A fancy de­gree needn’t trans­late into suc­cess

Gulf News - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS -

Two of my friends and I are ex­plor­ing an ex­cit­ing busi­ness op­por­tu­nity. I’ve done some re­search and I know that while there are a num­ber of com­pa­nies al­ready work­ing in the space, they haven’t fig­ured out how to scale their busi­nesses, which leaves an open­ing for us. Un­for­tu­nately, when I present my part­ners with ideas about how we can beat the com­pe­ti­tion, one of them is al­ways quick to point out that the founders and em­ploy­ees of these com­pa­nies have fancy de­grees from the world’s best busi­ness schools and that “they would prob­a­bly crush us”. Com­ments like these in­fu­ri­ate me — they just seem like ex­cuses to give up. Have you ever been in­tim­i­dated by some­one’s cre­den­tials? If so, how did you over­come your feel­ings of in­fe­ri­or­ity?

First off, I think it’s great that you are look­ing to en­ter the busi­ness world with your friends. A lot of peo­ple think that’s a bad idea, but I dis­agree. I have a long track record of work­ing with my friends and fam­ily, and things have worked out well.

We spend so much of our wak­ing life at work that we might as well work with peo­ple we love. It makes ev­ery­thing more fun — and fun is an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent in any suc­cess­ful ven­ture. That said, it’s a shame that your busi­ness part­ner is shut­ting down your ideas by sug­gest­ing that you’ll be crushed by peo­ple who are sup­pos­edly bet­ter ed­u­cated than you.

This is all about fear of fail­ure. In my opin­ion, en­tre­pre­neur­ial drive beats a fancy de­gree any­time. I didn’t go to a pres­ti­gious uni­ver­sity; in fact, I didn’t even fin­ish sec­ondary school. I suf­fer from dys­lexia and couldn’t keep up with my stud­ies as a teenager.

I didn’t fit in at all. Sadly, my in­struc­tors and the cur­ricu­lum they taught made me feel lazy and dumb. So I turned my at­ten­tion to some­thing I was pas­sion­ate about, which was pro­duc­ing Stu­dent mag­a­zine, with the aim of giv­ing a voice to young peo­ple like my­self.

And a won­der­ful thing hap­pened: Fol­low­ing my pas­sion gave me drive and pur­pose. My mind opened up and so my world. The head­mas­ter gave me an ul­ti­ma­tum, forc­ing me to choose be­tween stay­ing in school or pur­su­ing the mag­a­zine.

I chose to leave, and I’ve never looked back. I’m not alone. Some of the big­gest game-chang­ers in the busi­ness world didn’t go to col­lege, let alone to an Ivy League or elite British uni­ver­sity — peo­ple like Tum­blr founder David Karp, the Ar­ca­dia Group’s Philip Green and British busi­ness mag­nate Alan Sugar, to name just a few. And then there are the dropouts: Daniel Ek dropped out of a uni­ver­sity in Swe­den and co­founded Spo­tify; Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed Col­lege in Ore­gon; and Bill Gates and Mark Zucker­berg made it through the Ivy League gates, but both even­tu­ally left Har­vard. They likely felt that learn­ing in the real world would bet­ter help them to turn their dreams into re­al­ity.

Not a pre­req­ui­site

The point is that uni­ver­sity isn’t the be-all and end-all, and it’s cer­tainly not a pre­req­ui­site for busi­ness suc­cess. I’m not say­ing that peo­ple shouldn’t go to uni­ver­sity if they want to, but sim­ply call­ing at­ten­tion to the ben­e­fits of learn­ing from the school of life. I re­ceived my own ed­u­ca­tion through work. In my opin­ion, real-life learn­ing is the best way to ac­quire skills. In fact, I’ve been cam­paign­ing for ed­u­ca­tion to be rethought.

I don’t be­lieve that keep­ing most peo­ple in school for years is good for them. And those who hope to en­ter pro­fes­sions that ab­so­lutely re­quire a uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion, such as science or medicine, should com­plete cour­ses that are shorter and more in­ten­sive.

Stu­dents must be en­cour­aged to be more en­tre­pre­neur­ial, and to get ahead faster. So to an­swer your ques­tion, no, I’ve never been in­tim­i­dated by some­one’s cre­den­tials. If I had, I never would have tried to achieve any­thing.

Sure, my school grades got me down some­times, but as soon as I dis­cov­ered my pas­sion, all of my pre­con­ceived no­tions about what it takes to suc­ceed flew out the win­dow.

I never judge peo­ple by their ed­u­ca­tion and qual­i­fi­ca­tions. The first thing we look for at Vir­gin when hir­ing new staff is per­son­al­ity, which al­ways wins over book smarts or job­spe­cific skills — the lat­ter can be learnt. We also give a lot of weight to ex­pe­ri­ence. Time and time again I’ve seen peo­ple with a broad em­ploy­ment his­tory and skill set who aren’t an ob­vi­ous fit for a par­tic­u­lar role bring a new per­spec­tive to a po­si­tion and be­come in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful.

Ni­rav, you’ve done your re­search and you’ve got a great idea, so now is the time to make some­thing hap­pen. You’ll never know if your idea is as good as you think it is un­less you give it a shot.

If your busi­ness part­ner con­tin­ues to re­spond neg­a­tively to your en­thu­si­asm, per­haps it’s time to find a new part­ner with a mind­set sim­i­lar to yours — some­one who isn’t afraid of a real chal­lenge.

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