UniTaster Days Guide for Teachers

Graduate employability: key skills for success

UniTasterDays.com in conversation with Theo Paphitis, Chairman & Owner of Ryman, and Chancellor of Solent University.

An exclusive interview with one of the UK’s most successful and high-profile entrepreneurs to inspire your students. You’re welcome to scan and share this page.

Theo Paphitis’s business empire spans retail, property, finance and consumer goods, with over 330 stores and 4,000 employees, all serving over 28 million customers a year. But few would have expected this multi-millionaire television celebrity to achieve so much when he left school at the age of 16 with no qualifications.

Theo has kindly offered time to answer some questions for UniTasterDays. We hope his experience and advice will help inspire the next generation of business leaders – even those not considering university participation.

On initial struggles at school and learning barriers:

“I struggled when I was at school as it took me a lot longer to do things than my friends. I had undiagnosed dyslexia which created huge learning barriers for me. In many ways it also helped me to create different workarounds and solutions to problems. This has undoubtedly been integral to the success I have seen since leaving school. For me, my dyslexia gave me the tools to be a problem solver and I have never looked back”.

On students securing work opportunities alongside their studies:

“I wanted to earn money from a young age, so delivering marketing flyers, setting up a tuck shop and working in Wimpy were all ways of me doing this. If you want to earn money or get ahead of the game in an area of interest, then it can never be a bad thing to get your foot on the career ladder, start building up your CV and make contacts sooner rather than later.”

On the skills and attributes to be successful:

“I often say the harder I work, the luckier I get. Hard work is a big part of success and doing your homework to be the smartest person in the room is also important. Of course, there can also be a little bit of luck too!”

“During my entrepreneurial journey I have luckily had more ups than downs, but I always knew I wanted to be successful and that ambition and drive was ingrained quite early on. Even when things didn’t go to plan, I knew there would be another way of making something happen and not giving up is key to being successful.”

“When recruiting leaders now and investing in businesses, I want those in my business who have great attention to detail, the capacity for effective decision making, the resilience to deal with the ups and downs and, the ability to have fun!”

On other skills and attributes Theo looks for when investing in businesses on the panel of the hit BBC Show Dragons’ Den:

“Passion, resilience and common sense! I learned early on in my time on Dragons’ Den that a great person with an average idea was often a better bet than an average person with a great idea. You have to work with the people to make the magic happen. If that relationship is a struggle, then the business partnership will always be harder than it needs to be.”

On opportunities for students to take a gap year:

“To take a year out and experience the university of life is no bad thing, but there needs to be a plan in place for what happens after that, before you go. To just travel because you don’t know what to do, won’t solve that problem. To experience work ahead of university could also help you realise the paths you do or even don’t want to take. Taking a year out is a very personal choice.”

Finally – a key message for students to maximise their career potential:

 “Think about your key strengths, your interests and what makes you tick. You’re in work for a long time, so you want to be doing something that keeps you interested and that you are passionate about.”

“You’re going to progress in your career if you’re the person enjoying what you’re doing and showing you’re adding value. To care about what you’re doing is a sure-fire way to progress in the workplace and make the most of your skills.”

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