This paper analyses a group of 278 "founders" of business active in the United Kingdom during the twentieth century, biographies of whom are included in the Dictionary of Business Biography and Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography. All of the businessmen in this group were highly successful in their field, and the analysis aims to identify common factors behind their success and whether they managed to retain control of the firms they built up. In general, the unspectacular virtues of hard work and basic skills are the only identifiable causes of success; only in a few cases were personal contacts, or strokes of luck, or even help from relations, of crucial significance. Most managed to retain control of their business for a long as they cared to exercise it. The paper concludes that the dazzling rise and occasional crashing fall of the few "showmen" entrepreneurs on whom the press tends to focus attention can mislead into believing that exceptional success must be due to exceptional circumstances or an outstanding personality. An appendix provides a profile of the background and career patterns of the "founders" in the Dictionaries compared with those of "heirs" and "managers"
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