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Leading the way - a short synopsis of Allan’s pioneering leadership

Professor Allan Gibb OBE was an inspirational pioneer in the field of Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprise development for 50 years. His concept of Entrepreneurship was broad, stretching beyond conventional models. It was not solely focused on new business ventures and business growth but upon the development of the skills, attributes and behaviours of enterprising people, to be used in any context (business, social enterprise, healthcare, NGOs, universities and governments). Importantly, it was about building links between concept (idea/intention) and practice (know how/application).

Allan was also a great entrepreneur himself. He founded the Small Business Centre, which became the Foundation for SME Development. It was an organisational innovation, creating a world-leading centre in small business and enterprise within a University setting and in ways that enabled those within it to be entrepreneurial, to learn and to succeed. For those of us who worked in it… we perhaps only realised the opportunity, freedom and stimulation that environment gave us once we had left and moved on to less innovative working environments. Launched in 1971 within Durham University Business School, it was the first in Europe of its kind and grew into a substantial social enterprise with more than 40 staff.

Learning with and from entrepreneurs
Allan was responsible for the development of a wide range of innovative approaches to small business management in the UK and internationally:

  • He established the first UK small firm counselling service, Enterprise North, run by and for small businesses.

  • He devised and ran all of the training for the DTI Small Firms Counselling Service for many years. He was instrumental in working alongside Business in the Community in training the directors and key staff of virtually all of the UK Local Enterprise Agencies.

  • The Small Business Centre offered leading-edge enterprise programmes for schools, colleges and universities, as well as a wide range of new venture, survival, growth and internationalisation programmes in partnership with business and development agencies. These have since been disseminated around the world.

  • The First UK Business Competition ‘Build Your Own Business’. Sponsored by Shell UK in partnership with the SBC and Enterprise North, it offered cash awards and business support. Researching applicants’ needs led to the MAIR business start-up model (Motivation, Ability, Idea, Resource), subsequently used extensively in counselling and training programmes nationally and internationally.

As a result of its success and innovation, the Small Business Centre at DUBS grew over thirty years to become a flagship for entrepreneurship and small business development regionally, nationally and internationally and the largest Research, Development and Delivery Centre of its kind in Europe. Allan was described in an OECD publication as “the doyen of entrepreneurship and small business development academics”.

Over the years Allan served on many advisory boards and committees in both the public and private sectors. He was a consultant on small business to the European Commission, the World Bank, UNIDO, ILO, ITC and many governments across the world. He was a member of the small team that wrote the initial Terms of Reference for the establishment of the EU Small Firms Directorate - DG XX111.


Influence and recognition

Allan worked closely with the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), was the first Chairman of the UK Enterprise Management Research Association (now ISBE), had been a Vice-President of the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) and helped to establish the European Council for Small Business (ECSB). He served on the Editorial Boards of many of the major journals in the field. His influence and involvement also included, amongst many others: the UK Manpower Services Commission on Entrepreneurship Training and the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship.

Allan was awarded the title of Professor of Small Business in 1985 and, upon retirement from Durham University, became Professor Emeritus. He received many awards for his work including:

  • the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to the small business community;

  • Honorary Doctorate in Economics, Turku School of Economics, Finland;

  • the Queen’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Enterprise Promotion (2009);

  • the first European Entrepreneurship Education Laureate Award funded by the Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship, Sweden (2012); and

  • the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs (IOEE) International Lifetime Achievement Award (2015).

Find out more


Click here to see the celebration brochure of Allan’s ideas, work and research, and a collection of thoughts of commemoration and celebration from former colleagues and friends in Durham and around the world.

Click here for a tribute to the ideas and work of Allan Gibb written by Professor Andrew Atherton and featured in the International Small Business Journal.

Click here for a link to videos on the SIEF YouTube channel capturing the discussions from the Durham Symposium in 2015.

NCEE testimonial honouring Allan.

ISBE tribute to Allan.

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