Posted 30/08/2017

There’s more to life than education, education, education

We can all be who we want to be

With exam results flooding the news headlines and filling family conversations up and down the country, our younger generations’ education is a hot topic right now.

This time of year always gets me thinking about my personal journey and how for me, qualifications weren’t necessary for success in business and leadership.

I don’t have a degree, I left school at 16 and picked up an apprenticeship with Rockwell Automation as an Electronics Engineer.

My commute to Rockwell involved a seven-mile rollerskate there and back – it was the fastest, most economical mode of transport for an enthusiastic 16 year old!

As well as working every hour given to succeed with my apprenticeship, I also worked part time at our local market, setting up the fruit and veg stall. It was relentless and perhaps an unusual lifestyle for a child of that age – I can’t say any of my mates at the time were grafting quite so hard – but I was driven to succeed and make something of myself.

My apprenticeship was invaluable and by the time I was 21 I had been appointed Managing Director of Goupil, following my role as UK Technical Director. The senior exec roles kept coming resulting in my appointment as CEO of Redbus and overseeing the hugely successful merger with Telecity. The rest, as they say, is history.

I have always had it in me to work hard and strive for success. There have also been a couple of lucky breaks along the way. But I truly believe that we can all be who we want to be and that some true grit, determination and focus will set you in good stead to a successful career as much as any kind of formal qualification.

Sure, if you want to be a heart surgeon or a vet, you will need some serious education and qualifications, there is no escaping that fact.

But it is crucial to acknowledge personal traits and capabilities when guiding youngsters into making life choices around further education and careers – and perhaps thinking outside the box with regards to routes to career success.

There is a wealth of opportunity out there for driven and passionate individuals. The apprenticeship model has spread outside of its more stereotypical industries and manual trades and can now be found in companies such as Deloitte and Lloyds Banking Group.

The right kind of applicant with a strong work ethic and a passion for success could shoot for the stars from this grass-roots start in a company such as these – and given that they would earn along the way rather than amass a huge debt (average student debt upon graduation has increased to £50k, according to the IFS) it can only be seen as a good thing, surely?

It’s worth noting that the likes of Coco Chanel, Benjamin Franklin, Michael Dell and Simon Cowell dropped out of education early. I can’t see that fewer qualifications ever held any of them back.

I believe the story goes that Simon Cowell got his first music industry break working in the post room of a record label. Getting his head down, learning the ins and outs of the business and making sure he impressed the people who mattered, got him on the ladder to eventually rise to where he is at today. Inspirational!

So, with GCSE and A-level results in, I know there will be a lot of youngsters out there with the world at their feet, having to make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.

If grades come back lower than expected, may that setback fill them with fire to turn the situation around. We must remember to learn through failure… pick yourself up, take note of the lessons and get back on track with renewed vigour and determination to succeed.

Of course our youngsters should consider further education, I certainly don’t deny its worth… but also consider the possibilities that good solid experience and some serious hard work and determination can offer up.

Bear in mind this great quote from American business philosopher, Jim Rohn: “Formal education will make you a living, self-education will make you a fortune” Kids – by the time your friends are out of uni with £50,000 worth of debt, you might be in the running for CEO!

Read more about my story and leadership style in my book “Forget Strategy, Get Results” available here.

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