has formally stepped down as Chairperson of the organisation, risk taking remains a priority within the management and engineering departments of the company. Dyson believes that risk taking ‘is an essential building block for innovation and invention’. ‘To compete, countries must take risks. Without taking risks, you don’t generate long-term wealth’ he adds.

The main point to take away from Dyson’s risk taking is how it encourages innovation. This focus on innovation is reflected in the leadership style built by Dyson. In his current role as Chief Engineer, he is known to offer praise, encourage workers to take the difficult route rather than the obvious, and ensures he takes an active role in the innovation process. This attitude is quite the contrary to other business leaders who remain in their office; however it demonstrates why risk-embracing entrepreneurs often run the most innovative organisations.

I am interested to hear your views on risk taking and innovation. Do you think they are vital to your success or can taking the safe option lead you to success also? Feel free to share your views in the comment box below. Also, if you would like to see a particular business leader featured then please leave me a comment.

This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Forbes MagazineASMEFamous EntrepreneursStartupsand Harvard Business Review.

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