secretleaders | Sir Ronnie Cohen: Refugee to father of British venture capital

Sir Ronnie Cohen: Refugee to father of British venture capital

If you’re a budding entrepreneur, you can’t learn to swim by doing exercises on the beach, says Sir Ronald Cohen. “You can’t keep preparing yourself for an entrepreneurial career. You learn by doing. And by your mid to late 20s, you’re ready to do that. You don’t have to prepare beyond that.”

Sir Ronald is Chairman of the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment and The Portland Trust. He is a co-founder director of Social Finance UK, USA, and Israel, and co-founder Chair of Bridges Fund Management and Big Society Capital. But before all of this, he co-founded and was Executive Chairman of Apax Partners from 1972-2005.

From immigrant, to grammar school, to Harvard Business School where he discovered Venture Capital, to setting up Apax Partners, to impact investing. Sir Ronald has had quite a life, his story is one of humanity and people. A 45-50 year overnight success story.

“Venture capital was a way for me to do good and to do well, and at the same time create jobs and make money.”

After becoming financially independent and at the age of 53, he informed his partners at Apax that he was leaving to deal with more important things. He wanted to help tackle social issues and try to contribute to achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

So, if you’re looking to create a social impact, Sir Ronald has a lot of sage advice for you – this is one episode not to be missed.

“Principles have a cost, but they’re always a bargain in the end. Don’t try to take shortcuts. Live by your principles, you will attract the best talent, and you will be proud of your achievements.”

We chat about:

  • Founding Apax Partners
  • Funding Dolly the sheep
  • Social investment task force
  • Impact investing
  • Social investment bank
  • The B Corp movement


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The Secret Leaders podcast features interviews with key figures from the UK tech and creative ecosystem. From entrepreneurs (both early and latter stage), to journalists, VCs - and even royalty - the series profiles those who have helped shape the nation's culture of innovation and growth.

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