"I was a researcher at the National Foundation for Educational Research, and then joined a new research unit at Leeds University as a research assistant. I was fortunate to have a boss who insisted that you jump in at the deep end and a colleague who was as entrepreneurial as I was. We both got lectureships and had our first book published at the same time. At an early age we realised that a book was likely to open many doors career-wise. I worked on my PhD at the same time. Even at this time I took on a range of other jobs and opportunities. For example, I taught at the Workers Education Authority (WEA) and at a US campus that was based in Menwith Hill. I’ve always enjoyed doing a range of different things. This is how I learned to teach in an experiential way as your class did not show up the next week if you didn’t engage them. These jobs also gave me additional income which was great.
"I eventually became the head of the research unit where I worked, and wrote four books by the time I was 30 – including a pop psychology book. I also spent a lot of time on the international conference circuit. I’d met an academic in the management studies department who introduced me to the world of management consulting. I started to go to America in the summer vacations to tutor on management training and personal development courses. I was networking and getting invited to go to American universities. I got a couple of associate professorships and built up a network in the States.
"I’ve never planned ahead more than six months in my life. There was no great plan. That has raised eyebrows throughout my career, as ‘career development’ was the area that has most defined my achievements and success. It was always about the opportunity to learn new things and do things that excited me. However, I was getting increasingly bored with just lecturing at the University. There was not much opportunity to do much that was truly creative. Anything I suggested was rejected for being too way out. I was considered a bit of an oddity.
"I was then invited by the LEAs of Yorkshire and Humberside to set up a unit within the University that was to provide in service training for teachers (the payoffs for networking again). Although in theory I had to report to the Head of Psychology, basically I was in charge and attracted all of the funding. I’d created my own operation and was independent. This was really my first experience of running a business and within four years I had about 70 people working for this organisation.
"While I was still based at the University, a colleague and I developed some new ways to publish materials that would enable teachers to reproduce our materials. Our academic publisher was very uncomfortable with this, and so I tore up my contract with them and decided that we would set up a publishing company. I realised that I needed money to do this, and we then went out and did lots of private sector work to generate money to develop the company.
"I was the Director of this training unit at the University for six years, and during this time I spent a lot of time teaching teachers, careers officers and social workers to teach 'life skills' (as we were then calling it). This also included teaching people as to how to manage unemployment. I felt like a hypocrite talking about this from the safety of a tenured post. So I decided to jump. But like many entrepreneurs I was prepared. By the time I left I was moving into a business that was already making money. We developed this company, Life Skills International, into a successful training, consulting and publishing business. From then on I then had less and less contact with the world of higher education, and I didn’t really miss it. After a number of years we sold the training and consultancy half of the company to an international management consultancy. I was CEO of the joint venture, but there was an ownership change in the company – and the promises that were made did not materialise. After three years I left and returned as Chairman of Life Skills International. After a few more years we sold that to a Canadian company and I had to think about what to do next.
"My most successful book in sales terms was a workbook for career and life management. So – when I hit 60 – I wrote a book and the content for an accompanying website about my generation (the baby boomers) to help them manage their career and life development for the second half of their lives. I have had a portfolio career for much of my life – in fact my last book was about this topic – and I am still writing, presenting, consulting and doing some non-executive director work. I never want to retire.
"I have also just started up a new company with my long term business partner, but significantly including three fellow owners all under 32. Autonomy and independence are my main values. The money was never the motivating driver. The motivators were that I could be independent and learn new things. I think that there are an awful lot more people around who can be entrepreneurial than are doing it. I did learn a great deal from my university experiences, which helped me to develop my entrepreneurial career – not least of which was learning to write books, as they are always a great marketing tool and networking device. The other thing I learned was the importance of establishing your brand, but interestingly I have only defined this succinctly in the past couple of years.
"My main life theme has been helping people to become architects of their own futures. Never let others design yours for you, and resist the temptation to design theirs."